Posts Tagged ‘debt collection lawsuit’

Ignoring a Debt Collection Lawsuit That Was Not Personally Delivered

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Question: Is it possible a debt collection company can sue the debtor on an unpaid credit card if they have moved to a new address? I have not received the lawsuit papers personally, but I learned from the California Superior court’s online case summary that a debt collection lawsuit has been filed and it states they served me. Can’t I ignore this?

My response:

Yes, the debt collection company can sue for an unpaid debt, even after the debtor moved to a new address, but the lawsuit must be filed in the proper court. In particular, the lawsuit can be filed where the defendant lives when the lawsuit was filed or where the defendant lived when they first entered into the agreement for the credit card.

After that, the debt collection lawsuit must be served in one of the ways permitted by the California Code of Civil Procedure. I explain in other blog postings the two main ways that a defendant can be served in Superior Court on a lawsuit: personal service and substitute service. Substitute service requires a reasonable number of attempts (typically, at least three) at the defendant’s residence or place of business. In your situation, did they try to serve you at your new address or where you work or do business a reasonable number of times? Do they know your new address or did you give that to them at any time?

As the videos on my home page explain, ignoring a debt collection lawsuit is one option of several. I’d recommend exploring carefully each of your options and then call a debt collection DEFENSE attorney (which is what I do) to narrow what options are most appropriate for you and your situation. Putting off dealing with a lawsuit is not suitable for most people, in my opinion.

The way I would compare a defendant’s putting off dealing with a debt collection lawsuit and letting it become a default judgment is that it is similar to not going to the doctor for treatment and anti-biotics of an infected wound. How long before the untreated, festering wound gets worse? How long before the infection spreads and can harm other body parts or even cause the patient to become seriously sick all over?

An unpaid default judgment can be difficult to set aside and is subject to the review by a judge, if after the proper motion is filed. A judge might conclude that the defendant was aware of the judgment and failed to promptly file a response when aware of the lawsuit or promptly file to set aside a default judgment. Thus, an older default judgment becomes almost impossible to set aside and it not only grows with interest at 10 percent per year, but other costs can be added, possibly attorney’s fees. A judgment also impacts, for most people, their personal credit scores for many, many years, making it hard to qualify for credit, property, and sometimes insurance and a job.
Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Is the worst that can happen being thrown in jail for an unpaid medical debt?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Question: I had to go to the community hospital, as I was really sick and thought I was going to die. I applied for county indigent assistance on my bill and thought that they would take care of it, as I was unemployed. Then I received debt collection calls demanding that I had to pay more than the original bill. I could not pay it, but now I have been sued and they want to also be paid interest and the court costs. What is the worst? Is jail time possible, if I cannot pay?

My Response:

The question of debtors prison and county jail should be the furthest thing from your mind on an unpaid personal debt. When the Constitution was written and ratified by the states, it allowed Congress to provide a safety valve of filing for bankruptcy, as a last resort to discharge most debts for those who qualify. (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4.) In 1833, federal law eliminated prison for private debts and the states followed. Now, it would be amazing to find an instance where a person is jailed in any state, simply for not being able to pay their personal debts.

Nevertheless, fear of debtor’s prisons are stoked regularly by the news media, even CBS news uses provocative headlines to catch more readers. As recently as 2012, CBS ran a report with the headline: “Jailed for $280: The return of debtors’ prisons.” In fact, the report had nothing to do with the headline. Someone reading the headline would probably believe that not paying a $280 bill or credit card may result in a jail sentence.

Upon reading the entire 2012 CBS News Report, however, it is clear that there is no return of debtors prisons in the USA. The people who were threatened with or spent time in jail were there because they failed to appear in court when ordered, for criminal acts, or they failed to pay court-imposed fines associated with criminal convictions. The other issue in the CBS report was that several states allowed collection charges to be added on top of already expensive court fines.

A judgment is not inevitable if a debt collection lawsuit is filed against an individual, particularly if defended by an experienced debt collection defense attorney, who will handle the case to get it resolved before trial, either by settlement or dismissal. Moreover, even if a money judgment is entered by the court against a person, there are numerous ways to get that judgment resolved and NO chance of jail time, provided that, when so order, the debtor appears in court, answers questions truthfully, and does not commit any criminal acts that are punishable with jail time.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Collection Call from Out Of The Blue for a Credit Card Not Paid In Five Years

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Question: Is there any chance that I can be prosecuted for not paying credit card from five years ago? I have been clean and on probation and received a call out of the blue that they have sued me for $2000. Help, I need to stay out of jail. They said they would not dismiss until I make a large down payment and sign an agreement for monthly payment until paid in full, but I cannot afford this.

My Response:
I am very suspicious when a consumer gets phone calls from collectors from out of the blue. If I read your question correctly, you have not heard from these people, never received any collection letters from them, and you were not served with the summons and complaint. Though you did not pay this debt in almost five years, there are those debt collection agencies which prey on consumers for old debt that are expired, because of the statute of limitations.

In California, a debt not paid in more than four years is almost always past the statute of limitations, provided that a debt collection lawsuit was not filed within the correct limitations period for the particular account. Thus, the filing of an untimely lawsuit or threatening to sue you for an expired debt also violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for harassment and misrepresentations. FDCPA violations can allow the consumer-victim to recover in court his or her actual damages, statutory damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Since you have not received anything in writing from this collection agency, please advise this collector that you need something in writing and to send you the required initial letter, which contains the mini-Miranda statement, required by the FDCPA, for initial contacts of a consumer regarding collection of a debt. Verify that they have your correct mailing address. I do not believe that you should give them your cell phone number or email address, to protect your privacy, but you regular mailing address should be fine. You really don’t want them to contact you in too many ways, regular mail and regular phone calls at home are more than sufficient.

Assuming that they did file a debt collection lawsuit within the proper statute of limitations period, you need to get a copy of the lawsuit and understand your options. The first video of my website’s home page is “Understanding Your Options” when sued on a credit card debt. Please watch my video and a few of my blog postings, such as “Next Steps,” which explains what steps to take and the timing involved, so that you will understand the deadlines that are coming up for you. Please consult with a debt collection defense attorney to ensure that you have covered your bases.

The short answer to your question about going to jail for a probation violation is that our society does not have “debtors prisons.” We did away with that at the time we founded this Country. I would want to review the terms of your probation, but it is doubtful that missing payments on a debt or being sued for an unpaid debt would violate probation. Also, I would not tell the debt collection agent about your probation, as it is none of their business. If you discuss this, I can assure you that they will make all sorts of statement to belittle you. If they threaten you with trying to use this to get you in trouble criminally, that may also be a violation of the FDCPA.

Until you verify whether or not a debt collection lawsuit has been filed, I would ask for the documentation of this lawsuit, the debt collection letter, and check with the court’s online to see if you can determine if the documentation is genuine. Also, reviewing your own personal credit reports may help yield information about this debt collection agency and if there are outstanding judgments against you. I have a legal guide on Avvo.com that help people navigate case information that they can get for free or almost free online. Otherwise, you may need to take a trip to the local Superior Courthouse to ask of any civil cases have been filed against you.

When a debt collection agency calls out of the blue, be ready to ask for everything in writing and refuse to give in to their demands for your credit card number or banking information so that they can take your money over the phone. Until you have verified everything, you don’t know if the person on the phone is a scam debt collector or worse: an identity thief, who will take your credit card number to charge your credit to the max and your bank account information to clean out your account. Also, don’t provide this person with your SSN, DOB or DLN. All of these are private and should not be disclosed by phone from someone who happens to call you, even if they appear to know so much about a particular debt or other credit information about you.

A regular debt collection agent will understand and want to ensure that you get the information verified and in writing. A scam artist or identity thief wants you to give them the money now, right now, without anything in writing. Do not give into high-pressure tactics and risk becoming another victim of identity theft or bogus debt collection operations, collecting on time-barred debts.  Verify everything and consult with a lawyer. You could be waiving many rights by agreeing to pay on a time-barred debt from a high-pressure phone call.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

DIY Collection Lawsuit Defense: Key Pitfalls

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Question: I am not attorney, but I want to represent myself in a debt collection lawsuit. What are the major pitfalls that I should study at the law library or online, so that I am ready to take the case to trial?

My response: There are so many books on the web that brag about having had one or two victories in court against debt collection lawyers. While I have gotten many collection cases dismissed for my clients and settled many others, when an individual expects to prevail in court on an unpaid debt, probably they have read too many web sites selling books and other materials that probably will do nothing, other than get a money judgment entered against them for the full balance, plus interest, costs and attorney’s fees.

Here are several of the major pitfalls, which is why it takes years of law school and experience defending debt collection cases, to really be able to have a sound strategy to help the client reach the outcome they desire for the case:
a. If the answer to complaint contains errors, the court may disregard it and enter a money judgment, if the Plaintiff’s attorney files a motion to strike or demurrer to the answer to complaint. Sometimes, the Defendant does not pay the court’s appearance fee.
b. The Plaintiff’s attorney sends written discovery to the Defendant or sets their deposition to answer questions under oath. If the defendant fails to respond timely and in proper form, the Plaintiff’s attorney can seek sanctions of more money or limit the important facts at trial.
c. The Plaintiff’s attorney can file a motion for summary judgment, which adds more costs to the case ($500). If granted, there is no trial, only a judgment.
d. The Plaintiff’s attorney can ask questions at trial of the Defendant, many of which might result in the court entering a judgment.
e. The court can set hearings and conferences that require both sides to attend. Missing these can cause the court to strike the answer to complaint.
f. The Plaintiff’s attorney offers evidence at trial that is hearsay or unreliable, but the defendant does not object properly or fails to explain why the evidence should be rejected, so the evidence is admitted and a money judgment entered.
g. The Defendant does not understand the rules that apply to the debt lawsuit, such as the Statute of Limitations, so they expend their efforts on incorrect views of the law and don’t pursue legitimate defenses that an experienced attorney would have found.

I have had many clients come to me after they try to represent themselves. They typically received papers from the Plaintiff’s attorney or from the court, but didn’t know how to respond, so that they are facing sanctions or have been sanctioned by the court for noncompliance. Or, even worse, a judgment has been entered at trial, but the defendant still believes that they should spend more time and money on an appeal.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Virtual Law Firm Prepared Legal Papers for Debtor Pro Per, Money Judgment Now Imminent

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Question:
I found an attorney online and used my only good credit card to have his firm prepare and file the legal forms for me to prevent a default judgment in Superior Court. This was a lawsuit on an old credit card which hired debt collection lawyers in San Diego, California. I read that the collection agency paid pennies on the dollar for my account.  My attorney said they did great paperwork, and that I can handle the rest of this myself, since their papers were so thorough, and that I should win a dismissal at trial.   Now the collection lawyers filed papers for a full money judgment, plus they want their attorney’s fees, too.  I don’t know how to respond to this and my lawyer now wants more money to prepare the papers, otherwise it will become a money judgment. No trial, just a judgment. This is very upsetting and no one told me this might happen and now I may need to explain this to the judge.  Help!

My response:
Virtual law firms preparing legal papers, without representing the debtor consumer, is a new low for lawyers.  In my 19 years as a lawyer, I understand why you should be upset. Lawyers are supposed to take responsibility for handling the case, not dump a bunch of papers onto their client without any guidance.  When a lawyer prepare the legal forms for someone as a “pro per,” then the client is 100% responsible for what happens next and for dealing with the debt collection lawyers and their debt collectors.

Did you know that the collection lawyers still call you and file papers in court to get a money judgment without trial?  Who would be comfortable with that. If you have a lawyer on the case, then you should not need to deal with debt collection calls. Filing the initial papers and sending some written requests is the tip of the iceberg, it does not win the case, without an attorney backing up those documents with actual, legal representation and efforts.

Also, what happens if the case goes to trial?  Do you know how to object to improper evidence, when to object, and what are proper objections? These are legal skills that lawyers take years to develop, even after several years studying at law school and passing the bar exam. I have read trial transcripts of a debtor who represented himself at trial, and he objected at all the wrong times and did not object to the evidence that resulted in a full money judgment against him.

I agree with you. Filing the documents for you and then leaving you to defend this lawsuit is shocking. Perhaps I am too old school, but if a judgment for the debt is entered against you, then I don’t see how this lawyer helped one bit. They charged you money and gave you some sheets of paper that looked really nice, but now you must hire an attorney to see if the case can be salvaged, before the court enters a judgment for the full balance against you. You should call me or another experienced lawyer to oppose this motion and take the immediate steps, before the trial date and to prepare for trial.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

How long to file papers in court, after receiving the summons and complaint via U.S. Mail?

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Question: No process server ever approached me, but gave the summons and debt collection complaint to my wife.  A few days later, another copy arrived in the mail. I still have the envelope with the postmark. Do I still need to respond within 30 days and from when?

My response:
Under the California Code of Civil Procedure, which governs in Superior Court cases, the defendant must file their response in court not later than 30 calendar days from the date of personal service, which occurs when the server hands the summons and collection complaint personally to the defendant.

Substitute Service occurs after satisfying due diligence in trying several times to perform personal service on the defendant.  After due diligence, the process server hands the summons and collection complaint to an adult member of the defendant’s household or the person who appears to be in charge at the defendant’s place of business, then mails another copy of the summons and collection complaint to the defendant at that same address.

In this case, the process server has performed Substitute Service on you, which adds 10 calendar days, making a total of 40 days from the date of mailing for the defendant to file his or her response in court.

Some defendants receive only a copy of the summons and collection complaint by U.S. Mail and no one at their home or place of business advised them that they were served.  In those cases, you should still go on the premise that you have only 40 calendar days from the mailing date in which to file a response in court, to prevent a default judgment from being entered. Please see other blog postings about default judgments.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Am I better off filing bankruptcy now, than dealing with a credit card lawsuit?

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Question:
I was served with a debt collection lawsuit from a credit card that I was not able to pay off.  I had been paying the minimum payments with interest for many years, which no longer made sense to me and was never going anywhere.  A debt collection agency, not the credit card bank, is named in the lawsuit and they have a lawyer here in California.  Does it make sense to file bankruptcy now?

My response:
No. Filing bankruptcy is a substantial decision that can be delayed and decided later, if you are unsuccessful in fighting off or settling this debt collection lawsuit and any other lawsuits that happen to be filed against you for other unpaid debts, if any.  The first video on the home page of  www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com discusses an individual’s six options, each of which deserves consideration and understanding of the pros and cons, before narrowing it down to a couple of worthwhile options, then going with one.  Thus, that video and my other videos are a good starting point, along with my blog posting on making your next steps count.

In deciding whether to file bankruptcy or one of the other six options, much depends on your and your family’s financial status and current income.  Perhaps you do not qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, and thus this is not an option for you now, but you may qualify in the future.  Also, perhaps you are in a career or regulated industry that prohibits employees from having a recent bankruptcy filing or any bankruptcy.  Perhaps being able to discharge this and all other debts would make bankruptcy worthwhile, though sometimes if you are patient, you can discharge other substantial debts, such as income taxes.  Perhaps your finances are mixed up with other family members, such as you have property or accounts held in joint names, which can make filing bankruptcy a problem for that asset and the other persons.

If you have further questions, be sure to consult with an experienced debt collection defense attorney to help you understand each of the six options.  If you consult with an attorney who’s practice is mostly bankruptcy cases, he or she may be more inclined advise bankruptcy, rather than offer you alternatives to bankruptcy, such as defending the lawsuit or settling.  My web site’s free eCase review asks whether the consumer has received any settlement demands to settle the debt, because then the consumer knows earlier if settling is realistic.  The key to making the best decision here is to understand your options and having experienced legal counsel.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Credit Reporting of Non Existent Small Claims Court Money Judgment

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Question:
My credit report shows a money judgment from small claims court, but that debt collection case was dismissed when we settled before the case was called.  I have a document showing dismissed and I am applying for a job that may want to check my credit records.

My response:
You probably had a local company sue you in small claims court to collect its own debt, because debt collectors typically are not permitted to enforce in small claims court debts that were assigned to them.  (Cal. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 116.420, subd. (a).)

Please check the small claims court’s record of that case to verify it was dismissed.  Then send a copy of the case record (showing no money judgment, dismissed) with a cover letter to dispute this on your credit report. My Firm’s web site’s (www.stopcollectionharassment.com) sample letter 3.1 would be a good form to follow and already has the addresses for the big three credit reporting agencies. If you only need to dispute with one of them, then remove the other addresses and send it to the one that is reporting this money judgment. Please also be sure that you follow the letter writing tips, such as keep a copy for your records and send by U.S. Certified Mail, return receipt requested. Once disputed, the agencies by law must investigate or remove within 30 days of receipt.

If you find that the court mistakenly entered a money judgment in the collection case in small claims court, then before you can dispute this on your credit reports, you must get the court’s record corrected and the judgment reversed (vacated, set aside).  You may need to file a motion with the court to set aside an invalid default judgment.  See Cal. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 116.740, for the procedures to vacate an improperly entered default judgment.  However, it sounds as though you were properly served and appeared at the hearing, so that you may need to file in Superior Court a separate complaint in equity and have a trial to vacate the improper default judgment, taken without your consent.  This is a complex proceeding and you would be well advised to consult and retain experienced legal counsel to ensure that the case and law are properly presented, or the court may not grant the relief that you need.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Trying to get Dismissal With Prejudice After Voluntary Dismissal

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Question:
I read on your blog at Dismissal without prejudice of a credit card lawsuit that a dismissal with prejudice is better than without prejudice, because the claims cannot be filed again. How can I get the court to dismiss a credit card lawsuit with prejudice, if the court has already dismissed it when the Plaintiff’s lawyer failed to show up for a second hearing?

My response:
To obtain a dismissal with prejudice, the court must have enough information presented to it to decide the case on its merits.  That does not necessarily require both parties to appear and present evidence, but it would require that there be an active case. To make a decision on the merits of a case would require both sides to each have an opportunity to present their side. Whether one or both sides take that opportunity is a separate issue.

Once a case has been dismissed (such as for the plaintiff’s debt collection lawyer failing to appear multiple times), the court loses jurisdiction (power) to decide the case on its merits, because there is no longer an active civil case.  Unless the Plaintiff’s lawyer gets the dismissal reversed, such as by filing a motion to explain the failure to appear multiple times, and you prove to the court that you are entitled to a judgment of dismissal in the action, there is no way for the judge to decide the case, if it was already dismissed.

One other way to have a similar result as a dismissal with prejudice would be to enter into a settlement agreement with the Plaintiff, such that once you have paid the agreed settlement amount, the debtor is released from the lawsuit and underling debt.  The debtor should have something from the Plaintiff or their lawyer approving the settlement or confirming the specific terms, in case there is a dispute later, but a settlement and release would have almost the same result as making the Plaintiff or any subsequent assignee unable to file another case for the same debt.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Struggling with Wage Garnishment for A Default Judgment on a Credit Card Debt

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Question
For two years, my husband’s wages have been garnished at $100 per paycheck, which is what a judge ordered. His paycheck is  twice a month and his take home pay is under $2,000.  We don’t know what we can do, but now we got notice from our bank that they are also levying out bank account. If our bank account is taken after his check is deposited, we cannot pay our rent on the first, and we have two children. With interest, the judgment is just under $10,000 at this time.

My response:
This is a horrible situation for you that you have been held under this suffocating wage garnishment for two years, when you clearly cannot afford it.  I don’t know why a judge would have you pay that much, given your family needs and that you are already living on the edge, financially.

Looking back, perhaps this credit card default judgment could have been set aside, if you were not served. However, now that more than two years have elapsed, it is very doubtful that a judge will set it aside, because the courts expect a defendant to promptly file the papers to set aside an invalid default judgment reasonably soon after learning about it. You and your husband have known about this for two years, so I don’t see trying to set it aside a a productive pursuit for you, at this late date.

Looking forward, I think you need to immediately file a claim of exemption with the financial statement Judicial Council Forms. Hopefully, you are able to show the judge that this money has already been garnished and you have nothing else available and you need it for your necessities (rent, food, utilities, medical) and children’s expenses.

Looking further down the road, you should file bankruptcy to discharge this and any other debt. At $200 per month, you are barely paying $100 per month in principal, after the Sheriff’s fee for the wage garnishment.  Thus, you will not have this paid off for another 8 years. It makes no sense to suffer for eight more years and to have the debt collection law firm cause you to appear in court to fight off a bank levy, which also costs you bank charges.  After the bankruptcy, you can put that extra $200 per month to use helping your family, perhaps starting to save for emergencies, education, and other future events.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler