It is very helpful to have a counterclaim if you’re being sued by a debt collector. In this article we’ll discuss a few mechanics – things that are obvious to lawyers but might not be so obvious to people representing themselves.
What is a Counterclaim?
First of all, what is a counterclaim? Very simply, a counterclaim is a lawsuit you file in the same court against someone who is already suing you. That is, it is any lawsuit you file, whether or not it is related to the suit the other person filed.
The theory is that if two people are already in court for any reason, they may as well get everything done at the same time, but there are certain exceptions in cases where hearing the cases together would be too confusing, or the like. Many counterclaims do not have to be brought – you can wait till the first case is over and then (if time hasn’t run out) bring your case separately as an original suit. On the other hand, sometimes possible claims are so closely related that you are not allowed to wait: these are called “mandatory” counterclaims, and if you fail to bring a mandatory counterclaim as part of the first lawsuit you will lose the right. A classic example of mandatory counterclaims would be claims by both people in a car crash against each other – waiting and filing separately would be a big waste of court time and might also lead to contradictory judgments.
For debt defense, though, you might think of it as a defensive countermeasure. As in judo, they’ve been attacking you, and now you’re going to use what they’ve done against them.
Claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) can be brought as counterclaims, but they are not mandatory. You could, if you wanted to, bring a claim under the FDCPA in federal court – or even another state court – while a lawsuit against you for the debt was still underway. As a practical matter, when I was still practicing, I never did that, but you could do it.
Sources of Counterclaims
The FDCPA is the most logical source of counterclaims when you are being sued by debt collectors, for several reasons.
For one thing, the law is very broad. Anything that is an “unfair” debt collection practice is illegal under the FDCPA. Although several things are specified in the Act, many other things have been found to violate the law. That allows you to be a little creative.
Secondly, the FDCPA does not require any sort of “intent” to harm you. All you have to do is show that the debt collector did what you say is illegal. And you don’t actually have to have been hurt by what the debt collector did. That means that the unfair collection practice you claim they did does not have to have fooled you or hurt you at all.
In fraud cases, to give an example of a different kind of law, you have to prove that the person you claim defrauded you meant to do it (intent) and that it somehow harmed you (they did fool you, and you lost money). This makes claims under the FDCPA much easier than most other lawsuits. Finally, there is the question of evidence. Many FDCPA claims arise out of the debt collector’s lawsuit against you, and this will be part of the record, but all of the claims will be relatively easy to prove. Here are some articles that discuss some possible claims under the FDCPA:
- Was an Affidavit Attached to Your Petition?
- In the Shoes of the Original Creditor
- Stating Attorney’s Fees May Violate FDCPA
There are other sources of possible counterclaims, however. There is a law in consumer law that provides that any time you would have a claim or defense against the seller, you also have that claim or defense against someone trying to collect the bill.That means that if you were ripped off by a seller, and then a debt collector comes after you, you can sue the debt collector for that fraud. If you do, you will probably have some significant advantages, as the debt collector probably does not have access, much less inexpensive, convenient access, to the witnesses it would need to defend the case. And there are other possible claims – like defamation or possible violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
What You Actually Do
Assuming you decide to bring a counterclaim, what you actually do is attach it to your Answer. That is, you create your Answer, and then at the end you add allegations that would support your counterclaim. The materials in my Litigation Manual provide you samples of these.