Proving Ownership of the Debt – How Big is that in Debt Law?


Proof of Ownership of the Debt – How Hard Can it be?

To download a free copy of this article in pdf form, click here: How Hard is Proving Ownership

I get comments like this all too often: “A debt collector got a judgment without even proving ownership of the debt.” It makes me feel bad, but it makes me angry, too. Let’s talk about proof of ownership and then seque to a larger point – the point that ever person being sued by a debt collector MUST LEARN.

Proof of Ownership

It is not hard to prove ownership in the law. For a car or piece of real property (land), you just need a title (car) or (deed). You get them, essentially, by the seller giving the buyer a bill of sale which in turn gets verified by the state.

The state procedures complicate things a little bit, but it’s basically a very simple, rubber-stamped process. It is a mistake to regard this process as much of a hurdle or legal protection against the collectors. It isn’t in anybody’s interest to make it difficult or unpredictable – on the contrary.

Selling a debt is easier than selling a car. You need a bill of sale that identifies the thing being sold. And that’s all. Our commercial system favors a simple sales process because people believe that where there is easy and rapid commerce, there will be more commerce, and that makes everybody better off. That’s the theory, anyway.

It is Possible to Blow it

Now, as it happens, debt collectors sometimes do not satisfy this very simple process. How? By not identifying the thing being sold.

A typical debt bill of sale document says, “I, Bank, hereby assign all rights to the following debts to Debt Collector. See Attachment A for the debts assigned.” Sometimes – and quite often, actually – the debt collector, in attempting to prove it owns the debt, neglects to attach the “Attachment A” to its proof. That leaves the bill of sale unconnected to any specific account and thus fails to prove that the debt collector owns the debt.

The courts should always take that failure seriously, as it really does mean the debt collector did not prove it owned the debt. If it happens at trial, and you demonstrate the failure of proof, it should result in instant dismissal of the case because you have shown that the plaintiff has not established a constitutional requirement – that it be a true party in interest.

Still, you can see how it is basically a technicality, and you should know that the courts don’t like technicalities that help people avoid debts.

Chain of Title

Now let’s go one step further. Suppose a debt collector buys a debt and then sells it to another
debt collector. That happens all the time. If either of the bills of sale forget to attach “Attachment A,” then you say that the debt collector cannot prove a “valid chain of title.” That’s because with rare exceptions, a party that does not own a valid title cannot sell a valid title.

Again, though, not all courts are sensitive to the justice of this “technical” rule. It is NOT really a “technical” rule. Proof of title is critical to making sure that the plaintiff is the correct party in interest, as a bogus suit which manages to get a judgment against you will not bind the person with a legitimate title. If they scam you enough to get a judgment, then this will not stop the person with the legitimate title from suing you. Why should it? And that means you might have to pay twice.

Nevertheless, the courts have treated this requirement as if it were a technicality because it can look like the debt collector simply overlooked that element of the proof. You will be burned sometimes if this is all you depend on. Even though in my opinion you should always win.

The Bigger Issue of Attacking on ALL Fronts

Okay. Now let’s move on to the bigger issue. We put out a video called “The Most Dangerous
Myth for People in Debt” which may give you some insight into this question. The point there is that is that you cannot depend on other people – not courts, debt collectors, or opposing lawyers – to help you. You can’t depend on them to do the right thing.

In the real world, what you have to do is pile up as many reasons to do the right thing as possible and hope that one of them works.

If they don’t legitimately prove ownership you should win and probably will win more than 50% of the time. If that’s all you’ve got, you go with it, right?

But if you’ve got a debt collector, you know the chances are strongly against them having
legitimate, admissible evidence of the amount of the debt.

So you attack that, too.

They probably don’t have good evidence that you owe any debt, or that the original creditor
ever sent you statements, so you attack those things, too.

Any time you stop attacking before you run out of things to attack, you’re depending on someone else to take care of you. You’re hoping they’ll do the right thing without having been told all of the reasons to do so.

And how do you know what to attack? By doing discovery, by probing, researching, thinking… by doing everything you can, in other words, to find out what to attack. Our materials help you develop a full plan of attack and help you at every stage in implementing that attack, from answering the petition and submitting discovery, to motions and eventually trial.

Whether you use our materials or not, make sure you keep attacking the debt collector’s case until there’s nothing left to attack. Then you can hope to win.

Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is dedicated to helping people defend themselves from debt lawsuits without having to hire a lawyer. Lawsuits have a number of points where specific action is called or, and we have products to help you deal with most of these situations. We also have memberships that give you access to more materials and better training, and also provide a regular opportunity to ask questions and get answers in real-time. You can use this time to find out what the debt collectors are trying to do and what you might do in response, and you can get guidance on the issues that matter and how to think about and address them.

In addition to that, our website is a resource for all. Many of the articles and materials are reserved for members, but many others are available to everyone. Every page has a site search button in both the header and footer. Put in a key word – a word you think relates to what you’re looking for – and enter. You will get a page of results.

Products Related to this Article

There are no specific products related to this article because it addresses a strategy you should use throughout your defense. You might consider our memberships or our new program that we’re going to call Vision 20-20, out soon.


Members get discounts on all products as well as unlimited opportunities to join our regularly scheduled teleconferences. This gives invaluable real-time assistance, answers to questions, help with strategies, and encouragement. You also get the Litigation Manual and the Three Weaknesses Report for free with membership. Find out about memberships by clicking the “About Memberships” link in the menu at the top of the page.

Sign Up for Free Information

You can sign up to receive information from us by clicking on this link and following the instructions:

What you’ll receive if you sign up is a series of several videos and articles spread out over several days, and then you will occasionally hear from us as we add information to the site. We don’t always announce that information, though.

What you will not receive is any marketing from other people – or much from us, either. Our goal is to make the site more useful to members and visitors, not to swamp anyone with sales materials. The information we send will have links to information or products that we think may be helpful.



The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Debt Law and Motions for Summary Judgment

Get a copy of this article in PDF format: Sometimes the Best Defense is a Good Offense article

If you’re being sued for debt, your case is going to head for a show-down on a couple of main issues. These will probably involve some billing records or some record-keepers wanting to testify. And these are primarily “legal” issues – that is, the facts may be clear and undisputed, and the judge might be able to make the important decisions in the case. When a judge does that by motion and before trial, it’s called a “summary judgment,” and the parties ask for that by filing a “motion for summary judgment.” You will want to consider trying this.

Before we get deeply into motions for summary judgment, let’s discuss the way cases develop, go away, or are decided. It’s really just one process after the case is filed and you’ve answered.

The Way Debt Cases Develop

First, the parties conduct discovery which aims to find out what facts are, indeed, uncontested, which ones are disputed, and what evidence there is in support of them. What this really means is, discovery looks for what you can prove about your case or their case. In debt law, you either want to prove it was all a horrible mistake (if that’s what’s going on) or that the debt collector cannot prove its case. Since most debt cases come from what were at one time legitimate debts, most debt defense boils down to an attack on the debt collector’s case. And you will have an excellent chance of winning.

In your discovery, you will probe for what evidence they have and how they plan to get it “into evidence,” i.e., into the court’s consideration at trial. (Incidentally, our Discovery Pack is designed to help you do this.)

As facts emerge, and as work happens and becomes necessary, the debt collector might decide to drop the case. In fact that often happens, and of course it often doesn’t, too. Sometimes the debt collector will try to shorten things up by motion for summary judgment, but more usually they just want to get to trial as quickly as possible. If they do either one of these things before you have conducted your discovery, there’s a good chance you will be snowed under. Thus you should do your discovery quickly.

You want to aim for the motion for summary judgment right from the time you file your answer. If it doesn’t work, well, you’re halfway to being ready for trial anyway, and you will have started talking to the judge about the issues that matter.

Now to talk more specifically about motions for summary judgment.

Motions for Summary Judgment

A “motion” is just the formal way you ask the court to issue a ruling of some sort. A motion for summary judgment is asking the court to find that all the necessary facts for a ruling in your favor have been established, and to grant you a judgment as to them. It’s possible to get a summary judgment about some parts of a case but not others (a “partial summary judgment” in legalese).  To end the case, you have to get a judgment on all of the claims.

What to Do

If you are being sued, you need to begin with the ending in mind. That is, right from the beginning you should think long and hard about what it takes to win your case. In debt law, the first big challenge most defendants face is to answer the petition – just to take that first step in defending yourself. If you’ve managed that, congratulations. Just by doing that you’ve given yourself a better chance to win than approximately 90% of the other people being sued. And in some cases, to be sure, that’s all you need – the debt collector may walk away right now. But in most cases they won’t.

So your next specific step is to start discovery – the sooner the better. And you should start discovery with the firm goal of finding and proving the things you need to win. We have a product that can help with that, but this video is about the next step following discovery: the motion for summary judgment.

In a way, it’s simple, although this is one time you should never confuse “simple” with “easy.” If they’re alleging a breach of contract, for example, you will discover that they must prove the existence of a valid contract, its breach (failure to pay as agreed), and damages. The burden of proof is on the debt collector as to each of these things, and they have to show it using admissible evidence.

In your discovery, you should have narrowed down exactly what they have to offer as proof. In the case of a debt collector this is usually documents created by some other person, usually the original creditor. And they may have documents or testimony by some of their own employees as well. This material is generally intended to try either to fool the court into believing the other evidence is admissible, or to pull it within the rules of evidence.

Your job will be to look at each bit of evidence and show why it cannot do what the debt collectors want it to do.

Filing a Motion for Summary Judgment

Of course this isn’t very easy, and there are significant procedural requirements, but going through this process increases your chances of winning dramatically in three important ways. First, if you can show your right to a summary judgment, you should win the motion and get the case kicked out. Before that happens, though, you will be putting the plaintiff to the expense and effort of responding, and if they think they will lose (and often even if they think they will win), they’d rather just drop the case than keep going. And finally, even if the court does not rule, or rules against you, you will have learned a tremendous amount about the law and begun the process of teaching the judge what he or she needs to know, improving your chances of winning at trial a lot.

There’s every reason to do it. You just need the energy and courage to try. We can help.

Product Information

Because much of this article involves taking action and creating legal document, we include an addendum of the products we have that can help. First, if you are at the beginning stages of your case and needing to answer (or otherwise respond to) the petition, our First Response Kit is designed to help with that. If you have already answered and need to start (or restart) conducting discovery, our Discovery Pack will help. The Discovery Pack is included within the First Response Kit, so don’t get both. If you are trying to force the debt collector to respond to your discovery, you may want our Motion to Compel Pack.

If they’re filing a motion for summary judgment and you are not ready to file a motion for summary judgment yourself, our Motion for Summary Judgment Defense Pack could help. But if you want to respond to theirs and file one of your own, you will want our Cross-Motion  for Summary Judgment Pack. And if they haven’t file a motion for summary judgment but you want to, that would be our Motion for Summary Judgment Offense Pack. Don’t get more than one of the MSJ packs.


Members get discounts on all products as well as unlimited opportunities to join our regularly scheduled teleconferences. This gives invaluable real-time assistance, answers to questions, help with strategies, and encouragement. You also get the Litigation Manual for free with membership. Find out about memberships by clicking the “About Memberships” link in the menu at the top of the page.

Sign Up for More Information

You can sign up for free information from us by clicking here and following the instructions.

If you sign up, you will receive a series of videos and articles over the next few days designed to help you get a grip on debt litigation. Then we will occasionally send you information on new materials we have added to the site. This is rarely products and almost always new publicly available articles. You will not receive sales messages regarding other products, nor will we sell your information to any third party.

Affidavits of Original Creditors and Debt Collectors

Hey there! This content is available for FREE, when you become a member.

If They Never Have Evidence Why Do Discovery

People ask me why they should do discovery in debt cases when everybody knows the debt collectors don’t have any evidence. The answer to that question might seem obvious once you’ve been around, but it’s a critical part of defending yourself from the debt collectors.

As we point out in The Most Dangerous Myth, you can’t depend on anybody to do anything for you. You can’t depend on the courts to get rid of debt cases that don’t have evidence. If they did that, they’d get rid of most of them, but that isn’t their job. It’s going to be up to you.

There are a couple of fundamental reasons to do discovery as soon as possible. You have to make them show you what they have or admit what they don’t have. And the process of discovery costs the debt collectors money and often drives them away by itself. In addition, conducting discovery will likely make the judge and the other side take you more seriously and be more cooperative when you need it.

Make them Admit what they Have or Don’t Have

The first, legally-based reason, for pushing discovery despite all their objections and BS is that to win the case you must PROVE they have nothing. Or rather, you must prove that what they have, if anything, is not enough for them to win.

Ideally you could do that by motion for summary judgment, which would spare you the risk and effort of trial.

If you can’t do that, then you must prepare to win at trial.

On the other hand if they do have things, you need to know about it so you can prepare for them.

Now, to be clear, debt collectors, who are always represented by lawyers (they have to be), start with the advantage of the court’s attention and respect. You, on the other hand, as a non-lawyer, will have to earn the court’s respect. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is.

And one result of this is that you simply cannot count on the court to pay close enough attention to any arguments you make unless you give it time. A motion for summary judgment – win or lose – is the best way to present your arguments about the debt collector’s evidence to the court.

In order to do that, you must know, in detail, what that evidence is and where it comes from.

Discovery is Expensive for Debt Collectors

The debt collector is almost certainly going to object to every single request or interrogatory you give it. They can’t help themselves, and it’s usually a good tactic because it drives so many defendants into submission. But it’s a two-edged sword, and when you’re pro se and determined, their objections will be a large advantage for you.

Part of filing a motion to compel answers is an “informal conference” and attempt to negotiate discovery disputes. You will have to call the other side’s lawyer up, ask him or her why she objects to each item of discovery, tell her why you want it, and argue each objection. And their objections will be numerous, absurd, and repetitive. They’ll object, for example, to your request for information about the alleged purchase of your debt on the basis of attorney-client privilege. In all likelihood no lawyer will have been involved – or it will be strictly in an arms-length transaction where no attorney-client privilege ever applies. And they’ll make many other absurd arguments.

Take your time. Take their time. And know that it’s costing them about $200 per hour for you to do so.

Find out whether they actually have anything they aren’t giving you. If they say they don’t, then once you confirm the message you’ll have what you need for the summary judgment motion. If they say they do, keep fighting until you know exactly what it is. Again, all this is costing them a LOT of money.

And nothing makes a debt collector rethink the wisdom of suing you more than having to spend money. Not even it looking like you can win the case outright.


So go through the process. Chances are good that they’ll either give up or you will have what you need to win by the time you get through. And there’s no other way to get to that point.


Court Involvement in Discovery

What is the court’s involvement in discovery? Does it oversee interrogatories, requests for production and requests for admissions?

In most jurisdictions, there is no court involvement in the discovery process unless and until a motion to compel becomes necessary. Even in those jurisdictions, a lot of people will send a “notice of service of discovery” which simply informs the court of the date and type of service certain discovery was served on the other side: “On this date, defendant served his first set of interrogatories, requests for admissions, and requests for production on plaintiff by first class mail, postage prepaid, at the address noted below as the service address.”

Perhaps a very few courts require this by local rule. For other courts, it probably does not hurt and may occasionally do some good. If, for example, some issue of notice arises, parties are usually held responsible for knowing what was in a notice to the court. I’m not aware of that ever actually making a significant difference, however, and most lawyers do not send such notices unless required by rule.

In a very few courts – I just heard of one shortly before writing this article – the courts still take copies of the discovery. That’s a question you could ask a court clerk and probably get an answer, because if they don’t want it, they really don’t want it. That is, for most courts if you send them a copy of the discovery you sent to the other side, the court will return it to you and not accept it.

The Way Discovery Works

What happens is simple. You serve discovery directly to the other side. They answer, object, or ignore you.  If you take no further action, nothing will happen. No one looks out for you! Some people think that’s wrong, but the court gives the parties the freedom to choose their fights, and if you don’t fight about it, the court is only too happy to forget it.

Specifically this means that if you serve discovery on the other side and they ignore it, the court will probably not prevent them from using things they should have given you at trial. If you want to protect yourself you have to follow through.

If you want to force the debt collector to answer, you must file a motion to compel (and typically you have to send them a “good-faith” letter to try to get them to agree to answer, first). Then you attach all your discovery requests and their answers and objections, and file it with the court. That’s the first time the court will see it, so your motion to compel has to be thorough and complete.

And there’s more. After the other side responds, you will need to “call” (schedule your motion with the court) and argue it in front of the judge in order to get the court to rule. The court will either sustain their objections or overrule them and order them to answer the requests. It will usually give them a little time to do that.

At the argument and in your motion, you have to go through each item of discovery and every objection one at a time. It can be maddening, but you are asking the court to rule on a long series of objections, and it must make up its mind on each separate thing.


Discovery – Starting to Win your Case

It is not necessary to begin discovery at the time you file your Answer and Counterclaim, but if it is at all possible for you to do, it gives you a big advantage.


Push or Be Pushed – Get that Discovery Started

In the law, it is push or be pushed. That is, if you aren’t already pushing the debt collector to give you discovery or respond to motions, chances are good that they will be giving you things to do. When you’re pushing them, your chances of winning go way up. When they’re pushing you, they go down.

You might not think it would have to be that way. There’s usually plenty of time given to do everything that needs to be done and that the law expects both sides to do things at basically the same time. But theory aside, the reality is that people – lawyers included – will usually do what is pressing them first. And then they may – or may not – do the rest of what they should do.

People in general, and lawyers especially, make sure they’re pretty close to being as busy as they can be. And this inevitably means that choices will have to be made when and if things get tighter. If you push the debt collectors to answer your discovery, in other words, they very well may choose to skip discovery on you. If you skip discovery on them, you will soon discovery they have plenty enough time to keep you busy. That’s just the way things work.

So if you’re in a case where they’ve already served discovery on you, you’re going to have to do double duty – make sure you serve your discovery on them before you give them your answers. If you don’t, the next thing you know they’ll be filing a motion for summary judgment against you.

Better yet, make sure you are first out the discovery gate – and then keep tightening the screws. Serve discovery on them along with your Answer. This requires you to be prepared for your case pretty quickly, but it will pay off in a big way down the line.

Make them Answer Discovery

Importance of Early Discovery

Original Creditor or Debt Collector?

The question of the month has to do with a petition brought in the name of the original creditor – is that who is suing you?

Member question is, if the summons and complaint list the original creditor but at the bottom of the summons and complaint it has “this communication is from a debt collector” am I dealing with the original creditor through their attorneys or is this a debt that they have transferred/sold?

My answer to this question used to be, always, that if the case was brought in the name of the original creditor, that’s who you should think actually was suing you, but my answer has changed somewhat. Now I would say that if you have any doubt about who is suing you, you should pursue the question in discovery. Specifically, that means asking interrogatories regarding whether the debt has ever been sold, and if so, to whom.

It Can Be Hard to Know Who Is Suing You

My new-found skepticism on this issue comes from talking with an ex debt collector who reports to me that debt collectors do (often, he says) sue in the name of the original creditor.

As I pointed out in In the Shoes of the Original Debt Collector, it is deceptive for the debt collector to pose as an original creditor. While certain of the rights of the debt collector are the same as, and are derived from, the rights of the original creditor, the law very definitely and explicitly regards debt collectors are different from original creditors. And original creditors are treated more favorably in the law than debt collectors. So it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for debt collectors to bring suit pretending to be the original creditors. That is so obvious, and bringing suit in the name of the original creditor would be such a blatant violation of the law, that I have always doubted that any debt collectors would dare to do it.

I, of all people, should know better! However, it is still true that the mere fact that the petition says “this is a communication from a debt collector…” does not mean you are being sued by a debt collector and not the original creditor when the original creditor’s name is on the suit. Lawyers are often cautious, and do a lot of things by routine and with forms, and so they could have put the warning on there unnecessarily.

However, if you have any suspicion that your debt has changed hands, but you’re being sued in the name of the original creditor, you should explore the question in discovery. And if you find out you are, in fact, being sued by a debt collector, I suggest you very strongly consider bringing a counterclaim under the FDCPA for deceptive and unfair debt collection practices. It should be a winner.

Local Rules and Discovery Limits

The Local Rules are rules enacted by the specific court your case is in, and they often control the timing and form and number limits of discovery as well as containing extremely important information about how a trial will proceed and what you have to do to place evidence in front of the court. In other words, finding the local rules is absolutely crucial to defending yourself.

Rules of Civil Procedure

Let’s start with rules that every legal jurisdiction has: Rules of Civil Procedure. You can easily find these by Googling the name of your state and the phrase “rules of civil procedure.” Or you can go to Rules of Civil Procedure and find your jurisdiction.

Organization of Rules of Civil Procedure

In most jurisdictions, the rules of civil procedure are part of a larger body of court rules enacted by the legislature (in the states) or the Supreme Court (in the case of the federal rules). These are the rules that control every aspect of the legal process, from the qualifications and ethical rules of lawyers and judges, through the appeals and other “collateral” challenges. They cover everything, and they are, as much as possible, in an order related to how they would come up in an ordinary case. That means that for the most part, the rules controlling the beginning of a case – filing it and getting it served – are at the beginning of the rules, and stuff that comes later, like discovery, comes a few rules later. That will help you figure out where things are.

Federal Rules

In the federal jurisdictions, courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of the jurisdictions also have what are actually called “local rules.” These rules are, in many courts, numbered exactly like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Which is to say that the Local Rules controlling discovery have the same number as the Rules of Civil Procedure that they are modifying. An example might make it easier to understand.

Federal Rule 26 is the general rule that controls discovery in federal cases – there are several other rules that apply to specific parts of the discovery process. Rule 26 provides a general framework for the discovery process, but it does not limit how many questions you are allowed to ask in interrogatories or what the form of those questions must be. That’s what the Local Rules do, fill out the general rules and apply various limits that will apply within certain “local” jurisdictions, so there is a “Local Rule 26.” The local rules might provide, for example, that a party can only ask 25 or 50 interrogatories, or that those interrogatories must take a certain form.

Other Jurisdictions

Other jurisdictions do NOT follow the federal rules. They have their OWN rules, starting, of course, with the state rules of civil procedure. They may have local rules that would govern your specific court or type of court, including, most likely, the discovery process. And some jurisdictions have “approved” interrogatories or requests for production. These are in a form that the courts have specifically ruled is acceptable, although that wouldn’t stop you from objecting on other grounds (e.g., that they are not relevant to your case).

It is beyond the scope of this article, or my materials generally, to provide the location of every jurisdiction’s rules. They all have different ones, if they have them at all (and not all courts do). Nevertheless, knowing those rules for your jurisdiction is crucial. You must find the rules that control the game you are playing.

Finding the Local Rules

In the federal courts – which will only apply where you have brought a claim under a federal consumer protection law – finding the local rules is simple. You can either look it up in the federal website for your jurisdiction under “local rules” or ask a court clerk to point you in the right direction.

It’s tougher in the state courts. In the state courts, you start with finding the correct rules of civil procedure. As I have often pointed out, debt cases are often brought in courts of lower jurisdiction – called “Associate Circuit Courts” in Missouri, for example. These courts often operate on slightly different rules than the Circuit Courts which must follow the state rules of civil procedure. Sometimes the rules for your court will be embodied in a special rule within the rules of civil procedure, and sometimes the rules will occupy their own area of the rules of civil procedure.

First, figure out what jurisdiction you are actually in. Is it the courts of general jurisdiction? Or is it some sort of more limited court? At the top of the petition will be a header that looks like this:

In the Associate Circuit Court
          of St. Louis County
            State of Missouri

That tells you what your jurisdiction is. Google that court. So in this case, Google “Associate Circuit Court,” “St. Louis County,” and “Rules of Civil Procedure.” This will bring up references to the specific rules that control your jurisdiction. Or go to your court’s website and look up “Rules of Civil Procedure” or “rules of court” or “local rules” or something like that and see if you can find the rules that will control your case.