Sued not Served
What Should I Do if I Know a Debt Law Suit Has Been Filed but not Served?
Sometimes people find out they’re being sued before the plaintiff gets around to serving them. How does this happen? And what do you do if you find that out?
People can learn about a suit before being sued – it is public knowledge, after all, so it could happen
in a lot of different ways. Mostly though, it happens in one of two ways. Sometimes debt collectors bug you for money, and you go out of your way to check court files to see if you’re named in a suit, or you find out from a neighbor who gets curious when they see someone trying to serve you. I guess these ways are actually rare, but they can happen. The other way is more common.
There are lawyers who want to represent people in these cases, and they may send you a letter telling you you’re being sued. It may be news to you that anybody is even after you, much less actually suing you. So you check the court files and find out it’s true.
What do you do?
There have been times people brought these cases to me, back when I was practicing, and wanted to take action. In that situation they had a lawyer and a counterclaim (usually), and where that’s the case, it could make sense to waive – or let go – your right to service and just enter on the case. We were sure we’d win, and we had a counterclaim, so why wait?
If you’re pro se these days, the situation is very different. You can’t be sure you’ll win however much you think the facts are on your side, because you can’t count on the courts to see it your way. No matter how clear you think it is, you just can’t count on winning. And you’re less likely to have a counterclaim because the courts have narrowed the definition of counterclaim and debt collectors have gotten a little more careful.
So for those reasons I think it makes sense to watch the court docket (without identifying yourself to the court) to see if they ever claim to have served you. Or until they actually do serve you.
You have no obligation to make it easier for them to serve you, and if they can’t get you served they will eventually have to drop the case – or get it dropped (for “failure to prosecute”). I think it makes good sense to give them that chance. But watch to make sure they don’t claim you were served. Likewise, if they “serve by publication” (which is putting an ad in a small local paper) you’ll probably need to answer, but it’s rare, and they have to get permission to do it. Still, you should watch for it.
If they don’t serve you, you might get lucky and have them drop the case. Or you will get served and have to defend.
Obviously, if that happens, we can help.