I know I’ve discussed whether you should seek a jury trial before, but I want to give it a new look for this set of videos. In my view, debt defendants should always ask for jury trials if they have the right to them, and most of them do have that right.
Your Right under the Constitution
Under constitutional law, you have a right to jury trial under the 7th amendment for most “legal” claims. “Legal” in this sense is a term of art referring to the historical development of the English courts. Suffice it to say that most claims “sounding in” breach of contract are “legal” claims. Account stated, on the other hand, is not, so if the credit card company is suing you ONLY for account stated, you probably don’t have a right to jury trial, but for almost all other credit card or loan based claims you do. And if the plaintiff is suing you for breach of contract and account stated, you will have a right to jury trial that will, in all likelihood, control the whole case.
So most of the people watching this video or reading this article will have a right to jury trial. Should you take it?
I think yes for a couple of reasons.
Judges and Lawyers Take Jury Trials More Seriously
The primary reason is that judges and the other side will take jury trials more seriously. This means that the judge will be much more careful about what kinds of evidence to allow the jury to see, and since that is the heart of much of our defense, this is a very good thing. It isn’t that a judge should allow hearsay to affect his or her decision, it’s that the judge will pay much closer attention to your argument that something IS hearsay if he or she is worried about a jury hearing it. It’s just a more serious kind of case.
And the second reason is that it IS a more serious kind of case. Although a judge-held trial could last half an hour, a jury trial will be measured in hours or possibly days if there are any complications. That’s because the jury has to be selected, as much as anything, and that takes time. The difference in cost of attorney time could easily be a thousand dollars, and debt collectors don’t like to put that kind of money into cases like this. It’s just the way they do business, not that they fear them or anything.
Jury Trials are NOT Scary
But should you fear them?
It might sound like a jury trial is a bigger deal for a shy or intimidated person, and it is true that they are somewhat more complicated, and you’re playing to people in the jury rather than just the judge. But although that’s true, you will probably find, in real life, that it doesn’t matter. Juries are just as easy to talk to as judges, and if you’re caught up in your case it’s probably even easier to talk to the jury. They’re much more like you than the judge is.
There are factors you’ll need to consider as you prepare for the case, but in making your decision on whether or not to demand a jury that’s probably all you need to know. The judge will be more serious, the defendant will like the case less, and the jury will be easier to talk to than the judge. In general. So we suggest you ask for a jury trial. Find out your court’s rules on asking for one before you file your answer if that is possible.
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If you are being sued by a debt collector, the first step in defending yourself is knowing who is suing you and what you are being sued for. You’ll want to know what facts the plaintiff thinks it can and needs to prove, and you’ll want to look for initial weaknesses in the case. In all of these things, you will need to understand how to read the petition and understand what it is doing.
Below, you will find a sample petition. The petition (also called “complaint” in some jurisdictions – the terms refer to the same thing) is in black, and my comments about what the petition is doing is in red ink. You will see that every part of the petition has its purpose and function.
For purposes of this article, I will refer only to a few parts of the case, as these areas are often discussed in the teleconference calls and people have shown that they do not understand them. But if you look at the annotated sample petition, you will see much more. Knowing what things are called is an important part of the process of understanding what they are and do and an important first step in defending your rights.
The caption of the case is the part where it says “Debt Collector vs You” and also the name of the court and jurisdiction. Although it has come up, very rarely, that the named plaintiff may not, actually, be the plaintiff (see our article and video on assignment in the glossary), normally the person named as plaintiff is the plaintiff.
In plain English, that means that if First National Bank is named as plaintiff, that’s the person suing you and not a debt buyer. If you have any reason to doubt that, you will want to use the discovery process to pry the truth loose.
And you are the defendant along with anyone else named as defendant in the caption.
The jurisdiction is also important, as this will either tell you that the court has dollar limits to its jurisdiction or not. At a minimum, you can use this part of the caption to find out whether the court does, indeed, have such limits. In general, if it does, the lower the limits, the less likely the court is to follow the rules of evidence rigorously. We usually want the highest court possible because it is critical to debt defense that the rules should be followed.
Title Heading of Suit
The title headings in a lawsuit are not formally treated as part of the lawsuit but are, instead, guidance. But what you need to know is that if you have different “counts” of the lawsuit there will be either more than one set of facts involved or, much more likely, more than one legal theory involved. If Count One is breach of contract, and Count Two is for Account Stated, you know you are being sued under two laws. In order to win your case, you will have to win on every count.
If you have no heading, or no heading that refers to counts, you are being sued based on one law (almost certainly), although it isn’t always perfectly clear from the petition what that is.
This is the part of the suit that says, “wherefore, plaintiff requests…” In other words, it’s the part of the lawsuit that says what the plaintiff wants. If you want to know how much they’re suing you for, this is the place to look.
The wherefore clause is usually the last paragraph of a count. If your suit has more than one count, it will have more than one wherefore clause, one at the end of each count. If it does not have more than one count, it will probably be the last paragraph of the petition.
You need to know what the debt collector is suing you for. This is where you find that.
Sample Petition for Money Owed
IN THE ASSOCIATE CIRCUIT COURT “Associate” means limited jurisdiction
OF THE COUNTY OF XXXXX County or city jurisdiction
STATE OF XXXX
DEBT COLLECTOR COMPANY, LLC, This is the “Caption,” This name is the
ASSIGNEE OF CC COMPANY (Mastercard), plaintiff [the lawyer signing is not
Plaintiff, plaintiff, nor is Mastercard]
JOHN Q. PUBLIC,
COUNT ONE – SUIT ON MONEY OWED [Title. “Count One” indicates this claim has more than one legal basis. Lots of suits are brought on only one basis and don’t have “Count __” in them]
Comes Now Plaintiff and for its cause of action against the Defendant states as follows: [Intro, sometimes much longer]
Plaintiff is a limited liability company duly organized and existing under law and is the lawful assignee of this debt. [Paragraph allegations – you have to respond to each paragraph – this one identifies the plaintiff and alleges it was assigned the debt.]
That defendant is a resident of xx county, state of x. [paragraph establishing court’s jurisdiction over defendant, so important – don’t admit if wrong]
That defendant is in default under the terms of the documentation attached hereto, incorporated herein and marked Plaintiff’s Exhibits A and B in the amount of $1,332.14. [This is ‘breach of contract” language, often more involved than this, including claims of issuing cards or credit, etc.]
That plaintiff has performed all conditions on its part required to be performed. [Establishing right to remedy – plaintiff did not breach contract]
That demand for payment has been made and payment refused. [Formality, sometimes but not usually required, usually included though]
Wherefore, plaintiff prays judgment against defendant in the principal amount of $1,332.14 together with interest of 39% per annum from December 7, 2005, and for costs and attorneys fees herein. [the “Wherefore clause.” Says what the plaintiff wants. Usually if it does not say “attorney’s fees,” they won’t be able to get them if they win]
COUNT TWO – ACCOUNT STATED [second claim, this one under law of account stated]
Plaintiff realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1-5 of this petition as if fully stated herein. [“reincorporation clause” – standard. You will simply reallege your previous responses in the same way]
Plaintiff had a regular billing arrangement with Defendant whereby each month Plaintiff would send Defendant an accounting of money due and owing either as a result of new charges made by Defendant or for charges based upon an existing balance. [necessary to show that bills, or “accounting,” were a regular thing, expected by defendant]
Plaintiff sent Defendant a bill showing a charge of $1,332.14 due immediately on X date.[the “new contract,” because it was actually or “impliedly accepted”]
Defendant did not dispute this bill showing a balance of $1,332.14 and accordingly accepted it. [Your supposed agreement]
Defendant did not pay the amount due and is thereby in violation of the law. [The “breach” of the contract created by accepting the accounting – note that new agreement does not have any terms other than the money allegedly owed]
Wherefore, plaintiff prays judgment against defendant in the amount of $1,332.14 together with costs of this action and such other relief as this court deems appropriate under the law. [The “wherefore clause” for the account stated – note that it should not include attorney’s fees or (probably) interest]
Collection Law Firm [law firm’s signature, usually illegible. Both the named lawyer and the firm are representing plaintiff (but are NOT plaintiff) and would be on the hook for possible violations of FDCPA]
[There is usually some sort of affidavit to the effect that the defendant is not in active military service – if you are not, this is purely a formality. If you are in active military service, special rules apply to your case]
http://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.png00Ken Giberthttp://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.pngKen Gibert2019-05-03 20:45:262019-11-22 21:45:07Understanding the Petition in a Debt Lawsuit
As I have pointed out elsewhere, there are other products out there that will tempt you in various ways. One way is to find a shortcut. Another, equally dangerous thing, is to try to hide behind legalese. You may think you’ve found an excellent phrase, like “I know nothing about what you’re saying and therefore deny…”, but you could be burying yourself under an admission. (In this case, that you “know nothing about…” – the denial is a conclusion with no real impact, but admitting you know nothing? – that’s a fact you’ve just admitted.)
Don’t Try to Hide behind Legalese against Debt Collectors
I have recently had a customer tell me she bought a package that told her to answer requests for admissions with “after reasonable inquiry, defendant cannot either admit or deny… [each request].”
It sounds so much more reasonable, doesn’t it, to say “defendant has no knowledge to admit or deny…” or “after reasonable inquiry defendant cannot either admit or deny…” requests for admissions or allegations in petitions. The problem is, if you cannot admit or deny, and the debt collector alleges, there is nothing in opposition to the debt collector’s allegations. The debt collector just says, “defendant admits that, after reasonable investigation, she cannot deny…”
The standard for judgment on the pleadings is no genuine issue of material fact.
Just deny what you can. And you can deny anything you don’t have to admit in almost every jurisdiction. Don’t get fancy. Hiding behind fancy sounding legalese is, in the final analysis, just hiding. The judge knows it, and the lawyers know it. You know it too – or you wouldn’t try it.
You have very strong arguments to make in terms of law and justice. The debt collector has an extremely tough burden to carry. Your every effort should be to make that burden crystal clear – and to prove that the debt collector cannot do it. Legalese of any sort will simply distract from this sharp, clear mission. A clear, rigorous reading of the facts and law is your friend. Vagueness is your enemy. Products which encourage you to hide behind legalese invite you to disaster.
http://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.png00Ken Giberthttp://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.pngKen Gibert2018-06-19 16:21:552018-07-10 14:21:01Do not get fancy when defending
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http://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.png00Ken Giberthttp://yourlegallegup.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/YLLU_Main_Logo.pngKen Gibert2018-06-19 15:56:292018-10-03 16:12:32Defend against Motions to Dismiss Part 1