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Library of Glossary Videos

Library of Glossary Videos

The videos on this page are part of our glossary and our efforts to make the public more aware of it. You will find a brief description of the videos and a link to the page on which they occur.
Click here for the Glossary.

Glossary: Introduction Video

Glossary: Assignment

Glossary: Business Records Exception Video

Glossary: Charge-offs

Glossary: Dismiss, Dismissal

Glossary: Evidence – What Makes Something Evidence

Glossary: Small Claims Courts

Glossary: Statues of Limitations

 

Motions to Dismiss Part 2

Motions to Dismiss in Debt Collection Cases, Part Two

When you’re being sued on a debt by a debt collector, motions to dismiss can come up in one or both of two ways: you could file one against them – or they could file one against you. More specifically, (1) you could file a motion to dismiss their lawsuit, or (2) they could file a motion to dismiss your counterclaim.

It is also possible that either or both of you could file a motion to dismiss certain affirmative defenses, although this does not happen very often in debt cases.

This is the second part of a two-part article. For the first part, click here. For a video on arguing motions in court, click here.

What Motions to Dismiss Are

 So what is a motion to dismiss? A motion is always the way a litigation party asks the court to take some official action. A motion to dismiss is a motion asking the court to get rid of some part of the other party’s case on the grounds that, even if what the other side says is true, it doesn’t give them the right they claim. For this reason, motions to dismiss are sometimes called motions “for judgment on the pleadings” or “demurrers.” The crucial fact in all of these motions is that all the facts alleged in the pleadings are taken, for purposes of the motion, as granted just as if they had been proven. If the motion is denied, the facts will still have to be proven later in trial.

In the Litigation Manual I illustrate the concept by supposing that a policeman has issued a ticket for exceeding the posted speed limit, but the ticket says you were going 25 mph in a 30 mph zone. There, even if what the ticket says is true (and in this case, specially if it is), it simply does not state a violation of the law. A similarly basic example in the debt law would be where you sued the other side under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act without alleging an action that violated the act.

Many motions to dismiss really seem to be calling the court’s attention to some obvious mistake, a simple oversight, perhaps. Naturally, however, many motions to dismiss are not so simple. In many cases, although the facts are clear, what the law provides or requires is not, and these would be cases appropriate for motions to dismiss.

You can move to dismiss any claim or count of the petition. If you do not seek to dismiss the entire petition, you have to answer the part you do not try to get dismissed.

 

Because the motion assumes that every fact alleged is considered true, motions to dismiss are said to be “testing the sufficiency of the pleadings.” Most courts will go ever further than that, and state that, if any set of facts (alleged or not) consistent with the pleadings could result in a valid claim, the motion to dismiss is to be denied, but from the point of view of a pro se defendant, this rule has limitations. Depending on unalleged facts can be a dangerous occupation for someone wanting to avoid a motion to dismiss.

Defendant’s Motions to Dismiss vs. Plaintiff’s Motions to Dismiss

Technically, a defendant’s motion to dismiss is treated in the same way as a plaintiff’s motion to dismiss, the only differences being who brings them and when. In any event, what is up for grabs is purely a legal question: does the law allow or prohibit certain action, and does it give a right to the person claiming it?

Despite the legal equivalence of the motions brought by plaintiff and defendant, it makes sense for us to look first at defendant’s motions, which you are likely to file against debt collectors, and secondly at plaintiffs’ motions to dismiss counterclaims or affirmative defenses, which debt collectors are likely to file against you.

Motions to Dismiss by Debt Defendants

When Petitions (or counterclaims) are filed, they are supposed to be following one of two types of pleading: “notice” pleading or “fact” pleading. The type of pleading required can make a very large difference, and it is determined by State law. In other words, your state requires either fact pleading or notice pleading. One of your first actions as a defendant in a debt lawsuit should be to find out which rule your state follows. Most states require fact pleading.

Fact Pleading

If your state requires fact pleading, then filing a motion to dismiss is as “simple” as looking at the elements (parts) of the case the plaintiff is alleging (its “prima facie” case), seeing if every fact necessary to prove that case is alleged, and moving to dismiss if any parts of the prima facie case is missing.  You might think that debt collectors, who file millions of these cases per year, would never omit a part of their case in the pleadings. In fact they do so quite often, and this is simply because of the nature of their business: they buy huge numbers of supposed debts with minimal paperwork, file cases by the truckload, and rarely get challenged by defendants or the courts. In reality, lawyers are creating forms that secretaries fill out much of the time. They are not sharp, in other words, nor do they need to worry very much about their petitions. It is easy for them to make mistakes in the pleadings, and they often do. And sometimes they do it on purpose.

For a simple example, consider the filing of a claim of breach of contract in Pennsylvania, where a plaintiff on such a claim must either state the terms of the contract or attach a copy of it. Debt collectors almost never do this despite the rule – because they can’t. They don’t have the contracts. The huge majority of the cases are won by default, but those who defend simply file a motion to dismiss (called “Preliminary Objections” in Pennsylvania). Eventually the cases of persistent defendants get dismissed with prejudice, but for each case that gets dismissed, probably thousands of inadequately pleaded cases result in default judgment for the debt collectors. And the debt collectors are never punished for flouting the law. See the attached sample motion and judgment.

Notice Pleading

Where the jurisdiction is “notice” pleading, a motion to dismiss is much more difficult to win. Notice pleading means that a petition must give the party being sued some “general idea” of what he is being sued for, and in some courts this is such a vague standard that it is almost impossible to succeed in your motion to dismiss. Unless the debt collector actually names its theory in a heading (as they often do), if it does not state all the elements of an obvious claim, your motion may well be a “Motion for More Definite Statement.” In this motion you point out that the plaintiff has not alleged any specific claim and you ask that the case be dismissed or that the debt collector be required to state the elements of a claim. Your argument there is that the vague petition fails to give you adequate notice of the claims being brought against you. This type of motion (for more definite statement) has many of the advantages of a motion to dismiss and should probably be brought if possible.

If you win that and the plaintiff then files an Amended Petition that is also inadequate in stating a claim, you will either oppose the amendment or file a new motion to dismiss.

Timing – When to File

There are two aspects of time you must consider when filing a Motion to Dismiss (or for More Definite Statement). The first of these is whether you must file your motion to dismiss before filing an Answer. In my opinion it is always a good idea to file a motion to dismiss – on any basis – before filing an Answer.

Motions to Dismiss when Sued for Debt

Motions to dismiss are different from Motions for Summary Judgment Motions. They rely only on the pleadings. This video explains what a motion to dismiss is and how to deal with it if you’re pro se.

 

 

You Can Get A Motions to Dismiss Pack

One of the best defenses to a lawsuit is a motion to dismiss, and often you must file your motion to dismiss before filing an answer or you will lose important rights. On the other hand, the debt collector may well file a motion to dismiss your counterclaim or even affirmative defenses. This Motion to Dismiss Pack helps you file a motion if you need to – or defend against the motion if the plaintiff files on against you.

It contains

  • Instructions
  • Motions to Dismiss in Debt Cases Report
  • Sample Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Claims for Breach of Contract and Account Stated” in pdf and Open Office (Word compatible) formats
  • Sample Memo In Support of Motion to Dismiss in pdf and Open Office (Word-compatible) formats
  • Sample Memo in Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss Counterclaims in pdf and Open Office (Word-compatible) formats
  • Basic instructions of legal research

These are the things you will need to attack the pleadings of the debt collector and begin your defense of the lawsuit. In many cases you need to do this before filing your Answer or you will lose certain important rights.

Special Conditions in Pennsylvania Debt Law

I often tell people that they might simply deny every allegation of the petition and put the plaintiff to the burden of proving the case. In Pennsylvania, however, there is a much more powerful method for most debt cases: “Preliminary Objections.”

Preliminary Objections are a form of motion to dismiss based on the inadequacy of the pleadings brought against you. PA Rule of Civil Procedure 1019 requires that a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit based on a writing (which every credit card is) must have the contract attached to it or else include allegations in the petition from which the whole sum of money claimed could be derived.

The only catch to Preliminary Objections is that they must be filed before answering the petition or the objections are considered “waived” (let go). If you are in Pennsylvania, then, you should strongly consider getting my Silver Bullets package (for Pennsylvania, obviously). The package also contains an extremely powerful motion to dismiss any claim for “account stated,” which is the way the debt collectors have used to try to avoid Rule 1019.

Things you Should Know before you Settle

Things You Should Know before You Settle with the Debt Collector

If you’re being sued by a debt collector, you’re probably worried–of course you are–but think twice before settling the case just to make it go away. Sometimes that can be a very bad idea, and if you will hang in there and fight a little bit, you’ll be in much better shape.

A Few Basic Facts about Settling Debt Cases

The lawyers for the debt collector never worry about losing a suit – they always assume they will win. And has nothing to do with the evidence, because they rarely have any idea of what the evidence is or what they could prove if they have to. Their confidence comes from two things: they don’t worry about losing a case because they have many of them and they’re cheap. And they don’t think you – a non-lawyer – have much of a chance against them anyway. So going to court and claiming they’ll win (if you try to negotiate) is nothing to them at all – and it should mean nothing to you, either.

So what do the lawyers for the debt collector fear? They fear wasting time – or spending it at all. That’s why they never do more than glance at your case before you show up. They have the business down to spending just a very few minutes per case.

They can do this because they do lots of cases at the same time and because most people give up or default.

So in Order to Settle in Any Meaningful Way

In order for you to get them to take you seriously, you will need to do a little work – and you will need to make them do a little work. Before that happens, they might knock off 20-30% of what the case is seeking if you ask (or they might not), but they won’t do serious negotiation. To settle, you have to file an answer and begin to defend yourself. Once you file an Answer and serve them some discovery, they start noticing you, and after that the chances of settling just get better and better.

And so do your chances of winning outright.

So hang tough for a bit and do a few things – they’re easy to do and not really scary. And if you want to settle eventually you can be sure that you will have made that easier and better. Or keep fighting and see if you can make them give up.