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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.

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Should I Buy Your Motion to Dismiss Pack?

Short Answer: Only if you need to file a motion to dismiss.

Long Answer – As follows:

When Should One Purchase our Motion to Dismiss Pack?

A lot of people buy our Motion to Dismiss Pack on the theory that they want the case against them to go away. It isn’t as simple as that. The motion to dismiss pack is applicable to situations where (1) you have filed a counterclaim and the debt collector moves to dismiss it, or (2) you have some legal basis for arguing that even if everything the petition against you is considered true the debt collector does not have a right to collect from you.

The first of these possibilities – that you are defending against a motion to dismiss – is obvious. If they want to dismiss, you will probably want to defend against that. Your motion to dismiss their claim is more of the question.

Purpose of Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss is a way to “test the adequacy of the petition.” It is NOT a way to test whether the debt collector has evidence to support its lawsuit. Motions to dismiss are therefore appropriate, most generally, when you have a challenge to the company’s right to sue you in a specific court or in general, or when you have a challenge to the court’s power over you. There are also what are known as “equitable” considerations we will discuss.

The Debt Collector’s Right to Sue You

The main way this comes up is in jurisdictions where they have passed regulations on debt collectors which the collector has not followed. Most typically this is an issue of registering or not. Several states require debt collectors to register in some way before pursuing debt – and debt collectors often ignore those regulations. If yours did, a motion to dismiss on that basis would be a good idea.

Another way the right to sue you comes up – much less frequently – is that the petition fails to allege ownership of the debt. This could happen, for example, where ABC Collectors are suing you on a Citibank credit card. If they allege in the petition that they bought the debt, then you will want to find out what evidence they have, but this is part of the suit and not a motion to dismiss. If they fail to allege why you’re supposed to owe them on a debt apparently owing to Citibank, a motion to dismiss is probably in order.

The Court’s Right to Hear the Case

You may want to challenge the court’s power to hear the case against you. This arises in two ways. First, the suit could be brought somewhere other than the jurisdiction in which you live. You live in X county, and they bring suit in Y county and you never lived there. That would likely deprive the court of jurisdiction over you and constitute a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The other, more common, reason for this sort of motion to dismiss has to do with service. Were you served correctly? And this question can be rather complicated. For present purposes, we merely say that a motion to dismiss is the appropriate way to challenge the court’s power over you, and this is a motion you would want to file before taking any other action in the suit. If you think you were not served properly, in other words, you will probably want to file a motion to dismiss.

“Equitable” Circumstances

There are certain gray areas that might be appropriate for a motion to dismiss, and these are called “equitable” considerations.

“Equity” is a historical reference to the way courts used to be in England, but for our purposes they refer to something more like moral rightness. If the debt collector waited too long to bring suit, if it did something to prevent you from making payments, or if you settled the case previously and they still sued you might all be examples of equitable defenses. While they DO involve evidence beyond the pleadings (the normal boundary line for motions to dismiss), you could probably bring these things as motions to dismiss. You would also be wise to plead them as “affirmative defenses” in your answer if you file an answer

What Motions to Dismiss are NOT for

You don’t file a motion to dismiss because you aren’t satisfied with attachments to the debt collector’s petition or don’t think they have the proof. Yes, you’ll attack their case – but later, and in another way. You don’t file a motion to dismiss because you just want the case to go away. And you don’t BUY a motion to dismiss pack here as an inexpensive way to defend the case in general. Our motion to dismiss pack is a specific product aimed at a specific situation. If it doesn’t apply to your situation, you will simply want to get the Gold Debt Litigation Membership and start doing the things you need to do to win the case.

Motions in Limine

Motions in Limine are pre-trial motions that serve a specific purpose. That is, they are motions designed to preview issues regarding whether certain evidence will be allowed (“admissible”) for the trial and under what circumstances it would or will be admitted. Typically, a court’s final pretrial order will set the time limit and schedule for motions in limine, but even if it doesn’t, you may want to file one.

Remember, they are filed in contemplation of trial – they are not a motion to file in some more general sense. If there is a motion for summary judgment, for example, you don’t file a motion in limine – you oppose the motion and object to the evidence in that motion. You would make all the same arguments, perhaps, but in a different context.

Remember that a court may, or may not, rule on a motion in limine before trial. The idea is to present the objection in a systematic way under conditions that allow the judge to think about it outside of the heat of the moment. It often happens that you’ll present a motion in limine and the judge won’t rule on it because the context of the trial isn’t clear until things start happening in trial. No matter. Make your best argument in the motion and argument and be prepared for whatever the judge does. Pay close attention to what the judge thinks matters regarding whether the evidence will be admitted, and be prepared to argue at trial that those conditions haven’t happened (so the evidence shouldn’t be admitted).

Finally, remember that any ruling by the judge before trial is not necessarily binding at trial. Thus, even if you lose your motion to exclude in limine, you will want to object at trial and take another shot at it. You’d be surprised how often the judge will change his mind. And that means you also have to be prepared for the other side to do the same – and you must remember that in order to preserve your rights you probably have to make your objections again at trial. So think of the motion in limine as a sort of warm up.

 

The Most Dangerous Myth for Consumers in Debt

The Most Dangerous Myth for Consumers in Debt

For a free copy of this article in PDF format, click here: the Most Dangerous Myth

Consumers who owe money – debtors – often believe a lot of myths that are bad for them. Debtors can be desperate and will look for what seems the easiest, fastest way out of trouble. That makes sense – if you’re being sued you do need immediate action. But you must be on guard for myths that will hurt you by luring you into the wrong action, or no action.

And the worst myth being played to people being sued is the idea that somehow someone else will take care of them. It shows up in many ways and is always bad news. It isn’t necessarily your fault if you have believed this destructive myth – there are a lot of people peddling it. But your chances to beat the debt collectors and protect your money depend on your taking charge.

The Myth – where does it show up and how does it do so much damage?

Let’s look at some of the biggest examples of the myth that someone ELSE will take care of you.

People Think the Debt Collectors will Try to be Fair

Everybody KNOWS this: Debt collectors make very little effort to be fair once a lawsuit is filed – and they don’t try much before that, either.

Once you’re in a debt collector’s sights, the only thing they really care about is getting your money.  At the “harassment stage,” the debt collectors are paid depending on how much they can get you to pay, and not many people think they trust them to tell the truth. And yet so many people tell me they have offered information or money to the debt collectors or asked them to give them a break in some way. They SAY they don’t trust them, but then they depend on them to make a fair or helpful offer. And when they’re talking to them about “how much they owe,” they believe the debt collector instead of demanding proof.

You’ve learned to tell the truth, so you trust and believe the debt collector on the phone will tell you the truth. And you do that even while you, yourself, might feel free to lie to them at any given point.

The debt collectors know all that, and you can’t trust a word they say. You must take care of yourself, and with debt collectors, that means checking every fact they claim and making them write down every promise they make. Anything short of those things is trusting someone you don’t know, who doesn’t care about you, and has strong financial incentive to rip you off, to do the right thing. That’s naïve and foolish – and it happens all the time.

People Think the Lawyers Will be Fair

I know, you’ve probably heard the joke: “How do you know if a lawyer is lying?” – “His lips are moving.” It’s fashionable to say bad things about lawyers, and everybody knows, in the abstract, not to trust them. But there are two major forces going against you in a debt case. First, lawyers are not all untrustworthy, and most of them don’t sound like they are. They make their living by getting people to believe and trust them, after all. The second reason is more insidious: it is power. Lawyers in debt cases have the power to make your life very difficult. They can embarrass you, put you to enormous stress and expense, and they often treat you like dirt. In addition to that, they represent large, rich companies, while you are a financially stressed individual.

Faced with such a difficult situation, it’s easy to hope for the best. And if you can hope it, you can believe it, right?

Legal Ethics

The lawyers are supposed to be careful, at least, before filing suit. They have an ethical obligation not to bring meritless suits.

Do you believe they make that effort when suing debtors?  Probably not – and you would be right. The courts wink at the collection process, allowing lawyers to “rely” on the statements of the creditors that you owe the money. In the case of debt buyers, ironically, the very agreements by which they buy debt say that the records cannot be trusted and are not guaranteed. But the lawyers forge ahead usually without the slightest idea of what’s in the case, let alone whether it’s right or not.

And the courts let them.

On a more fundamental level, a lawyer’s main and almost exclusive duty is to the advantage of his or her client. It isn’t ethical for a lawyer to “cut you a break” at the expense of his or her client. They won’t ever do it.

And yet debtors share information and throw themselves on the mercy of these sharks by the thousands per DAY. That’s trusting the myth.

Trusting the Courts

Most people trust the courts. They know that a lot of judges are bozos in black gowns, and they know that most judges come from the plaintiff’s side of the law. They know the legal system is skewed in favor of the rich even as the laws are skewed in favor of the rich. They know, theoretically, that trusting judges to take care of them is a big mistake.

And yet you would not believe how many people tell me the judge should have seen through something or not allowed the debt collector to do something – often without even having asked the judge for what they wanted.

Know this: it is not the courts’s job to take care of you. They give only the briefest look, if any at all, at the outcomes of debt cases – they don’t have time, they don’t care, and they aren’t even supposed to care. The legal system is designed as an “adversary” system. That is, it is a fight, and in any fight people could use various strategies. The court will let you use almost any strategy you choose, and if that causes you to lose it isn’t their fault or concern.

The courts will not require the debt collectors to put on admissible evidence. If they did, most debt collectors would never win their cases. Instead, it is up to you to object to evidence you don’t like and make the court keep it out. If you don’t do that, the court lets it in.

And yet people expect the court to try to make the outcome of cases fair. They do not. Believing they will is believing the myth that someone else will take care of you.

In daily life, people do look out for each other quite a bit. In legal life, NEVER.

You wouldn’t believe how many people do not even show up in court “because they don’t owe the money.” They somehow trust someone to see that and care, but this is just foolish.

The Myth, outside of Court

People in debt frequently look to other people for help in the belief that those people will, in fact, help them. On the internet, there are people earnestly telling you that no one owes anybody anything (the “Accept for Value” idea), yet they’d be outraged if you didn’t pay them – just as you would be outraged if you went to work and your boss told you that. To believe the A4V theory is to believe that someone is taking care of you. More than that, to believe the people hawking that, or any other program, is also to believe the myth.

Even Me

Everything I’m saying here applies to me, too.  You might be surprised how often I get emails or messages asking me what they should do and presenting pages of facts or laws. They want me to take care of them – they are trusting me to take care of them.

Representing yourself pro se means developing your OWN judgment. It requires carefully weighing facts and motivations and coming to your own conclusions. It means figuring out the facts and how to get them.

It takes work, and it takes time.

When debt collectors sue you for debt, you have a very good chance to win. But it is up to you to make that happen. Our materials and memberships exist to help you know what you need to do and to help you do it. We want to teach you how to defend yourself. Once you learn that, it changes your whole view of the world. It frees you from the myth that someone else will do it for you and lets you soar on your own wings.

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

Because this is a general article, there are not any products specifically related to this post. I do suggest asserting your rights early and often, and you might find our Take Control of your Life product helpful in that. I also suggest great care in researching and analyzing facts and law. You might find our Guide to Legal Research and Analysis product helpful for that.

Beyond that, if you are facing significant debt problems, I’d suggest our memberships.

Memberships

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.

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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.

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Defend against Motions to Dismiss Part 1

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Motions for Summary Judgment

Responding to Motions for Summary Judgment

Motions for Summary Judgment are among the most lethal weapons facing you as a pro se debt defendant. This video discusses what they are, how to protect yourself from them, and how you could use them to your advantage.

 

Click here for a related series of articles.

Responding to Motions for SJ Part 1

Responding to a Motion for Summary Judgment in a Debt Case

Introduction

If you are defending yourself pro se from the debt collectors, it’s sometimes the little things that can stump you. As I have often said, Summary Judgments are “fact intensive,” meaning that defending yourself from them will depend primarily upon getting the important facts to the judge in the proper way, while legal argument is actually much less important. How do you get the facts in front of the judge? What facts do you use and how do you put them into your brief? That’s what these articles will show you. (To see some of this on video, go here.)

You Must Know the Rules

The first thing you should know about motions for summary judgment is that they are carefully controlled by the Rules of Civil Procedure for your jurisdiction and by something called “Local Rules,” which you can get from the courthouse or its website. These rules tell you exactly what form the motion should take, what is required to oppose it, and how much time you have. Your first move if the debt collector files a motion for summary judgment should be to look up those rules and understand them. It’s critical, because a misstep as to form of your response or its timing could easily cost you the case. Don’t give your case away. Responding to Motions for Summary Judgment, even with the materials available at this site, takes time! It is a significant undertaking under the best of circumstances, and even though the debt collectors typically leave large enough loopholes for you to drive through, it takes time and effort to find and develop them. Do not wait till the last minute to start working on your response.

What Format Does a Motion for Summary Judgment (and Your Response Opposing) Take?

Every state of which I am aware now uses a similar format for motions for summary judgment. They require the movant (person bringing the motion) to create a list of “undisputed” facts called a “Statement of Facts” with proof from the record supporting them. And that proof can be testimony by affidavit or deposition, or it can be answers to interrogatories or documents. Then the motion for summary judgment refers to those facts as necessary as it makes legal arguments. To prevent the court from giving the debt collector a summary judgment, you must demonstrate that there are factual issues of significance that require a trial. So if you are defending, your first line of defense is to attack the facts and show that there are important disagreements.

Click Here For Part 2 of this Article

If you are representing yourself in debt litigation, and if you are facing a motion for summary judgment, you should consider purchasing the Response to Motions for Summary Judgment packet. This packet addresses an actual motion filed in a real case, and it deals very thoroughly with the facts and arguments actually made in a real case by a real debt collector (although the names have been changed to hide the identities of the people involved. It includes an attack on every phase of the debt collector’s motion including its rather bizarre motion for attorney’s fees and its deceptive use of an affidavit. It also includes an affidavit that could have been used in the case.

Responding to Motions for SJ Part 2

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