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Jurisdictional Issues in Debt Law

Kicking the Debt Collectors out of Court

– Jurisdictional Issues in Debt Law

 

 

Kicking the Debt Collectors out of Court

– Jurisdictional Issues in Debt Law

 

We discussed two kinds of jurisdictional issues in a recent teleconference – two different issues that call for very different responses.

In this video we’ll discuss what happens when the debt collector doesn’t show its ownership of the debt and when you are not properly served with the lawsuit.

Ownership of the Debt

When debt buyers bring a lawsuit, their ownership of the debt is always in question. It won’t be their  name on the debt instrument or contract,  and they will have purchased the debt – gotten it on “assignment.”

There is nothing wrong with that, let me emphasize. Most debts are freely transferrable (unless either a contract or law says they can’t be transferred) – so in most cases this will not be an issue. But what is an issue is proof of ownership. Only the true owner of a debt is permitted to bring a lawsuit. In a way that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? If I happen to hear that someone owes you money, I can’t sue them for it can I?
No – if I want to sue, I must prove that I am the “true party in interest.”

Without the true party in interest’s participation, the court  does not really have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case. If I bring suit on a debt someone else owes you, and that person gets around to pointing out that I don’t own the debt,  the case should be dismissed immediately – without prejudice. If the person being sued does show that the plaintiff cannot prove ownership, the proper response by the court is to dismiss immediately without taking any other action – it can’t make a judgment about the validity of the debt without the real owner being present.

You can attack ownership of the debt at any time, and in a debt case you should always contest the issue not only because you might win, but also because  debt collectors actually try to collect debts that don’t belong to them fairly often. You should always make them prove it.

In the case of the big junk debt buyers, they often will have a so-called “bill of sale” between the original creditor and the junk debt buyer. It will say that the  creditor is selling and assigning umpteen million dollars worth of debts to the debt collector. It will mention an attachment with the numbers of the accounts sold.

And it will often not have that attachment or anything else linking your account to that sale. That is inadequate proof of ownership. It is no proof
of ownership. If you attack the case on that basis it should be dismissed – unless the debt collector can supply the information. For some reason,
they often cannot.

You can make this argument at any time.It isn’t waived by you participating in the case. Any time you can prove the debt ownership isn’t
established, the case should go away.

Sewer Service

Sewer service is different. In this situation, the process server threw the summons into the ditch while the defendant was watching and then swore to having given the summons to the defendant. In that situation, the defendant is forced into a choice: attack the court’s jurisdiction immediately by motion to quash, wait and attack jurisdiction, or defend. If you take actions to defend on the merits of the case – you say you don’t owe the money – you will likely be “waiving” or letting go your attack on the court’s jurisdiction.

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.