Before I explain how to answer a collection lawsuit, it’s important to understand that Minnesota is a unique state because a lawsuit is started by serving the defendant. It is not required to be filed with a court at the beginning of the case. Because of this quirk, a lawsuit in Minnesota will almost never have a court filing number. And the courts will not have a record of the lawsuit until the creditor files the lawsuit and pays the filing fee. But this doesn’t mean the lawsuit isn’t legitimate. If you’re served with a lawsuit in Minnesota, you must answer within 20 days. If you don’t answer the lawsuit, it’s likely that a default judgment will be entered against you without a court hearing.
So the first step to respond to a collection lawsuit is to answer it. An answer is a formal legal document that responds to each of the allegations in the lawsuit. A phone call or letter isn’t sufficient. Here’s how to answer a collection lawsuit in Minnesota:
Fill out the caption
Overall, your answer should be formatted much like the collection lawsuit itself. Start by filling out the caption at the top of the lawsuit. This is where the name of the county and judicial district are listed. It’s also where the plaintiff and defendant’s names appear. You can basically copy this directly from the lawsuit. Just change the title of the document from “complaint” to “answer.”
Respond to all of the allegations in the lawsuit
The body of your answer is where you respond to the allegations in the complaint and list your defenses. It’s best to number each paragraph of your answer to correspond with each numbered paragraph of the complaint. There’s basically three responses to an allegation: (1) admit; (2) deny; and (3) deny based on a lack of information.
Your responses must be truthful, so if you know that the allegation is true, you have to admit for. For example, if the collection lawsuit alleges that you live in Hennepin County and you live in Hennepin County, you have to admit it. On the other hand, if the lawsuit alleges that you live in Hennepin County and you live in Ramsey County, then you would deny the allegation.
Many times, you won’t know the answer to an allegation. For example, many debt buyer lawsuits allege that the debt buyer purchased the account from the original creditor. Since you weren’t a party to this transaction, you have no way to know if this allegation is true or not. So it’s usually best to deny the allegation based on a lack of information. You only have to admit something that you know for a fact is true.
You should also watch out for multiple allegations in a paragraph. It’s possible to admit one part of an allegation and to deny another. Read each allegation carefully and be sure to respond to all of its parts and sub-parts. When you’ve finished responding to every allegation, sign and date the answer.
Serve the answer by mail
Once you’ve completed the answer, make two copies. You serve one copy of the answer by mailing it to the debt collector’s lawyer, or the debt collector itself if they don’t have a lawyer. It’s best fill out a sworn statement, called an affidavit of service, to prove when you served the answer. Here’s a form affidavit from the Minnesota Court website.
Keep the second copy of your answer for your records. Hang on to the original answer for filing with the court, but you don’t have to file it until the debt collector does if you don’t want to.
Knowing how to answer a collection lawsuit isn’t enough
Now you know how to answer a collection lawsuit in Minnesota. But answering is just the first step. There will likely be discovery to answer and a motion to respond to. When you get these things from the collector, it’s probably best to talk to a consumer lawyer right away. Responding to discovery or a motion is complicated, there are strict deadlines, and it’s possible to lose your case based on a technicality if you don’t follow the court rules.