I recently had a client come into my office with a judgment entered against him by a debt collector. He admitted being served with the lawsuit, but thought it was bogus because the lawsuit didn’t have a court file number on it. And when he called the local courthouse to verify whether the lawsuit was legit, the court had no record of such a lawsuit. Based on this information, he didn’t respond to the lawsuit and the debt collector entered a default judgment and began garnishing his wages.
In virtually every state, a lawsuit is started by filing it with the court. But Minnesota is a unique state because a lawsuit is started by serving the defendant. 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 the lawsuit 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. Your answer should be in a format very similar to the lawsuit itself. It should have the same caption, which provides the applicable county and judicial district and names each of the parties. The body of your answer should either admit or deny each allegation in the lawsuit. It’s best to number each paragraph of your answer to correspond with each numbered paragraph of the lawsuit. If you don’t know whether an allegation is true or false, deny the allegation. When you’ve finished responding to each of the allegations, sign and date the answer. You then serve the answer by mailing a copy (keep the original for your records) to the debt collector’s lawyer, or the debt collector itself if they don’t have a lawyer. You don’t have to file your answer with the court and pay the filing fee until the debt collector does.
But answering the lawsuit 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.