Pro se Debt Defense – Easier than you Think

Pro se (Self-Representation) in Debt Litigation – Easier than you Think and Sometimes Even Fun

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 Should You Represent Yourself in Debt Law?

Pro se defense (representing yourself) in debt cases is not as hard as many people fear. You can do it – and you may need to do it.

Although hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, lawyers are always expensive. If a debt collector is suing you, and you can’t afford a lawyer, you still have a chance. You CAN represent yourself. This is not complicated law, debt collectors are not innovative or particularly energetic, and the debt collection system is a “factory” approach. It isn’t designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it and win.

Okay – maybe debt defense isn’t always very fun. In fact, most of the time it isn’t exactly fun, but it is easier than you expect, and winning is great. Going from the threat of having to pay (somehow) $1,000 to $50,000 to some debt collector, to having them drop the case – or to settling with you for pennies on the dollar… that’s fun.

And it changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal representation means representing yourself rather than hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You have the right to do that in essentially any court proceeding, whether as defendant or plaintiff. And it doesn’t matter whether the matter is civil (for money) or criminal.

Some Think It’s Scary

Although many people fear the thought of representing themselves in court, pro se representation is not rare. According to National Center on State Courts in 1991-92, 71% of domestic relations (family law) cases had at least one unrepresented party, and in 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well as family law and other matters.

The right of self-representation has long been established in the United States. It predates even the ratification of the Constitution, as Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789—enacted by the first Congress and signed by President Washington, states that, “in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.” Most states have a similar constitution provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this rule with the argument that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee.” And the Council suggests “the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial.”

Although most states and the federal courts share this bias in favor of hearing courts on “their merits,” (based on what is actually fair), pro se litigants cannot rely on any special treatment. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

They may not need any extra help. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, criminal defendants are “not necessarily ill-served” by the decision to represent themselves. In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies probably fared much better than represented defendants. Of the 234 pro se defendants studied by Ms. Hashimoto, “just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge.” And just 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, whereas 63 percent of represented defendants in Ms. Hashimoto’s study did. In federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.

Of course there could well be other important variables that the Hashimoto study did not include. It seems clear, however, that there is nothing like an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself. And as I have pointed out many times elsewhere, there are certain types of cases and situations where pro se representation may actually be an advantage.

In debt collection cases, for example, the economic factors often outweigh legal issues, and a vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by being able to take energetic steps in his or her favor that a lawyer—always on the clock—would pragmatically be unable to take.

Courts are not always favorable to self-represented people for various reasons. You face a headwind when it comes to the court taking what you say seriously, for example. But even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts.

Most members of Your Legal Leg Up, for example, either win their cases outright or reach very satisfying agreements.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

As pointed out above, defendants in debt collection cases have some significant economic advantages in conducting their cases. They also have fewer of the disadvantages that many other types of cases have. This may simply be because debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the somewhat unusual case which actually goes to trial, the evidentiary questions are pretty basic: can the debt collector produce enough evidence? And is their evidence  “admissible” under the rules? That is, do the rules let the court consider it?

You almost never need to call a witness in debt cases.

This basic legal simplicity, the fact that debt defendants obviously did not seek out and initiate the suit, and the general economic difference between typical debt defendants and plaintiffs often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

Protect Your Rights

If debt collectors are contacting you, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if a debt collector sues you, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

 

What if I Really (Think) I Owe the Money?

What If I Really Do Owe the Money?

Or Think I Do?

Think you owe

What if a debt collector sues you for a debt and think you really owe the money? Should you defend yourself from the suit?

Debt collectors often sue the wrong people and usually overcharge. If you don’t defend, you run the risk of having to pay twice. And if you do defend yourself, you probably won’t have to pay at all. If that bothers you, give the money to somebody who really needs it.

Most People Debt Collectors Sue May Actually Owe Someone Some Money

 

If a debt collector is suing you, you probably think you owe them the money. Or think you owe someone the money, although it’s surprising how often people who do NOT owe anybody any money get sued. If that’s you – you still need to fight the case, it won’t go away by itself. But if you actually do owe somebody the money for which you are being sued, you still need to be careful.

And you should still defend yourself as well as you can.

You must make the debt collector prove every part of its case. This includes not only that you owe the money, but that you owe it to them. And exactly how much you supposedly owe. That’s because old debts get sold – often more than once – and if you don’t make the debt collector prove it owns the debt, you may pay the wrong person. And then you might have to pay again if the person that actually owns the debt sues you.

In addition, most people do not owe what the debt collectors are trying to collect. They routinely add fees and interest they should not, and consumer protections agencies and organizations say that almost all debt collection suits include extra charges. Many of them are for far more than is owed.

The Good News

The good news about debt collectors is that they usually CANNOT prove their cases if you make put them to the test. The whole process by which they get these debts is so sloppy and careless that they usually cannot find or obtain the proof that they need to win their case. IF you defend yourself.

Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of roadmap to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If a debt collector is suing you and you know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

If debt collectors are harassing you, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if they do sue you, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

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Gold Debt Defense

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Platinum Debt Defense System

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Diamond Debt Defense

How to Answer the Petition When You’re Sued for Debt

How to Answer the Petition When You’re Sued for Debt

When you’re sued for debt, one of the first things you have to do is write and file an Answer. This is your formal response to the lawsuit. You could lose the case very easily usually automatically –  until you do. Luckily, it isn’t hard, and this video and article  will show you how. For more detailed information and help on fighting and winning your suit against the debt collector, get the Debt Defense System.

 

Answering a petition in a debt law case is actually very simple. Keeping in mind that it is up to the plaintiff to prove its case if you deny a part of the petition, there is little incentive to admit anything.

Should you Admit or Deny?

Pro se defendants also frequently overestimate the things they should admit. For example, you may know that you borrowed some money or used a credit card, but do you really know how much you borrowed or whether all the charges were legitimate? Do you know for sure that you did not pay some of the debt or that you truly, legally, owed every amount claimed? And do you know with certainty even that the company suing you owns the debt at all?

In most cases, the answers to these questions is legitimately “no.”

Most people do not keep careful enough track of their credit card bills (or other bills) to need to admit either the fact or amount of debt. And there’s really no way you could know whether you owe anything to a third-party debt collector.

With those things in mind, answering the petition is easy. It will usually go something like this:

  1. Deny.
  2. Deny.
  3. Deny.

The reason an Answer is so easy is that the pleadings stage – the petition and answer – really exist just to tell the court what issues need to be proved. Since you want the debt collector to prove its whole case, you deny every allegation.

There’s Much More to Pro Se Defense

Of course that’s just the first step in the process of defending yourself. You will also need to consider whether you have a counterclaim. If so, you should submit that as part of your Answer. And then you need to try to win the case. The Answer frames the issues, and you will need to conduct discovery and do some legal research to win the case. It isn’t always easy, but putting up a legitimate fight is within the ability of anyone. And fighting is often all you need to do to win.

 

Who is a Debt Collector after Santander Case

Debt collectors are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you are able to make a counterclaim under that Act, you will improve your defense. Thus the questions are, who is a debt collector, and how do you show that the person suing you is one.

The Supreme Court  issued rulings in 2017 that will make it more difficult for debt defendants to obtain legal representation and will cause debt collectors to engage in more deceptive, dishonest and abusive behavior. Nevertheless, most people will still be able to sue debt collectors. We discuss how after our discussion of the Santander case.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

When Congress passed the FDCPA, debt collectors were such a problem that they were a threat to the American way of life. The FDCPA was therefore designed to prevent fraud, deception and unfairness in general in the collection of debts. Congress named numerous specific actions as “per se” violations of the Act and also included the more general description of “unfair” debt collection practices.

It wanted to prevent debt collectors from changing the forms their actions took without changing what they were basically doing.

The Supreme Court has just reduced that Congressional intent to a farce, applying just half of the statutory definition of “debt collector” to a case and finding that, under that half of the definition, junk debt buyers were not debt collectors.

Real-Life Debt Collection

In most debt cases, creditors sell charged-off debt to debt buyers who exist to collect that money by hook or crook. They used to hire debt collectors to collect on debts and paid them from the proceeds, Creditors now get their money first and let the debt collectors take theirs from the debtors. All that has happened is that nominal ownership of the debt has changed. In other words, debt collectors have assumed a different form to pursue the very same activities.

Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that it would not allow parties to elevate form over substance to evade the impact of laws . Santander does exactly that.

One could also characterize the Court’s ruling as dishonest. It only analyzed half of the definition of “debt collectors.” In looking at Section 1692a(6), the court examined the defining language as “any person… who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” The court’s decision then repeatedly referred to and emphasized the words “due another,” arguing that companies were only debt collectors if they fit that traditional form of collectors.

How the FDCPA Defines “Debt Collector”

Look at the part of the definition preceding the language in question to get a truer view of the statute’s clear intention.

The term “debt collector” means any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.

Section 1692a(6) (underlined portion is the part ignored by the Supreme Court in Santander, italicized word “any” is for emphasis)

Doesn’t it seem reasonable to read “any debts” literally, so that if the principal purpose of a business is to collect debts, they’re a debt collector? Of course it does, and that would obviously include businesses that exist to purchase debts and collect on them.

Supreme Court is AGAINST Debt Defendants

The Court opinion glibly slides over that, saying that “the parties haven’t much litigated that alternative definition of debt collector and in granting certiorari we didn’t agree to consider it, either.” Santander, Slip Op. at 5. In other words, the Supreme Court agreed to hear only so much of the case as allowed them to shove a dagger into the apparent heart of the FDCPA – not enough of the case to show what the FDCPA actually intended or to do justice.

In theory, the decision in Santander leaves open the possibility that this “alternative” definition would extend the meaning of “debt collector” to junk debt buyers. On the other hand, the decision looks like a court in search of a justification for a desired outcome, and is a negative indication for the Court’s integrity. Particularly in the context of its decision in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17) (see my article, “Opening the Floodgates of Bad Claims”), it shows actual hostility to the laws that protect consumers from debt collectors and a willingness to engage in intellectually dishonest games to destroy them. As a practical matter, it will likely be several years before the Supreme Court revisits the definition of “debt collector.”

Pleading that a Junk Debt Buyer is a “Debt Collector”

The Supreme Court limited its decision to the “regularly collected” language. Why? Probably because debt defendants have normally found it easy to prove a company “regularly collected” debts. In the Eighth Circuit, law firms representing collectors in three to five cases per year are“regularly collecting” debts.

Under fact pleading rules, one must plead facts constituting a basis for your legal conclusion. So debt defendants routinely allege something like the following:

Heartless, Ruthless and Merciless, represent debt collectors in dozens of lawsuits attempting to collect debts per year. They are, therefore, debt collectors, and

Heartless Debt Collector, Inc., regularly sues persons for debts purchased after default…

Use of “Regularly Collects” Debts Language

Debt defendants have typically used “regularly collected” because it is easy to demonstrate as a matter of public record. Establishing a business’s “principal purpose” will now be much more difficult. My attempts to find an authoritative definition for “principal purpose” of a business turned up zero cases. No doubt there are some cases that address the issue, but certainly not many.

Many court decisions include the term “principal purpose.”  But they use it generically, as a synonym for “main” or “major.”

I found no cases quantifying the term in any way. So it isn’t clear how much of any other purpose would be enough.

Debt buyers who purchase billions of dollars of debt for no other purpose than to collect it. But they will argue that their “principal purpose” is to “service” that debt. In their lexicon that really means extort payment in as many ways, over as long a period, as possible. But they will claim all manner of beneficial purposes for their activities.

This will alter the nature of the proof required to establish that the company is a debt collector. Information regarding a business’s “principal purpose” will be in the possession of the debt collector. Thus parties attempting to obtain that information will encounter the usual tricks when they try to get it. Expect the same series of stone walls, delays and unethical and oppressive litigation strategies debt collectors usually use. (Fortunately, this can be a double-edged sword. We train our members at Your Legal Leg Up to use this to their advantage.)

Debt defendants must now allege and attempt to prove the debt collector’s main business is to collect debts.

What Debt Defendants Should Do

Debt defendants have all the same defenses to debt lawsuits they ever did – or almost all of them. Santander applies very little to the defense of debt suits.

To state claims under the FDCPA, you need to allege the company’s principle business is the collection of debts. You should probably allege they buy debts from others for the purposes of collection. And that they provide no significant service to the debtors.