How to answer a debt collection lawsuit in Minnesota
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. When they get an answer, most debt collectors will serve you with written discovery, called interrogatories, request for production of documents, and requests for admission. You MUST respond to the debt collector’s discovery within 30 days. Pay particular attention to the requests for admission. If you don’t respond to each admission within 30 days, the admission will be considered completely true. You don’t want to inadvertently admit to owing the debt by not responding to the requests for admission.
If you properly respond to the discovery, the next step is usually a court hearing, most likely a summary judgment hearing. Make sure to respond to the debt collector’s motion papers by the deadline provided on the motion. Then, be sure to attend the hearing and explain to the judge why you do not owe the debt.
If you live in Minnesota and want help answering a debt collection lawsuit, feel free to contact me by using the contact form in the upper right corner of this page. I offer a number of flexible representation options, so even if you can only afford to pay a few hundred dollars, I might be able to help you.