“When can I be sued in District Court in Alabama by a debt collector?”
District court is the mid level trial court in Alabama between Small Claims and Circuit Court. (We are not talking about appellate courts — just courts where cases are tried).
This is the least common court to be sued in but we do see some collection lawsuits filed here.
What is the dollar amount in District Court?
Here’s the basic gist — if the amount sued is $6,000 or less, you will be in Small Claims Court.
If the amount sued for is $10,000 or above, you will always be in Circuit Court.
But if you are sued for between $6,001 and $10,000, then you may be sued in District Court.
What is the difference in District and Circuit Court?
The time to answer your lawsuit is different. In Circuit Court you have 30 days from when served but in District Court it is only 14 days from when served.
District Court basically uses the same rules of procedure (Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure) and evidence (Alabama Rules of Evidence) but your case will normally go to trial much quicker in District Court. Usually 1-2 months after being served.
Circuit Court typically is 6-12 months.
And the trial is normally much faster in District Court — a typical trial will be 20 minutes or more where a Circuit Court trial is normally at least a few hours.
What is the difference in District and Small Claims Court?
Technically, Small Claims is part of District Court but it is easier to think of them as separate courts. They use different rules and sometimes there are different judges. Most of the time the same judge will handle District Court and Small Claims cases.
At trial, the rules of evidence are different. In Small Claims, the judge has authority to somewhat relax the rules of evidence but this normally does not happen when you have a professional corporate plaintiff like the debt buyers. They know the rules and they have a lawyer so no reason for the judge to relax the rules like he or she might do if two folks are suing each other without lawyers helping.
You still go to trial pretty quickly (normally 1-2 months after filing your answer) and the Small Claims trials don’t take long. Do keep in mind that normally there will be a number of Small Claims cases set the same day as your case — and that is true in District Court as well.
If I have been sued in District Court, can I handle this on my own?
Yes if you are willing to put in the time and work. It normally is best to have an attorney that is experienced in these types of cases but certainly it is doable for a lot of folks to represent themselves.
You need to make sure you file your answer in time (14 days from when you were served).
What are my five (5) options when sued in District Court?
We cover these in detail in a lengthy video and transcript, but here they are in summary:
- File bankruptcy — normally a bad idea
- Fight the lawsuit on your own — if willing to work and don’t mind going into court on your own this will save you a lawyer fee
- Settle the collection lawsuit on your own — no lawyer fee but keep in mind the credit reporting won’t be deleted and you may have tax consequences
- Hire a lawyer to fight the lawsuit — have to pay a lawyer fee but you have someone experienced in handling these cases — ask about a flat fee that is earned only when the lawyer wins the case
- Hire a lawyer to settle the lawsuit — compare the cost of the lawyer with the amount saved and whether credit reporting will be deleted
PS — if you want to read the actual code sections of the Alabama Code, here they are….
The original civil jurisdiction of the district court of Alabama shall be uniform throughout the state, concurrent with the circuit court, except as otherwise provided, and shall include all civil actions in which the matter in controversy does not exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), exclusive of interest and costs, and civil actions based on unlawful detainer; except, that the district court shall not exercise jurisdiction over any of the following matters [not important to a collection case]:
Code of Ala. § 12-12-30
And the Small Claims hears the cases $6,000 and below:
The district court shall exercise exclusive jurisdiction over all civil actions in which the matter in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, does not exceed six thousand dollars ($6,000). These actions shall be placed on a small claims docket by each district court and shall be processed according to uniform rules of simplified civil procedure as may be promulgated by the Supreme Court.
Code of Ala. § 12-12-31