Alabama Debt Collection Lawsuit Questions — Part Nine — The Answer Filed In Court
This is part nine in our series where we answer your questions about Alabama debt collection lawsuits. In this part, we talk all about the “Answer” which is your response to the lawsuit or “complaint” filed against you by the debt collector.
In case you want to see any of the previous articles, here is a list of them. Simply click on the one you want to read:
- Overview of the complaint or lawsuit filed against you
- What does it mean to be served?
- Overview of 5 options you have when sued
- Bankruptcy option
- Fighting the lawsuit on your own option
- Settling the lawsuit on your own option
- Hiring a lawyer to fight the lawsuit
- Hiring a lawyer to settle the lawsuit
OK, you have been over your options and you know you need to file an answer. You want to avoid a default judgment. What do you do — how do you file an answer?
HOW IS AN ANSWER FILED AND WHAT DOES IT SAY?
“What’s the purpose of the answer?”
To be able to respond to this question, let’s back up a moment and think about what are the purposes of the complaint or the lawsuit.
The purposes are to let you know:
- Who is suing you
- For what reason
- How much
So your answer is your response, where your answer those allegations. So you’re telling the court either you agree with what the complaint said, or you disagree with it.
And you let the court know if you have any what are called “affirmative defenses” which are simply where the collector may be right in suing you, but you still win. A classic example is the statute of limitations which says, “You may be right in suing me but you waited too long so I win.”
“How do I file my answer in court?”
If you have a lawyer, make sure your lawyer answers the lawsuit and files the answer in court.
But if you are doing this on your own, then you prepare the answer and then you take it to the clerk of the court.
Now some people will mail it in. I would prefer you physically take it, so there’s no question that it actually gets filed. In other words, you mail it, and it gets misdelivered or it goes to Wyoming instead, that’s not the court’s fault. It’s not the debt collector’s fault. Unfortunately, it is your fault, because you have the obligation to make sure your answer gets filed.
If it does not make it to court in time, you can receive a default judgment.
So I would physically take it to the courthouse to the clerk of the court, and file that answer in. Or get someone you trust to do this.
You can take the original and several copies. Tell the clerk of the court (if true) this is your first time and you are here to file an answer. They will take your original and then stamp the copies as “filed” so you have proof of when you were there. You keep one and mail one to the collection lawyer.
“Is there a form answer in Small Claims Court?”
Yes. When you are served with a lawsuit, you have that statement of the claim or the complaint. And then you should have an answer, a form answer. It already is printed with the case number. It has the name of the case, and you just have to pick between four boxes A, B, C, D.
Let’s go over these boxes.
Box A is saying you were sued in the wrong county.
Box B says you admit you owe everything and please enter a judgment against you.
Next, Box C is where you admit you owe the collector some but not all of what you were sued for.
Finally, Box D is simply where you deny owing any money to the debt collector who sued you.
And if you’re doing this on your own, you have to decide which box to check.
Remember what we have talked about that the debt collector must prove it not only is owed the money but that it also owns the debt. You decide on your own but for most folks looking at this, they will decide check Box D and point out that they do not owe the Plaintiff any money and the statute of limitations has expired.
“Is there a form answer in District or Circuit Court?”
Often you can find online a form type of answer but here’s what I want you to focus on. The whole concept of the answer is, do you admit or deny what the other side is saying?
Now whether you type or handwrite the answer does not matter. It does not matter how fancy it is.
Instead what does matter is what is your response – your “answer” – to the debt collector claiming it owns a debt that you owe?
Do you admit that or deny it?
Do you believe the statute of limitations has expired?
Moving beyond your substantive response, let’s look at the logistics of the answer. Have you made it clear what case this answer belongs in?
Across the top of the page, you could put whether it is in the District Court of Jefferson County or the Circuit Court of Mobile County.
And then you put the case number. And you put the names of who the parties are. Who sued you? Midland Funding, LVNV, Portfolio, Cascade, Velocity, whoever it is. You put your name.
So that the clerk of the court can get your piece of paper and go, “Oh. I see. This goes in the Midland Funding versus Susan Smith file 2018 small claims case number 134. Perfect.” That’s what you want.
So you can look for a form answer, or you can do it on your own. But the bottom line is, there’s no magical form you have to use. The court is looking at the substance of it. And just make it very clear which case it goes in so there is no chance for any confusion.
“What if I hire a lawyer, will the lawyer file the answer for me?”
I would certainly hope so. And now again, it’s possible I suppose that you can hire a lawyer for what’s called a limited scope representation where they’re not going to file an answer for you. But honestly, I don’t see any reason to do that.
If you’re hiring a lawyer, make sure you know that they are going to file the answer.
And then make sure they actually file the answer for you.
“What should I put in my answer?”
I can’t tell you because I don’t represent you. And I don’t know your unique situation.
But again, conceptually you are putting in there whether you agree or disagree with what the plaintiff, the debt collector who sued you, is saying. And if you have any defenses, what are they?
For example, do you have a statute of limitation defense? If you do, did you put that into your answer?
And so the idea is so that the judge can look at the lawsuit, and then look at your answer and go, “Is everybody agreeing here?” Because some people will say, “I admit everything.” Those who do that are asking for a judgment.
But if you say, “I deny this,” then the judge is going to say, “Okay. Well, now we need to proceed toward trial on this.”
So what is next?
Thank you for reading this and I hope these questions — and answers — are helpful to you.
Feel free to call us if you have a question about a collection lawsuit in Alabama — you can call us at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form and we’ll email or call you right back.
Look forward to talking to you soon!