Six Dos and Don’ts when Getting Sued

Knock, knock! The Sheriff shows up at your door and hands you papers. “You’re being sued,” he quietly explains, and perhaps asks you to sign something noting you were served. As you close the door behind you, a number of thoughts may drift through your head. Questions, frustrations and bad ideas abound—but what should you do first? And more importantly, what should you not do first?

(By the way, sheriffs aren’t the only way you can be served, so if you’re not sure if you’ve been sued, call Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation.) For those served, here are six things that you should and shouldn’t do when served with a complaint.

1. DON’T post about it on social media.

The first thing you definitely should not do is post on social media that you have been sued. Do not post about what happened. Do not post about the conflict that you have with the other guy. Don’t post negative things about the company/neighbor/business partner/soon-to-be-ex who filed this frivolous/outrageous/immoral complaint. Anything that you say can be used against you in a court of law—especially on social media.

When you post things publicly it is very difficult to predict how they can come back to get you in the future. It may feel good in the moment to pop off and say something, but the consequences to that decision can be significant. Accordingly, we strongly recommend against making public statements upon being served with a lawsuit.

2. DON’T call the person or lash out at them directly.

In a similar vein, calling the person, Facebooking them, or sending them a message, email or text are all bad ideas. Doing so can only be used against you in a court of law and cannot benefit you in any real way. In addition, doing so will give the adverse party the satisfaction of knowing they have gotten under your skin by suing you. Simply put, it is best to keep your frustrations to yourself when you have been sued.

3. DO begin gathering evidence to bolster your defense.

This one might seem obvious, but when you have been sued, you will need evidence to defend yourself. This means putting together all of the documents, emails, contracts and other papers and information that you have in your possession from the beginning of the conflict until now. If you are not totally sure how the conflict arose, read the complaint carefully and begin looking through your own calendar, matching up dates and times. Begin building a log of what you remember of what happened and when so that when you meet with your lawyer you can provide helpful and substantial information in your defense.

Lawsuits require that both sides be prepared to hand over significant information to the other side or the court when asked. Gathering that information and beginning to think about where relevant data may be stored will make you less stressed when given a short timetable to produce vast amounts of relevant information.

4. DON’T panic (and DO breathe).

Look, we understand. Really, we do. There is almost nothing in life more stressful than being sued. But panicking does not help anything. In fact, as research has shown repeatedly, panic can cause the brain to make very foolish decisions and can impair your ability to do higher level reasoning.

But telling you not to panic may not help you all that much. (“Great, now I’m panicking about panicking.”) So here’s a practical tip: try not to think about what the other side is going to do and what you are going to do in response. At first, it’s important to focus on the next step, which is finding good counsel and preparing your answer.

Lawsuits are a marathon, not a sprint. Try to train for them with that in mind. Just like running a race, you need to breathe and focus on each step, not dream about the finished line.

5. DO read the complaint that was served on you.

It is extremely important that you take the time to read the complaint (this is what the Sheriff handed you at the beginning). Carefully consider what has been said against you by the Plaintiff (the person suing you). Try to think about the situation objectively from all angles. Begin to go through and make handwritten notes on a separate sheet of paper about which allegations are true and which are false.

That’s right, in every complaint there are some allegations against you that will be true, even as simple as the spelling of your name or the fact that you had a contract with someone. What you are denying is what is most important. Sometimes, an answer to a complaint might mean answering 29 out of 30 paragraphs with “Admitted,” but then denying the crucial paragraph that has the fact that is not true. Accordingly, look through the complaint and try to get a good handle on what is true and what is not true. This will help when you meet with your lawyer.

6. DO call a lawyer.

It is absolutely vital when you have been sued that you call an experienced civil litigation attorney. Call someone who has the ability to walk you through the complaint and explain your options about filing preliminary objections or an answer (or a 12b6 motion in Federal Court). Getting an attorney who can walk you through your procedural and strategic options will go a long way to helping you get a better outcome in your case.

Conclusion: Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today if you have been sued.

If you have been sued, it is important to get legal help. Our attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC are ready and able to help you. Call us today for a consultation so that we can walk through your case and understand your situation more thoroughly.

Business litigation in Lehigh County

When it comes to running a business, every experienced entrepreneur knows that it’s only a matter of time before a great idea well-executed will meet with conflict. Whether it’s a competitor making false claims about you, a large customer that suddenly stops paying the bill, or an ownership dispute, successful businesses often find themselves in the middle of legal controversy.

For businesses in the Allentown area, this is a real concern. Allentown and the Lehigh Valley have seen an explosion of growth in the last ten years, with industry coming back to the city and a revitalized downtown. But for many, with this growth comes the growing pain of business conflict and litigation.

So how can you prepare your Lehigh County business for dealing with litigation challenges? Here are three steps you can take now to ensure that your company is ready for the storms ahead.

Review your ownership documents and your operating agreement or bylaws.

When you’re running a business day-to-day, it can be difficult to take time and review “old news,” like the documents that govern the running of your company. But this is an important step, and taking time to review these documents every year can save you a lot of headaches down the line. In his landmark book, Built to Last, business author Jim Collins wrote about how important it is for companies large and small to take time and review their mission statements and founding documents to guard against “mission creep.” This is doubly true of legal documents. Ignoring the rules you created for your company can open you to legal challenges and personal liability on many matters—and this is particularly true if you have multiple owners.

And while we’re talking about multiple owners, it’s also important to document your decision-making process together by means of corporate resolutions, meeting minutes, or other instruments designed to demonstrate who votes which way. Keeping track of this can guard you against later legal challenges that you, as a majority shareowner, failed to take care of your co-owners’ interests.

Develop a relationship with a business attorney.

When a crisis hits, it’s important to know whom to call. When a lawsuit is served on you, you typically have only 20 days to respond. At that point, in the midst of the pressures of your regular business operations, you have to find an attorney and they need time to answer the Complaint appropriately. You may need to explain the ins and outs of your company, as well as the origins of the specific dispute, to this attorney. This is why it is helpful to have a working relationship with a litigation attorney well before this sort of dispute breaks out.

Conclusion: Call Cornerstone Law Firm today

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we pride ourselves on our client-focused approach to the law. We get to know our clients personally and professionally, and want to know about their businesses before a dispute begins. If you own a business in the Lehigh Valley, call us for a free discussion of your business needs. We’re here to protect and promote your business growth, and we’d love the chance to get to know you.

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on the First Amendment

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of the First Amendment. We have also discussed that speech is not always just speech — it can also be conduct. Today, we are going to talk about legitimate government restrictions on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One such restriction established in case law decided by the Supreme Court of the United States is restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.

What is a “Time, Place & Manner” Restriction?

Time, place and manner restrictions include regulations of when, where and how someone speaks. For example, a school may tell its students that they may not discuss politics during class. A state court may require that no one say anything at all in a court room unless they are an attorney or a witness on the stand. Some government buildings prohibit any sort of protest or speech within the buildings themselves, allowing the government workers to work unimpeded by any sort of disruptions around them. (For example, you can’t march into Fort Knox and demand the right to protest.) These are all examples of time, place and manner restrictions. 

There are a few requirements to sustain a time, place and manner restriction in court. If challenged, the government entity must be able to show that these restrictions are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “significant governmental interest.” For example, the school district that says that its students may not engage in any political speech at all during the entire school day, whether in or out of classes because it is worried about distractions in the classroom, is probably guilty of an overboard restriction that would not be sustained by a court. The goal of a good education may be a significant government interest, but there are less restrict ways to achieve that goal. The school might be able to require that students not talk while in certain types of classes that have nothing to do with politics, for example, while leaving them free to discuss their views throughout the rest of the day. 

“Content Neutral” Restrictions

A woman standing in front of an auditorium full of people

Another important point is that a restriction must be applied equally across the board and must be “content neutral.” In other words, a school that says that students may not talk about religion during specific classes but allows discussion of any other sort of philosophy or politics is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Similarly, if a courtroom was to say that no one can protest out in front of the court, but then allows specific demonstrations for increased government salaries inside, this would be an example of discrimination against speech based on content. In these cases, the supposed time, place and manner restriction is just an illegal attempt by the government to restrict speech that it does not find appealing. 

What Do You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

What do you do if your rights are violated by a time, place, and manner restriction? There are various types of civil rights lawsuits available to you. Figuring out whether a time, place and manner restriction is an appropriate restriction of speech is a complicated process and requires careful analysis of the challenged regulation, the case law that has been decided on these topics, and sometimes even what you desire to say. In future blog posts on this topic, we are going to cover other restrictions on the First Amendment that the government may pass.

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Contract Cases in Federal Court

When your business is sued in federal court, it can be a strange and surprising experience. A common question that we receive from business owners is, “How can my business be sued in federal court over a contract? Isn’t federal court just for crimes and serious litigation?”

How it Works

In most cases, federal cases over contracts are brought because one party is from a different state than the opposing party and there is more than $75,000 in damages that are at issue in the lawsuit. In other words, your first instinct might be right: a contract case only enters the federal court because it is a pretty big deal. 

Beyond this, contract cases in federal court are much different than contract cases in state court. A breach of contract action requires that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) demonstrate that the defendant violated the terms of an agreement. This agreement doesn’t have to necessarily be written (although it usually is when there is a lot of money at stake). 

Several defenses to contract actions exist, including proof that the contract was impossible to perform or that the plaintiff violated the contract first. In rare cases, the contract itself might violate state or federal law, which means it cannot be enforced in court.

More About Federal Court Cases

Cases in federal court should be taken seriously because they tend to move quickly. This is especially true of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, often referred to as “the rocket docket” because of the speed with which the cases move to trial. In other words, if you are not preparing from day one, you are not going to be ready by the time the case gets to the summary judgement phase and to trial. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

If you or your business has been sued in federal court, it is important to seek litigation attorneys who can handle your case. Contact the Cornerstone Law Firm and speak with our experienced federal litigators to discuss your options in moving forward and how you can best defend your case.

Cornerstone Law Firm in the Greater Reading Merchandiser

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In this month’s Greater Reading Merchandiser, we’re sharing a little bit about ourselves and what we’re doing to make sure your legal needs are still met! Check out are ad:

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For more information about how we can serve you, contact us today!

Representation in Federal Court

If you’ve been sued in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, there are a number of questions you will need to confront quickly. These questions include whether you were properly sued in the Eastern District, whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has “personal jurisdiction” over you in a lawsuit, and whether you have any counter-claims or defenses that you will need to raise in your first pleadings.

In federal court, if you have been served with a complaint you typically have only 21 days from the date of service to answer. If you waive service in advance, you will have longer to respond. 

Does Your Case Belong in Federal Court?

In addition to determining counterclaims and affirmative defenses available to you, an important question you should analyze is whether the case belongs in federal court rather than state court. Unlike state courts, federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, which means they can only handle cases specifically authorized by the Constitution and by Congress.

Whether the case you are involved in falls under those categories of cases authorized by Congress and the Constitution is a question requiring legal analysis that needs to be done immediately to determine whether the court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claim. 

Choosing Your Next Steps

Additionally, like any other case, as a defendant, you need to decide up front whether you wish to fight the case and defend it on its merits or attempt to settle it and avoid the rising costs of defending a lawsuit. This decision can be difficult, but is made easier when you really understand the likelihood of your success in defending a case and the possible risks involved in losing it. This requires an exploration of the facts and law that gave rise to the lawsuit.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is sometimes called the “rocket docket” because of the speed with which litigation moves and the promptness of trial dates. Most cases in the Eastern District are set for trial in less than a year from the date the suit is filed. This is remarkably fast for courts of any kind and makes the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one of the most fast-paced courts in the country. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” This simple expression confirms one truth about federal cases—they are serious and shouldn’t be ignored.

If you have been sued in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, we welcome you to contact Cornerstone Law Firm. Contact us today for a consultation on your federal case:

Waiving Summons in Federal Court

When you have been sued in federal court, it is customary for the attorney who represents the plaintiff (the person suing you) to reach out to you by email or letter with a copy of a Waiver of Summons. An example of what this document looks like is provided below.

waiver of summons
Sample Waiver of Summons

A Waiver of Summons requests that you sign and accept the service of the Complaint, thus simplifying the process of bringing you in to court to be sued. So why would anyone do this? Why make it easier for the person trying to sue you? There are three good reasons why you should consider waiving service of the Complaint:

1. You have more time to answer

If you are served with a Complaint in federal court, you get only 21 days to answer the Complaint. This is a very quick turnaround, especially when you take into consideration the time it might take to find a litigation attorney you trust who can handle a federal case.

However, if you sign the Waiver of Summons, you get 60 days from the date the waiver was offered to you. With more than double the time to answer, you may also have the opportunity for other procedural maneuvers and even opportunities to resolve the case out of court before undertaking the expense of filing an answer or a motion to dismiss.

2. It costs less to waive summons

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, if you refuse to waive service, you are responsible for the cost of service. This can cost hundreds of dollars in some cases and that cost will ultimately be passed on to you, regardless of whether you win or lose the lawsuit. Compared to other litigation costs, this may not seem like much, but when you have the option to waive service and avoid this cost altogether, it certainly seems unnecessary.

3. You can avoid the embarrassment of personal service

Many people do not care about personal service and do not mind if a private process server shows up to hand them a complaint. However, if you run a business, and in many other circumstances, you may prefer not to be embarrassed in front of coworkers, friends, business associates, or relatives by service of the complaint and the announcement in front of those people that you have been sued in court.

Waiver of Summons allows you to avoid living under the constant fear of a process server arriving in your office or at your home, and announcing to everyone within earshot that you have a lawsuit in federal court against you.

To waive or not to waive?

With all that said, there are also some times that it is not wise to waive service of process. Although these situations are relatively rare, a good litigation attorney who handles cases in federal court can help you decide whether it is right to waive service or to force the other side to serve you with the process. And more important than this decision are the many decisions that will immediately follow.

Should you file an answer or a motion to dismiss? Should you be in discovery immediately or is a private, internal investigation the first step? These and a hundred other questions can be worked through with experienced litigation counsel.

Call Cornerstone Law Firm today if you have been sued in federal court to discuss your case and to see if one of our litigation attorneys can help you. 

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Writ of Summons

If you’ve been served with a Writ of Summons in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania or, in any other county in Pennsylvania for that matter, it’s extremely important that you do not ignore it. A Writ of Summons is the beginning of a lawsuit, and it takes care of one of the most difficult and important parts of the process—serving the lawsuit.

In other words, as a Defendant, you’re not going to get another notice about this lawsuit served through official means, such as a sheriff. From now on, everything you get is going to come through the mail. You don’t want to risk receiving this mail while you’re out of town, on vacation, or dealing with the other busy details of life that might keep you distracted.

Pennsylvania Summons
A Writ of Summons is an alternate form of original process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What to Do

When you’re served with a Writ of Summons, the first thing to do is to immediately take action to insist that the Plaintiff file a Complaint substantiating their right to a lawsuit. Their failure to do so can result in a complete dismissal of the charges.

What happens if you don’t know what the charges are based on? What happens if you don’t even know the person suing you? Surprisingly, this happens to many defendants.

Regardless, you should still take action to force a Complaint right away. This gives you the chance to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and hopefully push the Plaintiff into a position where the case can be settled or dismissed.

Take Next Steps

The Writ of Summons is part of Pennsylvania’s very complex Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to abide by the Rules of Civil Procedure can result in very serious waivers of your rights. Contacting a civil litigation attorney is an important first step in the process. Litigation lawyers can help you figure out the rights steps to take in the process.

Contact us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania and to see how we can help you navigate the process.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Three Oley Valley students standing together in front of a First Amendment display
Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

Three Oley Valley students standing under a seal and the word Justice

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How It Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused to reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

Three Oley Valley students standing under a James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse sign

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.