Default Judgment

When you fail to respond to a lawsuit filed against you, the court will grant the other party whatever relief they were seeking in their Complaint. This is known as a “default judgment.” In this post, we’ll discuss default judgments, and what you can do if you’ve found yourself dealing with one.

How Defaults Occur

When you’ve been served with a lawsuit, you typically have about thirty days to respond to that lawsuit (although this time varies depending on whether you are in state or federal court). If you don’t respond during that time, judgment will be entered against you in the amount of money claimed in the Complaint.

So, for example, if the complaint asked for $100,000, and you declined to answer, the court will assume that you had no problem with a $100,000 judgment entered against you. Admittedly, this is unlikely with a number that high, but there are plenty of times that someone may not really care about a complaint against them, because they figure the judgment is too small to fight about. They would rather give up, pay the amount to the person that holds the judgment, and move on with life.

The more common reason for a default judgment, however, is that the Defendant never learned of the lawsuit. For example, in some cases, the lawsuit may not have been properly served. In a common example in Pennsylvania, the person may have been served with a “Writ of Summons” which merely told them they were being sued but did not tell the Defendant what they were being sued for.

Unfortunately, many people allow these to simply sit around for a long time. One day, the Plaintiff mails the Defendant a Complaint or, in some cases, doesn’t mail it and claims that they did, and a default judgment is entered. The default judgment acts just like any other judgment. Once entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious and important problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When the judgment is entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When No Money is Claimed

Many Complaints never state a claim for a precise amount of damages, however. There is no rule requiring that a Plaintiff calculate their precise damages when they file a suit. Many times, damages are determined during the course of discovery and trial.

Accordingly, most Complaints are filed without a specific claim for the amount of damages at issue. In this case, the Court will award judgment on liability, and then will set a trial for damages. Discovery and other processes will ensue to aid the parties in determining exactly how much is claimed.

Conclusion: Don’t Sit on a Default Judgment

If a default judgment has been entered against you, don’t ignore it. You may be able to move to have the judgment re-opened. In other cases, you may be able to limit the amount of damages, even if the default is irreversible. What you should not do is wait.

Contact an attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your case.

How Much Time Do I Have to Answer a Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court, you have 30 days to respond to the Complaint. You have only 21 days if you are sued in federal court.

The first documents that you file in court are extremely important because your failure to raise certain defenses might mean that they are lost forever. In fact, even answering a complaint could prejudice you in regards to your rights. But you will almost always want to file something in response to a Complaint, or else it will result in a default judgment.

Answering a Complaint in Pennsylvania State Court

Under state court procedure, after you are served by the sheriff or other authorized process server, you are told that you have twenty days to answer the complaint. This is technically true.

But, on the twenty-first day, you will be mailed what is called a “Ten Day Notice.” This notice warns you that you have failed to answer or properly object to the complaint in a timely manner and are technically in default. After these 10 days elapse, if you still not responded to the complaint, then the Plaintiff may move for a default judgment against you for the amount that they are claiming in their complaint.

In some cases, you may wish to “remove” (that is, transfer) the case to federal court, which must typically be done within 30 days of being served. Not every suit can be removed to federal court.

Answering a Federal Lawsuit

In Federal Court, the rules are a little less forgiving. Within 21 days after being served, you must file an answer or an appropriate Motion to Dismiss. Failure to do so will allow the Plaintiff to move for default judgment on day 22. After that, it will be very difficult for you to get the judgment reopened.

If you believe that a lawsuit is not properly presented in federal court, you are best served to file an appropriate motion before attempting to answer the Complaint.

What happens if I don’t answer a lawsuit in time?

Failing to answer or otherwise respond to a lawsuit in Pennsylvania (or anywhere, for that matter) is a big mistake. The clerk of the court will enter judgment against you and will award the Plaintiff the amount they asked for in the Complaint, even if that amount makes no sense under the facts and the law!

So, if someone sues you for $1,000,000 because they say you insulted them, if you don’t answer, the Court will assume you have no objection to being in debt to this person for $1,000,000. They can seek to collect this judgment against you in a variety of ways. It’s safe to assume you won’t want that.

If you’ve already had judgment entered against you, you can seek to have the judgment “opened” or “stricken.” Under state law, if you have failed to file in a timely manner and received a default judgment against you, you have another 10 days from the entry of default to move for the judgment to be opened as a matter of right.

After that, it is still possible to get it open, but it is much harder. In federal court, it is difficult to get a judgment reopened.

Conclusion: Don’t delay in seeking legal counsel

In all instances, it’s best not to wait at all. Doing nothing about a complaint is the worst possible thing you can do. A good attorney will want time to research your claim and gather documents that are relevant, so it’s important that you move quickly.

At the Cornerstone Law Firm, we defend individuals and companies in lawsuits on a frequent basis. If you’ve been served with a lawsuit in state or federal court in Pennsylvania, we welcome you to call us to discuss your rights.

Don’t delay – call us today!

Sued for Credit Card Debt in the MDJ

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit by a credit card company in a Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court, it’s important for you to act fast. Credit card companies often sell their outstanding balances to investment companies, which purchase the debt and then sue the credit card holders for the debt in Magisterial District Courts in Pennsylvania.

Magisterial District Court 23-2-02
23-2-02 Magisterial District Court, West Reading

Magisterial District Courts are often in unimposing buildings, including strip malls and even old houses. But don’t let their unimposing appearances fool you. These courts are courts of law just like any other court, and they can render binding judgments against you up to the amount of $12,000.

What should you do if you’ve been sued?

First of all, it’s important that you call an attorney right away. An attorney can help you figure out if you’ve properly been served with the lawsuit as well as whether the company suing you actually has a right to proceed against you. In addition to a civil complaint that’s filed against you, you’ll also receive a summons to the Magisterial District Court for a specific date and time. This is the date of your trial in front of a Magisterial District Judge (MDJ). Accordingly, when you receive the Complaint, the clock is ticking for you to develop your defense and prepare to meet the accusations head-on.

If a judgment is obtained against you in the Magisterial District Court, you have a right to appeal within 30 days. If you don’t appeal, this judgment becomes final and binding and can be used to execute against the possessions you own, including any real estate you may own, your car, and even your bank account.

In fact, with a valid judgment in hand, a creditor can even ask a sheriff to come with them and go through your house and sell off personal possessions you own. Obviously, you don’t want any of these things to happen, and it’s extremely important that you take aggressive steps to defend yourself.

We can help.

At Cornerstone Law Firm we help clients who are dealing with credit card and other debts to figure out whether the suit against them is valid, to determine proper defenses and in some cases, even to bring a counter-suit against a credit card or investment company for invalidly pursuing a debt. Finally, bankruptcy can sometimes offer the appropriate relief from credit card debt.

Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today, and let’s discuss how we can help you with your debt situation.

What is Litigation?

What is litigation? What does it mean when a lawyer says that he or she is a litigator?

A litigator is someone that represents individuals or companies in lawsuits. This includes the entire process from filing a lawsuit all the way through to a jury trial or a bench trial before a judge. You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t that what all lawyers do?”

“Isn’t that what all lawyers do?”

Despite this common misconception, largely gleaned from television and movies, most lawyers do not spend their days in courtrooms. In fact, the great majority of lawyers rarely make appearances in courtrooms at all.

Lawyers handle a broad variety of transactional matters including drafting wills for estate plans, reviewing and advising clients on asset purchase agreements or contracts, or negotiating business deals for their clients. The litigation process is long, and most of it has nothing to do with ending up in a courtroom.

  1. Litigation begins when someone drafts and files a complaint.
    In Pennsylvania this process can also begin by filing a “Writ of Summons.”
  2. It continues with the attorneys sending discovery to the other parties involved asking them for documents, to answer questions, and to admit whether facts are true or false.
    In addition, discovery involves taking depositions. Depositions are essentially private court appearances where a witness to a case sits before a court reporter and the attorneys involved in the case and answers various questions so that the information can be developed on the record for future use in the case.
  3. Litigation then involves the filing of various motions including what are called dispositive motions.This includes motions for summary judgment which are typically filed at the close of discovery in a case. Motions for summary judgment ask the court to rule that the other party’s case is dismissed as a matter of law or that the filing party’s motion should be granted and they should be given a judgment as a matter of law. Many cases are resolved by a judge at this stage without a jury trial.
  4. The last step in the litigation process is the trial.
    Sometimes it’s in front of a jury, sometimes it’s only in front of a judge. Regardless, the trial is the last step in the process. It’s the part of the litigation process that great television scenes are made of.

Litigation can also involve the appeal that happens after one party loses and then appeals the verdict to a higher court. Both the party and that lost and brought the appeal and the party that won will have to continue litigating against one another as the matter goes up on appeal before a new panel of judges who review the record to see if any mistakes have been made.

So, if you’ve been served with a lawsuit or wish to file your own, call the litigation attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm. We want to help you solve your problem today.

When to Settle Litigation

When you are locked in litigation with a foe, one of the most important things to determine is when the time is appropriate to settle litigation, even if it means compromising your overall claim. When you first file a complaint and start a lawsuit against someone or when you’re first sued, it’s easy to become extreme and say that you’re going to fight to the bitter end no matter the cost! Reality usually sets in fairly quickly, however, as legal bills, costs, and the emotional toll of litigation begin to make you reconsider. There are several factors that you should consider in determining how far to push your lawsuit.

Costs

One factor is the overall amount involved. In lawsuits over small amounts of money, it’s best to decide right up front how much you’re willing to walk away with without having to spend a fortune on the costs that are associated with litigating. One of the reasons this is so important is because litigation ultimately acts sort of like a poker game. The more cards that are revealed, the more you know as to whether you have a strong hand. Furthermore, at the end of the hand, you may be faced with an all-or-nothing proposition.

Will the jury buy your theory of the case, or will they buy your opponent’s? When you factor in the likelihood of winning or losing a suit, settling a case can eliminate the uncertainty and avoid much of the costs.

Emotional Strain

As noted above, the other thing to think about is the emotional strain of litigation. Is this a mere business dispute in which you’re not personally or emotionally invested? Are you part of a large corporation making business decisions and it doesn’t affect your personal life if you have to go and testify in a deposition? Or is this dispute between you and your long-time business partner that has torn your two formerly-close families apart? Would you prefer reconciliation over the money at issue?

There is a cost to litigation that goes far beyond what can be measured in dollars and cents, and it is important to take that into consideration when deciding when to settle.

Your Best Interest Matters to Us

When we represent clients in litigation, we seek to represent their best interests. This means that you are always in the driver’s seat to decide when to settle and when to push forward. It also means that we’re willing to settle early for you, even if it means we’re not going to make as much money in the case. We seek to have your best interests at heart at all times.

If you have questions about your lawsuit, whether it’s ongoing or merely one that you’re considering bringing, call the Cornerstone Law Firm today, and let us discuss with you how we can represent your best interests.

Jurisdiction: Can they sue me here?

When you’ve been sued, a number of thoughts can rush through your head. How can I resolve this case? How can I get rid of the claims that I’m facing? Do I have the ability to sue the other side back?

As important as all of these questions are, one of the first questions that every Defendant in a lawsuit should ask is, “Does this court have jurisdiction over me?”

  1. Personal Jurisdiction v. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

When we talk about jurisdiction, we’re talking about the power of a court to adjudicate a claim, and to do so in regards to the parties involved. In reality, these are two separate questions.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear a specific type of claim. For example, if you believe that your United States Constitutional rights have been violated, you wouldn’t bring suit in the courts of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You would not expect that court to have the power to issue a binding ruling about your Constitutional Rights in the United States!

Similarly, there are some claims which may only be brought in the courts of a specific state or in federal court. We’ve previously discussed on the blog what it means that our federal courts are courts of “limited jurisdiction.” Simply put, the federal courts cannot adjudicate all claims between parties, because they’ve only been given power in the Constitution of the United States to render rulings on a very narrow range of issues.

So the first question the Defendant should ask when they’re sued is, “Does this court have jurisdiction over the claims that are being brought?”

  1. Personal Jurisdiction

Personal Jurisdiction is a more complicated question. It asks, “Does the court have jurisdiction over me as a defendant?” While Subject Matter Jurisdiction cannot be “waived” because it deals with the institutional power of a court, Personal Jurisdiction can be waived.

In other words, if you show up and try to contest the claims against you first, you may give up forever your opportunity that the court in question didn’t have power over you in the first place.

Think about it this way: if you live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, work in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and do all of your business here, you can’t suddenly be sued in arctic circle of Alaska simply because someone is mad at you. The court in Alaska would have to have Personal Jurisdiction over you. They would have to have a way to prove that they were the proper court to have authority over you as a defendant to adjudicate whether you were right or wrong in the particular dispute.

There are really two types of personal jurisdiction. The first is called General Jurisdiction. This is when a court says that you are so at home in a particular forum that you may always be brought into court in that forum to answer charges. Again, using the facts above, if you live in Pennsylvania and work in Pennsylvania, you will generally have to answer for any sort of conduct that anyone accuses you of if they sue you in Pennsylvania.

But, there’s a second type of jurisdiction which is called Specific Jurisdiction. If you agree to a contract with a company in Arizona and you ship products there and they’re unhappy with them, it’s not all that surprising that you might be sued in Arizona. By targeting your conduct toward that “forum,” you have opened yourself up to the possibility of a lawsuit there.

  1. This is a factors-based test

The above examples may simplify the matter a little bit, but the fact is that a court has to have jurisdiction over you before it can enter a judgement against you.

The factors that determine whether you are “at home” in a forum state are a lengthy list and should be evaluated by an attorney experienced in this area of the law. If you’ve been sued as a defendant determining whether the court has Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Personal Jurisdiction over you is one of the first and most important steps of the process. This also shows why it’s so important to have a litigation attorney by your side when you’re brought into court.

We encourage you to call the experienced attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today. Whether you’ve been sued in the federal or state courts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Maryland, we can help determine whether that court has jurisdiction over you and how to handle your case.