Being sued by a debt collector or creditor can cause extreme stress given most consumer's lack of familiarity with the Courts. I provide this "guide" as an informational piece to help navigate this unfamiliar territory.
Respond on Time!
The absolute worst thing that many consumers do is fail to respond within thirty days of SERVICE - not the date the the Complaint was filed. Unfortunately, if you fail to respond on time, any legitimate defenses you may have have had may have been waived. As such, make sure to calendar the date of service and respond within 30 days of that date.
Use The Court Form
The first step in filing a responsive pleading is knowing what format on which to place your response (i.e., word document, pleading paper, etc.). Most attorneys that handle this sort of defense work will use their own pleading paper (documents with numbers on the sides) but the typical pro se litigant does not have access to such pleadings. As such, you should check with your local Court Clerk or Self Help Center. There is a form available that provides an easy format in which to respond to the Complaint.
The safest response is a general denial - especially in the case of a third-party debt collector acting as the plaintiff. Often times, I see pro se litigants admit to portions of the plaintiff's complaint but these admissions can be used against you. Remember - it is the plaintiff's burden to prove their case, it is not the defendant's burden to disprove the allegations.
Serve Your Response on the Court
Make sure that you timely submit TWO copies of your response to the Court. The Court Clerk will keep one copy for their records and stamp the other copy for you to keep for your own records.
Serve Your Response on the Defendant
Finally, make sure that Opposing Counsel is served with a copy of your answer. After all, they will not know you lodged your responsive pleading if you do not put them on notice of such.
Additional resources provided by the author
Many helpful forms for this type of litigation, including a general denial, have been prepared by the Judicial Branch of California and are available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/home.htm.
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