You need to file your challenge on jurisdictional grounds usually 20 days after receipt of a "complaint" and prior to filing an "answer." The complaint is the document letting you know why you are being sued, and an answer is a response to a suit.
As I will repeatedly note, it is extremely useful to have an attorney help you with a jurisdictional challenge. I explain the types of challenges below not as legal advice, but to give some idea as to what kinds of issues you can point out as existing to the attorney you decide to hire.
Contact the Attorney who Filed the Complaint
If you are planning to hire an attorney to challenge the suit on jurisdictional grounds, but need more time to find the right person, call the attorney who filed the suit, and ask for a little more time.
If they agree to this (and it is discretionary) send a fax (and keep the receipt that shows they received it) basically saying "thank you for agreeing to give me X number of extra days to hire an attorney, this fax does not constitute an agreement to Massachusetts' jurisdiction over the within case."
It is a good idea to also send an email to the attorney's address.
If the attorney then defaults you, you can show the completed fax, and your attorney will have ammunition to have the default overturned.
Hiring an attorney is the BEST way to deal with jurisdictional issues. I cannot possibly stress this enough.
Two Ways to Contest Jurisdiction
There are two ways to contest jurisdiction, either in Massachusetts, or in your home state.
Contesting service in Massachusetts confers upon you the advantage of being able to fight off the complaint on other grounds, should you lose on the motion to dismiss.
If you challenge jurisdiction, or service, or what have you, in your own state, and lose, the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution will mean that the Massachusetts judgment will probably be effective against you in your home state.
That said, you may be in a better position to find an attorney in your home state than in Massachusetts, depending.
Types of Defenses: Jurisdictional Defenses
There are two jurisdictional defenses
"Personal jurisdiction" involves your interaction with Massachusetts. In essence, you cannot be sued in Massachusetts if you have never been here, and have not "availed yourself" of the services available here. This defense might come up where you bought something from a Massachusetts business, and the transaction when south, or where you were divorced in another state, but your ex moved to Massachusetts. Though note, a contract might require jurisdiction here.
Subject matter jurisdiction is jurisdiction over the issue at hand. You may even be a Massachusetts resident, but if you are being sued on a contract that requires suit be brought in Connecticut, Massachusetts does not have subject matter jurisdiction. Likewise, if you are being sued over a land deal in Utah, Massachusetts is probably not the appropriate forum.
Types of Defenses: Service of Process
Service of process essentially means "legal notice of a suit to the party being sued."
If you have received notice of the suit, then you have probably been served.
However, it is not sufficient, under Massachusetts law, to simply have the pleadings mailed, first class, to your address (the long arm statute requires the papers be sent certified mail, R.R.R.). So review carefully HOW you were served. Though it should be noted, service may also be made according to the laws of your state.
Service may also not have been timely, or included all of the appropriate pleadings. So note carefully, prior to your consult with a Massachusetts Attorney, WHEN you received the complaint, and the date that the complaint is SIGNED as filed with the Court, as well as what the actual envelope containing the pleadings contained.
Types of Defenses: Venue Issues
A "venue" is where a case is tried. It might be the case, that you are subject to personal jurisdiction in Massachusetts (e.g. because you own a vacation home here) but that Massachusetts is not the best place to try the case. If, for example, you are accused of causing a bicycle accident in Connecticut, and you believe that Connecticut road conditions were the real problem, the Court in Connecticut nearest to the accident might be the most sensible place to have the case.
Types of Defenses: Res Judicata
If you have already litigated the issues in the case somewhere, a plaintiff, generally speaking, cannot simply bring suit in another location. This is the doctrine of "res judicata" which ostensibly means that the case has already been decided. So if the Essex Superior Court has already determined that your pit-bull was not the cause of the plaintiff's injuries, and you get a summons telling you about a pit-bull case in Worcester Superior Court, you should be able to have the case dismissed.
Types of Defenses: Amount in Controversy
The Massachusetts Civil Court System has, two main departments relative to litigation, the District Court Department, and the Superior Court Department. Cases in the District Court usually must be for less than $25,000, while suit in the Superior Court usually has to be for more than that amount.
If the plaintiff has the money amounts wrong, you can seek to have the case dismissed.
Types of Defenses: Other Defenses
There are other types of bases for a Motion to Dismiss, though an Attorney should generally be brought in to handle those types of issues.
While you may lack the money to hire an attorney to appear for you in a motion to dismiss, you may be able to hire an attorney simply to write the motion for you, or who would be willing to review something you write, and offer a few suggestions for a smaller fee.
If you lack the resources to hire an attorney for total representation in the dismissal of your suit, don't be shy about asking the attorney if he or she can offer any other type of help
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