How to deal with a consumer debt lawsuit in New York City
If you were served with papers--read themWhen a creditor sues you in New York City Civil Court, you should receive two documents--the Summons and Complaint. The Summons tells you what court you were sued in and what you need to do to answer. The Complaint tells you who is suing you, why they are suing you, and for how much.
Start by looking at the caption (at the top of the Complaint, it states who the parties are in a lawsuit). Do you recognize the company suing you? Read the Complaint and see why you are being sued and the amount. Are the facts stated in the Complaint correct? Start thinking about how you will respond to the creditor's claims.
If you were not served with papers (you found out about your lawsuit another way)--get themSometimes people find out for the first time that they were sued after a creditor gets a wage garnishment or a bank freeze. If this has happened, the creditor already has a judgment against you (which means that it has already won its case). This often happens when you are not properly served with legal papers.
Depending on how you found out about the lawsuit, you should now have your case number. Go to the court clerk's office and get a copy of the legal papers in your case. The civil courts for each borough are at the following locations:
Brooklyn: 141 Livingston Street (corner of Smith);
Bronx: 851 Grand Concourse (corner of 161st Street);
Manhattan: 111 Centre Street (between Leonard and White);
Queens: 89-17 Sutphin Boulevard (between 89th and 90th Avenues);
Staten Island: 927 Castleton Avenue.
You will need three documents from the court clerk: Summons, Complaint, and Affidavit of Service. Bring a pocketful of change for the copy machine.
If the creditor does not have a judgment, file an AnswerIn the Answer, list your defenses--maybe you don't owe the debt, or the amount is incorrect, or you don't know the company that is suing you. If possible, consult an attorney to determine legal defenses.
Even if you are not sure, you can still answer. Remember, the creditor must prove its case in court. Just because it says you owe money doesn't mean it's true.
The Court has a do-it-yourself Answer form on its web site (link below). This form will help you determine what defenses exist in a consumer debt lawsuit. Once you have completed your Answer, bring it to the court clerk, as directed in the Summons. The court clerk will file the Answer and return the form to you. You must mail a copy to the lawyer for the other side. Send it certified mail and keep your green certified mail receipt. You will need to show it to the judge. The court clerk will give you a date when you have to come back to court. Do not miss this court date or you may lose your case automatically.
If the creditor has a judgment already, but you never went to court, consider "vacating the default"If the creditor has a judgment already, you may still have a right to answer the case. For example, if you have not been properly served with papers, you may reopen the case as long as you can show that you were not properly served and that you have a defense to the lawsuit. You do this by filing an Order to Show Cause, which is a type of action in court that may reopen a default judgment. The court web site has an automated program that takes you through the steps of filing your Order to Show Cause (link below).
It is best to find an attorney who can help you vacate the default. bt if you can't hire an attorney, the court's web program gives you a head start in vacating a default judgment.