Changes to Minnesota court rules affect debt collection lawsuits

On July 1, 2013, some pretty significant changes to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect. The amendments deal primarily with the initial stages of litigation and could have a big impact on debt collection lawsuits here in Minnesota. The full text of the amendments can be found here.

Cases must be filed within one year of commencement

The new rules require that all civil cases served after July 1, 2013 must be filed with the court within one year of the date of service. Under the old rules, there was no deadline for filing the case with the court. Now the plaintiff must file the case within a year of serving it or it will be dismissed with no opportunity to refile.

I’m sure that the debt collection law firms have put procedures in place to ensure that all cases get filed within a year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some cases fall through the cracks and don’t get filed. This would be a huge win for a consumer, because if the case is dismissed with prejudice (meaning no right to refile), it can never be brought again.

Mandatory initial discovery disclosures

Another big change involves the way that the early stages of the case proceed. Under the new rules, the parties must make mandatory discovery disclosures within 60 days of the initial due date of the answer. The new rule requires the parties to disclose (1) the name of all persons with discoverable knowledge in the case, (2) a copy of the documents that relate to the case, and (3) the plaintiff must provide an itemization of damages.

I’m interested to see how the debt collection attorneys respond to this rule. Typically, they don’t have access to any documents from their client at the early stage of the case. I think they could comply with the new rule by disclosing what they have and updating later when they receive more documents. I had initially hoped that the this new rule would eliminate the need for extensive discovery later in the case, but that will only happen if debt collection attorneys take the spirit of the new rule seriously.

Mandatory early discovery conference

The parties are required to meet and confer within 30 days of the initial due date of the answer. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the discovery phase of the case and to prepare a written report to the court that contains the parties’ discovery recommendations. Under the old rules, no such meeting or report was required.

This discovery conference is unnecessary in most consumer debt collection cases. There are rarely discovery issues to be discussed and discovery disputes are pretty rare. I think it’s a good idea in other types of cases, but in debt collection cases it'll only add to the cost of litigation without offering any meaningful benefit.

Optional court discovery conference

In addition to the mandatory discovery conference between the parties, the new rules give the court the option of having an early discovery conference with the judge.

I suspect that most judges will forego this conference in debt collection cases, but I could see some judges using it as an opportunity to get the parties together and urge them to settle.