Many of our clients get papers that appear to be a collection summons, but don't realize that it's real because there's no case number. Minnesota has some unique rules about how a debt collection lawsuit is started, and these rules tend to trip people up. Here's what you need to know:
Why don't these papers have a case number?
In most other states, debt collectors have to file a case with the court before they can serve papers on the defendant. Minnesota state courts, on the other hand, have pocket filing. Pocket filing (also called pocket service) means that a collection summons can be served on a defendant without being filed with the court. The case will have to be filed with the court eventually, but not to start a case. No case number is assigned until the case is filed.
Don't ignore a collection summons that doesn't have case number
Just because there's no case number, it doesn't mean that the normal deadlines for a lawsuit don't apply. When you' receive a summons and complaint, case number or not, you have 20 days to respond. You do this by sending an answer directly to the plaintiff's lawyer in the case (the debt collector's law firm) rather than responding to the court.
There are serious consequences if you don't respond
If you don't respond to a pocket-filed lawsuit in time, the debt collector can get a default judgment against you--meaning that they win their case and they can try to collect the judgment. Debt buyers, in particular, get a lot of default judgments based on the failure to respond. Many people come to see us who are having their bank accounts levied or their wages garnished and they can't figure out why, since they didn't realize they were being sued in the first place.
If you've received legal papers, consider contacting a consumer rights attorney right away. 20 days to answer a lawsuit goes by very quickly, and an attorney can advise you of your options before a debt collector can get a judgment.