Consumer protection lawsuits in federal court: part 1 — overview of your federal court lawsuit

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Discover the big picture of how a consumer protection lawsuit in federal court against a debt collector, mortgage company, credit reporting agency, etc. works. We’ll start with an overview of each step of the process. Then we’ll look at why federal court lawsuits are filed by consumers and what consumers get out of the lawsuit. Finally, we’ll take each one of these individual steps and write a detailed blog post about them so you can learn more about each area that you are interested in….

Thanks for joining us on this journey so let’s get started with the big picture overview of what happens in a federal court lawsuit. As we complete each step, you can click on it to go to that article and get more details about it.

Here is an overview of the different steps:

**Complaint is filed which starts the lawsuit

**“What does it mean to serve a defendant in a consumer protection federal court lawsuit?”

**Defendant must choose to do nothing, file a motion to dismiss, or file an answer to the complaint

**If defendant files a motion to dismiss the complaint, the court will hear arguments from both sides and then rule

**If defendant files an answer this means the defendant has responded to the complaint

**Consumer and defendant (through their lawyers) meet to discuss deadlines and the nature of the case and submit a report to the court with the deadlines

**Court either accepts the report or modifies it and enters a scheduling order which means laying out rules about discovery and deadlines

**Parties start the discovery process which means learning information from each other about the facts of the case

**One type of discovery is called “initial disclosures” and it means information and documents that each side must give to the other side before even being asked any questions

**Another form of discovery is an interrogatory which means a written question (interrogation) to the other party that must be answered in writing

**Request for production is a form of discovery that asks the other side to produce documents whether in hard form or digital form

**Request for admission is where one party requires the other party to either admit or deny the truth of a statement

**Subpoenas are documents where one party requires a non party to produce information or to testify about facts that it knows
**Depositions are the final form of discovery and this is where one party can ask questions, under oath, of another party or even non party to find out information
**During discovery a party can ask the court for a “protective order” if it feels the information it will be disclosing is confidential
**Sometimes in discovery there is a dispute and this can result in a “motion to compel” being filed by a party against the other side
**The judge will rule on the motion to compel and tell who is right and who is wrong and what needs to be done in discovery
**During discovery it is not unusual for the parties to request the court to extend the deadlines and this is known as a “motion to extend” or a “motion to continue”

**One or both parties can file a “motion for summary judgment” which is a request that the judge go ahead and rule in the party’s favor before the trial
**The parties will exchange “witness and exhibit lists” so everyone knows the witnesses and documents that will be used at trial
**Objections can be made to a witness and exhibit list which is where the objecting party is trying to prevent the other party from calling a particular witness or using a certain document
**A “motion in limine” is often filed by a party to prevent certain evidence or arguments from being made
**Before the trial, the judge will hold a “pre trial conference” to make sure everyone is organized, rule on any motions or objections related to witnesses or documents, to make it clear to the parties how the trial will be conducted
**The trial begins with jury selection by the parties
**Then opening statements are made by the lawyers– first the consumer makes a statement and then the defendant speaks
**The consumer’s portion of the trial begins with the calling of witnesses to get testimony and to get documents admitted into evidence
**Witnesses are asked questions by the consumer’s lawyer and then cross examined by the defendant
**After the consumer’s portion of the case is done, the defendant will ask the judge to throw out the lawsuit in what is called a “judgment as a matter of law”

**The court will hear arguments on the judgment as a matter of law and then rule
**Assuming the case is not thrown out, then the defendant’s portion of the case begins with calling of witnesses and other evidence presented
**Just like with the consumer calling witnesses, when a defendant calls witnesses, it questions them and then the consumer lawyer is allowed to cross examine the witness
**After the defendant finishes with its portion of the case, it will ask the court again to throw out the case
**The judge will rule on that motion to throw out the case and will also work with the lawyers to finalize the jury charges (what the jury is told the law is)

**Consumer’s lawyer makes a first closing argument to persuade the jury to rule in favor of the consumer
**The defendant’s lawyer gets to make it’s closing arguments to convince the jury the defendant should win the case
**Consumer’s lawyer gets a final closing argument to respond to defendant and to have a final conversation about why the jury should say the consumer wins
**Judge “charges the jury” which means to tell the jury what the law is and how to conduct themselves in coming to a decision
**Jury picks a foreperson (leader) and starts its deliberations to figure out the true facts and who is to win or lose
**If the jury has any questions, those go to the judge and then after the judge speaks with the lawyers, the judge will answer the questions
**The jury reaches its decision or its verdict and then the jury comes back into the courtroom and reads the decision
**After the case is over, the losing side can ask the court to change the result
**The judge will rule on whether to keep or change the decision of the jury
**The losing party can then appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta which covers the federal courts in Alabama, Florida and Georgia
**The appellate court will either keep or modify what happened at trial
**At any point in the case, the parties can settle the lawsuit
Why are these federal court lawsuits filed by consumers?
Lawsuits are filed by consumers when they are dealing with abusive companies — the lawsuits encourage the companies to stop being abusive towards the consumer and also to force the defendant to pay money damages to the injured consumer.

Here are some examples of lawsuits:

**Debt collector calls your neighbors or family members to embarrass you about a supposed debt
**Equifax refuses to fix errors on your credit report
**Bank of America has wrongfully foreclosed and lied in its credit reporting about your mortgage
**A debt collector such as Amsher (based in Birmingham) blows up your cell phone illegally with robo dialed or computer dialed calls
**You are sued by a debt buyer such as Midland Funding and there is no proof offered at trial, you win at trial, and now you are suing to fix your credit report and get money damages for the bogus suit filed against you
**You settle a debt with a debt collector but instead of it being over, the debt collector lies on your credit report to try to get you to pay even more money
What do consumers get out of suing these abusive companies in federal court?

Consumers can get the following from filing a federal court lawsuit:

**Stop the abusive conduct by the defendant
**Get statutory damages which are damages a consumer receives even if not hurt directly by the defendant — these are damages to punish the defendant and encourage the consumer to sue
**Get actual or compensatory damages to compensate for injuries caused by the defendant — this can include economic damages, emotion distress damages, etc.

**Get punitive damages to punish the defendant for terrible conduct and to discourage the defendant and other similar companies from ever doing this type of bad conduct again
**Get attorney fees paid by the defendant — this is known as “fee shifting” and it means the defendant has to pay for the consumer’s attorney fees
**Get the satisfaction of knowing the consumer stood up to the abusive defendant
Reason we are doing this massive series of articles To arm you as a consumer with knowledge. To let you know what happens in a federal court lawsuit and what you can receive from a successful lawsuit.

Knowledge alone is not power but you do need to discover your options and rights. And when you have knowledge, for example knowledge of how a federal court lawsuit works, then you can confidently take action.

If you live in Alabama and are not represented by a lawyer, feel free to reach out to us with any questions. You can call us at 205-879-2447 and we’ll get right back to you.

Thanks for reading this and we hope you enjoy this series of articles.

John Watts

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