Consumer protection lawsuits in federal court: part 2 — the lawsuit or complaint


The Complaint is filed which starts the consumer protection lawsuit against the abusive defendant. Let’s look at this step and see exactly what happens as we continue our series on consumer protection lawsuits in federal court.

We’ll be specifically talking about in Alabama as that is where we are licensed to bring cases. We’ll also use an example of a lawsuit against Portfolio Recovery Associates.

The complaint is the start of the lawsuit — it is the document that is filed that triggers the federal case being opened.

Complaint is the specific name but sometimes it is also called the statement of claim. So you will normally see the document itself called “Complaint” or “Plaintiff’s Complaint”.

The complaint identifies the parties to the lawsuit. The one filing the lawsuit is the “Plaintiff” and the company or person sued is called the “Defendant”. In our example, the defendant is Portfolio Recovery Associates, a debt collector based out of Virginia.

The complaint explains what laws the lawsuit is based on. This might be Alabama state law or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), etc. In our example, the lawsuit is based on Alabama state law and also the federal FDCPA, which applies specifically to debt collectors.

The complaint will lay out the facts that justify filing the lawsuit. Typically dates are provided. Locations of events. Some context so that a federal judge reading the lawsuit — and the defendant reading the lawsuit — can tell what in the world the lawsuit is based on and why the defendant is being sued.

Our example might include the following:

**The debt was allegedly in default when Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA) obtained the debt.

**PRA is a company that collects on defaulted debt.

**The debt was actually paid off in a settlement with Capital One on April 12, 2014.

**PRA began collecting on the debt on May 28, 2016.

**PRA called Plaintiff’s neighbor on May 30, 2016,

**PRA had no right to call Plaintiff’s neighbor as PRA had Plaintiff’s contact information.

**PRA then credit reported on June 1, 2016, that Plaintiff owed PRA $5,000.

**This is false as no debt is owed as it was paid off before it ever allegedly got into PRA’s hands.

You get the idea — you paint the picture of what has happened and why the lawsuit has been filed.

The complaint will tell the court and the defendant what it is the Plaintiff wants out of the lawsuit. In some situations, this might be to undo a wrongful foreclosure, clear false credit reporting, etc. But normally it is to award money damages.

Money damages include “statutory damages” — even when Plaintiff has not been hurt. They also include “compensatory or actual damages” — to compensate Plaintiff for economic loss or emotional distress damages. And finally “punitive damages” — to punish the defendant for breaking the law and to discourage the defendant or anyone similar to the defendant from breaking the law in the same or similar way.

Finally there can be other items the Plaintiff can receive — attorney fees, costs of the lawsuit, etc.

So in our example the lawsuit against PRA will ask for all these damages, usually in the amount over $75,000, and will also ask for attorney fees as well as any other relief that the Plaintiff is entitled to receive.

The lawsuit — the complaint — will also let the court know if a jury demand has been made. The Plaintiff normally has the right to ask for a jury trial but this is not a requirement. If a jury trial is not requested then the case will decided by a judge acting as the jury. (The defendant can request a jury trial also even if the Plaintiff did not). Normally any case we file we ask for a jury trial — sometimes this is known as a “jury demand”.

Finally, the complaint will tell the court where and how to serve the defendant with the lawsuit. This can be by certified mail or by sheriff or by what is known as a private process server who literally takes the complaint and serves or gives it to the defendant. In our example, we normally serve PRA at what is known as a “registered agent” — a company that is set up to receive complaints against PRA.

Once the defendant is served, then the clock starts running on the defendant to answer or respond to the lawsuit.

If you live in Alabama and have any questions — give us a call at 205-879-2447.

Thanks for reading this!

John Watts

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