Debt Collection Lawsuits in Magistrate Courts

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Credit card companies, debt buyers, and collection agencies file thousands of lawsuits each year in Pennsylvania’s magistrate courts. BCJ Law’s debt defense attorney (based in Pittsburgh/Allegheny County) defends Pennsylvania residents in collection lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania’s magistrate courts. Our clients don’t owe us anything unless we win their case. 

If you need help with a collection lawsuit, read our debt collection lawsuit page. To get a free case review from BCJ Law’s debt defense attorney, call 1-800-997-5561, or complete our contact form.

What is a magistrate court?

Two debt collectors "filed lawsuits against consumers without having the intent to prove many of the debts."

CFPB Press Release (2015).

A magistrate court (also called a magisterial district justice or “MDJ”) is a small claims court. The procedures for MDJ cases are less formal and much quicker than those used in the Pennsylvania court of common pleas.

Credit card companies, debt buyers, finance companies, and other lenders file tens of thousands (and quite possibly hundreds of thousands) of collection lawsuits each year in Pennsylvania’s magistrate courts.

While the vast majority of debt collection lawsuits are filed in magistrate court, some debt collectors sue exclusively in common pleas court. Also, debt collectors can’t sue in the MDJ, and must sue in the court of common pleas, if the amount of debt they seek to recover is over $12,000.

How do I respond to MDJ collection lawsuits?

Responding to a magistrate lawsuit is relatively straightforward. Here’s what you need to know and do.

Make sure you're served properly.

You have no obligation to answer a lawsuit unless you’re served. Service usually is accomplished by certified mail or hand delivery from a sheriff. If you don’t get served, the court can’t conduct a hearing or enter judgment.

Enter your intent to defend.

If you’re going to contest a magistrate lawsuit, you must enter your intent to defend. Give notice of your intent to defend 5 days before your scheduled hearing. If you don’t, the hearing will get rescheduled to a later date. Most courts allow you to enter your intent to defend by phone, but some require a letter.

Attend the hearing.

The last step in responding to a magistrate collection lawsuit is attending the hearing. Your judge will hear argument from each party and consider each party’s evidence. The judge then will enter judgment at the hearing or within 5 days.

Most debt collectors generally don’t produce witnesses. Instead, they’ll hire a local attorney a day or so before your hearing to present whatever documents the debt collector may have. As we explain below, debt collectors should lose their case if they hire and rely on appearance counsel.  

Can I beat debt collectors in magistrate court?

"Most debt buyers, and some credit card companies, lack the documents required to win a debt collection lawsuit."

Most credit card companies and debt buyers hire “appearance attorneys” to attend magistrate hearings. “Appearance attorneys” usually are local lawyers that are hired literally to “appear” at your hearing and present whatever documents a credit card company or debt buyer may posses.

Our debt defense attorney often beats appearance attorneys for a simple reason: appearance attorneys can’t testify and they don’t have any knowledge about you, the debt buyer or credit card company suing you, or the documents they are trying to present. Without this knowledge, appearance attorneys generally can’t even introduce the documents they have.

Also, appearance attorneys usually aren’t given sufficient documentation by the credit card companies or debt buyers that hire them. To win a debt collection lawsuit, debt collectors must prove that they own the debt, what amount is owed, and that the debtor owes the debt. To do that, debt collectors generally must produce credit contracts, full account statements, and assignments proving account ownership. In our experience, most debt buyers, and some credit card companies, lack the documents required to win a debt collection lawsuit. 

What happens if I win or lose?

If you win ...

The implications of winning depend on how your case ends. If a magistrate judge enters a judgment for you, then you no longer owe the debt. That means the lawsuit ends and you can’t get sued again. It also may mean the debt gets removed from all or part of your credit report. If a magistrate judge dismisses your case without prejudice or if a debt collector withdraws the case before a hearing, then the lawsuit is over, but you may still owe the debt.

If you lose ...

If you lose, a judgment is entered against you for whatever amount the magistrate judge finds you owe. You get 30 days to appeal. If you appeal, your case starts over in common pleas court. That means the magistrate judgment is erased, as if it never happened. You often can win in the court of common pleas even if you lose before a magistrate court.

Who files lawsuits in magistrate court?

There are many debt buyers, credit card companies, banks, finance companies, lawyers, and law firms that file collection lawsuits in Pennsylvania magistrate courts. Here’s a list of some of them:

Debt Buyers:

Banks and Credit Card Companies

Finance Companies

Lawyers and Law Firms:

  • Apothaker & Scian Lawsuits
  • Burton Neil & Associates Lawsuits
  • Daniel Santucci (Midland Funding)
  • Faloni & Associates Lawsuits
  • Hayt Hayt & Landau Lawsuits
  • Patenaude & Felix Lawsuits
  • Pressler Felt & Warshaw Lawsuits
  • Ratchford Law Group Lawsuits
  • Tsarouhis Law Group Lawsuits
  • Weltman Weinberg & Reis Lawsuits

Hire BCJ Law to help!

If you’re getting sued for a debt in a Pennsylvania magistrate court, please contact BCJ Law for help. We may be able to win your case or get it dismissed. You won’t owe us fees unless we win. Please contact us today for a free case review. You can fill out our contact form or call us at 1-800-997-5561.

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