Pocket service (also known as pocket filing) is lawyer slang for the procedural rule in Minnesota that a lawsuit commences on service of the summons and complaint. This is different from the rule in almost all other states and the federal courts, where a lawsuit begins with filing of the summons and complaint.
When coupled with Minnesota’s rules on pre-judgment garnishment, this can cause serious problems. A defendant who was never properly served, for example, can end up getting money taken from their bank account without any notice or any chance to respond to the lawsuit.
The moral: if you discover or are even suspicious you may be named in a lawsuit, look into it. And call a lawyer.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Pocket service saves money since the plaintiff doesn’t have to pay a filing fee when it starts the lawsuit. This sounds good for consumers, at first glance, since debt collectors often try to recover their attorney fees and costs (like filing fees) from the consumer-defendant. However, it also saves a ton of money for debt collectors, many of which bring thousands of lawsuits every year. That is money that would otherwise be paid to the courts—and might deter debt collectors from starting so many lawsuits in the first place.
Plus, if the case never gets filed with the court—which it often doesn’t—consumers don’t have a chance to get a fair hearing on whether they actually owe the debt.
Pocket service is a far more powerful tool for debt collectors than it is for consumers. On balance, I would not be a bit sad to see pocket service disappear entirely in Minnesota.
Worse, in Minnesota, the plaintiff will be able to garnish your wages and bank accounts without even getting a judgment or filing the lawsuit with the court. If the consumer-defendant fails to answer, they are in default, which means the plaintiff-debt collector has won.
Once it has a default, the plaintiff can serve a garnishment summons on your bank or employer—before filing the lawsuit. The plaintiff can wait to see if they capture any money, and only then file the lawsuit and incur the filing fee so they can claim the money being held.
In short, a debt collector can garnish your wages or bank accounts before the lawsuit is filed with any court.
Always Answer the Summons and Complaint
Much of the advice on the internet claims that if the court has no record of a lawsuit, you do not have to respond to it. That is not true in Minnesota and in several other states with pocket service laws. If you do not respond, you default—you lose.
If you find out you are named in a lawsuit, however you find out, make sure you get involved, even if your only defense is that you were never properly served. If you ignore the lawsuit, you may end up losing money without ever having a chance to defend yourself.