Pocket Service and Pre-Judgment Garnishment

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Pocket service 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 is good for consumers, at first glance. However, it also saves money for debt collectors, who are starting hundreds of lawsuits at a time, and thousands every month. Sure, it may save one consumer a few hundred dollars, but it saves debt collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars every month—money that would otherwise be paid to the courts.

Also, consumers may have a better chance at a fair hearing in court than out of it. In effect, pocket service is a far more powerful tool for debt collectors than for consumers. On balance, I would not be a bit sad to see pocket service disappear in Minnesota.

Pre-judgment garnishment

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. They can serve a garnishment summons on your bank or employer, wait to see if they capture any money, and only then file the lawsuit and incur the filing fee. Scary stuff.

Always answer the summons and complaint

Much of the advice on the internet is that if the court has no record of a lawsuit, you do not have to respond to it. Not true in Minnesota and several other states with pocket service laws. If you do not respond, the plaintiff will be able to get a default judgment—meaning you lose.

If you find out you are named in a lawsuit, however you find out, make sure you get involved, if only to argue 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.