Georgia credit card lawsuits go through three basic stages

Every Georgia credit card lawsuit has three basic stages:

  1. Pleadings.
  2. Discovery and Motions.
  3. Trial.

Not all credit card lawsuits make it to each of these stages. If a defendant never files an answer, or a plaintiff does not file a proper complaint, then the lawsuit may die at the pleading stage. Discovery may also result in the lawsuit dying before it gets to trial. One of the parties may not respond, or the evidence uncovered during discovery may lead to a successful motion for summary judgment. Finally, trial is the stage most people think about when they think of a lawsuit. It’s Law & Order, Boston Legal, Perry Mason, Matlock, and all the other legal shows or movies you may have seen. (A Civil Action is good movie example.)

The pleading stage of a lawsuit

A credit card lawsuit’s pleading stage is the very beginning. A plaintiff must file a complaint or a petition with the court. I use the term “Complaint” in the rest of the post.

The Complaint must be personally served on the defendant. This usually occurs when a Sheriff’s Deputy comes to your door to give you the Complaint. Sometimes a private process server serves you the Complaint. (In the movie Pineapple Express the main character is a private process server.)

Once the Complaint is personally served the Defendant has 30 days to respond.  This deadline is described in a paper called a Summons that is attached to the Complaint.

You must respond to a Complaint within the 30-day deadline. This response is called an Answer. Failure to do so can result in what is called a Default Judgment. You do not want a default judgment against you. It will make it difficult to negotiate with the creditor on making payments, and it makes it more difficult for any attorney you hire to defend you against false claims.

Once again, always Answer a Complaint within the 30-day deadline.

(It is possible to overcome a default judgment. If you have a default judgment against you and you want help, give me a call to discuss your options. I have experience overcoming default judgments and ending garnishments.)

The discovery stage of a credit card lawsuit

Once a Complaint and an Answer has been filed then the discovery period begins.

Discovery does not exist in Magistrate Court—it only exists in State and Superior Court. (To learn more about the different types of courts that hear credit card lawsuits in Georgia please see my earlier post on the subject.)

In State and Superior Court, the discovery period allows you and the other side to ask each other questions and request documents from each other. Either party can also request a deposition during this time.

When you are served with discovery requests, you have 30 days to respond to them. Failure to respond can result in your case being dismissed or certain facts being viewed as the other side wishes. This is bad—always try your best to respond to discovery within the 30-day timeline!

The three primary discovery tools used are as follows:

  1. Requests for Admissions;
  2. Requests for Documents;
  3. Interrogatories to opposing party.

Requests for admissions ask a party to either admit or deny something. There is no limit on the number of these requests you can make. If you do not respond to these requests within 30 days of receiving them then the court will consider the request admitted. This is very bad—always respond to Requests for Admissions within the deadline!

Requests for documents ask a party to provide a category of, type of, or specific document or other record. This includes audio and video recordings.

Interrogatories are questions posed to another party. They must be answered to the best of the other party’s knowledge. Both parties are limited to no more than 50 interrogatories unless the court allows them to ask more.

At the end of the discovery stage, there is usually a Motion for Summary Judgment. The basic rule in a motion for summary judgment is that the court can rule in a party’s favor if there are no “genuine issues of material fact.” This can be a complicated analysis, so I will not go into more detail on motions for summary judgment in this post.

The trial stage of a credit card lawsuit

Magistrate court cases usually proceed from the pleadings stage to the trial stage because discovery cannot be used in magistrate court.

State and Superior court cases proceed to the trial stage usually after a motion for summary judgment is filed.

This is the final stage of any lawsuit. At this stage the Plaintiff has the burden of proving his claims beyond a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower standard than in criminal cases (which use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard).

During the trial the Plaintiff will be restricted by the rules of evidence as to what evidence he can present.

I plan to go over some of the specific in each of these stages in later posts.