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What is sewer service?

Chloe Meltzer | October 19, 2022

Summary: In a court of law, sewer service is the act of intentionally failing to serve a notice of complaint to a defendant.

When it comes to being served with a debt collection lawsuit, there are measures in place that need to be upheld. One such measure is the proper service of court documents to the opposing party. In the realm of civil litigation, sewer service is the term used to describe failing to serve a notice of complaint on a debtor.

There's a reason they call it sewer service—it's a pretty crappy thing for a creditor to do.

What is sewer service?

In a court of law, sewer service is the act of intentionally failing to serve a notice of complaint to a defendant. The defendant is often the one in debt, and if the plaintiff (usually a debt collector or law firm) does not properly serve them, it is sewer service.

When filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff usually must include an affidavit stating the defendant has been served. In sewer service, the plaintiff lies on the affidavit: the defendant wasn't properly served and may not know about the lawsuit. When the defendant does not appear in court, the collector would be awarded a default judgment. This can lead to garnishment of wages and other issues for the defendant, which is unfair if they were never notified of the lawsuit.

How sewer service affects consumers

Sewer service is a deceptive practice. It leaves consumers at a completely unfair advantage because a defendant cannot fight a lawsuit that they don't even know exists, and failure to appear in court will automatically result in a default judgment. Default judgments can lead to serious complications for the consumer. Such complications may include:

  • Wage garnishments
  • Bank account seizures
  • Damaged credit scores
  • Additional fees

Sewer service is unlawful

Sewer service violates the rules of civil procedure for most states, usually Rule 4, which outlines the law surrounding proper service. You can double-check your state's service laws under Rule 4 here.

Sewer service is arguably a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Because of this, you can sue or countersue a collection agency if you're a victim of sewer service. Unfortunately, this type of service has become a common practice, but if you know your rights under the FDCPA, you will know what actions you can take.

Illegal actions under the FDCPA

  • Failing to send a written debt validation notice: Any debt buyer or collector must send you a written debt validation notice within 5 days of your initial communication. They must also give you a notice of your right to dispute the debt within 30 days. If this is not done, then it means you have not been given proper notification.
  • Asking you to pay more than you owe: Debt collectors are not allowed to lie to you in any way, or make it seem as though you owe more debt than you do.
  • Asking you to pay illegal interest, fees, or expenses: Sometimes, a debt collector may not be allowed to ask you to pay anything extra that is not in your original credit agreement. This includes extra interest, fees, or expenses. That said, many contracts allow the collector to sue for collection expenses.
  • Calling repeatedly: Under the FDCPA, harassment is a violation. This means constant or repeated calls are not allowed.
  • Using obscene, profane, or abusive language: Similar to harassment, any form of threatening language is not allowed.
  • Calling at odd hours: Debt collectors may not call whenever they wish as this would compromise your sanity. Generally, odd hours include before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm. The only time that is appropriate is if you ask them to call during these hours.
  • Calling you at times that are known to be inconvenient: If you work at certain times and it's not appropriate to call, letting a debt collector know this means they are required to respect it.
  • Using or threatening to use violence for not paying the debt.
  • Threatening action they cannot or will not take: This might include threatening arrest, or suing you if this is not legally possible.
  • Telling a third party of your debt: Legally debt collectors are not allowed to tell anyone else about the debt you owe. The only person they are allowed to discuss it with is your lawyer, creditor, creditor's attorney, or your spouse.
  • Repeatedly calling a third party to get your location information: Although they are allowed to contact a third party reasonably, they may not contact them more than once.
  • Contacting you at work: Any attempt to contact you at work when they are aware it is not allowed is a violation.

What to do when sewer service occurs

If you believe that you are being sued for debt and you were not properly notified, or worse, a default judgment has been placed against you, then you need to take action.

If you have already lost the lawsuit by default judgment, then you can file a Motion to Set Aside Judgment.

If the deadline has not passed to respond to the Complaint, then you can file an Answer arguing you should win because of improper service.

infographic of what I should do after sewer service.

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