Gutter service: when you don’t know you’ve been sued
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Gutter service, also known as sewer service, is when a process server claims to have served a particular person when indeed he didn’t. The result is most often that the person being sued finds out too late that they were due in court.
The practice is common in bad debt cases, whereby a company sues for judgment against a consumer. When the consumer isn’t served, they have no idea they need to appear in court and a default judgment is filed. The consumer will then learn of the judgment when their bank account is seized or their wages are garnished.
Caryn Berger almost wasn’t able to close on her new home when just days before he scheduled closing her lender called and asked her about a judgment that had been discovered by the underwriter. The Schenectady, NY resident said she had no idea there was a judgment against her.
“I went to my county clerk’s office and couldn’t find anything in the computer, so I asked one of the employees for help. It took over an hour but she finally found it.”
Berger said the judgment didn’t show on her credit report because it was more than seven years old. She added that she had no idea who the creditor was.
“I had never heard of the company before. It was a credit card company that I’d never done business with.”
Berger said she made copies and took them home to look them over. What she discovered was that the date listed on the notice of service was the date of her son’s birthday.
“The paper said I was served at home, but I was in surgery having a cesarean section at the time the process server wrote down that I was served.”
Berger first attempted to contact the process service company, however, it was no longer in business. She then did an Internet search of the lawyer who had issued the summons.
“I saw that they had been in trouble with the state for filing hundreds of judgments against people without properly serving them,” she said. “I called their office and told them that I never heard of the credit card company.”
The lawyer’s office told her that she owed the money and held firm on their demand. With her closing only few days away, as a last resort she called the creditor. Fortunately, the law firm hadn’t purchased the debt so she was able to get a letter from the creditor stating that they would vacate the judgment. That letter allowed her to proceed with her closing.
Berger said in the end she learned that the person for whom the judgment was for had the same first and last name, however, the first name was spelled the traditional way.
“I was a wreck thinking that I might not be able to close on my house. My husband was angry, thinking I had some credit card that I’d never told him about.”
Berger’s situation has become increasingly common and lawmaker are attempting to crack down on process servers who use gutter service to get default judgments.
Each state has its own laws for serving subpoenas and each state has a procedure to follow should a person be the victim of sewer service.
Image: Flickr/Tim Samoa