There’s a growing sense of outrage across the land in this new year that reminds me of that
2007 (oops) 1984 track from Twisted Sister, We’re Not Gonna Take It. You remember the heavy-metal band in curly wigs, makeup and femme clothing, screaming in rebellion about some authority figure. I’ve been wondering how much of the explosion in pro se litigation is coming from people fed up with being ripped off and taking their Twisted-Sister act to court.
All the pundits say the economy is better now than it was a few years ago. But it’s still difficult for people to take care of their families and maintain their debt obligations. So much of what we share here is biased toward defendants because the bulk of pro se litigants are on the defense side of the courtroom. They’re fighting to retain housing or renegotiate defaulted loans or settle child visitation and support issues, and few of us can afford lawyers in this economy.
But many people on the other side of the courtroom are simply tired of walking away when a business has treated them unfairly. Folks are feeling froggy these days and ready to jump at those businesses with a lawsuit, with or without a lawyer. There’s the auto repair shop that doesn’t fix your car properly, or flat-out steals it with a mechanic’s lien. There’s the landlord who kicks you out without cause and keeps your deposit. Or the equipment manufacturer that refuses to honor their warranty, or the insurer that refuses to cover expenses that ought to be covered, or… The list goes on.
When it’s time to sue somebody, don’t bother with small claims court. In many jurisdictions, the judge doesn’t even need a law license. These magistrates too often make decisions based on whatever feels good, rather than on what’s right or legal. The rules of civil procedure don’t generally apply. The timeframe for cases is very fast, and so there’s no time for discovery. The rules of evidence also don’t apply, so any old irrelevant or inauthentic thing can be considered by the judge. There’s no jury. There are limits to how much can be awarded. There are a ton of other reasons to take your case to a real court.
The best reason to sue in real court is that a corporation must pay a lawyer just to answer your complaint. A non-lawyer — say the president of the company — can’t represent the company in a (real) court of law. If they refuse to get a lawyer, you can win by default. If the company does send a lawyer, you’ll have some satisfaction knowing you’ve already made them pay.
The second best reason to sue in real court is that companies know they’re not likely to convince a judge to make you pay their attorney fees even if they win, unless it becomes clear you’re suing only to harass them. (Don’t be a frivolous or vexatious litigant.) All you have to do to avoid that impression is to put together a good complaint that connects the facts of your case to the elements of some tort, like deceptive trade practices violations or theft by deception.
The third best reason to sue in real court? If you survive a company’s effort to get your case dismissed, you get to make them open their books. And companies absolutely hate to make their internal workings a matter of public record. To be sure, you can’t ask for just anything. Whatever you ask them to produce has to be relevant to either your claim or their defense. But that’s a wide door that nearly everything can fit through if you ask the right way. A good discovery process can positively terrorize a company. If you do this part well, they’ll want to settle with you fast.
So stop being abused by every small or large merchant who thinks they can take advantage of you. Too many companies are betting their
victims customers are too intimidated by court proceedings to sue. Meet them at the courthouse and give them a different perspective. Make them pay, one way or the other.
Twisted Sister has always had the right attitude.
Share in the comments below if you’ve had to sue a company that needed suing, or if there’s one you need to sue now.