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Terms You Hear at Court

Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, with funding from American College of Bankruptcy
Created June 2012

It is helpful to know the words you will hear at court:


Admissions are written statements that one party sends the other. You have 30 days in which to respond to admissions if the creditor sends them to you.


If you are sued, you need to file an answer. An answer is the way you tell the judge why the creditor should not win their case against you and what they have done wrong. You must write your answer and give your written answer to the court.

Collection agency

The creditor may have hired a collection agency to get the money you owe. Or, the creditor may have sold your debt to a collection agency. The collection agency can collect your debt for the original creditor, or to pay itself. If a collection agency takes you to court, the collection agency is the plaintiff.


When a plaintiff starts a court case, he has to file a complaint at court. The complaint explains why the plaintiff is taking you to court.


Counterclaims are the claims you have against the creditor if they sued you first.


The person or company that you owe money to is called a creditor.


Bills you have not paid and money you owe is called debt.


If you are being sued you are called the defendant or debtor. If you are the defendant, you have the right to defend yourself in court.


Defenses are the legal reasons why the creditor should not win the case.


A deposition is a discovery tool to ask the other party in the case questions about the case under oath outside of court.


Discovery is the way parties in a court case can gather information from each other.


Interrogatories are a discovery tool.  They are written questions that one party “serves” the other.


The final decision by the court.

Judgment by Default

A default judgment is the court saying you lost your case because you did not do something you were suppose to do. For example, a default judgment can enter if you did appear at court on the day you were supposed to be there, or you did not "enter appearance" in a case by filing an answer.


The person or company suing you is called the plaintiff. A plaintiff can be a credit card company, a hospital, a bank or any other person or company that says you did not pay money you owed.

Request for Production of Documents

Request for Production of Documetns is a discovery tool a party in the lawsuit can use to get information and documents from you about the case.

Secured debt

A secured debt is a loan that is connected to and protected by property. A mortgage is a secured loan on a house.  A car loan is secured by the car. This means if you do not pay that loan the creditor has special rights to take that piece of property. This is sometimes called a "security interest" in the property.

Service of process

“Service of Process” is the set of rules for parties in a lawsuit to communicate with each other about each step in the case. The plaintiff must tell you they are suing you and give you information about a hearing or when to answer their complaint. When they serve notice you will get a copy of the summons and complaint. Creditors must serve notice properly. They must hire a sheriff or constable to deliver the papers to you. . In a small claims case, they can send copies of the summons and complaint to you through certified mail. After the case has begun, you must give the plaintiff a copy of your “answer,” “Discovery” or a Motion by first class mail or deliver it in person. You do not need a sheriff or constable. When a plaintiff asks for discovery, they also have to follow the rules and give you notice.


Creditors can take you to court for debt even if you offered to make small payments, or you told the creditor you will make full payments as soon as you can. When a person or company takes you to court for money you owe, they sue you for debt.


When a plaintiff files the complaint, the court gives him a summons. The summons tells the defendant, you in this case, when and where you need to go for the hearing or when you must file an answer.

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