Culik Law on Trial Against Midland Funding: What Happens at a Trial With a Debt Buyer
Many people may wonder what happens at a trial against a debt collector, and, specifically, against a type of debt collector called a debt buyer. This article explains it. (Debt buyers are companies who purchase debts from original creditors in order to collect on them.)
This trial, as with most trials against debt collectors, was a bench trial. Bench trials are conducted by a judge, without a jury. This is because there are usually only evidentiary issues — whether the debt buyer actually owns the account — which the court rules say are for the judge to decide.
Before the trial started, we filed what is called a “motion in limine,” which is a motion to exclude the documents we expected Midland to submit. The documents Midland had were supposedly the assignment of the account, but did not actually reference the account. The judge took the motion under advisement. In these types of cases, the judge usually allows the debt collector to introduce its evidence provisionally (called “de bene”), and then will decide after the full presentation whether it is actually admissible.
The parties first begin by making an opening statement summarizing what they expect the evidence to be and why they should win.
The plaintiff, the debt collector, then presents its case first by calling witnesses. In our case, Midland flew in an employee from Minnesota named Mycah Struck. Although he testified that Midland owned the account, he claimed that our office had not requested proof of the assignment. We then confronted him the document request we had sent to Midland which, in fact, had requested the assignment.
Midland’s witness was also unable to explain an extremely important point: the document it claimed was the assignment said that there was no “warranty of title.” In plain English, this means that Midland could not state with certainty that it actually owned the account.
Midland had subpoenaed our client to testify briefly. This occasionally happens, and is usually just an intimidation tactic. Midland’s attorney, from the law firm of Lustig, Glaser & Wilson, P.C., asked the client to identify some account statements. Midland then rested its case.
We then filed a motion to dismiss the case, which the judge took under advisement as with the motion in limine. It is important to file a motion to dismiss after the plaintiff rests its case because it helps to preserve the right to appeal.
The parties are then allowed closing arguments. Our argument, simply put, was that regardless of whether the account was owed to the original creditor, there was no admissible evidence that Midland owned the account.
Finally, the judge took the case under advisement and will rule on it in the near future with a written opinion. Numerous decisions from Massachusetts trial and appeals courts have ruled in similar cases that debt buyers should lose, which is the outcome we expect in this case.
Although most cases filed by debt buyers never go to trial, some do. But when they do, our office has never seen one where the debt buyer had the evidence it needed to prevail.