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Glossary of Debt Collection Cases Terms

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Affidavit A written statement in which the person states under oath that the information is true to the best of that person’s knowledge. To be complete, the document must be signed in front of someone allowed to take the oath, like a Notary Public, who then “notarizes” the affidavit. Making statements you know are false in an affidavit is a crime called perjury.
Affirmative Defenses Affirmative defenses are reasons the Defendant states in the Answer that he or she should win the case instead of the Plaintiff. To win the case based on an affirmative defense, the Defendant will need to try to prove it to the court at a trial. If the affirmative defense is proven at trial, the Defendant may not owe the Plaintiff anything or may owe the Plaintiff less than claimed in the Complaint.
Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act An Alaska law to prevent businesses from using unfair methods for doing business. You can read the law.
Alternate Service Usually when you start a case you are required to serve the defendant by a process server or certified mail/restricted delivery/return receipt. However, sometimes you cannot locate the defendant or the defendant refuses to be served. In that situation, you may ask the court for permission to serve the defendant in a different way, which is called alternate service.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) The common name for the different ways of settling a disagreement outside the courtroom. ADR includes mediation, arbitration, mediation-arbitration, early neutral evaluation, and settlement conference.
Answer The document the Defendant / debtor files in response to the Plaintiff / creditor’s Complaint. It states whether the Defendant agrees or disagrees with each issue raised in the Complaint, and states any affirmative defenses and counterclaims. If the Defendant does not file an Answer within 20 days of receiving the Complaint, the Plaintiff can ask the court to enter a default judgment.
Answer to Counterclaim The document the Plaintiff files in response to the Defendant’s Answer if it raises any counterclaims against the Plaintiff. The Answer to Counterclaim states whether the Plaintiff agrees or disagrees with each counterclaim raised, and should be filed within 20 days of receiving the Answer.
Appeal When a losing party asks a higher court to review a lower court's decision. Appeals normally focus on questions of how the judge applied the law to the case, not what the judge decided were the facts.
Arbitration A process in which a neutral third party called an arbitrator hears arguments, reviews evidence and makes a decision. This is different from mediation, where the parties, not the mediator, make the decisions.

There are two kinds of arbitration: binding and non-binding.

Binding arbitration - parties agree in advance that they will follow the decision of the arbitrator.

Non-binding arbitration - parties agree in advance that they will be advised by the arbitrator's decision, but do not have to follow it.

Arbitrator The neutral party who conducts an arbitration.
Asset Property that is owned by a person or business and that has value.
Assignee A person who was given someone else’s right to collect a debt. Basically, if a company or person has the right to collect a debt from you, but they sell it to someone else, the company or person who buys it is the assignee.
Assignment When a creditor sells a debt to a person or a company this is called an assignment. Basically, the creditor is assigning the right to collect the debt to a third party called an assignee.
Attorney Fees The amount a lawyer charges to represent someone in a lawsuit. If you lose your case, you may have to pay some or all of the other party’s attorney fees.

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Bankruptcy A general term for a federal court process to help people or businesses get rid of their debts by selling most of their assets to pay the debts or by creating a payment plan. You can read more about bankruptcy.

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Caption The heading of a legal document that has the names of the parties, the court, the case number, and title of the case.
Case The general name for the matter filed in court. Also called an action, cause, cause of action, or lawsuit.
Certificate of Service A written, dated and signed statement telling the judge that you gave or sent a copy of a document to the other side. A copy of every document filed in court must be given to every person involved in the case. The certificate of service proves that this happened. Also see service.
Closing Statement The statement made by each party (or their lawyer) at the end of a hearing or trial. Typically, this statement highlights the version of the facts that best supports each side of the case, how these facts were proven during the testimony, how the law applies to the case and why the judge should rule for one side and not the other. The closing statement is not evidence, and the person giving the closing statement may only refer to what has been admitted as evidence by the judge.
Collateral When you take out a loan, sometimes you have to pledge to give up something of value called collateral to the lender if you do not pay back the loan. If you don’t pay the loan, the creditor can take the collateral and sell it to help pay back the loan. If the collateral is sold for less than the amount owed, you may still owe the rest of the money.
Collection Agency A company that collects debts that are past due. The company might be collecting for a creditor or might have bought the debt from the creditor and be collecting for itself.
Confession of Judgment A written document in which a debtor agrees that if they do not pay the debt described in the document, the court can enter a judgment against them which would allow the creditor to collect the money through the execution process.
Complaint The document filed by the Plaintiff / creditor to start a case to collect a debt. It states information about the debt and requests the court to order the Defendant / debtor to pay for the debt or the court to issue a judgment so the Plaintiff can collect it.
Counterclaim A separate legal claim that the Defendant has against the Plaintiff based on either the same or different facts. If the Defendant has a claim against the Plaintiff based on the same facts in the Complaint and doesn't list it in the Answer, the Defendant might not be able to sue the Plaintiff for it later.
Court Costs The cost of a court case other than the attorney fees. For the Plaintiff, the court costs are usually the cost of filing a Complaint and the cost of serving the Defendant. If the Plaintiff wins, the Defendant may be ordered to pay the Plaintiff back for these costs.
Creditor The person or company who is owed money from the debtor.
Cross-Examination Asking the other party’s witnesses questions. Cross-examination questions are leading questions that usually have a “yes” or “no” answer. Examples are: "Isn't is true that you don’t have a copy of the contract that you say we entered?" or "Isn't it true that you saw the Defendant writing and mailing checks to Mighty Bank credit card?” The other side gets to ask cross-examination question to your witnesses (and you if you testify as a witness). You can ask cross-examination questions to the other side’s witnesses (and the other party if they testify as a witness).

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Debt Money a person owes to someone else.
Debt Buyer Companies that purchase old debts from original creditors, like banks, credit card companies, and car loan lenders, or from other debt buyers.
Debt Collector A person or business who regularly collects debts owed to others or whose main business purpose is to collect debts, usually when those debts are past due. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy old debts and then try to collect them.
Debtor A person who owes money to someone else.
Default Judgment A judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, or creditor, that the court enters against the Defendant, or debtor, when the Defendant has been properly served with the Complaint but does not file an Answer by the 20-day deadline.
Defendant The person or company that the Plaintiff sues who allegedly owes a debt to the Plaintiff.
Diligent Inquiry When you don't know where the opposing party is to serve them, the court requires that you try hard to find him or her. The effort you make to find the opposing party is called diligent inquiry. If you can't find the opposing party, you may file an affidavit of diligent inquiry and ask the court permission to serve by alternate service.
Direct Examination Asking your witnesses questions. Direct examination questions are open-ended questions that help the witness tell a story. Examples are: “What did you see that day at the market?” or “What did the other party tell you about my debt?” The answers are called direct testimony.
Discovery Discovery is the process of exchanging information between both sides. Usually, you do not file discovery information in the court. It is information for the parties to use as they prepare their cases. The reason for discovery is to prevent surprises at trial and to encourage parties to settle cases based on as complete information as possible. There are court rules about the different kinds of discovery processes such as Initial Disclosures, Interrogatories and a Request for Production. You can read more about discovery, or read the court rules in Alaska Civil Rules 26-37 PDF.
Dismiss To end a case without any further hearings or consideration by the judge. To dismiss without prejudice means the case can be brought to court again. To dismiss with prejudice means that the case can never be brought to court again.

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Early Neutral Evaluation A process that provides parties in a dispute with an early and frank evaluation of the merits of their case by an objective, neutral evaluator. Like mediation, early neutral evaluation is confidential, voluntary, and does not eliminate other dispute resolution options. The evaluator is not a decision-maker.
Evidence Information provided to the court by a party during the course of a case to help with the decision-making process. This can include testimony, documents, and physical objects. There are special Rules of Evidence that control how and what information can be provided in trials.
Execute/Execution of Judgment The court procedure to collect money that is owed on a judgment. The person with the judgment can collect the amount owed by following the court execution process which commonly allows the Plaintiff to take money from the Defendant’s bank account (called sweeping the bank account), garnish the Defendant’s wages, seize the Defendant’s property, or take the Defendant’s PFD.
Exempt Property Property, including money, that the law protects from being taken, in whole or in part, to pay a creditor for a court judgment against a debtor.
Exhibit A paper, chart, map, or the like used to help prove a case. Sometimes these are attached to and referred to in an affidavit, pleading, or motion, but more often these are brought to the hearing or trial.
Expert Witness A person with special knowledge, training or experience who is allowed to testify at a trial not only about facts (like an ordinary witness) but also about professional conclusions drawn from those facts. You must designate this person on your witness list. See generally Evidence Rules 701-706 PDF.

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Fair Debt Collection Practices Act A Federal law that makes it illegal for debt collectors to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when they collect debts. You can read more about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or read the Act.
File Noun: The complete court record of a case.

Verb: "To file" a paper is to give it to the court clerk to add to the case record.

Before you file something, you make two copies: 1 for you and 1 for the other person. Then you file the original in court. REMEMBER: whenever you file something, you must fill out a certificate of service telling the court when you sent or hand delivered the copy to the other side.

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Hearing A court proceeding at which parties, and sometimes witnesses, come to the court to speak. A hearing is different from a trial in a number of ways, including that it is typically shorter and sometimes less formal than a trial.

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Initial Disclosures A type of discovery which is a list of evidence and information each party must give the other without being asked. The parties do not file discovery with the court, but instead exchange it between themselves. For District Court cases, the list of what should be exchanged is found in Alaska Civil Rule 26 PDF.
Interrogatories A type of discovery where you ask the other party written questions and they are supposed to provide written responses. Civil Rule 33 PDF discusses Interrogatories. You may use Interrogators to prepare for trial, but you do not have to.

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Judgment The document that the judge signs at the end of a case that states the decision. In a debt case, the judgment is the document that says the Plaintiff can collect the money that the Defendant owes. To get the money, the Plaintiff can use the court process to execute the judgment.
Jury A group of people sworn to make a verdict (decision about the outcome) in a court case based on evidence submitted to them during a trial. Juries usually consist of 6 or 12 individuals, depending on the kind of trial. Debt collection cases in district court have 6-member juries and usually 5 of the 6 jury members must agree on the verdict. In a debt collection case, the parties need to file a separate written request for a jury trial at the very beginning of the case.

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Lawyer A person licensed to practice law. You may contact the Alaska Bar Association to find out if a person is licensed in Alaska. Every state has a Bar Association, which can provide a lot of useful information about the lawyers in that state.

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Mediator The neutral party who conducts a mediation.
Mediation A voluntary and confidential process in which a neutral third-party facilitator (the mediator) helps people discuss difficult issues and negotiate an agreement. Parties in mediation create their own solutions and the mediator does not have any decision-making power over the outcome. A mediator may or may not be a lawyer.
Mediation-Arbitration A combination of mediation and arbitration. Parties work to come up with their own agreements, but give a neutral third party the authority to make a decision if mediation is not successful.
Motion The name of the paper you must file to ask a judge to make a ruling or take some other action. A motion is the first step in the three-step process called motion practice, which is controlled by Civil Rule 77 PDF.
Motion for Summary Judgment A written request filed by a party arguing that both parties agree on the facts and those facts mean someone wins under the law or the other party can’t prove the facts that it needs to prove to win under the law. The party who files the motion must attach an affidavit listing the facts that both sides agree about, or the facts that the other party cannot prove, and explain why the facts mean that one party should win under the law. You can read more about Summary Judgment Motions.
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings A written request filed by a party arguing that the Complaint and Answer show that the parties agree on the relevant facts and those facts mean one side should win under the law. The party who files the motion cannot add new facts but must rely on the facts in the Complaint and the Answer. You can read more about Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings.
Motion Practice The three-step process you must use to make written requests (motions) to the judge. See Civil Rule 77 PDF for more information.

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Offer of Proof Sometimes, before you call a witness, the judge will want to know why you are going to call that person to decide whether the testimony is necessary and relevant. An Offer of Proof is a short statement from you telling the judge
  • why you want a witness to testify;
  • what you think that witness will say;
  • and why this is relevant and necessary to the case.
Opening Statement The introductory statement made each party (or their lawyer) at the start of a hearing or trial. Typically, this statement explains the version of the facts best supporting each side of the case, how these facts will be proven, and how the law applies to the case. This statement is not evidence.

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Party/Parties The legal word for the people who are part of a court case and have a right to ask the court to decide the issues in a specific way. In most debt cases, the parties are the Plaintiff and the Defendant.
Payday Loan Generally, a small loan (usually $500 or less) that will have to be repaid in a very short time, with a very high interest rate or cost. They are often due to be repaid when the person taking the loan gets their next paycheck.
Payday Loan Company A business that provides payday loans.
Plaintiff The person or company who starts the court case to collect a debt.
Pleadings The formal documents, usually a Complaint and an Answer, that start a case and describes a party's legal or factual claims about the case and what the party wants from the court. The Plaintiff files the Complaint to start the case and the Defendant files the Answer to respond to the Complaint. . If the Defendant includes a counterclaim in the Answer, the Plaintiff may file an Answer to Counterclaim.
Process Server A specially licensed person who is authorized to serve certain types of legal documents. While fees vary, it generally costs up to $65 plus mileage and time. Process servers can serve legal documents just about anywhere, not just at someone's home. If they have a good physical description, a process server may hang-out at the airport or even a bar waiting for someone to show-up. Check the statewide list of authorized process servers PDF to find a process server.

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Rebuttal Witness A witness who testifies after both sides have presented their witnesses, who is not on the witness list, but whose testimony is needed suddenly to rebut or explain something unexpected that another witness said. Rebuttal witnesses are only for testimony or evidence that was a surprise at trial. If the rebuttal witness is coming to testify about something new, or something a party should have brought up with the regular witnesses, the judge may decide that party cannot have the rebuttal witness testify.
Re-Direct Examination After the other side questions you or your witnesses on cross-examination, you have a turn to let the witness explain to the court how the cross-examination testimony might have been misleading and what more there is to the story. This is your opportunity to "fix" the cross-examination and give your witness the chance to explain.
Request for Production A type of discovery where you provide the other party with a written request asking for copies of documents or other items. You may use this option to prepare for trial, but you do not have to. Alaska Civil Rule 34 PDF discusses Requests for Production of documents and information.
Rules of Evidence The Alaska Supreme Court has adopted rules that set out what evidence the judge can admit and consider in a case. The rules discuss whether, when, how and for what purpose you can present information or proof to support a legal argument in a court case. Their purpose is to get the most reliable, relevant and accurate evidence to the judge. Evidence must be based on first-hand knowledge of the person presenting it, with very limited exceptions. This means you have to have seen something with your own eyes or heard it directly yourself before you are allowed to speak about it in court. The Rules provide for cross-examination of anyone whose written or spoken words are being considered as evidence. Understanding the Rules of Evidence can be very complicated. It is helpful to discuss with a lawyer what evidence to use and how to admit evidence. Read the Rules of Evidence PDF or watch a video: The Rules of EvidencePlay The Rules of Evidence Video

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Sanctions A penalty by the court to encourage a party to follow the law. Sanctions are usually designed to fit the circumstances and can be in the form of a money fine or not allowing a party to call certain witnesses.
Serve/Service Providing the other side in a case with a copy of everything you file with the court. Both parties are required to do this so everyone knows what the other side gave to the judge. This requirement is a matter of fairness so everyone in the case has the same information provided to the court. Every document the court issues must be provided to all parties in the case. You tell the judge how and when you “served” the other side by filling out the “Certificate of Service” at the bottom of each document you file with the court.
Settlement Agreement A resolution or decision about the case that both parties agree to, sometimes with the help of alternative-dispute resolution, that ends all or part of the case.
Settlement Conference A meeting with a judge before trial to explore ways to settle the issues in a case. The meeting includes you, the other party, and your lawyers (if you have them). The judge may or may not be the same judge you will have if you go to trial. The judge's role is to try help you reach an agreement, not to be a decision-maker.
Settlement Judge A retired or current judge who works as a neutral third-party facilitator, rather than as a decision maker, to help the parties work out a settlement agreement between themselves.
Stay When a case is paused for a period of time, it is called a “stay.” When the court pauses the case, it is “staying” the case. Nothing can happen in the case during a stay.
Stay of Execution A court order that stops a party from being able to execute a judgment. A stay of execution is usually temporary.
Stipulation A point or condition agreed upon by the parties.
Summons The document the court gives the Plaintiff when the Plaintiff starts a debt collection case. The Summons states the court address; tells the Defendant to file a response to the Complaint, called an Answer, within 20 days; lists the Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s lawyer’s name and address; and gives the name of the judge assigned to the case. The Plaintiff is required to give the Summons to the Defendant with the Complaint.

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Testify To make a statement in court under oath; what is said is called testimony and is evidence.
Testimony What a person says in the courtroom under oath, after being sworn-in; testimony is evidence.
Trial The formal court proceeding when each side presents their arguments about what the court should order and their supporting evidence. When the trial is over, the judge issues a final judgment and the case is done. For a debt collection case, the trial will be heard by the judge, unless either party files a written request for a trial before a jury.

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Under Oath Having sworn or promised to tell the truth. All people must swear or affirm to tell the truth if they want their statement or testimony to be considered as evidence. All written statements must be submitted as affidavits to be considered by the court as evidence.

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Verdict Decision made by a jury on a disputed issue in a trial. In a civil trial for a debt collection case, the verdict would be “for the plaintiff” or “for the defendant” and can include a specific award of money.

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Witness A person called by a party to speak in court, under oath, about what he or she knows or has observed that is relevant to the case.
Witness List The list of people you intend to call during your trial or hearing. The judge will tell you when the witness list is due. You must designate who will be called as an expert witness. If you do not file your witness list, the court may sanction you by not allowing you to call your witnesses. There is a simple witness list form, (TF-238 [Fill-In PDF]).
Writ of Execution A formal, written command by the court to a law enforcement officer or other official to enforce or execute a judgment in a specific way, such as sweeping a bank account or taking a portion of someone's PFD.

Rev. 5 November 2018
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