Courting someone out of state
July 23, 2009 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I paid in advance for services which I never received, and now I'm out nearly $900. This person moved out of state before I got to file in small claims. Is there anything I can do?

I have many emails back and forth with this person where she acknowledges that she owes me the money, says she will pay it when she can, etc., so she can't dispute that she owes it to me (without looking like a liar).

She worked for me for about a year, we became fairly good friends, I always paid her a full month in advance. It worked out for the whole year, and then she tells me that this is it, she's not coming back and she doesn't have the money to refund me at that time. About a month after that, she mailed me $200 with a letter stating she'd do the rest when she had it.

I have had intentions of taking her to small claims for it, but part of me believed that she was going to keep her word. I found out last week that she moved 2k miles away. I can't find any reliable information on whether it's possible to do this from a distance. This money means a lot to me right now, as I just lost both my job and my child support in the same week (that's a whole different post...). Is there *anything* I can do from this far away? (she no longer responds to my emails)
posted by Lullen to Law & Government (7 answers total)
If you can find someone to serve her papers, I can't think of any reason not to sue anyway. If she doesn't show for the case, you win by default!

Just make sure you hire a professional who can provide a notarized letter that she was served with notice of the case.
posted by meta_eli at 6:09 PM on July 23, 2009

A few things to think about:

You have to get her served with process. The law of your state will govern what constitutes effective service of process, in order to get a judgment against her.

Once she is properly served with process, you should be able to get a judgment against her. The e-mails, and other documents evidencing the contract and debt, will be good evidence.

If you get a judgment against her, you will then have the question of how to execute it (i.e., how to take her money/property to pay the judgment). A judgment entered in the court of one state can be executed in another state, but it can be a tricky proposition, almost always requiring the assistance of an attorney.

My guess is that the efforts you will go through to get her served in another state, get a judgment against her, and enforce the judgment, will not be worth it for a mere $900.

It may be, however, that the mere act of filing suit against her may cause her to pay up, but I wouldn't count on it.

Good luck.
posted by jayder at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

There are two answers to this question:

1. Is there anything you can do from this far away? Yes.

2. Is there anything you can do from this far away that will be likely to recoup you enough to make it worth it? Probably not.

Depending on your state and its laws, it is likely that you could serve her wherever she lives, and still have the case in your local small claims. You live where the harm occurred, so there's jurisdiction. You could also probably take her to small claims wherever she lives now, and fly down there for the hearing, but you likely don't need to.

Filing in small claims in Los Angeles costs about $40 (or it did a few years ago). Having someone serve her with process for you will be another $50 I think. So you're at almost $100. If you win, you can probably add at least the filing fee to what she owes you.

What's likely to happen then? You'll probably win. Then you get to try to collect from a deadbeat. Good luck with that. There are collections measures, but the easy ones are not effective (put a lien on property), and the effective ones aren't easy (find out where they have a bank account and send the sheriff down to take their money).

In other words, I'm not sure it would have done much good to sue her even when she lived here. Suing corporations in small claims? I endorse that. They will pay you, and there's things you can do when they don't. (Send someone to their business to stand and collect money as it comes in the door, for one.) A deadbeat with no money who doesn't want to pay? Not so much.

I know this money is important to you, and maybe this is the kind of person that will get scared by a summons. But if she just refuses to pay, you have a tough road ahead.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the replies, I have a lot to think about. I probably should have added that I would have been the 3rd person taking her to small claims. She screwed everyone she worked for. One of the other cases was settled in the mandatory mediation immediately prior to the hearing (she paid everything but the court fees for that one) and the judge obviously found her responsible for the second suit, as well. I know her well and I know she has the money now. I guess the principle of it bothers me more than anything else, because she was my friend. Sounds like I'm probably out of luck, though.
posted by Lullen at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2009

A lot of us are out of work and are looking for some scratch. Post this in Jobs and ask someone to act as your agent in small claims court. Post another opening for an out-of-work lawyer to handle having her wages garnished or placing a lien on property. Don't give up this easily.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:10 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell her if she doesn't pay you within a certain timeframe, your lawyer will be presenting her with legal paperwork. If she has the money, considering she has already lost other cases, there is a good chance she will pay, even without any legal paperwork being presented. You will no longer be friends.

If the friendship is more important to you, than either accept that it may take a long time to get the money back (if ever), and have an honest conversation with this person about how important the money is to you. If they are really a friend, they will do whatever they can to help you out, unless there situation is more dire than yours.
posted by markblasco at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2009

Was just going to say some of what markblasco said.

If she has the money, has the experience of knowing what comes next, seems like there's a not-trivial chance she will pay you if she is served.

I don't have direct experience with this, but a friend who got shafted by a company (for professional services he provided) did a deal with a collection agency where he'd get half of whatever they got. As far as I know, this did not involve doing small-claims.

I guess they're essentially professional badgerers. (Dunno if you could get a judgment and then go down that road)

With the principle of it bothering you, if nothing else, a wee bit of time and money to file in small claims does seem to make that point more emphatically.

She has the money and skipped town without telling you. I can see a dissenting view but more than understood if you're out to (among other things) make the points that you're disgusted, there will be consequences--be it a judgment, a professional badgerer or something else.

Spikelee... makes good points. I'll add that it seems people like this person abuse trust and kindness, count on people giving up. I say go after her.
posted by ambient2 at 9:42 PM on July 23, 2009

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