I was called this past week by a lawyer, informing me that my old business partner (from 2008) is suing me in civil court for a zillion dollars. He filed proof of service, but I never received anything, as papers were "left" at the front desk of a large building that I rent a desk in. He called me to ask why I haven't responded. Strange.
I asked him to email me the complaint and he did. I also paid for the proof of service. The suit is a joke. Its inflammatory, and flat out lies. Every one of the 10 points its total fabrication and nonsense.. but I'm in a corner here.
It appears that Im going to have to retain legal help even just to reply to this at the conference.. and this will cost me a LOT. I feel cornered in that I am going to be out anywhere from $3k to 25k just to prove that this yahoo is full of it. Even just to quash or get summary judgement or strike or anything... Im going to be out a lot of money.
Is there ANY WAY that I can get out of this quickly/cheaply? I did nothing wrong. A crazy person decided, 4 years later, to give me a hard time. He files, now Im going to suffer. It just doesnt seem right and Im sure there is something Im missing here. The few lawyers I called were friendly and helpful, but said there is no way of avoiding paying someone to help me, and I have little to no chance of even breaking even, let alone not losing my savings.
Worst of all is that the conference is coming up on the 22nd. I was just informed of this whole mess a few days ago. WHAT CAN I DO?
Im in CA and this is at the Los Angeles Superior court.
3 Answers from Attorneys
It is difficult to respond without actually seeing the lawsuit and learning more. One might try, depending on the allegations, a Anti-Slapp Motion that could resolve the whole lawsuit. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to address the case without getting legal help. One thing that may work is to see what the attorney really wants and perhaps it can be settled early very cheaply and easily.
I agree with Mr, Selik, but I do not agree that you should simply negotiate with the attorney suing you until you've had some legal consultation over the matter. Some types of lawsuits are covered by fee shifting statutes, that make the other side liable for your attorney's fees if you prevail. But I cannot tell whether that applies to you without reviewing the complaint and evaluating the case.
If you have a copy of the complaint that you can send via e-mail, and you want a few pointers or suggestions, feel free to send me a private e-mail and I would be willing to look at it and tell you what your options are.
You haven't said much about the allegations against you, so I can't offer much guidance. But here are some general points.
If the court believes you have been served then you need to set the record straight. You might be able to persuade the other side to acknowledge that you were not properly served. Another option is to bring a motion to quash service. Either way, the plaintiff will then be able to serve you properly and you will still have to answer once they do. So if you can just answer now without going through those procedures, that may be the most sensible way to go.
If the plaintiff has taken your default and/or obtained a default judgment, he may be willing to stipulate to set them aside. He probably won't, though. In that scenario you would need to bring a motion for relief from the default and from the judgment (if any) as well as to quash service.
Technically, you don't need a lawyer for this. But if you try to do it yourself you are likely to make crucial mistakes which would defeat your motion. You will not get a second chance, so you need to make sure it is done right the first time. Hiring a lawyer is the best way to accomplish that.
As Mr. Roach notes, in some lawsuits the prevailing party is entitled to recover her legal fees from the losing party. Sometimes that is because the case concerns a contract with an attorney-fee clause. Other times it is because the law makes fees and costs recoverable in the particular type of case. You have not given us enough information to know whether you could recover your attorney fees if you win.
The anti-SLAPP motion Mr. Selik mentions is not usually an option. Whether it is available to you will depend upon the facts of your case. Nothing you have said suggests that this is a SLAPP suit, but perhaps it is. I would need to see the complaint before I could say.
The bottom line is that you're right -- you need to get a lawyer and you are going to have to spend money to defend yourself. That may not be fair, but it's the way things are. Just try to get a good one who can represent you at a reasonable cost. That means you need a lawyer who will both charge a reasonable rate and (if you pay by the hour) be able to represent you efficiently. An experienced lawyer who charges more per hour may cost you less overall than one who is less experienced but has a lower hourly rate, especially if he gets you a better result. And you may save a lot by hiring a lawyer in L.A. instead of San Diego.
Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss your situation in more detail.