Q: Can I go to jail because I cannot take off work to go to a civil hearing at a magistrate? I’m being taken to court by a creditor (credit card company)? (White Oak, PA)
A: The short answer is no. Generally, civil court has no jurisdiction to incarcerate people. Only in rare circumstances such as when a person is found in contempt or in family court matters involving failure to pay child support. What will happen is that since you do not appear, and have made no effort to continue the case, a hearing will go forward without you and you will be found guilty in absentia. The creditor will ask for and receive the judgment, any interest owed, plus costs and lawyers fee. You might want to call the creditor and the judge and ask for a continuance.
Q: They already have a judgement. I own nothing. I do have a bank account in me and my husband name. Car is in both names. I do not own it make payments. I have no savings account and our income tax return is in both names. Can they garnish my wages in PA or take my tax return refund? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: As long as everything you own in in both names, you are shielded by the husband and wife entireties doctrine.
Q: My friend got me a few pieces of clothing and an Apple Watch for Christmas this past year. We’re are not friends anymore and he wants everything back and says that if I don’t he’ll press charges against me. Can I get in trouble? (Rostraver, PA)
A: They sound like gifts. Gifts are gifts and are different from loans. Gifts are unconditional. If there was no condition attached to the gifts, they are yours. The fact that the Apple watch was given at Christmas sounds like a gift. Unless he has use for your clothes or can return them, the clothes sound like a gift. I don’t know what the other person’s story is, but as you describe it, they sound like gifts. Nonetheless, if he can convince a police officer that these were stolen, or on loan, you could be charged, but I don’t see it happening. If you are contacted by police, do not make a statement and call an attorney.
Q: I went into a vehicle purchase agreement with someone. After I signed the contract, the buyer wrote something in blue ink after one of the terms and then signed it. I did not agree to the new term. Am I bound to the original terms or is the new term binding? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: One party cannot unilaterally amend or add new terms to a contract after both parties sign it. It is considered a counter offer, which must be accepted or rejected by the receiving party. If you did not agree to this amendment of the contract either verbally, or by signing or placing your initials near the amended or added term, you did not consent. I would reject the term in writing and make sure the document is given to the other party and you keep a copy for your records. Some people in this situation would write next to the term, “this additional term dated _____ is rejected”, and date and sign or place their initials next to it the added term.
Q: The Police took a dog out of my home and are refusing to give me a report concerning the seizure of my animal. Can I sue them? (Turtle Creek, PA)
A: No, you cannot. There are privacy rules in PA regarding the dissemination of police reports, and the laws are strict. If this dog was removed from your home by Animal Control due to abuse or neglect, you will be receiving papers in the mail. When you do I suggest taking them to an attorney.
Q: I was at red light. The light changed, and I drifted into car in front of me who started moving and then stopped. There was no visible damage to his car and none to mine at all. called. The police who said to stay in car until they got there because he was so mean to me. Now he is calling me to find out how I want to handle THE DAMAGE to his car. He had mentioned he was in a prior accident two months ago and lady hit him and gave him wrong info and “he isn’t going to get taken again”. I only drifted into him. I am totally afraid of him. I did not have the insurance at 12:00pm. I just went home and paid the premium. I forgot to pay it. If he was in accident before. There was no police report even written and the police had to get his information for me. (McKeesport, PA)
A: You need to verify that you had or did not have motor vehicle insurance. Just because you missed a payment or two does not mean they terminated your coverage. Call to be sure. If you are insured, report the accident and give them the information. They will handle it. If you are certain you did not have insurance at the time, you need to get ready for his potential claim. Gather your evidence. Make a written log of events, get the police report, log or accident report. If possible without trespassing or creating a disturbance, photograph the back end of his car. If he sues and you are not insured, do not ignore the papers that come in the mail. Take them to a lawyer and see if one can defend you at a reasonable cost.
Q: What exactly can they do? Wise to attend the magisterial hearing sans defense? It is an unsecured debt. I have no viable defense I’m aware of. The magistrate may have mercy as she knows me. The attorney for Discover is from NY. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Once an award is obtained from the District Justice, it can easily be turned in to a judgment. Once it is a judgment it acts as a lien on all real estate you own. It is possible that the company will go further and execute on personal property (cars, namely) or real estate (your home). Often there are defenses to these credit card law suits. I would review the paperwork with an attorney. The attorney from New York will likely have local counsel represent the company.
Q: My father in law was getting evicted from his apartment he asked if he can stay with us we told him no we don’t have the room. He asked can he store his stuff in our basement we said sure. So, we started moving his stuff in as we were doing this he offered my son his bed and his dresser, so we took the items. We let my father in law stay one night because of the weather and he had nowhere to go. One night turned into 40 nights and then we put our foot down said you gotta go, in so many words. He moved out and he bought the house next door to us and demanded his bed and dresser back. We told him no, in no in so many words, because we can’t afford a new bed and already threw the old one out. Now he is suing us for 2,300 dollars. Does he have a case? He never paid rent and there was no agreement for rent. (Elizabeth, PA)
A: Anybody can sue anybody. It doesn’t mean they will win. No attorney will take the case (I can think of one who would). Will he go to the District Justice Office and sue? Probably not. If he does, will the DJ award him money or the bed to be returned? Probably not. He has no written agreement, it would be your word against his that it was a gift versus conditional loaner furniture.
Q: We were doing a landscape job, the customer was always texting and threatening. After 7 days she once again flipped out. She ripped everything up. She texted threats to show up at his family and friend or have someone else show up. The police are charging her with criminal harassment. She sued in civil court. The judge told us we are not to bring anything up about the criminal case. She presented only the text messages that showed her in the best light. We couldn’t show our texts because they are connected to the harassment case. She presented her time line based on her surveillance which includes audio. The job was in the back yard of her home and nobody was home. She was listening to private conversations the whole time as well as recording without our knowledge. PA is a two-party consent. We tried bringing that up, but the judge said that would be criminal and we aren’t discussing that. Police and DA said it is not criminal because the law hasn’t caught up with tech. We wanted punitive damages, under Intrusion upon seclusion. Be we can’t be heard at all. I am so confused. We lost the civil badly, our hands were tide. What are my options, if any? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: My advice is to appeal from what sounds like a District Justice award? You have thirty days. Once you file your appeal in Civil Arbitration of Allegheny County, she will need to file her complaint again. You will be able to file an answer to that complaint in which you raise your defenses. There was a decision this year handed down by the Superior Court of PA which makes it very difficult for a party to admit text messages in a hearing without proper authentication. You may benefit from this law. I would pursue the criminal case. You should contact a lawyer to help you with the appeal.
Q: My husband’s parents paid for his last two years of college out of pocket when their college savings fund ran out. Three years later, while we were planning our wedding, they claimed he had verbally agreed to start paying them back once he was married and settled. Out of a sense of honor and duty, we’ve been sending them $100 a month in the three and one-half years since then, mostly to pay them back for his cellphone bill, car insurance, and health insurance costs they incurred on his behalf after he’d gotten a full-time job but while he was still on their plans (he was unaware of this agreement, as well, until they wrote up a “bill” that they mailed to him). However, they’ve asked two or three times now for more than $100 a month. My husband refuses but is terrified of being sued. There is absolutely no signed document saying he agreed to pay them back. But assuming they kept all other pertinent documents (college bills, etc.), is there even the smallest, remotest chance they could sue? I believe the total was around $90,000, but they keep lowering it to make it seem more agreeable. They absolutely do not need the money; his father recently retired from a six-figure salary. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If they pursue 90K they cannot file in Civil Arbitration and therefore would have to sue in General Docket, Civil Division. They probably do not have the skill to file a complaint on their own in the General Docket of Allegheny County. They would need an attorney. Most attorneys would decline such a suit. However, there are attorneys that would take the case if they are paid good money, non-refundable, up front. If they sue for 50K and under in Civil Arbitration, they may be able to cobble together a form complaint on their own without an attorney if they cannot find an attorney interested. In either General Docket or Civil Arbitration, the case is not good unless they have an agreement in writing or good corroborating witnesses that state your husband agreed to pay back his college tuition. I had a similar case. The parents were bitter and angry at their adopted daughter for some reason and when she left the home to go out on her own, sued her. They found a young lawyer to file an Arbitration complaint for money up front. Nothing was in writing and there was no firm verbal agreement to repay anything. The Arbitration panel was not impressed and issued an award for the defendant. I wouldn’t lose sleep over a potential lawsuit from them.