Get an Attorney
Going to Court
Collecting a Judgment
Due to insufficient funding/staffing, the Consumers League
cannot function as your attorney or advocate to help you solve
your individual problem. However, from our experience, we can tell you how and where to complain, and
how to take simple problems to Court. We are, of course,
very interested in consumer problems, and you may send us a letter
describing your complaint, but we are more honest than most agencies
in admitting we do not have the staff to work on your problem.
Consumers League helps consumers in the Legislature, in Congress,
and by providing consumer education.
First, Get organized
The first step is to keep and organize all
the papers, contracts, and receipts which relate to your
problem. Write down an outline of what happened, starting with
the very beginning. You are going to be telling your story to
people who have not heard it. It really helps to get
to the key points: Who did what? What happened? Where?
When? (Dates?) Why are you complaining? What relief do you want?
How many dollars will it take to fix the problem? If you cannot
answer these questions quickly, and come to the point (what do
you want?), first, no one will listen to you, and second, you
won't get what you want.
get the name, title, and employer of persons to whom you speak
on the phone, immediately when the person answers the
phone. If a business makes a promise, get them to
put it in writing. If they make a promise over the phone,
send them a letter confirming that on such a date, you promised
to do such a thing for me. It is a good idea to send important
letters by Certified Mail, return receipt requested, so you have
proof you sent the letter, and proof the business received it.
Later on, a letter sent early might prove that a problem existed.
Think proof. How are you going to
prove your story to a stranger such as a Judge? Your testimony
(what you and other witnesses, saw) is proof, but it helps to
get photos, and to get
reports from expert repairmen and estimates
of the cost to fix it, repair it or otherwise make the matter
When you consult an attorney or an agency, bring all the papers
and proof with you. An attorney can't give you an opinion about
a contract which she has not seen.
Don't take "No" for an answer from a business. Talk
to a supervisor, then call and write to the President, CEO, or
the Attorney for the outfit. Write often. The squeaky wheel gets
the grease. Be polite, summarize your facts, and make it very
clear what you wish the business to do for you.
If the business will not give you what is rightfully yours, you
must be prepared to continue to complain. Shady businesses count
on the fact that most consumers will give up at this point. Don't
give up. But understand that if you are not willing to
work on your problem, no one else in the world is going to either.
There is no magic wand to solve consumer problems.
Your choices in getting help are: complaining to the government
or the Better Business Bureau, or getting an attorney, or suing
"pro se" (meaning you act as your own attorney). The
drawback in seeking help is that you will not know whether the
agency is going to help you. The advantage of help is that the
more agencies which contact the business, the more the business
may feel pressured to settle with you.
The Better Business Bureaus are more useful to contact before
you enter a large money contract such as a home improvement or
car sale. The BBB will tell you how many complaints have been
filed against a business within the last few years, and whether
the complaints were "resolved."
Government agencies have power to sue offenders, or revoke their
licenses. However government agencies are often swamped with
a high volume of complaints. Some act only when a "pattern"
of multiple complaints develops against one company. It is a
good idea to send in a complaint to the government, and to the
BBB, if only to register them as warnings to the next consumer.Some
government agencies to which you may complain are:
Most government agencies have a website now. If unsure of
where it is, try searching with Google
When complaining, remember to be organized, get to the point,
and send in copies of the important papers or evidence which
proves your case.
But don't take the attitude of "letting George do it."
You are the one with the incentive to start work on your
problem right now. The government might not get
to it for a while, perhaps not for a very long while, if ever.
Sad to say, most of the time you complain to a government agency,
you will be disappointed. But nothing ventured, nothing gained--
sometime the extra pressure of the goverment will help settle
Finding an attorney
Every County Bar Association in New Jersey (and most other places
too) has an Attorney Referral Panel, and you get a referral to
an attorney semi-randomly. There is a small fee for the first
consultation, then you must agree on a fee with the attorney.
It helps a lot to find an attorney who is knowledgeable about
consumer law, because such an attorney is more likely to take
your case. If you have a low income, you may be eligible for
free legal aid from the fourteen local
"Legal Services" offices.
Going to Court
In New Jersey, if you wish to sue for $2,000 or less, you may
sue in the Small Claims Court, which is a part of the Special
Civil Part. To sue for over $2,000 to $10,000, go to the "Special
Civil Part." The Judiciary provides helpful hints about
Court's Special Civil Part. Each county also has a law library
in its Courthouse. Suits for over $10,000 go the "Law Division."
Suits for divorce, etc, go to the "Family Part." There
is more information at the N.J.
If you are outside New Jersey, the names of the Courts (and their
jurisdiction) will be different, but these basic ideas may help
Before suing, go to the County Clerk, and look up the actual
"Business Name" of the company-- it may not be what
you think! If you sue a "fictitious name," you won't
collect any money. For a corporation, you should contact the
of State to find the registered agent of a corporation.
A lawsuit is started by filing a written "Summons"
and a "Complaint" (which explains why you are suing).
The "Plaintiff" is the person who sues, and the "Defendant"
is the person who gets sued. Many Court Clerks have sample forms
of the Summons and Complaint.
A Small Claims suit proceeds right to trial or mediation. In
other suits, both sides get the right to send each other written
questions (called "Interrogatories") and Requests for
Admissions. If your adversary sends papers to the Court, you
must respond in writing (and send a copy to the opposing attorney).
A "Summary Judgment" motion is an attempt to end the
case without a trial. You must send in your own papers,
explaining your facts and proof, and why there ought to be a
trial (otherwise you will lose).
The Court may schedule your case for arbitration (before an attorney
standing in for the judge) or trial. The person losing the arbitration
has the right to ask for a trial before the judge. You have the
right to ask for an Interpreter.
Collecting the Judgment
The case or the trial ends with a "judgment," which
is the decision-- who won, and how much money was awarded. The
judge does not order the loser to pay up. You
must find out the assets or income, and ask the Court
Officer to "levy" on those assets. For example, the
best way to collect is to seize the defendant's bank account.
(Look on the back of the check you gave him to find his bank.)
A business may have tangible assets to seize. The judgment winner
may ask that the salary or income of the defendant be "garnisheed."
A judgment is good for 20 years, and Special Civil judgments
may be "docketed" in the Law Division, where they become
a lien on real estate.
The lawsuit process is a long one, but be persistent! If you
don't keep on complaining, you won't get what is rightfully yours.
CLNJ has provided the above general information about the Courts
with the understanding that CLNJ is not providing legal advice,
and not acting as attorney. Please consult an attorney for advice
specific to the facts of your case.