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Question: If received a letter in the mail stating I am to appear in small claims court out of state, what can I do? I’ve been issued a citation from small claims court in the state of Indiana. Apparently, I was to appear earlier this year, but was not informed at the time. I now have to show just cause and am in jeopardy of being issued a warrant for my arrest.
Answer: A court in another state cannot exercise jurisdiction over you without some connection between you and the state. If you did not reside in Indiana at any time, and did not transact business there, the court may not have jurisdiction over you. If you did business by phone or mail, a business selling you a product or service generally cannot sue you where it is located, but must go to your state. On the other hand, if, for example, you received medical services in Indiana in person or bought something from a merchant there in person, and did not pay, they may be able to exercise jurisdiction over you.
You need to consult an attorney to evaluate the jurisdiction issue. Generally, you get to contest jurisdiction once — either you can appear in Indiana and contest it, or wait until they try to enforce the judgment in your state and contest it then. Generally the latter is more favorable to you. However, you need to make sure that they cannot enforce the judgment against you in Indiana, which they may be able to try if you bank at a bank that has offices in Indiana.
If you do not want to contest jurisdiction in Indiana, you should not communicate in any way with the court without consulting an attorney.
Apart from the question of jurisdiction, it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for a debt buyer, collection attorney, or other debt collector to file a lawsuit on a consumer debt except in the judicial district where a written contract on which the lawsuit is based was signed, or in which you reside when the lawsuit was filed.
If this is a consumer debt, you need to contact an attorney immediately. You should be able to obtain representation for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act suit without payment, based on the availability of fees under the statute against the other side.