Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced Thursday that her office has filed a lawsuit against TJ Process Service, a Minnesota process serving company, and one of its process servers for falsely claiming that some individuals were served with debt collection lawsuits.
False certification by a process server that a lawsuit has been served upon a person is often referred to as “sewer service.”
“One of the most fundamental legal rights in the American judicial system is the right of a person to be notified of claims made against the person in court. ‘Sewer service’ deprives a person of the opportunity to appear in court to defend against the claims made in a lawsuit,” said Attorney General Swanson.
A legal action is started in most courts by service of the lawsuit. This gives notice to the defendant of the lawsuit and the opportunity to appear in court to respond to it.
In some of the cases in question, TJ Process Service — and specifically one server named Jeremy Umland — provided creditors and debt buyers with affidavits falsely attesting that a lawsuit was served on an individual defendant by Umland. In some cases, Umland claimed that a lawsuit was served on a person at their home address, when the person was not home or did not reside at that address.
For example, Umland claimed to serve:
- A 73 year old man at a home he had lost to foreclosure three years earlier
- A woman at a home address at which she had not lived for 11 years
- A person at her home address when records showed that she was at work
In his sworn deposition, the owner of TJ Process Service admitted that Umland engaged in “sewer service” while acting as a process server for the company, as follows:
“Q: [Y]ou believe 100 percent he [Umland] engaged in sewer service?
A: Yes. What percentage and how many times that was, I don’t know.”
The State, through its lawsuit, seeks a court order to determine the scope of the service deficiencies and to remedy situations in which the process server falsely certified that lawsuits were served upon people. TJ Process Service is located in Wadena, Minnesota. Umland lives in Verndale, Minnesota. The State’s lawsuit was filed in Koochiching County District Court.
TJ Process Service also had some of its process servers pre-sign blank pieces of paper and then fed the pre-signed papers through a printer to add details of the service. The company’s secretary then notarized the papers falsely swearing that she had witnessed the process server sign the affidavits under oath attesting to their contents.
This is the fourth lawsuit filed by Attorney General Swanson since 2011 over allegations that debt collectors and debt buyers manipulated the legal process when pursuing Minnesotans in court.
In 2011, the Swanson’s office filed a lawsuit against Midland Funding, LLC alleging that it pursued individual defendants in court using “robo-signed” affidavits in which employees of the debt buyer certified that a person owed a debt even though they had no personal knowledge of this. A settlement required Midland to change its business practices.
In 2013, the AG’s Office filed a lawsuit against United Credit Recovery, LLC alleging that it mass-generated false computer affidavits swearing to the veracity of a debt. In November of 2013 the district court entered an order prohibiting UCR from using these affidavits.
In January of 2014, Swanson filed a lawsuit against Bradstreet and Associates, LLC alleging, among other things, that the company obtained over 2,000 court judgments containing unlawful and usurious rates of interest. The Office obtained a court order vacating over 2,000 judgments against individual Minnesotans and closing over 20,000 collection files.
In addition, in 2013, the Attorney General’s Office drafted and secured passage of a new law regulating debt buyers. Among other things, the law requires a debt buyer, before it may obtain a default judgment, to prove it has sued the right person in the right amount and that the person was served with the lawsuit.