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Defending an Action in Magisterial District Court
Self Help - Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas

State and Local Court Rules Must Be Followed.

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I am being sued in Magisterial District Court.
What happens if I do nothing?

If you do not defend at the District Court or Appeal within thirty days of any judgment against you, you will not be able to raise a defense to the judgment in the future.

When and where is the Hearing?

The location, time and date of the hearing is listed on the Hearing Notice sent with the Civil Complaint.

What happens if I do not Enter an Appearance or I do not attend the Hearing?

Generally, if you, the defendant, appear on the date of the hearing, without entering a defense prior to the hearing, the hearing will be continued because the plaintiff may not be present.

If you, the defendant, do not appear at the hearing, after entering a defense, or do not enter a defense, it will result in a Default Judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, the person suing you. Or in some cases, the Magisterial District Judge may grant a continuance of the case for cause.

What is a Default Judgment in Favor of the Plaintiff?

Judgment in favor of the plaintiff means the plaintiff will be awarded the judgment asked for without having to present their case to the Magisterial District Court Judge. The defendant will lose the case because he failed to defend the case or appear in court.

In a Landlord/Tenant claim, the plaintiff or his representative must be present in order to seek a judgment and possession.

How do I dispute the lawsuit?
Entering a Defense.

Follow the instructions on the Notice of Hearing. If you wish to dispute the claim, you must "ENTER A DEFENSE".

To Enter a Defense, telephone the office of the Magisterial District Court where the claim is filed. The phone number is located within the block on the top left corner of the form.

The plaintiff must be notified by the court of your intent to defend the claim, therefore; it may be necessary to reschedule the hearing.

Can I Sue the Plaintiff at the same time?

Yes, if you have a claim against the plaintiff that is within the jurisdiction of the Magisterial District Judge and which you intend to assert at the hearing, you must file a Civil Complaint.

For a civil claim, the complaint must be at the Magisterial District Court office at least five (5) days before the date set for the hearing.

If you file a complaint, the plaintiff will be notified. The hearing may be continued if the plaintiff is not able to be served with the complaint prior to the hearing. The Magisterial District Judge will consider both claims at the hearing.

How Do I get the Witnesses to come to the Hearing?

You may serve witnesses with subpoenas. You have the right to get subpoenas from the Magisterial District Judge. A subpoena requires a witness to come to the hearing even if he/she does not want to come. The subpoena also can require the witness to bring specific documents to the hearing. You need to get the subpoenas as soon as possible to be sure that the witnesses get them in time for the hearing. You may want to get subpoenas for people who saw what happened but have to work and might not otherwise be able to get off from work for the hearing. An example of a person you might want to subpoena is a mechanic who can testify that the repairs made by the defendant were not done properly.

How Do I Serve the Subpoenas?

If you intend to use subpoenas, you must follow the Magisterial District Court Rules pertaining to Subpoenas and the Service of Subpoenas in Chapter 200 of the rules

You cannot serve the Subpoena in your own case. You must have the Subpoena served by a "competent adult." Rule 202 states that a "competent adult" means an individual eighteen years of age or older who is (1) not an incapacitated person, (2) not a party of the action, and (3) not an employee or a relative of a party.

The person who served the subpoena then must complete the back of the subpoena the Return of Service and file it with the Magisterial District Court Office within 48 hours of service. You may fax the Return of Service to the Magisterial District Court Office.

The Hearing
I Have my Hearing Date and Time. What should I do before the hearing?

You should gather and organize all documents and information relating to the suit. You must have any document that is important to your case with you. The Magisterial District Judge will only consider documents presented at the hearing. It is also a good idea to have witnesses present at the hearing.

After all the testimony, the Magisterial District Judge will decide the case. He/She may make the decision in court after all the evidence is taken. If he/she does not do this, a decision must be made within 5 days and a copy of it sent to each party.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing, the plaintiff will be the first to present testimony. He/She can testify and have witnesses. You and your witnesses will testify after the plaintiffs side of the case has been presented.

You will be given a chance to ask your witnesses questions. You will also be able to question the plaintiff and his/her witnesses. The Magisterial District Judge may ask questions of all the witnesses at any time. The Magisterial District Judge will decide whether or not to hear certain evidence if either the plaintiff or defendant objects to it.

Remember that most of the time written statements from people who do not appear to testify will not be considered by the Magisterial District Judge. The exception is that he/she will consider a bill, estimate, receipt or statement of account which was made in the regular course of business. For instance, your receipt for car repairs or rent receipts would be considered by the Magisterial District Judge.

Presenting your case is really a matter of common sense. You should make a written outline or check sheet to use at the hearing so you can be sure you ask all the questions and present.

What happens if I lose?
Can I appeal the decision?

You have the right to appeal a decision. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the Magisterial District Judge's decision. If you would like information on filing an appeal. You may want to consult an attorney before you appeal. See Appealing a Decision if you were the Defendant.

I decided not to appeal, what happens?

If you lose and you do not appeal within 30 days, the plaintiff can go to the Magisterial District Judge's office and ask that an Order of Execution be entered. The plaintiff must ask for this order within 5 years after the judgment.

What Does the Order of Execution Do?

The Magisterial District Judge will deliver the order to the sheriff or a constable who will serve it upon you. At the time it is served, the sheriff or constable will also list your property which he/she intends to sell. The money from the sale will be used to pay the costs of the sale and the amount of the judgment. The property a Magisterial District Judge can order to be sold does not include land. Each person can claim a $300.00 exemption. That means you can have $300.00 worth of property set aside and not be sold. The documents the sheriff or constable serves on you will tell you how to claim your exemption.

If the property the sheriff or constable says will be sold is not owned by you, the person or company who owns it should contact the Magisterial District Court. This includes appliances, furniture and other items, which are not completely paid for yet. Also, if you are married and the judgment is only against you, your spouse can claim a third party claim with the Magisterial District Court on property you both own.

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The forms and instructions that are available from this website are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Court employees cannot give you legal advice or help you fill out /complete the forms. It is your responsibility to read and complete the forms and to take required steps to file and serve the documents. If you decide to use these forms in an actual action, be prepared to spend appropriate time gathering information, completing forms and following the Rules of Court. The Court assumes no responsibility for the use of these forms and accepts no liability for actions taken by using these documents, including reliance on the instructions and/or contents. To obtain legal advice and to insure the proper use of this material, you should contact a lawyer.

If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

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