On October 10, the MSBA Access to Justice Committee issued a comprehensive report on debt collection lawsuits in Minnesota, Minnesota Consumer Debt Litigation: A Statewide Access to Justice Report. Based on a thorough analysis of nearly 700,000 court cases from 2011-2021, it highlights the dominance of debt collection cases in the state’s civil courts, where they make up over half of all civil cases. It also points out that the complexity of the legal system can be particularly burdensome for unrepresented Minnesotans.
Over 97 percent of individuals facing debt litigation represent themselves, as they often fall into a financial gap where they earn too much to qualify for legal aid yet can’t afford private attorneys. This situation underscores the need for accessible and effective means for all Minnesotans to participate in the legal process. Currently, 82 percent of debt lawsuits filed in district court result in automatic wins for the plaintiffs, potentially leading to court-authorized garnishments of wages and bank accounts.
The report also uncovers disparities, both racial and income-related, in debt lawsuit filings. Black and Latino Minnesotans face debt claims at a rate more than twice that of non-Hispanic white Minnesotans, even at higher income levels. While the court cannot control who gets sued, the disparities highlight the urgent need to improve the justice system to ensure that all Minnesotans have a path to participate effectively in the legal process.
The report’s recommendations are aimed at addressing these issues:
- Develop specialized procedural rules for debt cases to better manage consumer debt cases.
- Create and enhance resources to empower self-represented litigants.
- Preserve economic stability for debt-burdened individuals to meet their basic needs while repaying debts.
- Expand services for lower- and moderate-income individuals struggling with debt.
The report was a joint effort between the MSBA Access to Justice Committee, Legal Services State Support, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the data analytics firm January Advisors. You can read the full report at www.mnbar.org/atj.