Answer – No, but ………

Section 1 of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution states as follows:  

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment crime whereof shall have been convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.

The 13th Amendment abolished not only slavery but also so-called “Debtor Prisons” (incarcerating persons owing debts until the debts were paid or worked off).  Debtor Prisons constituted “involuntary servitude”.  They have been abolished in Florida.   It should be noted that a person may be incarcerated for lack of court ordered child support or alimony payments in certain cases.

However, what I am talking about here are civil lawsuits where a person is sued for damages in Florida and is found by the Judge to owe the underlying debt by way of entering a judgment against that individual.  In such cases, the creditor (the one who is owed the debt) may then seek to “discover” what assets the defaulting party may own in an attempt to seize those assets, and sell them to satisfy the debt owed.   Often, while attempting to collect the money owed, the Creditor will ask for the following from the Debtor (the one who owes the debt):

  1. Request for Production of Documents (Deed, Auto Titles, Bank Statements, Paystubs, etc.);
  2. Request for Answers to Written Interrogatories (Questions) about what they may own or where they work;
  3. Request for the Attendance at an Oral Deposition where the creditor or their attorney can force a Debtor to answer questions under oath about their assets and income; and,
  4. Request for a comprehensive “Factual Information Sheet” be filled out and returned to the Creditor within 45 days of the entry of the judgment against the Debtor.

Some Debtors may erroneously think that, “The Creditor can’t get anything from me since I don’t have anything,” and then stick their head in the sand while not responding to the Requests of the Creditor (“Discovery”) attempting to find out what the Debtor may own.  If the Debtor fails to respond or cooperate, the Creditor can seek to require a response and cooperation by filing a Motion to Compel Compliance with the Court that entered the judgment against the Debtor.  The resulting court order usually gives the Debtor a few days to comply with the Creditor’s prior discovery request.  If the Debtor still doesn’t respond, the Creditor may then file another Motion.  This time it is a Motion for Contempt of Court and not a Motion to Compel Compliance.  Since the Creditor has the right to attempt to collect on the debt owed, the Court will usually hold the Debtor in Contempt for failure to comply, order that Debtor jailed for a short period and provide a “purge amount” that is to be paid prior to being released from confinement.  This doesn’t happen in every judgment case, but a Debtor needs to be aware that this can happen as a form of forced collection from those who really don’t have the money to pay the judgment debt.  Usually, the Debtor will have family, friends, church members or others pay the purge amount to get them out of jail.  Naturally, as long as the Debtor cooperates with the discovery process and does what is required under the law, the contempt process won’t occur.  

The Debtor is not being jailed for owing a debt; the Debtor is being jailed for failing to comply with a Judge’s Order (Contempt of Court).  The attorney for the creditor usually is paid a percentage of what he or she recovers from the Debtor so the more they recover on the judgment debt, the more they make.  Therefore, it benefits the creditor attorney to be aggressive in collecting on the judgment debt.  A lien that has been re-recorded as a judgment lien can remain a lien on personal property and real property (land) for a period of 20 years from the date of the entry (by signature) of the judgment by the judge.  This is particularly dangerous for the Debtor who has received an inheritance, has a paid off vehicle or has accumulated a sizeable bank account years after the judgment, only to find out that the Creditor has claimed those funds or the property to satisfy the original judgment amount along with accumulated interest (which may be substantial).

A successful Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will usually permanently stop the collection and discovery process in civil collection lawsuits while eliminating a person’s dischargeable debts and allowing the Debtor to keep their exempt real and personal property.  A person filing bankruptcy can often retain assets that would otherwise be seized by a judgment Creditor.  Prudent bankruptcy advice can usually allow the Debtor to retain most, if not all, of the Debtor’s assets.

If I may assist you in dealing with an aggressive Creditor, or if you would like more information on how a bankruptcy may solve your individual debt issues, call me at (727) 898-2700 (Pinellas) or (863) 802-4700 (Polk).