How to use CCAP

Happy Halloween!

Either you have been sued or you think you’re about to be sued.  Maybe you lost paperwork.  Maybe you moved recently and paperwork has been sent to your old address.  Either way – what can you do to track the status of lawsuits?
If you’re being sued in Wisconsin, we’ve got a handy tool called CCAP.  Although a lot of people aren’t wild about CCAP because it’s readily-accessible public information about things most people find embarrassing – it’s an incredibly helpful tool to keep track of cases so you’re not missing out on any important deadlines.
The good news – for my bankruptcy clients – is that your bankruptcy case will not show up on CCAP.  Why?  Simple.  CCAP is for Wisconsin state court cases.  Bankruptcy cases are filed in federal court.
How do I use CCAP?
  1. Point your browser to https://wcca.wicourts.gov/
  2. You’ll need to read the agreement and hit the “I Agree” button to proceed.  You might also be prompted to pass a CAPTCHA test used to screen out data-mining robots.
Next, you’ll reach the simple search screen.  There is an advanced search option, too, but for most uses, the simple search will work just fine.  If you already know that a lawsuit has been filed against you and have the case number, the quickest way to get specific information about that case is to search by citation (see the blue circle in the screenshot below).  Simply select the county in which the lawsuit was filed from the drop down list, then type in the case number.
The format of each case number is the year the suit was filed (two or four digits), the case type (2 letters, usually CV or SC), and the serial number. You can leave out any hyphens and the first two digits of the year.  If the serial number has any leading zeros, you can omit those, too.  For example: 2016-CV-00001234 can be shortened to 16CV1234.
If you are checking to see IF a lawsuit has been filed against you, or if you just don’t know the case number, then search by your name (see the red circle in the screenshot above).  You might want to do multiple searches for alternate spellings of your name (e.g. Jon, John, Jonathan, Jonothon), common misspellings, maiden names, or other aliases you might have used.  If you have a common name, you might want to add your middle initial to help minimize the number of search results.
You’ll get a results page that will look something like this.  You can click on any of the case numbers to get more detail about a case.  The results will be sorted by year, with the most recent cases appearing at the top (although they are not necessarily sorted in order of filing date within a single year).
How can using CCAP help me?
There is all sorts of information you can get from CCAP.  First – obviously – to find out what cases, if any, have been filed against you.
Once you find a case and click into it, you’ll see a screen that looks like this:
If you’ve recently moved and you’re not getting proper notices of the lawsuit, you can check CCAP to see which address they have listed for you (under PARTY DETAILS).  If they do not have your correct address, you can contact the clerk of courts and find out how to update your address so that you receive the notices you need to receive.
(This particular case was filed very recently and involves a John Doe defendant, so there are no addresses shown here.  Even if there were, I would have redacted them from the screenshot for privacy reasons.)
You can also get addresses and contact information for other parties to the lawsuit whom you may need to contact – including any attorneys who are representing the opposing party (again – not shown in this example).
The other most useful tool is FUTURE COURT ACTIVITY.  This is where you can find out about any scheduled hearings or other deadlines that you need to be aware of.
For example – let’s say you have a home in foreclosure.  A judgment was entered 6 months ago.  A Sheriff’s Sale is scheduled in about 2 weeks.  Since you have to be out by the Confirmation of Sale, you can use CCAP to watch for the scheduling of the Confirmation Hearing.  Once that is scheduled – it will give you a pretty good idea of when you need to be out in 99% of cases.

Informal Bankruptcy Protections

When a bankruptcy case is filed with the court, an “automatic stay” kicks in which protects you from most debt collection efforts.  The automatic stay is temporary and applies while the bankruptcy case is pending.  In most cases, the automatic stay protections are them replaced by the permanent protections offered by the bankruptcy discharge.
But even before you file your bankruptcy case, just knowing that you intend to file for bankruptcy is often enough to deter most creditors from attempting to collect against you for your debts.  Although technically and legally most are allowed to continue to make collection efforts, most will stop once they can confirm that you have indeed hired an attorney to file for bankruptcy – as a pragmatic matter.
Why would your creditor stop pursuing you for a debt if they are legally entitled to pursue you?
Let’s say I’m a collection agent for Acme Collections, LLC.  I’ve been attempting to collect a $500 debt from you for the past 6 months to no avail.  Seeing no other recourse, I’m thinking about filing a lawsuit against you in small claims court to recover the $500.  Yes, it will cost my company money to file the lawsuit – my company will have to pay court filing fees, pay for an attorney to file the paperwork, and other costs incidental to the lawsuit – but most (if not all) of those costs can be added to the bill I’m trying to collect.  So what may have started out as a $500 debt will become a $1300 debt if my company is successful in obtaining a judgment against you.
But what if you tell me that you’ve retained an attorney to file for bankruptcy?  I call your attorney and confirm that yes, you did in fact hire that attorney.  The bankruptcy case isn’t filed yet, so technically, my company can still file a lawsuit against you.  But should we?
Well, probably not.  My company is already short the $500 you owe it.  If it invests the time and money into filing a lawsuit – even if my company prevails and gets a judgment against you – that judgment can be discharged in the bankruptcy case.  My company’s only hope is to rush through the lawsuit, garnish as much of your wages as it can before you file for bankruptcy, and hope that it doesn’t have to turn over the money as a recoverable preference.  Not at all likely.
So without even filing for bankruptcy, just the fact that you have hired an attorney to begin the process of filing for bankruptcy is enough to deter my company from filing a lawsuit against you.  In all likelihood, my company will sit back and wait for its notice that the bankruptcy case has been filed.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here?  If you’re planning to file for bankruptcy and you’ve hired an attorney – make sure your creditors know it – particularly the ones who haven’t yet invested the time or money to file a lawsuit against you.  Don’t ignore phone calls.  Make sure that you always refer your creditors to your bankruptcy attorney.

Why it’s wise to retain a bankruptcy attorney BEFORE a creditor files a lawsuit against you.

Most of the time, people are not in a particularly good mood when they meet with an attorney.  Usually, something bad has happened to the person that prompted them to speak to an attorney.  Bankruptcy clients are no exception.  Debt collectors are hounding them 20 times a day…  A lawsuit has been filed against them…  Their wages are being garnished…  Their tax refunds have been intercepted…  Or they’re facing a foreclosure…
The things is – none of these events occur out of the blue.  They’re all predictable.  Debt collectors don’t hound you and lawsuits aren’t filed until after you have begun to miss payments.  Wages don’t get garnished and homes don’t get foreclosed until after a lawsuit has been filed.
What I want to talk about today is what some of the benefits can be of hiring a bankruptcy attorney before a lawsuit is filed against you.  Notice – I didn’t say file a bankruptcy case.  There can be benefits to merely having an attorney retained for bankruptcy.
Let’s start with the good news.  Most civil claims can be discharged in bankruptcy, even if a court has entered judgment against you.  The bankruptcy court discharge order trumps a civil court judgment order.  So, there’s no such thing as being “too late” in that respect.
Also, if your wages are being garnished – filing bankruptcy can stop the garnishment, and it may be possible to recover a portion of the garnished wages once the bankruptcy case has been filed.  I discussed that last month.
But most people would prefer to not have their wages garnished at all.  Most people don’t want their employers to be aware of their financial struggles.  How can this be avoided?  Oftentimes, simply retaining an attorney for bankruptcy will do the trick.
Technically, any creditor or debt collector can file a lawsuit against you before a bankruptcy case is filed.  The question is – would they?  Well, if they have already been able to confirm that you have retained an attorney, then it is unlikely that they would waste their time or money.  Remember, to file a lawsuit, they have to pay court filing fees, and they usually have to pay an attorney to file the complaint.  They don’t necessarily know exactly when you’re going to file bankruptcy.  For all they know – they could file a lawsuit today and you will file bankruptcy tomorrow.  In which case, their lawsuit is moot and they’ve just wasted all of that money.
So – most creditors back off simply by confirming that you have indeed retained a bankruptcy attorney.
If you wait until after a lawsuit has been filed (meaning that the creditor has already invested their time and money in bringing a lawsuit) before you hire an attorney, then they have very little incentive to suspend litigation or not pursue a garnishment of your wages.
In other words – don’t wait until things get to this level.  If you are struggling to pay your bills, talk to an attorney now.  Take advantage of some of the less formal protections of pre-filing procedures in bankruptcy.