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Ask An Attorney

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I own a business and provided services to a company from out of state who was doing business in North Dakota. They did not pay me for my services and now they appear to no longer be doing business in North Dakota. Is there anything I can do to get reimbursed for my services?

"Yes. Unfortunately this does happen from time to time. Short answer to this question is just because they may no longer be in North Dakota doing business, doesn’t mean you can’t pursuit them for what they may owe you. Your legal options are pretty much the same regardless of whether they are in North Dakota or not. You can sue them for what is owed."

Do they have to go to whatever state the business is in to sue them?

"Generally not. Your question is what we call a jurisdictional question. Generally for a court in North Dakota to have jurisdiction over a matter one of several things must be present. One of those categories that allows North Dakota to retain jurisdiction is where the violation occurred. Here, if this individual or business was providing services in North Dakota, then North Dakota would generally have the ability to hear the case. When that other business came into North Dakota and conducted business, they in essence consented to North Dakota having jurisdiction over them, so the lawsuit likely could be filed in North Dakota."

So would the person who is owed money force the debtor to come back to North Dakota to defend this action?

"Yes they very likely could. However, they are going to have to serve the lawsuit on this business. In order to do that usually have to serve the businesses registered agent. In North Dakota however, if you have a corporation who is doing business in this state, but has failed to register the business with the secretary of state, you can in certain instances serve the secretarially of state if they don’t have a registered agent. You can also look to the state where they are from and see who they have listed as registered agent from that state and serve that person. Service is usually not difficult."

Does the individual have to do the service himself?

"Technically no. It is their responsibility to get the other party served. In North Dakota, the actual service of the Summons and Complaint is required to start the suit. So until the other business is served there technically is no lawsuit. However, the individuals themselves do not need to be out there serving the other party. In fact, service of the Summons and Complaint is supposed to be done by someone who does not have an interest in the suit. So there are various ways to complete service. Most common is personal service, which we do by delivering a copy of summons and Complaint to sheriff, whose job includes the service of civil papers, or to a private process server. You can also complete service by mailing with return receipt, publishing and some other more complicated ways, but generally service is not a problem."

What happens after they are served?

"Once the lawsuit is commenced, then the debtor or defendant has to respond and either admit or deny that he owes the money. If he does nothing, then a judgment is entered called a default judgment. If there is an answer filed and they deny that anything is owed, then you go through the normal stages of a lawsuit, which ultimately can end in a trial. What you need to obtain is a judgment so that you can be paid what is owed."

Assume they do obtain a judgment in North Dakota and business is from another state, does a North Dakota judgment have any power over someone living in say Idaho?

"No, not directly. However, most states have adopted the uniform foreign judgment act, that allows you to transfer the judgment to Idaho without much difficulty. Once it is transferred, then it has the same force in Idaho as it would in North Dakota."

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