There are probably few things upsetting than being legally served court papers. One exception, though, would be losing a lawsuit and having the court take the damages straight out of your bank account, all without you even being aware you’ve been sued in the first place.
It sounds unlikely, but that’s just what happened to a woman in Oita City, Oita Prefecture last year. One day, the woman, a restaurant owner, checked with her bank, only to find that her entire account had been seized by the Oita District Court without warning.
It turned out that a former employee had sued her, claiming she owed him 680,000 yen, but did so in such a diabolical way that she was never informed of it.
First, the man filed his lawsuit in the neighboring prefecture of Kumamoto in the summer of 2019. While doing so, rather than the actual address of his former boss, he filled out the location of a supposedly vacant residence in Oita that had nothing to do with her. The Kumamoto Summary Court sent a Statement of Claim announcing the lawsuit to the address provided, but since no one actually lived there to receive it, it was returned to sender.
The court inquired about this with the man, who responded that he was sure the woman lived there because the lights were on at night and the water meter was working. He also insisted that the woman’s address listed on her certificate of residence was outdated and the restaurant she ran was no longer in business, so the only place to serve her with papers would be that one address.
None of this was true, however.
In Japan there is a way of circumventing people who constantly avoid being served called fuyubinsotatsu to kojisotatsu which means “attached mail service and public service.” First, the court sends the Statement of Claim by registered mail, and as long as it is logged by the post office as “delivered,” the defendant is considered served, regardless of whether or not the intended person received it. Then, the service is also publicly posted at the courthouse for a certain period of time, after which the trial will go ahead with or without the defendant.
In this case, the defendant was nowhere near the Statement of Claim or public posting, never appeared when her case went to trial, and was unable to mount any defense whatsoever. As a result, the man was handed a swift victory and the Kumamoto Summary Court ordered the woman pay the full amount demanded of her.
However, since the woman didn’t live in Kumamoto the courts there had no authority to seize her assets, so the man then submitted the verdict to the Oita District Court in August of 2020, and requested that they take the money from the woman’s bank account. Seeing no reason to doubt the Kumamoto court’s ruling they agreed, withdrew the money from her account, and awarded it to the man the following month.
Needless to say, it was an amazingly bold attempt at defrauding two separate courts, and he might have gotten away with it too, had the woman not noticed that “SEIZED” was printed on her bankbook, her bank account was locked, and all of its roughly 300,000 yen was removed.
She quickly got the bottom of it, and then sued the man in Oita District Court for the money he had wrongfully won in Kumamoto Summary Court. On Feb 10, the court ruled in her favor and awarded her 1.78 million yen for the money lost as well as mental anguish. The judge also condemned the man for providing false information that resulted in a definitive court ruling.
While justice was served for the woman in the end, the man’s future remains to be seen.
Sources: Mainichi Shimbun, Nishinippon Shinbum, Nikkei Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
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