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March 2012
 
 
 
 
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littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 02:26 pm
done been sued

Short version: My prior landscaping company is suing me to collect on an invoice I declined to pay because of shoddy service that killed several shrubs. I contacted the owner to negotiate, and rather than discount the amount due, he sued.

Long version: My relationship with the company maintaining my rental property, which had been unsteady for many months, deteriorated sharply after they provided crappy service in late 2010--which ended up killing several of the plants and shrubs in the garden. The garden is a huge part of the curb appeal of this place, so I take it pretty seriously-- enough to fire the company and not pay the final invoice for the last two months' worth of service.

The timeline was, roughly:
  • Got the invoice for November 2010 work in early December 2010--the amount was 3-1/2 times that for the prior November (Nov 2009). I was surprised, but with holidays approaching I didn't have time to investigate. I figured the aberration would be evened out and reflected on the next invoice. I didn't pay.
  • Company notified me via email on Dec 17 that service would be suspended for January and February and would resume in March. This was a departure from prior years, in which they worked right through the winter.
  • Company left a notice at the house to the effect of "No more work to do! We did it all! See you in March!" around Dec 30.
  • Got the invoice for December 2010 work in early January 2011--the amount was 4 times that for the prior December. I was surprised at the amount, but in light of the notice and email, it made a bit of sense--they were cramming 4 months of service into 2. The total for the 2 months was $560.
  • I didn't pay--I should note that I have a good payment history with this company, and have in the past let payment go for a month or two before paying in full--they've never complained.
  • Instead I inspected the place. There was still lots of pruning and dieback removal yet to be done, and dead (fallen) leaves and debris had not been cleaned out of many of the shrubs. I started to get mad.
  • Over the next two months, figuring we were in the dormant season and nothing would be growing, I got three companies to give me quotes for monthly service and an initial cleanup to finish the pruning and remove any plants that were dead or too far gone to make it (and replace some smaller ones).
  • In early March 2011 I finally contacted the landscaping company and explained my position and why I hadn't paid, and offered to pay (1) the amount of the prior year's work for Nov and Dec, minus (2) the amount of a cleanup/replacement.
  • For the next month we went back and forth. Dude insisted I pay full value despite my complaints of defective work and damages. He denied any damage to anything. He made a big deal of my delay and said I was out to profit by nailing him with a "cleanup" fee that far exceeded the amount of the invoice. I tried to explain the reason for the delay, the nature of the cleanup, and the damages. He kept insisting that the proper thing for me to have done, essentially, is pay in full and then dispute.
  • Finally he said he'd settle for his out-of-pocket cost ($420) and no lower. This was still twice as much as I thought was fair. I countered with the offer of taking his out-of-pocket cost as the "value" of the services, and subtracting the cleanup fee from that. He refused, but did mention that since his "collections lawyer" told him it would cost upwards of $200 to pay, he'd settle for $360. Still way north of what I thought was fair.
  • No response for a month. I needed to pick a company to start maintenance and do the cleanup. I chose the cheapest, because I was trying to be fair. Cleanup fee was $200. $420 minus $200 is $220, so I sent a check for that amount and let him know it was on the way.
  • Received a letter from his attorney the day after sending the check, demanding the amount in full. This was May 14.
  • Contacted the landscape dude, asking WTF. Turns out this is against the ethics rules, and it was a dumb mistake; got a wrist-slap from the attorney over that.
  • Over the next month, which I think is necessary to wait under the relevant statute that allows you to sue under a breach of contract theory, I discovered Oregon has a "timber trespass" law that allows recovery of up to triple damages for damage to plants and trees. I got a quote for tree and shrub replacement for not only the plants that were damaged during the final two months of service, but also during the entirety of the service. Came to about $4200, not including transportation and installation. I mentioned to the attorney that I'd counterclaim for that, as well as defend with breach of contract theories of my own. Didn't seem to have any effect.
Bringing us to the present. Got the complaint yesterday, demanding damages of $890--that's $560 for the amount due on the invoice, plus "consequential damages" of $330 for the attorney's assistance in collecting the debt. No mention of my check for $220 (which hasn't been presented to the bank yet).

What's frustrating me is the stupidity of this. Not that I'm entitled to anything, but I can see absolutely no wisdom in going straight to court over $300 rather than discounting a fee for a disgruntled client.

11CommentReply


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Friday, June 24th, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)

You and I are American. This is not American, it's just stupid.


ReplyThread Parent
polarbear
polarbear
No Time For Love, Dr. Jones
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)

I didn't think you could use a lawyer for small claims. Or is it just that a lawyer cannot represent you in a small claims court.


ReplyThread
littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)

You can consult a lawyer for anything. You can't have one represent you in small claims unless the judge consents. He didn't file in small claims, though.


ReplyThread Parent
polarbear
polarbear
No Time For Love, Dr. Jones
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)

Well, good luck! I hope you and your lawyering ways, and the timber trespass law, bring you good fortune.


ReplyThread Parent
kaleidoscopeeye
kaleidoscopeeye
Kaleidoscope Eyes
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)

What a mess! I am glad you aren't just taking it, though. I hope you win the case.


ReplyThread
anywhereanyone
anywhereanyone
Anywhere Anyone
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)

Someone who practices law is the last person I'd want to sue.


ReplyThread
wuweibaby
wuweibaby
touching now
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)

uh, yeah. heh.


ReplyThread Parent
ellettra
ellettra
Na zdraví
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC)

This is so stupid I can hardly see straight. And frankly, I'm appalled that his lawyer would give him the go-ahead to file against you for such a ridiculously paltry sum. It's a huge waste of time for everyone involved. I hate this kind of bullshit. You're right, the guy should have settled with the disgruntled client or if he had to get legal advice, then negotiated in better faith than this.

So, are you going to file a counter claim?


ReplyThread
littlebluedog
littlebluedog
Tim
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)

Well, I'm not sure. This was filed in circuit court. However, if a case claims under $750, it has to be in small claims court. This is for $890, but that amount ignores the payment of $220 I've already tendered, and it also improperly claims $330 worth of attorney fees as consequential damages.

So I think my initial strategy is going to be to try to get the case dismissed from circuit court on a theory that either ignoring my payment or improperly including attorney fees (or both) is the attorney's attempt to shoehorn it into circuit court. If that's successful it might discourage him from re-filing in small claims; if it's not, I'll probably file an answer with defenses and the timber trespass counterclaim.


ReplyThread Parent
ellettra
ellettra
Na zdraví
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)

Strikes me as a very sound strategy. What a pain in the ass. Sorry you're being forced to deal with this!


ReplyThread Parent
inkytwist
inkytwist
The Loch Ness Monster
Friday, June 24th, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)

I'm sorry! That really sounds like it sucks. My dad was sued a few years ago and it turned into this terrible mess.


ReplyThread