Now I’m Getting Sued? Or Maybe Not?

Regular readers may recall we’ve been having a dispute over $4,000 charged by a vendor. Long story short – my wife signed up for a series of courses with an outfit out of Florida after having being told that the courses were fully refundable should she need to cancel. She ended up canceling, but the refund was denied.

So… here’s where we are. At the advice of an attorney, we have contacted the Attorney General of California (where we live and one of the courses was to be taken), Florida (where the Institute is located), and Nevada (where one of the courses was to be taken). We also filed a claim for $7,500 in small claims court.

While we had made several attempts to contact them for redress in the past, I decided to try once more. After the Institute and its top officer had been served this morning, I sent them an e-mail laying out why I thought we were owed the refund. I noted that the documentation they had provided included five different cancellation policies, some of which had impossible terms (e.g., requiring cancellation almost an entire year before my wife had originally contacted them). I also noted other issues.

I ended with this:

Having spent hours going through the documentation you provided to AmEx, I would simply note that the documentation contains other problems that may be even more serious. We have already sent copies of this documentation and a letter indicating many of the discrepancies in that documentation to the Attorney General’s Office in California, Florida, and Nevada. I expect our next steps will be to send the same documentation to the AGs of other states where courses are offered: Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington and Georgia. I also intend to provide the CPE and the NASBA.

All of this takes a lot of time and effort, but as I have noted to you in my previous correspondence on 3/24/08, all I want is the refund my wife was promised. I will pursue any means at my disposal that are both legal and ethical to get that refund. If you’d like to contact me to discuss this, I am at (323) 666 1184.

I got this response.

You have chosen to file a lawsuit against XXX and serve XXX with process, which was done today. XXX will of course go through the necessary steps to retain counsel in California to defend the lawsuit.

You have further indicated that you intend to send complaints and documentation to the AG’s offices in a number of states, as well as NASBA.

American Express reviewed your claim and ruled that payment should be made. We will of course provide this documentation in response to the paperwork which you have filed. I have confimed with Amex today that the credit card has been charged for the full amount. We had provided documentation to American Express that we would extend both the credit and the membership benefits beyond their original date. Your actions will not change our offer.

In addition to the lawsuit you filed against XXX, you also filed one against me personally. XXX is a state corporation not for profit, and has no owners. I am not an owner. The entity has no owners. I am a contract employee, and you have sued me personally. I take nothing from this entity but a paycheck, and when non-management employees have needs greater than their contracted salary, I dip into mine for their sakes. And for my involvement with this entity you have sued me personally.

I will now retain counsel in California and will ask them to pursue you to the fullest extent possible for naming me as a Defendant. All of your actions speak of the worst kind of tactics, and cloaking them with words like “legal and ethical” does not change the fact that you have pursued me personally for the actions of the company which employs me. This is nothing short of personal blackmail, and if you don’t have the good sense to be ashamed of yourself for causing me personal pain because I work for a company, I feel nothing but pity for you.

You want a battle, sir, you have just earned one when you went after me as an individual. Like you I will stay within the bounds of legal proceeding.

I have changed the name of the the institute to avoid any further legal complications.

My wife is off to meet the attorney. But in the meanwhile, and under the theory that getting several opinions might be useful, I’m curious. What is she going to do? Can she win? Am I liable for blackmail? Am I somehow liable for naming her as a defendant in a lawsuit? Am I liable for providing documentation that originated with her organization to state AGs? How much is all of this going to cost?

Update. Apparently we have a new reader. The person who sent the e-mail just called up, apparently very upset. She noted that I made an inaccurate statement on this post, namely that we sued for $4,000. She is correct – we sued for $7,500, the other $3,500 being for compensatory damages. I tried to get across that my position has always been the same – if I can get my refund before going to court, we don’t need a lawsuit.

In any case, my apologies for getting the figure wrong.

Update 2. Minor addition to the earlier update. The person who sent the e-mail, when talking to me, said that the e-mail should not be interpreted as if to mean she is suing me. I asked how I should interpret it, and she said something to the effect of that being up to me. So I don’t know if this means I’m supposed to believe I’m being sued or not.