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The fallacy of the legal system

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by DFW Area Landscaper, Sep 22, 2004.

  1. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Messages: 2,116

    I'm so pizzed off right now, I can't stand it.

    This guy calls me out of the yellow pages last March. My employee and I run over there and go over the services. He signs my standard contract for lawn mowing as well as for monthly bed weed control. He pays for the last month in advance, $120.00, by check. He was totally friendly and totally cool.

    Right after he signs the contract, he asks me about removing a huge pile of branches and cleaning up a bunch of shrubs in the back. I tell him I really don't know how long it would take. I bill by the hour, $.60 per man per minute, which is $72.00/hr on a two man crew and I think the entire job, as he described it, would probably take something close to 4 to 6 hours. He says do it.

    So we do the work. $370 worth of work spread out over three days. Each night before we leave, I leave a note on the door with the number of man/minutes and the start and stop times. I send him a bill at the end of the month and he doesn't pay. We continue mowing the lawn until the guy is two weeks past due and then discontinue service. I figure that will get him to pay me, because it usually works. No call. No payment. I leave a few notes on his front door asking him to call me. I call his home and work numbers and leave messages. No return call. I call on his cell phone and he hangs up on me.

    So I sue him. The small claims court trial was Monday. I show up in court expecting him to not be there, but he was there. I sit next to him and I say "I'm surprised to see you here today." He says nothing. I say "You not talking?" He stares straight ahead and says nothing.

    The trial starts. I'm suing for $1,282.05. The judge asks me to state my case. I say something along the lines of "The defendent called me out to do some landscaping work and he won't pay. He won't talk to me. He hangs up when I call."

    She says "Do you have a contract?"

    I say yes, and pull it out, along with a Quickbooks statement of account showing all activity on the account.

    The judge asks the defendent to answer the charges. The defendent says that the agreement was that I would mow the lawn 4 times and he pre-paid $120.00 for that. The reason he didn't talk to me was because he felt we had nothing to talk about because he doesn't owe me for the work we didn't agree to do. He says he asked me for a written estimate for the hourly work and that he never agreed to have me do that. He said I did the work without authorization and he shouldn't have to pay for work that was done that he never agreed to.

    The judge asks me to answer. I say "There was clearly an agreement to do the hourly work. The defendent even joked about how much this work was costing him one evening while we were working around the pool. As far the pre-pay for four cuts is concerned, that doesn't even make sense. After sales tax, the amount is more than $120."

    The judge looks at the contract and says "You are requesting $450 for filing in small claims court." Then she looks at me.

    I say "Yes. That's in the contract."

    She says "You want $450 for filing some paperwork?"

    I say "Yes. It isn't just filing paperwork. I wish it were that simple. But it says in my contract, that the defendent signed, that if a non-payment issue should should go to small claims court and if it's not turned over to an outside collection agency or attorney that I will charge them $75 for each certified mailing and $450 for the time required to deal with small claims court."

    She says, "Well, I'm going to have to give this one some additional thought. I will issue the ruling on this tomorrow morning."

    So I drvie by the court house today. Her judgement is for the defendent to pay for the balance due on mowing only. I assume I am not entitled to the hourly work because we didn't have a signed contract for that part of the work. I am not entitled to any fees for my time to prepare and appear in small claims court, which is necessary in order to collect an amount she feels I am due. I am entitled to nothing for my time to stand in line at the post office and send the sonuvabitch his certified mail.

    I am only entitled to what the customer signed for and nothing else.

    Lesson: You must have a written contract on everything you do or you aren't entitled to be paid. If a customer stiffs you and you have to jump through hoops to get paid and sue them, your time spent trying to collect is worth nothing...nada...zilch...zip.

    DFW Area Landscaper
  2. bobbygedd

    bobbygedd LawnSite Fanatic
    from NJ
    Messages: 10,178

    i'm very sorry to hear that. this is why i reccomend filing as a criminal complaint, and beefing up the story as much as you can. i have a similar case comming up soon, not for that amount of money, but there is the addition of late fees, etc. i'll let you know how it goes. i'm real sorry dude, i know you feel terrible, disgusted, and rightfully so, the legal system failed, once again. try to cheer up, i'll tell you what works for me: beer, lots and lots.
  3. DSIM

    DSIM LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 440

    sorry to hear about that. that guy knew ahead of time, what he could get away with. Is it the legal system or a low life individual?
    I believe very strongly, that what we do in this life will return to us in either blessings or cursings. This guy will pay for this one day.

    You need to post his name and address so others wont fall prey to him.
    He's not in Arlington, is he?
  4. RichmondR

    RichmondR LawnSite Member
    Messages: 106

    DFW --

    Very, very sorry to hear that. A couple questions/suggestions:

    1. Was the judgement for a monetary amount, or did the judge actually say to "pay you for the mowing?" Also, did you continue to mow the lawn after the dispute arose? Most small claims court judgements are either "you lose" or list the monetary amount you won. My point is that if you got a monetary judgement of, lets say, 3x$120 or $360, you are entitled to that money and presumably you dont have to go back to mow the lawn three more months and you can use that time for work with other clients. If this is the case, and your bill for the brush removal was $370, you did get all but $10 of you contract damages.

    2. It sounds like you brought the right records in, but I assume you didn't have copies of those receipts you left in the door to give to the judge. Just wondering if you did.

    3. As to the $450, the judge may have decided that was (for lack of a better term) unfair. The legal term is "unconsionable," but that's a stretch here, and I dont know Texas contract law. Another way to consider this issue in the future is to state in your contract that if you need to go to court and are successful, you can recover your court costs/filing fees, lost labor time and attorneys fees. Then, when you go to court, you can include those as line items, and they look a bit more reasonable than a big lump sum.

    4. You can, of course, appeal most conciliation court cases to a district court and ususally you get to re-present your facts again. After that, any further appeal has to be based on a claim that the judge didn't apply the law right.

    Hope this helps a bit.
  5. geogunn

    geogunn LawnSite Gold Member
    from TN
    Messages: 3,010

    WHAAATTT??? bob--for those of us, including myself, that missed the story last time you told it, whattinthehell are you talking about? criminal complaint??? details please, MR. GEDD.....

    now this part I understand.

  6. bobbygedd

    bobbygedd LawnSite Fanatic
    from NJ
    Messages: 10,178

    pre meditated theft is a criminal act, geo. now shut up. quit harrassing me. be damn lucky you aint the cop that pulls me over, i'd smash my own head against the wall, cover it with bruises, and have channel 5 news here taking pictures of me showing what YOU DID.
  7. geogunn

    geogunn LawnSite Gold Member
    from TN
    Messages: 3,010

    why surely you are an attorney in your day job--bob. but you have no standing. and I don't mean you standing 5'4" with yout heels on. I mean "legal standing".

    seriously bob--that sounds painful. you'd probably get more coverage if they filmed me cuffing you behind in under 10 seconds and then fartingon your head! payup

    GEO :waving:
  8. bobbygedd

    bobbygedd LawnSite Fanatic
    from NJ
    Messages: 10,178

    ya, ok. when i was in prison, i used to screw guys twice your size and 3 times as smart. a more likely scenerio would be me having you helpless within 30 seconds and you screaming for backup
  9. Hacksquat

    Hacksquat LawnSite Member
    Messages: 100

    How do you prove pre-meditated????? If you come through Arkansas I'd be glad to pull you over. I'll let the video camera system on my dash speak the truth. :dizzy:

    Sorry about your loss DFW.
  10. bobbygedd

    bobbygedd LawnSite Fanatic
    from NJ
    Messages: 10,178

    yea squat, tell the truth, unless you play kickball with the guys head, then the camera will mysteriously "be out of order". try that sh!t on someone who hasn't been there. notice the cops are the only ones defending the bad guy.....

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