Scammed customers probably can't sue
Updated: Wednesday, January 22 2014, 10:35 AM EST
Rochester, N.Y. --- More customers claiming they were scammed by a local snow plow contractor are contacting 13WHAM News. And our investigation is showing that many of them may have trouble suing the contractor or taking him to court because of something missing in the contract they signed.
On Friday 13WHAM News first brought you this Your Stories report.
Since then, more customers have shared their stories about Resurrection Lawn and Landscape that is reportedly owned and operated by a Brian Robinson.
Laurie Peath of Pittsford signed a $250 seasonal contract with Robinson and Resurrection Lawn and Landscape last week, just before the snow storm. He was recommended to Peath by her next door neighbor who described a positive first impression of Robinson.
That neighbor told 13WHAM News that Robinson spoke of attending Bible Study and even offered to decorate a large pine tree on his property for Christmas because he had a truck with a lift on it. The customer said Robinson initially claimed to be from “RSS Enterprises” and said he had six trucks in his fleet. He signed a $200 contract and recommended him to Peath.
"He knew how to play the actor role very, very well,” recalled Peath of Robinson. She wrote him a check for $250 and never saw him again. "Thankfully he did not cash our check I was able to put a stop payment on it. Unfortunately, on the flip side our neighbors, he did cash the check.”
Tom Dakin of Henrietta recalled signing a contract with Robinson and Resurrection last winter. He hired the company to plow the driveway of his 80 year-old mother and he personally paid Robinson $160 in cash.
"His website looked very professionally done it wouldn't make you think there was something wrong there,” Dakin recalled. "He sold his business very well, he knew how to answer all the questions and give you the impression he was on the up and up.”
Dakin said his mother’s driveway was never once plowed and that he ended up having to haul his own snow blower over to his mom’s house every time it snowed last year.
Dakin said Robinson told him he had four trucks in his fleet at the time. Dakin also said that Robinson made repeated references to a church he and his family were involved in. Like other customers who spoke to 13WHAM News, Dakin felt very good about signing the contract and paying Robinson after his initial encounter.
"He filled out a contract, signed it right there, I paid him and that was the last time I ever saw him,” Dakin recalled of his deal with Robinson and Resurrection Lawn and Landscape.
13WHAM News has now analyzed the contracts of numerous customers. We took a sample to lawyer Eric Handelman of Handelman, Witkowicz, and Levitsky, LLP. Handelman deals primarily with civil litigation and has even represented various contractors in cases where recovering money from customers is a challenge.
"That's a legitimate looking contract both in form and in content,” said Handelman. “You should feel comfortable signing a document like that other than the fact that there wasn't any address.”
Without an address customers could find it difficult to file a small claims lawsuit against Robinson and Resurrection. The court system requires an address so judgments, subpoenas, and relevant documents can be sent to the business or defendant named in the lawsuit.
13WHAM News obtained the Doing Business As (DBA) form that is on file at the Monroe County Clerk’s Office. The address for Resurrection Lawn and Landscape is listed as being 259 Westfield Street in the City of Rochester. Last week, 13WHAM’s attempts to locate anyone at that property were unsuccessful. Neighbors said they had never heard of the company nor do they recall seeing snow plow or landscaping vehicles at the residence.
This week the man who purchased 259 Westfield Street in 2012 contacted 13WHAM News to make it known that there is no Brian Robinson living at that home and no Resurrection Lawn and Landscape does business from that address. In fact, the man said law enforcement has repeatedly visited the home and inquired about Robinson’s whereabouts.
"I'm afraid that these victims are going to be out of luck if they can't find the business owner it's very difficult to try and get your money back,” said Handelman.
Customers like Tom Dakin realized this last year when they considered filing a Small Claims lawsuit against Robinson but realized the lack of an address and the hassle of pursuing such a claim just wasn’t worth it.
"It looked like it was just going to cost me more money to get the claim processed,” said Dakin. “Even if I won the claim and won the judgment I would have to hire a collector to try to collect the money from him, and there was no guarantee.”
Customers like Peath wonder if pursuing a lawsuit would even be worth it.
“He’s gone Christmas shopping already, he spent the money,” speculated Peath. "Hopefully a lawyer or the DA's Office or somebody will look into this a little bit further and do something about this guy.”
13WHAM again reached out to Robinson on Monday to see if he wished to comment in response to these most recent allegations against him and his company. He responded by re-sending the same text message he sent on Friday.
The text read: “Well mister carroll im going to ask that you don’t put me or my companys name in the news and please don’t use our number anymore thanks and have a blessed day”