Remodeler Sues Woman Over Negative Reviews, Helps Force Another Critic Out Of Her Own Home

from the meritless-thuggery-represent! dept

You can't satisfy every critic. Sometimes people just want to complain. But when complaints surface, the worst thing you can do is make legal threats in response. This automatically gives every complaint against the company, no matter how specious, a veneer of truth. And if the complaints are justified, the time and money being deployed to shut up critics would be better utilized fixing the problems.

But some companies never learn. Or if they do learn, it's only after they've been exposed to the glaring sunlight that is the Internet. Baybrook Remodelers of Connecticut, and its owner Ken Carney, are now in that position.

Baybrook Remodelers has been pursuing one such critic for the past two years. Kristen A., who runs a website dedicated to her legal entanglements with Baybrook Remodelers, has been dealing with the company's attempts to curb her criticism since late in 2010. As she details on her site, she first attracted the remodeler's negative attention when she posted negative reviews detailing the company's refusal to honor its contractual design work after she decided to use someone else for the actual construction.

Currently, she's being sued for these reviews, along with "some negative reviews I wrote that were removed from online sites, some negative reviews that other people wrote, and for signs posted on another person’s house."

The signs posted at "another person's house" belong to Kristen's mother, who hung two signs critical of Baybrook Remodelers on her upstairs deck after issues she had with the company. The first sign simply said she did not recommend Baybrook Remodelers. After the owner tried and failed to have her remove this sign (attempts that included approaching Kristen's supervisor and asking him to intercede on his behalf), she hung another one -- one that specifically called out the company for its tendency to file lawsuits against critics, as well as being named in several lawsuits brought by unhappy customers.

Baybrook Remodelers responded by sending this ridiculous letter purporting to be a genuine legal threat.

Not only is the letter riddled with grammatical errors (and covered with Kirsten's coffee), but the address of the unnamed attorney traces back to Mailboxes, Etc. Readers will also note that the letter is unsigned and features nothing more than the words "Attorney at law" where a signature (and the name of the attorney) would normally be found.

When this failed to result in the removal of the signs, the remodeler approached the city of Milford, which obligingly circumvented its own statutes in order to yank the house's zoning approval, citing supposed violations from 2003 and 2004. The city also apparently tried to give itself instant, perpetual access to the house (ostensibly to check for further code violations) for as long as she remained living there. The city basically told her it wouldn't issue zoning approval until her signs came down, using the alleged violations -- which fell outside the city code's own six-year statute of limitations -- as leverage. Kristen's mother moved out of her own house in 2011 rather than continue battling Baybrook Remodelers and the city of Milford.

Kristen, however, continues to be hassled by Baybrook Remodelers for her reviews. As was noted at the beginning of the post, the case has dragged on since March of 2011. It appears Baybrook was hoping this case would never make it to trial.
Ken Carney’s lawyer has requested and been granted 15 extensions of time. On one occasion, he went 7 consecutive months without doing what was necessary to keep his case alive, and on another occasion he went another 4 consecutive months without moving his case forward. His lawyer has had 5 chances to rewrite his lawsuit to try to fix whatever was wrong with it.

Finally, the case has a trial date. This was pushed by my lawyer, not Ken Carney’s. Based on their actions so far, Ken Carney and his lawyer would have been happy to let this go another 2½ years.
Here's a look at the docket, which is filled with little else other than the plaintiff's extension requests. As Kristen notes, a trial is forthcoming, with jury selection beginning in March. This is what Baybrook's been avoiding. Obviously, it hoped its threats would be enough to quell the criticism. That has backfired and now the company is in the awkward position of having to explain itself to a jury. This isn't the only case Baybrook is dragging its heels on. Another Tort case filed by Baybrook Remodelers in 2010 is still ongoing, with numerous extensions having been filed here as well. A motion for summary judgement has been filed by the defendant who is obviously hoping to finally have this seemingly endless suit tossed.

Kristen's site contains even more details of Baybrook's shady behavior. She noticed that shortly after she posted her negative review detailing the 40+ lawsuits the company was involved in (Dec. 6, 2010), a flood of Baybrook's "admirers" took to these same sites to post glowing reviews of the company. Most of the reviews were posted Dec. 15-17, which either means the company was posting its own reviews or had just wrapped up a ton of contracts for deliriously happy customers. Some reviews even copy-pasted wording from positive reviews written years earlier. Other identically-worded reviews surfaced under different names in January of 2011. One was even posted on Baybrook's website using yet another name.

But the most damning indicator of the company's negative reputation is the 40 pages of complaints filed with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. The complaints detail a variety of issues with Baybrook Remodelers, including its tendency to do shoddy work and leave cleanup and damage repairs to the client. Other complaints point out how reluctant the company is to engage with dissatisfied customers ("owner won't answer his phone").

Baybrook Remodelers (and Ken Carney) apparently feel the hole they've been digging isn't big enough. A legal threat was recently sent to Kristen's hosting company, Dreamhost. As she correctly points out, Section 230 of the CDA makes this a particularly futile act, something attorney Thomas Daly should have known. Of course, maybe Daly's focus on personal injury and landlord/tenant disputes hasn't yet exposed him to the limits of secondary liability.

Additionally, the letter contains no specifics about what Daly (and his client) believe is "defamatory." It just vaguely claims that the sites are and expects Dreamhost to roll over and shut Kristen's sites down. Considering it's been eight days since the takedown demand, it would appear Dreamhost isn't falling for Baybrook Remodeler's vague claims of defamation. (As Ken White at Popehat often states, vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.)

Kristen has admirably stood up to a meritless thug, one that will soon have a chance to explain its tactics to a judge and jury. It will be hard-pressed to point out exactly where Kristen has crossed the defamatory line and will hopefully be made to answer for its endless court delays and nearly three years of harassment.

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  1. identicon
    Kristen, 9 Jan 2014 @ 5:15pm

    I am blown away by this article and support. Thanks for putting it out there. This kind of fight can get dispiriting at times, and reading this article (and seeing my site visits skyrocket thanks to your platform) has been fantastic.

    Just one point of clarification:

    Kristen's mother moved out of her own house in 2011 rather than continue battling Baybrook Remodelers and the city of Milford.

    My mother spends winters in Florida and summers here in CT. She did elect to remain in Florida rather than to try to live in her house due to the City of Milford's unchecked lunacy and abuse. She thought the city might try to force her out somehow, and wasn't going to subject herself to that kind of additional stress. She has never stopped fighting this, though.

    Those signs are still up on her house. If I were a betting woman I would count on them remaining up for as long as the property is in the family. Ken Carney and Baybrook Remodelers are still suing her (although I sense they are anxious to settle rather than incur the cost of traveling to Florida to depose her!) The City of Milford is still suing her too.

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