Back in 2013, we wrote about an Ohio medical equipment company, named Med Express, which had sued a marginally dissatisfied customer
, Amy Nicholls, demanding she take down her eBay review. Her review wasn't even that bad. It just expressed dismay that the product she ordered arrived postage due, meaning she had to pay more than expected to get it. She found that to be a nuisance and expressed it. The lawyer representing Med Express, James Amodio, told Public Citizen's Paul Levy directly that he had filed the lawsuit to get the review taken down, even if it was entirely truthful. Here was Paul Levy, at the time:
I contacted James Amodio, Med Express’s lawyer, to explain to him the many ways in which his lawsuit is untenable. He readily admitted that, as the complaint admits, everything that the customer had posted in her feedback was true; he did not deny that a statement has to be false to be actionable as defamation; but he just plain didn’t care. To the contrary, he told me that I could come up to Medina, Ohio, and argue whatever I might like, but that the case was going to continue unless the feedback was taken down or changed to positive. And he explained why his client was insisting on this change — he said that it sells exclusively over eBay, where a sufficient level of negative feedback can increase the cost of such sales as well as possibly driving away customers
A couple of days later, Med Express's President, Richard Radey, showed up in our comments, appearing to apologize
for the lawsuit, and saying it was a mistake and he was instructing his attorneys to drop the lawsuit. He also claimed that the lawyers were doing a lot of this without his knowledge, but he clearly signed an affidavit claiming that the review included "false" information. Paul Levy, once again, pointed out that if this was all a big mistake, it seemed odd that Med Express had filed a bunch of similar lawsuits:
Of the current crop of lawsuits, the suit against Nicholls isn’t even the worst. I haven’t yet been able to see the original documents from the transaction on which Med Express’ lawsuit against Guam resident Tan Jan Chen is based, but the lawsuit against Scranton-area resident Dennis Rogan is over a two-word “neutral” buyer feedback stating “Order retracted.” Apparently, Rogan bought a piece of equipment on eBay but Med Express had to refund his money because, as it explained in a message accompanying the PayPal refund, “This should not have been still listed—we removed this item a few weeks back-it broke.” As in Nicholls’ case, the statement over which Med Express sued for libel was true, but even worse than in Nicholls’ case, Rogan had not even left “negative” feedback.
Also, thanks to a friendly Popehat signal
, Nicholls (and Rogan) had found pro bono legal support from Tom Haren
and Jeffrey Nye
(along with Levy), who quickly filed a response and counterclaims, meaning that even though Radey claimed Med Express was dropping the lawsuit against Nicholls, it couldn't just walk away.
And... because of that, Med Express just got hit with $20,000 in sanctions
for filing a bogus lawsuit. You can read the decision
here. Even without an anti-SLAPP law in Ohio, the court clearly recognized that this was a frivolous lawsuit. Not only that, the court found that Radey himself appeared to be playing word games in his own testimony to the court.
Specifically, during testimony Radey claimed that he had seen the reviews give "1" ratings in "all of those categories" (on eBay you can rate a seller on 4 different categories). However, as a representative from eBay told the court, the sellers don't actually get to see those ratings -- and, neither Rogan nor Nicholls actually gave Med Express a "1" in every category (in fact, Rogan only rated Med Express in one category and gave the company the highest rating, a 5). That's called lying by Radey.
The deposition of [eBay's] Ms. Long shows that Mr. Rady's testimony was false.
Radey then testified again, in which he tried to tap dance around his earlier false testimony. The court explains here:
Mr. Radey also testified again. His testimony varied from the first hearing in that he attempted to clarify his prior trial testimony wherein he testified he saw Defendants Nicholls and Rogan rated him with all 1's in the detailed seller ratings categories. This time he testified he must have jumped to the conclusion Nicholls and Rogan rated him with all 1's (as opposed to his prior testimony that he basically watched it happen almost live). Mr. Rady also testified he called Ebay years ago and Ebay gave him the idea to file suit against Ebay and buyers leaving negative feedback. The negative feedback could be removed by court order. The testimony wasn't credible.
Apparently, Radey and Med Express went through five different lawyers during this whole process, and back in July, their last lawyer withdrew from the case, citing "irreconcilable differences with the client." And the company has not found a new lawyer.
In the end, the court is not at all impressed by Radey.
The Plaintiff's complaints had no merit, legally or factually, when they were filed.
The court then lists out the four indications of a frivolous filing, noting that Med Express's suit violated all four
The Plaintiff's suit was for an improper purpose. The goal was to thwart Ebay's seller ranking system for financial gain by obtaining an injunction against out of state defendants unlikely to be able to defend themselves. The Defendants did absolutely nothing wrong. They simply participated in Ebay's feedback component in exactly the manner in which Ebay intended. While Mr. Rady may perceive Ebay's seller ranking system to be unfair to sellers, the remedy wasn't to attack the buyers.
The Plaintiff's complaint was not warranted under existing law, could not have been supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and could not be supported by a good faith argument for the establishment of new law. The Defendants did nothing more than accurately recite a statement of facts and express their opinion.
Meanwhile, in Levy's blog post about this (linked above), he notes that it appears that Radey has been seeking to avoid all the negative publicity about this by changing the name of his business on eBay.
Med Express changed its eBay moniker from Med Express Sales to Medical Specialists, apparently to try to avoid the negative associations caused by its lawsuit; a recent check of eBay suggests that, although Med Express was still in business as of the second sanctions trial this past spring, it has changed its selling name again.
Either way, it looks like he's going to have to pay up for his bogus lawsuits. Hopefully this is a lesson to others who think about filing similar SLAPP suits, even where there are no anti-SLAPP laws.