Man sued for negative feedback on eBay cleared

9:12 PM, Oct 19, 2013   |    comments
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(Florida Today) -- It's been a long fight, but Michael Steadman finally feels vindicated.

In 2009, the Cape Canaveral small business owner was sued for $15,000 after leaving negative feedback about a seller on eBay. The dispute was over a broken time clock for which Steadman had placed the winning bid.

After 4½ years of battling what he believed was a frivolous lawsuit, Steadman and his lawyer showed up at a Miami courthouse on Friday to learn the lawsuit had been dismissed by the plaintiff, Elliott Miller of Miami Beach.

"They picked on the wrong guy," Steadman said. "It was wrong what he did, and my father raised me to be a man. To stand by what you say. And stand by what you do. Be honest with people. I didn't want to be bullied."

Now the tables have turned.

Steadman, and his Cocoa Beach attorney, Tony Hernandez, plan on going after Miller and his attorney, Judith Frankel - who also is Miller's wife - to recover attorney's fees, which Hernandez said are "in the neighborhood of $20,000."

"They never thought the Steadmans would fight it, so what they do is very indicative of someone who's scamming someone else," Hernandez said. "They wait until the last possible second before trial, and then they dismiss it."

Calls to Frankel's office were not returned. Her secretary acknowledged the case, and told me she would relay my message to Frankel.

The story starts in November 2008 when Steadman, who owns Triton Welding and Machine Shop in Cape Canaveral, purchased the time clock off eBay to use in his business.

But after placing the winning bid for $44, what he received wasn't what he was expecting.

Here is how he explained it to me in 2010 when I first learned of the story: "It was in three separate pieces and the three pieces didn't fit together as if they were from three different models. It wouldn't work. I contacted the seller, and said it wouldn't work. He said all sales were final. So I contacted Paypal buyer protection. They reviewed it, and got me my money."

Steadman next did what many in the eBay community do when not satisfied with a buyer or seller. Leave feedback.

"I just wanted people to know the guy was a shady character," Steadman said.

His feedback was simple: "Bad seller; he has the ethics of used car salesman."

Two months later, in February 2009, he was slapped with a lawsuit for $15,000 by Miller. The lawsuit said Miller was suing because Steadman damaged his eBay business and for lowering his seller rating from 100 to 98.6.

The lawsuit said the "Plaintiff has been seriously harmed in his commercial reputation on the eBay network."

But, as was pointed out to me by attorney and former judge Stanley Wolfman, the case never laid out specifics as to how much money or how many clients were lost by Miller.

So I decided I was going to do some digging, because the more I learned about the situation, the more fired up I became.

When I reached out to Frankel's office in 2010 to find out more, I could not get a comment.

So I did my own research based on Miller's eBay history, and his average monthly positive feedback actually went up in the month's after Steadman's negative post.

Based on the numbers, it seemed as though Steadman might have a good defense for the suit; his bit of negative feedback hadn't ruined Miller's business, or so it seemed.

But he had one big problem.

He had hired a Miami attorney, and after paying nearly $6,000, he had run out of money to continue paying for the defense.

My heart sank for Steadman.

So my next move was to talk to some local attorneys, including Hernandez and Wolfman.

Hernandez said there was a real danger Steadman could lose if he represented himself, so he decided to represent him on a contingency basis.

And so it's dragged on for 3½ more years.

Until Friday.

Now Hernandez said he will ask the court to sanction Frankel for not giving him sufficient notice on the dismissal, and for making them go down to Miami.

Hernandez has 30 days to file the motion to get a ruling on attorney fees.

"If the judge orders us an award of attorney's fees, I'm willing to bet it will take a great fight to collect it, but I will put a lien on their pet dog if I have to," Hernandez said. "We get to be relaxed and go on the offensive."

I couldn't be happier for Steadman. He's a hard-working guy keeping local people employed.

And in my opinion, he was unfairly targeted with this frivolous lawsuit.

"Now I can direct funds to buy more equipment and supplies so I can hire more employees," Steadman said.

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