Michael Steadman bought a time clock from eBay seller emiller1313 for $44. He says that the ad for the clock said that it was in good working condition, but that when it arrived, it was not as the seller represented it.
“it was not what it was supposed to be. It sounded like a good working time clock. It came in in three separate pieces that didn’t fit together. Time didn’t work, half of it was missing. It couldn’t sit on a wall or desk” said Steadman.
Steadman says he contacted the seller, emiller1313 twice, asking for a refund. “He didn’t want to work with me, said all sales are final. That’s it no refund,” said Steadman.
So Steadman took his complaint to Ebay’s payment service: Paypal. “They agreed with me. So they forced Miller to give me my money back on it. (source)
Next, Steadman did what any eBayer would do if he had to challenge a payment through PayPal — he left negative feedback. He wrote “Bad seller; he has the ethics of a used car salesman.”
It turns out that emiller1313 is an attorney, Elliot Miller. Miller says that he had a perfect 100% eBay feedback rating before Steadman left his negative feedback, so he sued Steadman. It seems that subsequently, on December 27, 2009, another eBayer left Miller negative feedback as well. dmjohnson30025 wrote “Seller suggested we unload obviously broke unit on another unspecting buyer.” I was not able to find evidence that Miller has sued dmjohnson30025.
Whether Miller had the “ethics of a used car salesman” when it came to the transaction is uncertain. I haven’t seen the clock, I haven’t seen the emails between the parties trying to work it out. However, what I do see is that an attorney who lives in a $3 million home is selling $44 time clocks on eBay. That is a bit puzzling. What I also see is that an attorney filed a lawsuit for defamation over a stupid comment like “Bad seller; he has the ethics of a used car salesman.”?
Steadman’s position is now that free speech isn’t worth it.
“I want everyone to know, everyone needs to know the dangers of their opinions,” said Michael Steadman. (source)
In other words, an American citizen (and by all accounts a hard-working and decent one at that) wants everyone to know that sharing opinions is “dangerous.” Steadman is out of money, so his attorney withdrew from the case. That is unfortunate, because it seems like even a middling litigator could destroy a claim based on these facts.
In order to sustain a cause of action for defamation in Florida, the plaintiff must allege that there were false statements of fact, published to a third person, which caused damage to the Plaintiff. Without these essential elements, there is no defamation. So where is the false statement of fact? Is there some measurable degree of ethics that Mr. Miller has and that can be compared to the greater universe of used car salesmen? No, of course not. This is nothing but hyperbole — which is protected speech. See Lampkin-Asam v. Miami Daily News, Inc., 408 So. 2d 666 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981) (even otherwise defamatory words are hyperbolic, and thus protected speech when taken “in their proper context.”).
If anyone out there can get a copy of the complaint and email it to me, I’ll do what I can to help find this guy a pro-bono attorney. In the meantime, Mr. Miller should be ashamed of himself. Perhaps his ethics as a seller were just fine. But, filing a defamation suit over something so petty seems to confirm Mr. Steadman’s initial evaluation.