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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I am the founder of a California S-corp. I believe one of

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I am the founder of a California S-corp. I believe one of my company's 1099 independent contractors (located in New Jersey, a senior in high school) is attempting to defraud me. He is threatening to sue to scare me and shake me down, but I firmly believe I am 100% in the right here. I just want a lawyer's perspective as well.

I have used him in the past to post flyers for us at the rate of $4 per flyer, plus $0.50 for printing (if more, we ask for a receipt). We ask for proof in terms of a pic of the posted flyer (clearly showing it's posted up), plus a pic of the location. Given the volume of flyers, we asked for all the pictures the first few times, and after building trust I paid in full after giving a sample. Please note we've always been prompt in paying within 24 hours of receiving the pictures, and we have given the benefit of the doubt even if the flyers weren't posted exactly as we had specified.

This time, we had specifically asked via email only for 10 flyers to be printed and posted. However, he misread it as 1000 and printed that number for $625. He sent us what appeared to be a picture of a doctored email saying 1000. I looked at my email server and records, and it clearly says 10.

We wrote back saying that our email server records clearly say 10, and we are only legally obligated to pay for 10 flyers to be posted. However, we wrote that as a goodwill gesture (he's a high school student and the financial burden would be high for his mistake), we would reimburse the printing cost at 62.5 cents per flyer, up to a max of $625, if the flyers were posted according to the conditions we've always specified - i.e. we would need a pic of the posted flyer showing the tape, placement, etc. and a pic of the location.

This was all done yesterday. He claimed yesterday night he'd posted all 1000 flyers at specified locations, which is impossible given that he's only posted 150 flyers in a day before, and the drive time and posting time would make this impossible.

We asked for proof, given that we'd already received a doctored email, and he sent us a 1000 duplicate pictures of the center of our flyer - i.e. we can't tell if they're posted. They could just be sitting on his table (and probably are). He started demanding $625, and saying he'd sue, etc.

We told him what I've said above, that we needed proof that the flyers were posted, as well as the locations - and I even sent sample pictures he'd sent us in previous rounds with the correct format.

He's hedging on sending actual proof, and he's threatening a suit if we don't pay. However, I believe he is trying to defraud me by demanding money for services not performed, not to mention the doctored email.

Two questions:
1. I believe I'm in the right here. As a lawyer, what do you think?
2. What are the odds of a suit? He is a high school student with very limited resources and it appears, very limited understanding of the law - he doctored the email, is demanding money for services clearly not performed that he couldn't prove were performed.

Good evening and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I am very sorry to hear about this dispute and hope I can provide some clarification and piece of mind for you.

Assuming this individual is properly classified as an independent contractor (which would appear to be the case from the facts you describe because you do not control the details of his operation and he presumably has much autonomy operating from another state), I see the legal position of an employer in your circumstance as being extremely strong.

You have proof that you only requested 10 fliers. Furthermore, even though you did not consent to the printing of anything beyond ten fliers, you still agreed to pay for the cost of the additional 990 if they were properly posted, and the evidence strongly suggest that proper posting of all fliers would have been impossible in the amount of time this contractor had before "confirming" the job was done. They also didn't supply proof, which is customary in your working relationship.

Given this individual has clearly doctored the email, the credibility of his testimony on other issues, such as the issue of whether he actually posted all 1000 fliers, would be "in the can," so to speak.

While your legal position would appear strong, my concern would be that this indivdual may still elect to file a baseless small claims lawsuit in New Jersey. Since you are employing him in that state, NJ would have jurisdiction over the dispute, and you would be forced to appear at the small claims hearing there in order to defend your case.

This is the only realistic "exposure" I can foresee and it is substantial in the context of relatively small size of this dispute, as the flight and hotel cost alone would likely match what he is seeking in "damages." Of course, you would be free to file a cross claim for fraud, and if you could convince the judge that your plane flight out to New Jersey was a "damage" arising from the fraudulent doctoring of your email, then you may be able to recover that cost.

Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.

If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes to you and thank you so much for coming to Just Answer.

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