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CalAttorney2
CalAttorney2, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 10238
Experience:  Civil litigation attorney for individuals and businesses.
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I recently informed someone that I would no longer be

Customer Question

I recently informed someone that I would no longer be involved in any further work for a start-up company that we had been working on creating. He paid me $1000 2 months ago as an incentive to join him in forming an LLC. No contract was signed and I am not listed as an partner on the LLC. I believe there was a verbal understanding that the payment was for me to create a website for the company. Initially, he wanted to pay me with a large percentage stake in the future profits and ownership of the LLC instead of paying me more more money to work for him. We discussed the future weekly payments for labor in exchange for a reduced ownership percentage. After working hundreds of hours over a 5 week period, the arrangement has implicitly changed: I has to set up an enterprise-level IT hardware and software system instead of developing a website for the company. In the process, I did spend some time developing a website, which remains in existence, for the company, that may not be worth $1,000, but then again, I never signed a contract for the development of a website - in fact, on a check that he wrote to pay me for half of the $1,000, he wrote "Consultant Fees" in the "Memo" section. I never received any future payment for my over 300 hours of labor based on the premise that since I would be a primary owner of the LLC, I shouldn't be paid to help establish it. Over time, I endured constant verbal harrassment from the other party. Finally, I decided to quit working with him. Upon notification of my decision, I request that we arrange a time for me to retrieve some of personal property that was being used at his house, which is where we conducted business. He told me that if I attempted to enter his house, then he would shoot me and that he would not return my personal property, which I would value at $1500 or so. He is now preemptively attempting to sue me for not refunding his $1000 payment, which I earned 20x over in labor costs, and is harrassing me with SMS messages attempting to scare me into not calling the sheriff in order to escort me so that I may obtain the property that he legally robbed robbed from me at this point. I d o not want to sue him for unpaid wages or file criminal charges; I just want my property back. He is intent on "making me pay" for leaving the "company" that I essentially never was even an employee of or owner of. He has claimed to have talked to his lawyer and that he has so much money that I would never be able to win in either civil or criminal court. If I file criminal robbery charges, he will retaliate with a civil suit claiming that he paid me $1000 for a website which I did not provide. Technically, I never signed anything regarding the development of a website in exchange for a website, and the check the wrote to me states that he is paying me for "Consultant Fees." I could counter-sue him for unpaid contract labor, which would like total over $30,000. Furthermore, I did in fact design a website for him. Moreover, theh value of my relinquishment of any percentage of ownership in the LLC is not being accounted for in as refunding his $1000. What should I do? All I want is my personal property returned. He is refusing to allow me to do so. He is threatening me with physical harm, further financial loss for legal fees, and is willing to involve me in an extended criminal and civil battle just to exhibit dominance over me. He would lose all criminal and civil court judgments, but he doesn't even care. I don't want to spend the time, effort, and cost to press charges or sue him. Please help me understand the best course of action that I should take.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 1 year ago.

Dear Customer,

I am very sorry to learn of this situation.

  • You are correct in that the claim that he has against you is frivolous. If you were paid a fee ($1.00, $1,000.00, or $1,000,000.00) as an incentive, with no contractual obligation, you earned that money as soon as you came to work, you have no obligation to return it.
  • You also have a claim for the return of your belongings. This is a civil claim, not a criminal claim (the Sheriff will not assist you in getting your property back until you get a civil court judgment). But you are entitled to the return of your belongings. (The civil claim is for "conversion" - this is the civil equivalent of theft). You can file this claim in small claims court - see: http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-smallclaims.htm
  • The claim for compensation for your labor is a little more difficult. Without a fee agreement, or employment agreement, you can pursue compensation under what are called "equitable" theories. (These are quasi-contractual theories that the court uses to compensate parties that perform work when there is no contract in place in order to prevent unfair outcomes). You would be looking at "quantum meruit" and "unjust enrichment" as two equitable theories to support your cause of action. Depending on how much you are looking for, you could sue in small claims (up to $10,000.00), limited civil (up to $25,000.00), or unlimited civil (anything above that, and where an attorney is highly recommended).
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I called the county sheriff's office yesterday and was told that I should contact the sheriff's department again during daylight hours in order to request help in obtaining my belongings. So instead, you believe that I must file a small claim for whatever value I determine that my property is worth before his actions (robbery) is recognized by a judge as being criminal and then directing a sheriff to - what - obtain a warrant for his arrest?
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 1 year ago.

You can ask the sheriff. They might help (if they don't you will only have wasted a phone call).

But in general, this is not a criminal matter, it is a civil matter.

This is not "Robbery" you left your belongings there at work. He failed to return them. It is "conversion." This is dealt with in civil court.

(I understand that this doesn't seem fair, but you can get your belongings back, you just need to use the proper part of the system).