On December 20, 2017, a federal court case demonstrated how some of his own negative social media postings prevented a plaintiff from receiving the contract remedies he sought. (Luten v. R&M Performance, Inc., Civ. No. 17-02723-JMC (D. Md. Dec. 20, 2017) (2017 WL 6508994).
The matter began in 2010, when the plaintiff brought his 1975 pick-up truck to the defendant for some restoration work. Over the next six years, as the plaintiff could afford it, he would bring his truck to the defendant for more restoration work. During the summer of 2016, the parties exchanged e-mails, with the result that the plaintiff agreed to pay the defendant $15,000 for completion of all restoration work by September 23, 2016.
Unfortunately, the deadline was not met. The defendant claimed the work was not completed for two reasons: (1) the defendant lost a key employee and (2) the plaintiff failed to provide some parts he had contractually agreed to provide to defendant. The defendant also claimed that the plaintiff was informed of the key employee’s departure and had approved an extension of time.
The parties were scheduled to have a status call in June of 2017, but the call did not occur, nor did the defendant respond to plaintiff’s follow-up calls. The defendant stated that he had not responded because he had been hospitalized. The plaintiff then posted negative reviews about the defendant on social media. Once the defendant learned about those social media posts, the defendant requested that plaintiff to retrieve both the truck and the parts from the defendant’s shop.
Instead, the plaintiff sued in federal court, raising three claims against the defendant: breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiff sought a remedy of specific performance—in this case, to require the defendant to complete the truck restoration.
The federal magistrate denied the plaintiff’s request. First, the magistrate found that the agreement to restore the truck was analogous to a personal services contract, rather than a contract to supply goods. In the U.S., a personal services contract will typically never have specific performance as an available remedy. The rationale for this general rule is that a court order for specific performance would require a court to exercise “some personal supervision and oversight over the work to be done, extending over a considerable period of time.” Courts are not well suited for such a task, especially in a private civil matter.
In addition, the magistrate ruled that, even if specific performance were available as a remedy, the balance of the equities in this case tipped away for such an order “considering the complete deterioration of and the current tension in the relationship between the parties.”
In other words, the plaintiff’s own social media posts prevented his choice of remedy.