Tool company claims it was defamed by competitor

Kelly Holleran Sep. 17, 2008, 9:31am

A Swansea company has filed suit against an Orange, Conn. company, claiming it was defamed in a letter the Connecticut business sent to distributors across the nation.

American Hotline claims Hubbell made false statements claiming that the company is distributing inferior products, according to a complaint filed Sept. 11 in St. Clair County.

"We have recently seen a greater influx of inferior, low cost products which either directly copy or are intentionally designed to mislead the customer into thinking they are actually buying a quality Hubbell/Chance product," the suit says the letter states. "More specifically, American Hotline has been formed by Jim Rauckman and RITZ do Brazil to sell Brazilian manufactured tools within the utility market."

In addition, Hubbell threatened distributors in its letter, the suit states.

"Any Distributor Partners supporting 'off-shore' manufacturers such as American Hotline will no longer have the privilege of being an authorized HPS 'Chance tool' distributor," the suit claims the letter stated.

The statement cost American Hotlines business with at least one distributor, it claims.

Both companies manufacture, sell and design electrical products, according to the complaint.

One of American Hotline's managing members and a plaintiff also named in the suit, Jim Rauckman, claims he got his start in the business through his work for a company called A.B. Chance beginning in 1983.

Plaintiffs are represented by Judy L. Cates of The Cates Law Firm in Swansea.

In the four-count suit, Jim Rauckan, Rauckman Utility Products and American Hotline are seeking a judgment in excess of $200,000 and punitive damages of $4 million, plus lawsuit costs.

Rauckman sold products from 1983 until 1999 and was involved with the company's engineering, sales, product management, and management, according to the complaint.

In 1995, he was reassigned to be marketing manager for A.B. Chance products sold under the Hubbell name, the suit states.

In 2000, after leaving the company, Rauckman claims he began working for Rauckman Utility Products.

Rauckman Utility Products and RITZ, another company that sells electrical equipment combined on March 20 to form American Hotline, the suit states.

It was only after the merged company issued a press release announcing "RITZ selects Rauckman to market hotline tools in USA" that Hubbell issued its defamatory letter, according to the complaint.

"The statements made in said Hubbell Distributor Letter are defamatory per se in that they are prejudicial to Jim Rauckman, Rauckman Utility, American Hotline and impute a lack of ability of Jim Rauckman, Rauckman Utility and American Hotline to perform in their trade and profession," the suit states.

In addition, American Hotline claims Hubbell knew the statements were false and issued the letter with actual malice.

Rauckman claims he was placed in a false light before his community, suffered offense and was damaged in the business community.

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