Defendant: Lawsuit was about 'drumming up a settlement'
Home remodeler Kevin Link's four-year brush with the Madison County civil justice system is over.
In the end it cost him $2,000 to defend a lawsuit filed by a woman who took ownership of one of his rehabbed homes in Granite City in 2002. Armettia Peach, the plaintiff, complained that the roof at 9 Briarcliff Dr. leaked. Last month she got a settlement check for $250.
"It never really was a case as far as I'm concerned," said Link of Granite City.
Link runs a small business which buys distressed properties. After they're rehabbed the homes are put back on the market, usually lease to purchase. He said prospective owners normally buy within three years.
"They'd never buy from me if they were shabby," he said.
Link said the sale of 9 Briarcliff Dr. was out of the ordinary. Peach gave him $20,000 in $100 bills as a down payment, but at closing Peach's friend Chad Carpenter paid Link $68,900. Carpenter later conveyed the title to Peach by quit claim deed with no payment.
"I told her at closing if you have any problems, call me," Link said. "Two years go by and not a peep."
And then he was served with a lawsuit.
Peach sued Link and the city of Granite City for the failure of inspectors to spot the leaks.
Granite City did not respond to the suit and Peach's attorney, Thomas Maag, moved for default judgment against the city.
Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian granted it, awarding $70,000 for the purchase price and $8,242.50 for repairs.
He awarded legal fees of $26,016.67, bringing the total to $104,259.17.
When Granite City officials received the bill, they hired attorney Jane Unsell to appear before Matoesian and ask him to vacate the judgment.
When Unsell brought the city's motion to a hearing, Matoesian declared his default order void.
Peach and the city settled in 2007.
"This wasn't about the roof," Link said. "It was about drumming up a settlement."
Link expressed relief that the case is over. He said he settled because it would have cost him more to keep fighting.
"The thing about it is you don't have to have a case to file suit," he said.
"There ought to be a law."
On top of the money he paid to settle and defend, Link said his stress level "went through the roof" when the initial default judgment exceeded $100,000.
"I'm not a rich person," he said. "This thing was hanging over my head."
When asked if he could have done anything differently to have avoided the suit, he said, "I kept thinking what could I (have done) differently. I gave a disclosure statement and my phone number. I don't know what else I could have done."
He said he had paid a contractor to fix the roof before the property was sold. He said had Peach made a "simple phone call" to report problems with the roof, he would have had the contractor return to fix it.
"It probably would have been simple to fix," he said.
Link said his experience has shown him that a person can bring a suit "with no evidence."
"It's a shame," he said.
He said Peach has already cashed the $250 settlement check.
"It's over and done with," he said.