How far can a fight over $1.96 go? Far

By Scott Barancik
Published February 3, 2007

The beauty of America's civil courts is that they don't discriminate. All lawsuits are entertained, no matter how small the stakes.

Consider Lisa Guyer's suit over a $1.96 dispute.

An Indiana snowbird, Guyer handles the bills for her mother's Sarasota County condo. When the Quail Lake Homeowners' Association fined Mom $1.96 last year for not paying quarterly dues, Guyer mailed the association a receipt indicating that her bank had indeed sent a check.

"This seems VERY unprofessional and archaic," Guyer scrawled atop the receipt. She demanded the association erase its $1.96 penalty and issue a credit for the purchase of a postage stamp. Instead, Quail Lake hired an attorney, and Guyer flew twice to Florida to try to resolve things. By the time a settlement was reached in December, the disputed sum exceeded $1,000.

The tiff's not over. Guyer and her Tampa lawyer, Frederick Vollrath, sued the association and its law firm last month for allegedly flouting debt-collection laws. Attorney Sharon Vander Wulp, a defendant, calls the suit "spurious."

A larger sum is in dispute along St. Pete Beach, where investors behind the proposed Corey Landings development have accused a local partner of stealing millions.

William Karns birthed the condo/hotel/retail project last year. The Seminole developer pulled together an architect, a lender and an investor group willing to drop $40-million on a four-acre waterfront tract and put Karns in charge.

The deal soured. Karns sued one partner over an alleged bad debt. The property's prior owner sued him and others over a $500,000 escrow account. Partner JW Corey Enterprises accused Karns and others of absconding with its $5.4-million investment. Karns denies the claims, said attorney Michael Keane.

Gregory Sharer & Stuart has its own partnership pains.

Former shareholder Jeffrey McClanathan has sued the St. Petersburg accounting firm for allegedly underpaying him by tens of thousands of dollars. McClanathan, who joined Gregory Sharer in 1992 and claims he was its top earner in 2005, accused fellow shareholders of secretly doctoring the firm's profit-sharing formula and failing to buy back his stock when he resigned in September.

Gregory Sharer's James Newman summed up the firm's response: "Anybody can sue anyone for anything in this country, and it doesn't matter if it has merit or not."

Clearwater's Robotic Parking Inc. can relate. The automated-garage builder still suffers litigation and bad press over its role in a troubled New Jersey project unveiled five years ago. CNNmoney.com just included the Hoboken debacle in its annual list of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.

Spokesman Jeff Faria said Robotic is moving on. The company inked a deal to build a garage in Hollywood Beach and has dozens of irons in the fire in New York. It also has two projects in the United Arab Emirates, far from the tumult of America's courts.

Send tips and comments to Scott Barancik at barancik@sptimes com or call 727 893-8751.