Linebacker Tanks Court Appearance, On the Hook for $4,000

On February 22, 2017, in SELS Blog, by Matthew Weiss

By: AshLeigh Sebia*

In January, Buffalo Bills linebacker, Brandon Spikes, was scheduled to appear in court in an attempt to settle a second lawsuit in a two-year long dispute.[1]  In 2014, Spikes hired “The Fish Guy,” a company owned by Joshua Wolfson, to transport his tropical fish and custom-made aquarium from Rhode Island to Buffalo when he was signed as a free agent by the Bills.[2]   However, Spikes refused to pay the $4,000 service fee, resulting in Wolfson’s December 2014 lawsuit against the linebacker in an attempt to recover the unpaid amount.[3]

Spikes’ dissatisfaction with Wolfson’s work can be traced all the way back to 2011 when he first hired “The Fish Guy” to transport his tropical fish from his then current home to his loft in Rhode Island.[4]  The move resulted in the death of some of the fish.[5]  According to Thomas Bender, Spikes’ attorney, this move resulted in the “almost instantaneous death” of Spikes’ tropical fish.[6]  However, Spikes continued to hire Wolfson.  When it came time for Spikes to move to Buffalo, Wolfson advised him to purchase a new $8,000 custom tank, which Wolfson would transport along with the fish.[7]

Unfortunately, some of the fish did not survive the move.[8]  Further, during Wolfson’s installation of the tank in Spikes’ Buffalo home, more of Spikes’ fish died.[9]  Bender claims the aquarium “proved to be inadequate for the type and number of tropical fish owned by Mr. Spikes.”[10]  A local Buffalo tank service also asserts that the filters in the aquarium were improperly set up.[11]  Bender estimates the total value of the dead fish combined with the cost of the faulty custom tank at over $10,000.[12]  Therefore, Spikes was threatening to countersue.[13]

On the other hand, “The Fish Guy” claims that moving this type of animal always contains some risk of death.[14]  His invoices state that he cannot be held responsible for the loss of the “livestock” after a 10-day guarantee period.[15]  In response, Bender points to the fact that the fish died “easily within” this time.[16]  In February 2015, Bender spoke with Wolfson’s attorney, Raymond Pfeiffer and the two discussed a “voluntary discontinuance” because the attorney’s fees on both sides would be higher than the amount in controversy.[17]  Bender further explained that if the case continued, Spikes intended to not only defend the action but also raise counterclaims against “The Fish Guy.”[18]  There was no further contact between Pfeiffer and Bender, although Pfeiffer went forward with the case.[19]

As time went on, Bender failed to file an official response and Spikes did not attend a hearing regarding the lawsuit.[20]  Thus, in May 2015, a New York judge ruled in favor of Wolfson and sent two letters to Spikes: one informing him of the judgment and one explaining that his paychecks would be garnished.[21]  In other words, the court ordered Spikes to withhold a portion of his earnings in order to pay his debt to Wolfson.  Both letters were sent to Spikes’ Buffalo, New York address.[22]  However, by this time Spikes was playing for the New England Patriots so he did not receive either notice.[23]

Unfortunately for both Spikes and Wolfson, in June 2015, Spikes was released from the team and did not play for any organization for the remainder of that year.[24]  As a result, there were no more paychecks to be garnished.

This past August however, Spike re-signed with the Buffalo Bills for a one-year, $760,000 contract.[25]  By the end of that month, Wolfson obtained another order to once again garnish Spikes’ paychecks pursuant to the 2015 default judgment.[26] Spikes’ lawyer will be challenging the default judgment in the New York Supreme Court based on the fact that Spikes was not sufficiently notified because he was not living in New York when the letters were sent to his Buffalo home.[27]  Bender not only wants the judgment to be vacated, but he is also requesting that any money taken from Spikes’ paychecks be returned to the player.[28]  Bender acknowledges his failure to file an official response during the initial deliberations, but he condemns Pfeiffer for going further with the lawsuit without any further communication.[29]

Currently, the balance on the judgment is $3,144.73, however Justice Mark J. Grisanti signed an order in mid-January temporarily halting the garnishment while he decides whether or not to vacate the default judgment.[30]  Both parties appeared in court this past Thursday.[31] It will be interesting to see which side is able to tip the “scales” in its favor!


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2019, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[1] Melinda Miller, Bills linebacker’s defense in court: Fish Guy killed my fish, The Buffalo News (Jan. 24, 2017), https://buffalonews.com/2017/01/24/football-player-v-fish-guy-framington/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Darin Gantt, Brandon Spikes disputes lawsuit from The Fish Guy, NBC Sports (Jan. 24, 2017), http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2017/01/24/brandon-spikes-disputes-lawsuit-from-the-fish-guy/.

[5] Id.

[6] See Miller, supra note 1.

[7] See Gantt, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] See Miller, supra note 1.

[11] See Gantt, supra note 5.

[12] See Miller, supra note 1.

[13] See Gantt, supra note 5.

[14] See Miller, supra note 1.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Ryan Brennan, Brandon Spikes Faces Reoccurring Lawsuit From Years Ago, Fox Sports (Jan. 25, 2017), http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/brandon-spikes-facing-reoccurring-lawsuit-from-years-ago-012517.

[21] See Miller, supra note 1.

[22] Mike Rodak, Lawsuit filed against Brandon Spikes by aquatic services company, ABC News (Jan. 24, 2017), http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/lawsuit-filed-brandon-spikes-aquatic-services-company/story?id=45010193.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

 

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