Credit Scam Victim Nails Home Depot
Man whose identity- theft complaints were ignored wins a $1-million
By David Haldane
Times Staff Writer
February 19, 2005
Home Depot ignored Alan R. Sporn for almost two years, but a $1-million
court judgment got the company's attention.
The Laguna Hills businessman had his Social Security number stolen, which
ended up in a dozen requests for Home Depot credit.
The fiasco hurt Sporn's credit rating, but the home improvement giant that
prides itself in customer service brushed off his concerns - until he filed
a lawsuit, won and then tried to collect the money from a company bank
Then, Home Depot decided to act. It appealed the case, but this week an
appellate court in Santa Ana sided with Sporn.
On Friday, the victor and his lawyer were celebrating with a bit of humor.
The pair joked they might just show up at one of the company's Southern
California stores to conduct a yard sale.
"I want to sell everything for a dollar," quipped Steve Young, Sporn's
attorney. "I imagine the John Deere tractors will be the first to go."
"I feel vindicated," Sporn, 52, said of his nearly 3-year effort to get Home
Depot to respond. "They're such a huge corporation and we are just little
In a brief written statement, the Atlanta-based company said that it was
"disappointed in the decision . and respectfully disagrees with the
conclusions of the court."
Sporn's problems began in early 2002 when he was turned down for a
low-interest loan to refinance his Laguna Hills home. Trying to find out
why, he learned that Home Depot had submitted inquiries to credit agencies
regarding Sporn's creditworthiness at least a dozen times over the previous
Such inquiries - especially when submitted in large numbers - lower one's
"I didn't even have a credit card with Home Depot," Sporn said in a
telephone interview Friday. Except for buying "the occasional garden hose or
lightbulb," he doesn't even shop there often, he said.
When he asked the company's financial department why it was pulling his
credit reports, he was told that somebody in Virginia was using his Social
Security number to apply for credit, Sporn said.
But Home Depot would not tell him who the culprit was. And when he sent the
company a certified letter asking it to stop checking his credit rating, he
got no response.
Finally, in September 2002, Sporn filed a lawsuit demanding compensation for
the financial damages he says he incurred. The company continued to ignore
him, he says. He told Home Depot he was seeking a default judgment. Still no
response, he says.Nine months later, in July 2003, with nary a word from
Home Depot, a Santa Ana judge awarded Sporn about $930,000 in damages.
The judge ruled that Sporn suffered losses when he was forced to pay a
higher interest rate on his home loan and because his damaged credit rating
hurt his business reputation.
The court also ruled that Sporn was entitled to a 10% annual interest rate
and other collection expenses if Home Depot continued to delay payment.
Sporn and his attorney estimate the current amount at $1.15 million.
Home Depot didn't show up for the court hearings, they say.
"After we got the judgment," said Young, the attorney, "we waited another
seven months expecting that they would do something. Frankly, we just wanted
their attention so they would clean this up."
So last February, Sporn and Young contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department, which sent deputies to the bank that handles Home Depot's
payroll accounts - a Wells Fargo branch in Los Angeles - with a court order.
They didn't get any money, but they did get Home Depot's attention. "They
started a paper flurry that you wouldn't believe," Young said.
In its appeal, the company accused Sporn of being underhanded. Home Depot
said in its filings that Sporn "obtained by stealth" the "excessive" default
judgment, which the company discovered only when Sporn "began enforcement
efforts after laying in the weeds for many months."
In its ruling - published Wednesday - the 4th District Court of Appeal
The court scolded the company for seeking "to escape the results of its own
"An obvious gap appears in the evidence," acting presiding judge William F.
"There is no statement that the [court papers sent to Home Depot] were lost,
stolen, forwarded to the wrong person, or eaten by the dog."
Richard S. Ruben, an Orange County-based attorney for Home Depot, declined
to comment on the case, saying that he had not had a chance to read the
appellate court's ruling.
The company said it was reviewing its options to appeal the decision.
But Sporn and Young said they were overjoyed.
"A corporation," Young said, "doesn't have skin and blood - the only way you
get their attention is with the sting of the dollar."
Times staff writer Dan Weikel contributed to this report.
Let's sock it to the big nasty corporation, they have deep pockets! Don't
blame or sue any individuals just because they are at fault, they don't have
enough money. Sue the big box. Just remember, if the big box loses, the
judgement will become a business expense.
A business expense! Selling prices = expenses + profits. When expenses go
up, prices go up. (prices will go up to maintain profits/stock value) Who
pays for higher prices. Bingo! The consumer. All the customers at Home
Depot pay the price. The offended customer gets relief and the plaintiff's
lawyers build another seven-figure income.
As an occasional Home Depot customer, my wallet should be grateful this
didn't turn into a class action lawsuit.
And when the legal dust and smoke clears, what happens to the Home Depot
employees at fault? Those that didn't do anything to resolve the
plaintiff's credit problem?
Sue the %$&#*s, we can afford it. Can't we?
If we can't teach our children the 3 Rs, how can we teach them economics?
I might agree with you, but i don't have enough information to make
that judgement... do you?
The article posted here did not indicate what actual damages were
incurred. Not to mention all the time hassle of dealing with it.
Ich habe keine Ahnung was das bedeutet, oder vielleicht doch?
Frankly, for the GROSS negligence of HD in this case, I am surprised
that they did NOT hit them for MORE in punitive damages. Big
Corporate entities like HD ONLY respond when the cost gets big enough
And if they do it again, I would love to see them hit with damages in
the 10s of Millions OR MORE. If they think they are above the law,
maybe put them out of business via lawsuit would NOT be excessive
If you have a total woth of $100k, would someone suing you for $25 or
$100 dollars actually make you change your actions?? Same idea when
you talk about BIG corporate entities. Frankly, I would rather see
damage issued in PERCENTAGE of the company woth rather than a set
dollar amount. That would make things fair across the board from the
low income individual to the MultiBillion dollar folks like MicroSoft
and Bill Gate
Non Sequitor. To be effective, punitive dmages must be high enough
to disabuse the malefactor from a repetition of the tort. Otherwise
it may be cheaper to absord the suits as a cost of doing business and
continue to ruin the credit ratings of numerous other persons many
of whom will never find out why.
But punishing a corporation does not necessarily have to be a big windfall
for the person that was hurt. Sure, he should be well compensated. Want to
hurt a big store like HD? Make them close on a Sunday and lose sales to
the competition. Make them take full page ads in magazines telling what
they did wrong. Let the world know, not just a few people and the lawyers
Talk about "punitive damages"... probably more effective, too, and certainly
*much* more entertaining.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt.
And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
You'd think so. I used to. Assuming as I do that jealousy is NOT
your motivation to object, the obvious objection is that the
of large punitives may encourage more suits than are 'necessary'.
The obvious solution is to not grant large punitives when they are
not necessary and indeed, juries and judges tend not to grant
grant large punitives unless the plaintiff shows that the defendant
has been ignoring previous smaller judgements. Some lawyers call
this the 'every dog gets one bite' principle.
The cases you hear about in the news that sound absurd usually
sound that way because they are being misreported, or if they
really are absued, because they are exceptional, not what ord-
The problem with alternatives to punitives other than monetary awards
to the plaintiff is that they inevitable benifit others who
1) typically have done nothing at all to earn the benefit, at least
the plaintiff did the work necessary to obtain the judgement.
In the instant case this would be HD's competitors.
2) by realizing a benefit now have a motive to encourage or facilitate
such suits. This is potentially a problem if the beneficiary of the
punitives is, for example, the government. As you will recall there
was a time when property was confiscated from convicted witches.
That property went the king. Since the king was just we may be
assured that only persons who really were witches were convicted,
Finally, a settlement may entail the defendant being ordered to do
something, in addition to just paying the plaintiff. This is
particularly in the settlement of the much maligned class-action
On 21 Feb 2005 10:35:31 -0800, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Punitive damages are one of the most ridiculous things in our legal
system. They are intended to function as a fine, forcing a change in
behavior, but they have become nothing more than another enriching
option for the lawyers. I would suggest that punitive damages be
treated like fines are - they go into the public coffers and the
lawyers and plaintiffs don't get any of it. I think you would see a
lot smarter settlements on lawsuits in that case. It would also make
sense to tie punitive damages to performance - if they put certain
procedures in place they are off the hook for the punitive damages,
since the ostensible goal of them was to create a change in behavior.
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