CHARLESTON -- A St. Albans man and his wife have filed suit against a Web site, its owner and 10 others, alleging they made false statements about a credit business the man owns.
Jason W. Barnette, a managing member of Apex Credit Services, claims his business's reputation suffered after a report about his company was published on Rip Off Reports, a Web site.
In addition to the attack on his company, Barnette, who is also a managing partner in Barnette Law Offices in Tennessee, claims people accused him of not being a licensed attorney on the site.
One anonymous post to Rip Off Reports states Apex Credit Services is a "scam" and that the owners were "stealing money, idiots, shady, and scum," according to the complaint filed Sept. 25 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
In response to the allegations, Barnette placed a rebuttal on the Web site, the suit states.
Barnette claims another anonymous post appeared on the Web site, this time from someone claiming he was a former employee of ACS.
The anonymous poster claimed "that he had 'found out that they are only in business to rip people off so I decided to find a new job that treat everyone right,'" the suit states. "Judi Unger is a liar and con artist and will rip you off by the drop of the hat. We are suing apex credit services and naming all employees and we are reporting all the SUM BAG so call lawyers that work for Apex credit services to the bar."
Barnette claims the company never had more than four current or previous independent contractors, and none posted the message on the site. Instead, Barnette claims they posted rebuttals on the Web site.
Barnette then e-mailed Ed Magedson, the site's owner, to ask about the statements but received no response, according to the complaint.
He then got into contact with Magedson's attorney who offered to place Barnette in contact with Magedson in regard to a consumer advocacy program, the suit states.
"Upon information and belief, the aforesaid program is one which Defendants accepts money to either remove the defamatory posts or sidebar them with complimentary statements thereby, exhorting the already victimized parties," the suit states.
Barnette claims he told the attorney he wanted the material removed, but was told it would not be removed.
"Your Plaintiffs therefore had no other viable alternative than succumb to extortion or seek relief from this Court," the suit states.
Other allegations continued to appear on the site, including some saying ACS was not licensed in West Virginia, that Barnette was not a licensed attorney, that Barnette was being reported to the Tennessee bar for fraud and that he was a con artist, according to the complaint.
The Barnettes claim Jennifer was also called a liar, con artist and fraud even though they pointed out she had nothing to do with the business.
"Numerous threats were levied to the effect that if Plaintiff, Jason Barnette did not cease his business more posts would continue, his credit would be damaged and that of his wife and businesses, that bar complaints would be issued against him and had been for 'fraud,' and that he would be sued in California," the suit states.
Some of Barnette's rebuttal posts were either redacted or not posted at all on the Rip Off Reports Web site, according to the complaint.
Barnette also claims Madegson manipulated post titles and keywords so his site would appear higher up on search engines.
Barnette expected to be hired for employment and business relations with two companies, but was denied after the posts on Rip Off Reports's Web site, according to the complaint.
The Barnettes are seeking unspecified damages for physical injury, diminishment of reputation, mental anguish and emotional distress, annoyance and grievance and economic loss.
The couple is also seeking unspecified punitive damages, fees and costs, statutory relief, legal relief, an immediate injunction, prejudgment and post-judgment interest and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
The Barnettes are representing themselves.
In another case filed last month in Kanawha Circuit Court, Jason Barnette sued the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, seeking to have his Tennessee multi-state bar exam score counted toward his West Virginia score.
In that suit, Barnette claims he took the Tennessee and West Virginia exams and failed the West Virginia exam. However, when he applied to retake the exam he requested that the successful score from the Tennessee MBE be added to the West Virginia test. Barnette claims the board has allowed other applicants in similar situations to apply their MBE scores to West Virginia exams.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 08-C-1859