False worthless check charge leads to suit against rent-to-own company

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 15, 2009

PARKERSBURG – A Vienna woman is suing a rent-to-own business for malicious prosecution on a worthless check charge.

On Jan. 8, Marsha Fields, 60, filed suit in Wood Circuit Court against Aaron Rents, Inc. In her four-count complaint and suit, filed with the assistance of Parkersburg attorney John N. Ellem, Fields alleges Aaron's improperly filed criminal charges against her over a matter that was between Aaron's and her daughter.

According to court records, Aaron Rents is a Georgia corporation licensed to do business in West Virginia. Operating under the name Aaron's Sales and Lease Ownership and located on Grand Central Avenue in Vienna, Aaron's allows customers to lease furnishings, including furniture, appliances and computers, with the option to buy.

Though it's unclear when, but Field's daughter, Kendra, rented furniture from Aaron's. On Nov. 12, 2007, Kendra requested assistance from Fields in making a payment of $155.60.

Upon writing the check to Aaron's from her account at Union Trades Federal Credit Union, Kendra allegedly told Fields she would not be repaying her. The next day, Fields stopped payment on the check.

Though no date is specified, records show, Aaron's manager called Fields to inquire about the stop payment. Fields informed him that unless she received some assurances from Kendra the money would be repaid, she had no intention of paying Kendra's bills.

The manager continued to insist Fields honor the check or risk criminal charges. However, Fields remained firm that the dispute was between Aaron's and Kendra.

Nevertheless, records show, Aaron's filed a criminal complaint against Fields on Jan. 23, 2008 for "issuing worthless check to satisfy pre-existing debt" in Wood Magistrate Court. However, it was not until almost 10 months later on Oct. 3 that the Vienna Police Department arrested Fields on the outstanding warrant.

Following her arraignment and release on a $200 personal recognizance bond, Magistrate Joyce Purkey scheduled Field's trial for Dec. 15. In anticipation of trial, Ellem was prepared to ask Purkey to dismiss the charges because the complaint against Fields was flawed.

Not only did she have more than sufficient funds in her account to cover the check, Ellem maintained, but Fields had not legally incurred a debt with Aaron's.

However, the matter became a moot point when nobody from Aaron's appeared on the trial date. Due to the failure to appear, Purkey immediately dismissed the charge against Fields.

Fields alleges that Aaron's engaged not only in malicious prosecution, but also violated the state Consumer Credit Protection Act and intentionally inflicted upon her emotional distress. In regard to the latter claim, Fields alleges she was not only embarrassed and humiliated by being arrested by the police on the false charges, but also seeing her name in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel the next two days.

Fields is asking judgment for actual damages pursuant to CCPA and punitive damages for Aaron's "willful, wanton, oppressive, malicious and/or reckless actions." Also, she is asking to be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs associated with defending herself in the worthless check charge, and an order removing any negative references made to credit reporting agencies.

The case has been assigned to Judge J.D. Beane.

Wood Circuit Court, Case No. 09-C-10 (Fields civil; Wood Magistrate Court, Case No. 08-M-436 (Fields criminal)

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