BANGOR, Maine — Dueling lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court that pit a well-known local Realtor against a Veazie couple for whom she marketed a house and their attorney.
Mark and Brenda Michaud sued Tricia Quirk and Dawson Inc. in Penobscot County Superior Court alleging that Quirk told a couple ready to ink a sales agreement that she could build them a house for the $325,000 they had offered for the Michauds’ home.
Quirk turned around and sued the couple, their lawyer, A.J. Greif, and his firm, Gilbert and Greif, in federal court, alleging the Michauds illegally recorded her conversation with the potential buyers. Quirk’s attorney, John Lucy of Bangor, also filed a motion to stay the state action, which would keep the lawsuit in state court from going forward until the federal suit has been resolved.
Lucy declined Friday to discuss the lawsuits.
“I don’t have any further comment beyond the complaint at this time,” the attorney said in an email.
Greif said the recording referred to in the federal lawsuit was captured with the Michauds’ “nanny cam,” a hidden camera system marketed to parents who want to keep an eye on their children and their caregivers while the parents are at work or away from home for other reasons.
“I wish, as do the Michauds, that Ms. Quirk had worked as hard to sell their home as she has to avoid being deposed,” Greif said Friday in a telephone interview. “Since Oct. 14, 2011, we’ve been hoping that she would show up at our office and tell us under oath her side of the story.
“Instead, she’s filed a frivolous federal lawsuit, apparently naming me, over a nanny tape I’ve never listened to,” he continued. “How she could have any expectation of privacy in someone else’s home and call a nanny tape a wiretap is beyond me.”
The lawsuit Greif filed on July 11 in Penobscot County Superior Court alleged that Quirk breached her duty to represent the Michauds in the sale of their home. It also alleged that Quirk violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The Michauds’ home had been on the market with an asking price of $349,000 for more than a year when in November 2009 a couple visited the Veazie house with Quirk in preparation for making a final offer of $325,000, according to the complaint.
“Without any inquiry by the [couple] defendant Quirk said …: ‘For the same money I can build you a very similar house,’” the complaint said. “Because of the statements and later actions by defendant Quirk, the [couple] elected to have defendant Quirk build a home for them rather than have her communicate an offer of $325,000 to the [Michauds].”
The Michauds are seeking a minimum of $150,000 in damages from Quirk, the difference between the $175,000 they originally paid for the home and the $325,000 they would have received from the couple.
The couple who allegedly planned to purchase the home were not named as defendants in the complaint.
Lucy sued the Michauds, Greif and his firm in federal court in Bangor on Dec. 1, 2011. That complaint alleged the Michauds “secretly and unlawfully intercepted numerous private oral communications of Quirk and others through the use of a hidden electronic recording device.”
“To intercept the oral communications without the knowledge or consent of Quirk or others,” the complaint said, “the Michauds purchased a small electronic recording device which they secretly hid, out of sight on a fireplace mantel or under a table, where it would not be discovered by those present during open houses and showing of their property when the Michauds were not present.”
Lucy alleged that by recording people in their home without their permission, the Michauds violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The law, also referred to as the wiretap act, protects wire, oral and electronic communications while they are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website. A section of the law “prohibits the intentional, actual or attempted interception, use, disclosure, or ‘procure[ment] [of] any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication,’” the website states.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, Lucy filed a motion in Penobscot County Superior Court seeking to stay that action until the federal lawsuit has been settled. Greif’s colleague, Julie Farr, has filed a motion opposing the stay and urged that the Michauds’ lawsuit should go forward.
An answer to the federal lawsuit is not expected to be filed until after the first of the year. It most likely would include a motion to dismiss.
Greif said Friday that he was not aware of any case law in the United States that prohibited the use of nanny cams by parents in their homes.
“We have seen countless parents discover through a nanny cam that their nanny has spoken inappropriately to their children,” he said. “What the Michauds have done is perfectly legal.”
The Michauds’ home still is on the market, according to Greif.