Posted April 24, 2008 1:33 pm by with 44 comments

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Living in a Radically Transparent world is, it seems, not without risk. Apparently a Seattle man was recently sued for $10,000 because he left a “Neutral” rating for an eBay seller from North Carolina.

Sued! For $10k for using a system that eBay implemented to encourage feedback!!!

Shellhorn bought some Morgan silver dollars from a man in North Carolina. The price was fair, but Shellhorn says the coins were packed poorly.

“The coins were hanging out of the envelope, loose, with no packing whatsoever around them,” he said.

The seller wanted feedback. Shellhorn couldn’t honestly say the deal was good or bad so he took the middle ground.

“This is neutral feedback, not even negative feedback, but neutral. He sued me for $10,000,” he said.

The judge in Buncome County, NC did dismiss the law suit, but it still raises a serious question about the future of consumer feedback, if the consumer is fearful of leaving any feedback at all.

It’s amazing that someone would sue an individual for one “neutral” rating, but that goes to show just how important ratings are on eBay. It’s also scary that an attorney was willing to take on the case. What if the judge hadn’t shown any common sense? What if the court had ruled in favor of the plaintiff?

It may not have happened this time, but you can bet that this case will inspire someone to think they can remove legitimate negative (neutral?) customer feedback by taking them to court. And it will be a scary time for all, should a naive judge rule in favor of the company.


  • This is kind of scary. To think you can get sued simply for offering an opinion. I’m glad the judge did have common sense in this case and something tells me even if one judge didn’t a case like this would get thrown out on appeals.

    I have a hard time seeing how anyone would ever win a case like this. Still it’s troubling that someone would even think to sue because someone else left them neutral feedback.

    Steven Bradley’s last blog post..Update On Domain Move

    • Etsy Legal support

      I found this old post now, 2013.

      I got a negative feedback, with libelous statement and I have to sue the buyer to remove it because Etsy is not remove without court order. It is waste of time and money but Etsy want to me to do so.

  • Maria P.

    I had a seller leave me negative feedback for leaving him neutral feedback as well. The item I received was not what was advertised.

  • even better the ebay seller was a wanted sex offender, watch the video:

    William Tildesleu’s last blog post..Microsoft cracking up?

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  • The suit is crazy, but some may say Ebay is pushing sellers to this type of behaviour. With the new Ebay “Best Match” criteria, if your feedback is not up to par, it affects what you pay to list and where your listings show up.
    Poor feedback = poor rankings.
    In this case, it does seem like a “neutral” rating was appropriate so not sure why the seller would get so upset?

  • This is kind of scary. What if the review had been extremely unfavorable (even scathing) resulting in a loss of business and therefore ’emotional’ suffering? Would the judge have been so quick to dismiss it then? Do we have to be careful about how we word the truth now?

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  • Wow, seriously?

    That’s rediculous. That’s borderline a better story than McDonald’s getting sued for coffee being too hot.

    But in all seriousness, there are some serious whack-jobs out there, even on eBay.

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  • This just proves that we’re in a sue-happy world. People need to take a step back and think about things before wasting our courts time.

  • You can sue for anything these days huh. I can’t believe that an attorney would even take on his case because of how ridiculous it is.

  • PS3

    It will be interesting to see how things go when the feedback system changes and sellers are restricted.

    I have had one negative that has spoilt my previously unblemished 453 positives. I tried to resolve that through eBay because the buyer was giving false information (and had said so in eBay messages) but they wouldn’t do anything.

    I was then told to get the comment removed under defamation rules. Did that, but it is just the comment (and my response) that gets removed, not the rating.

    Now buyers can see I have a negative but have no idea why! Thanks eBay!

  • Dave Smith

    How about outing who the seller is? eBay handle?

  • Woow. I’m just never going to leave any feedback for anyone. What a ridiculous case. Must have been taken on by some desperate lawyer who just wanted publicity. Same old story…

    Paul Baranda’s last blog post..Bond No. 9 and Swarovski Team Up In Time For Mother’s Day


    This is simply retarded. Yes, as you mentioned, ebay ratings are near priceless but 1. it’s a neutral rating and 2. it’s a rating

    Did they try to settle out of court or talk about it or was it just straight to court?

  • AnotherSurfer

    The guy suing is a sex offender. Go figure! LOL

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  • Jeff O’Connor

    The plaintiff should have had to have paid court fees all-around for something like this, plus the penalty being sought in my opinion.

    There are poor cases to take to court, and there are utterly frivolous cases. This falls into the latter category.

    If you think this is outrageous, a group of Chinese lawyers are trying to sue CNN over Jack Cafferty’s description of the Chinese government being a “bunch of goons and thugs.”

    Why do we even allow this sort of crap into our legal system? How can we even grant “lawyers” from a country where there are few standards of law access to our system to attempt to punish a member of the Fourth Estate from exercising his Constitutionally-guaranteed First Amendment Rights?

    Anyone feel like joining me in a counter-suit to reclaim American tax dollars being pissed-away over this sort of nonsense?

  • That’s ridiculous, I’m glad it was dropped.

  • chris kozlik

    You know what’s really crazy? That there are actually people posting comments about this ridiculous case. So some guy goes to court and the judge boots him out for being an idiot. So what? Why does that get you people to talk about being “scared to leave feedback” or get some of you to debate the merits of ‘what would happen to the world if he actually won?’ Who cares!!! Who really gives a crap. Please, all of you, go back to work, do something useful with your life and stop worrying about some idiot in hillbilly land suing someone else over nothing.

  • @Chris,

    I think the larger picture is that even in the most trivial situations, what you do online can have unintended consiquences and this case is a good reminder.

    Even though the case was tossed, there was still time, energy, and I am sure some level of stress involved for the person being sued.

  • chris kozlik

    I aggree.

  • I did know one seller who had to ditch a whole account with over 500 positive feedbacks after someone (she suspects a competitor, but has no proof) decided to ruin it. All of a sudden, people were bidding on her items and leaving negatives without any good reason. She talked to eBay and they were completely unresponsive, to the point that she decided it would be easier to open a new ID with her sister’s address and a new credit card.

    I wouldn’t have blamed her one bit if she had sued. She relied on that income and a string of negatives took that away from her. The person in this story, however, is a nut job.

  • I guess customer’s right is minimized everytime…Weird world.

  • wombat

    As I do agree with everyone else that this was a frivolous lawsuit, many of you do not understand how Ebay ratings affect a Seller’s account. I have 1100+ positive ratings with 6 negatives and 11 neutrals. What nobody knows is that while neutral ratings are explained to the public as having no effect, Ebay views anything different that positive, as not positive. Even a neutral rating counts the same as a negative to a Seller in Ebay’s eyes. If you receive >5% neutral or negative comments in any 90 day period you will be suspended from selling on Ebay for 30 days. If you try and argue your case, they will extend it to 60 days. Now along with being charged more in fees, you can be restricted from even using their site. Now while I do believe this protects buyers from unscrupulous sellers, it can wrongly persecute honest sellers as well. Of my neutrals and negatives, half of them were in spite, and the other half were by newbies who think they are supposed to examine a .99 cent item with a fine tooth comb and post feedback accordingly. I even had one guy leave me neutral and in his comments he even stated that he has to curb his Ebay purchases due to his impulse buying habits. I am glad this will be reflected in my rating forever. I had another guy buy a radio which I stated was untested due to no power cord and was won for $1.04 and the guy was upset that it did not work. He then threatened to leave negative feedback unless I purchased the stereo manual for him on Ebay (which he conveniently gave me the item number for)and have it mailed to his house. Anyways, sorry for the rant and hopefully more people realize that sellers have to bend over backwards for buyers to avoid feedback woes which ultimately cost the seller more money.

  • BUZZ

    This new system is flawed!!!!
    If you receive >5% neutral or negative comments in any 90 day period you will be suspended from selling on Ebay for 30 days. If you try and argue your case, they will extend it to 60 days. Now along with being charged more in fees, you can be restricted from even using their site.
    I was recently left 8 negative feedbacks from a non paying ebayer. I thought I was protected by the new feedback policy implemented by ebay. Turns out because I filed an unpaid item dispute and they replied “don’t have money to pay for items” it gave them the right to leave me negative feedback. These threw me into the new “bad seller percentage” The feedback was then removed but it still has my account with 21 day hold on paypal money!!
    So sellers beware do not leave negative feedback for non paying buyers if you plan on filing a non paid item dispute!
    Now I have over 80 auctions that just ended that I have to pay for personally then wait 21 days or until buyer leaves positive feedback>> You would think they would at least allow those funds to be used for click and ship purposes. You would think that would encourage sellers to ship super fast.

  • PB

    >>>That’s rediculous. That’s borderline a better story than McDonald’s getting sued for coffee being too hot.<<<

    You should read your own link. The McDonald’s suit was anything but frivolous. Here are some facts:

    As a matter of policy, McDonald’s sold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns (the skin is burned away down to the muscle/fatty-tissue layer) in two to seven seconds.

    McDonald’s admitted that it has known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years—the risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits, to no avail.

    McDonald’s admitted that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk.
    McDonald’s witnesses testified that it did not intend to turn down the heat.

    The 79 year-old woman (Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico) was in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car (not driving, as commonly reported) when she was severely burned by McDonald’s coffee in February 1992.

    She suffered third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, necessitating hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring, and disability for more than two years.

    The treating physician testified that her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.

    The medical bills were $11,000. She offered to settle the case for $20,000. McDonalds offered her $800, so the case went to court.

    The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. (This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill.)
    The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald’s coffee sales.

    The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000—or three times compensatory damages—even though the judge called McDonald’s conduct reckless, callous and willful. Subsequent to remittitur, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement.

    Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald’s had dropped to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • KB

    @ PB:

    Really if people are going to order heated coffee, you use some foresight (just as if you ordered a highly heated meal at a restaurant). Let your item cool off rather than “playing with fire” and then crying foul about it later.

  • PB

    Umm, did you read any part of my message? How about this?


    What exactly is the point of 180 degree plus coffee? Plus, a company worth countless billions wouldn’t even pay medical bills. What’s up with that? I’d say they got what they deserved.

  • PB

    This part got left out of the last post:

    As a matter of policy, McDonald’s sold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns (the skin is burned away down to the muscle/fatty-tissue layer) in two to seven seconds.

  • loks

    here’s my case, i am thinking of leaving a negative comment for a seller..i have 100% rating for all of my ebay transactions..but with the last purchase i have, i am about to leave a negative comment to a seller for selling me an item..say i am buying part 2 but shipped me part 1 (describing it as “part 2″ was an error on his side as he admitted it)..he wants me to return the item and me getting the full refund..but please i live in the island and paid 300% more on the int’l shipping than the cost of the item’s what..he said lately, about leaving comment..”if you are happy, then i am happy”..does that mean a threat not to leave a negative comment?

  • PB

    Loks, If you can’t resolve the situation with the seller and you leave a negative, I am almost positive he can’t leave you (the buyer) a negative after 5/19–even if the transaction took place before then. Good luck.

  • loks

    thank you..

    but sorry..what’s with “after 5/19”..thanks again

  • wombat

    loks, In a case like yours negative is ok, I just hate the retaliatory feedback that comes along with that. I believe PB (5/19)is referring to the new Ebay Feedback Policy that went into effect recently. Although I am not sure of the exact date or all the new changes.

  • PB

    loks, The policy was started officially on May 19th (yesterday). From what I have read, if you go to leave feedback now, you will be shown the new policy (no negs for buyers) and if you decide to leave a neg for the seller, you are asked questions (have you contacted the seller to resolve the issue, etc). You have to click through all checkpoints before you leave the neg. Hope that helps.

  • PB

    It looks like if you are out of the US, different policies may apply so be careful. I just saw where a seller left negs on 5/20 but the seller was from china and the buyer from mexico.

  • ZVM

    FOR ‘ps3’. How did you get the post removed with defamation rules, as you say? I am trying to do that too; a buyer said libelous/totally untrue things about me. He’s a whacko but ebay doesn’t care. How can I get the court-order to remove it?

  • Many sellers lost their perfect feedback scores when eBay set procedure BEFORE policy May 19, 2008 — that’s the day they retroactively counted neutral feedback the same as negative feedback. It was also the day when eBay sellers could no longer leave negative or neutral feedback for their buyers, even for purchases that closed May 18, 2008.

    eBay is up to some monkey business! The new policy is drastically reducing eBay PowerSeller status, which means eBay no longer has to pay the promissed PowerSeller discounts. Many of eBay’s top sellers will no longer qualify for the 98% thresholds to maintain their PowerSeller status. Many are speculating that eBay wants to see seller outrage, so that it can do away with the antiquated feedback system and replace it with the Detailed Seller Ratings. Amazon has a similar system and has not had the same turbulence as eBay.

    eBay sellers feel one-sided feedback is PATENTLY UNFAIR! eBay’s new policy means a buyer can give a negative or neutral EVEN IF:
    >> Buyer never contacts seller for resolution of problem.
    >> Buyer doesn’t read description and is dissappointed.
    >> Buyer has an unconfirmed and unverified address (and seller is not obligated to ship).
    >> Buyer says he never receives item (yet postal records confirm delivery).
    >> Buyer doesn’t purchase insurance (and experiences a problem).
    >> Buyer pays late or doesn’t pay at all.
    >> Buyer has a bad day.

    Could eBay be held liable for secondary defamation? eBay attorneys should take another look at possible legal ramifications of the feedback changes. A cyber attorney should look under federal law (the Communications Decency Act) as it may be possible that if eBay censors feedback, eBay may be legally responsible for remarks that members post.

  • Can I sue the people who didn’t leave me feedback at all?

  • JD

    In response to Piper’s post #22: It’s interesting how most of the “problem buyers” sellers are complaining about are turning out to be other sellers. I’ve seen this on the eBay discussion boards too. Someone complains about a buyer and more often than not, the troublesome buyer is a seller, either a competitor or someone who just wanted the item as a one-off to sell and wants to weasel out of paying for it.

    Regular ol’ buyers, people who want to buy something for no other reason than to buy and keep it, are the ones being scared off by unethical seller tactics such as this lawsuit. Good luck to eBay trying to control the problem, because it’s been out of control for too long.

  • ebayscam

    I have just been threatened by an ebay seller that they are suing me “for thousands of dollars,” after leaving TRUTHFUL negative feedback. Here's the story, I was interested in an item, but the shipping was ridiculously high, so before I bid, I requested a cheaper shipping, so the seller offered a cheaper shipping that was satisfactory for me, so I made an offer. The offers and counteroffers went back and forth until we agreed on a price. So when I won, she did not adjust the shipping amount. That's happened before, no big deal, so I asked the seller to adjust the previously agreed upon shipping amount. She refused, so I offered that she could relist the item because of an apparent misunderstanding, but she would not have that either. So I went ahead with the purchase, and to make matters worse the item was flawed. I was still just going to deal with it and just attempt to resell them. But when it came time to leave feedback, I was going to just leave negative feedback, but the ebay feedback site suggests attempting to give the seller an opportunity to make it right first. I thought that was fair. When I contacted the seller, she accused me of lying about the flawed item saying that I was just being difficult because of the whole shipping ordeal. She was very rude and refused to make it right so I filed a complaint through paypal. They ruled in her favor, but I believe it was because it was passed her return time. Regardless of their decision, I still left true negative feedback, describing in truth how the sellers item was and how she treated me. Not to mention that she in the past had also had very bad dealings with other members of ebay. My feedback percentage is 100% and the other members also have very good feedback scores, but this woman is a scam. The same woman accusing to sue me had purchased an item from another ebay member, and for whatever reason wanted to return it, and when she did she returned an empty container. But she got her money back because she printed out a paypal shipping return making it look as if she returned the product. This woman is obviously dishonest and is really going to make people think twice before making purchases from ebay. Who would want to risk purchasing something and then if they are dissatisfied and leave truthful feedback so other people are warned, could have a lawsuit on their hands? I have bought a lot from ebay and everything has always been perfect. I have NEVER dealt with someone like her on ebay, or anywhere else for that matter. So much for the protection and security offered by ebay and paypal.

    • this usually only happens when you infuriate the seller with cheap offers and try to get cheap unsafe shipping, then later blame us for shipping damage and pick our flaws of the item you got 90% off new retail. clearly you did that. your a problem and we wish ebay would not send us buyers like you. we make no money and look you cause problems and then ruin our ratings.
      your the zero, we like dealing with 10s. people with money, and people who do not scrape down the deal than complain and get us in trouble. you will not find sellers anywhere happy to deal with you. we need to be able to leave feedback to warn sellers about you…….. so we can refuse your offers and send you to someone else.

      • scamnerd

        Hmm…Laine Law certainly jumped to conclusions that ebayscam was the scammer. Possibly Laine IS the same scammer, as she started tossing accusations right out of the “box.”

        My friends own an ebay store and they have scammers every now and then. One woman bought a pair of almost new shoes and returned them with complaints that they were pinching. What returned were the same version of the shoes, but about 10 years older and literally falling apart. She insisted that these were the same exact pair of shoes and that was the state they arrived in and of course got all huffy about negative feedback. Clearly she was a scamming artist, and my friend had to swallow the crap to avoid negative feedback because he said it’s not worth it to deal with the scammers. I’ve had sellers literally take my money and disappear. They had good reviews until she took everyone’s money for a month, made excuses about delays in the Mary Kay, and then left ebay with everyone’s money. So I filed an FBI complaint about her mail and wire fraud, which is a Federal crime. I also hunted her down on the interner using her username, found her PO Box and then found all the other businesses she started under her and her husband’s name and filed Better Business Bureau complaints about her for every dba she had. Didn’t get my money back, but it made me feel a whole lot better. Don’t ever screw over a computer nerd.

  • Carl

    I was threatened with ebay when some buyer left me feedback without a reason (NEGATIVE!)

    I was shocked. First time in my life. Anyway I get great handbook called Negative feedback destroyer or something like that, and there was no problem at all.