Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Palmer, Reiffler & Associates

Palmer, Reiffler is a Florida firm that specializes in sending civil demand letters to those accused of shoplifting. The idea is that the store has suffered damages due to the crime, even if the goods are returned undamaged. In my view these demand letters, while legal under PC § 490.5, are also empty threats, as no action is ever taken on the demand. Moreover they are deceptive as the letters arrive in the context of a criminal prosecution and many people pay thinking Palmer, Reiffler is working for the DA. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, paying a civil demand has no effect whatsoever on a criminal prosecution.

I posted my views in a legal guide on Avvo, the lawyer guide (another scam which will be subject of a later post). Natt Reiffler contacted me by e-mail to protest, portraying his firms efforts as legal and accomplishing a social good. I responded and asked for some documentation, some of which was provided. Most importantly I asked whether Palmer, Reiffler had ever filed suit in CA and for identifying case numbers if they had. To this question I got NO response so it is safe to say the letters threaten action that will never and has never been taken.

The rest of the documents concerned Attorney General opinions in CA about the practice, stating generally that they are legal. I never disputed that point so the documents do not refute my position. The other document was an order on a motion for summary judgment in a class action suit against Palmer, Reiffler. No details are given and it is thus impossible to tell what propositions this order stands for, if any.

Nonetheless, I told Natt I would print his response and here it is:

"Thank you for your comments and agreeing to post this reply on the Avvo site below your comments. Litigation is a choice for clients on a case by case and state by state basis. You clearly have a choice when advising your clients about what retailers may choose to do in the future. However, in light of our ever changing economy and the over 15 billion dollars estimated to result from theft in the US annually, the phrase often used by stockbrokerages about how “past performance should not be considered an indicator of future performance” seems in my opinion worthy of consideration.

I have enclosed the two Attorney General opinions as well as the order granting our firm summary judgment against the plaintiffs in the suit your referenced. Our letters use cautionary language and as expressed earlier, I disagree with your characterization of them. While you have every right under the 1st Amendment to express your opinion regarding what they mean or the context of the letters, I would ask that you use greater care in choosing your words characterizing the letters. Looking at the overall context and in light of the Attorney General’s 1979 Opinion, I respectfully disagree with you. A civil “penalty” release is offered in exchange for a voluntary payment of statutory civil damages. There is no intent to confuse and the letters are clear that the requested payment only resolves a potential statutory civil claim. We can’t change that the civil remedy in California happens to exist in the Penal Code. My preference would have been for the civil remedy to be codified in the civil law.

Once again I reiterate in response to your statement about our letters that you published on the Avvo website; “It will be very demanding, threatening lawsuits and wage garnishments”, there are no letters that threaten wage garnishments!

Natt O. Reifler"

If you think that response justifies preying on poor people who fear their liberty will be lost I'd like to hear from you. I'm not persuaded.


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