AG sues local snow/lawn companies

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published January 23, 2024

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently filed a lawsuit against businesses with local ties.

The lawsuit was filed in Oakland County’s 6th Circuit Court and seeks to prohibit John and Michele Church from incorporating, operating or working for any business offering snow removal, lawn care or landscaping services, the release states.

According to the claims in the lawsuit, the Churches and their business entities repeatedly and knowingly violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and a previously established Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement reached to settle previous consumer claims mediated by the Department of Attorney General.

“John and Michele Church own and operate the several incorporated business entities,” including Metro Mow ‘N Snow LLC, The Snow Guys Inc., and John Church’s Snow Service Inc., the release states. “The pair also operate the several non-incorporated business entities Farmington Mow ‘N Snow, Snow Guy Enterprises, Titan Seasonal Services, Friendly Neighborhood Lawn Service, Friendly Lawn Care, Friendly Lawn & Snow, Lawn & Snow King, Greenkeepers Lawn & Landscape, North Star, BlueJay Outdoor Services, and Mike’s Best.”

The businesses have offered residential snow removal, lawn care and landscaping services in the Detroit area for over two decades, according to the release.

The DAG has received more than 200 consumer complaints pertaining to the businesses dating back to 2010, with unlawful business practices being alleged.

A formal investigation was initiated in 2017 that resulted in an AVC being filed in 2018.

According to the release, the Churches agreed to cease unfair or deceptive business practices, to not create any new same-service entities without notifying the DAG, to pay a $15,000 fine, to compensate any affected customers, and to compensate the DAG for investigative costs.

The lawsuit states that “the Church defendants resumed abusing their customers and violating the MCPA almost immediately,” according to the release.

“Complaints resumed to both the DAG and the Better Business Bureau, citing alleged conduct that violates both the AVC and the MCPA,” the release states. “The lawsuit claims civil violations including breach of contract, continuing to engage in unfair and deceptive business practices, failing to fulfill refund requests, grossly misrepresenting the scope and quality of work being offered, and misleading consumers as to their legal rights to post and publish honest reviews of, and file complaints about, the services and conduct of the defendants.”

The Federal Consumer Review Fairness Act ensures the legal right of consumers to publish and post reviews of goods and services provided by businesses, according to the release. The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that various iterations of the contracts the Churches’ businesses required customers to sign included a non-disparagement clause that served to confuse consumers about their rights to take action, to caution other consumers or to complain to regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Attorney General, if such complaints and reviews could harm the reputation of the business.

Doing so constitutes an illegal violation of the MCPA, according to the release.

“Michigan consumers have the right to freely, fairly, and publicly post reviews of goods and services they’ve purchased,” Nessel stated in the release. “Businesses in this state cannot insulate themselves from honest customer reviews by simply inserting deceptive language into their contracts. Illegal and unfair business practices will not be tolerated, and often the best way to stop these harms is to speak up; to tell your community and other potential customers how you have been treated. My department remains committed to defending consumers and their rights, and we will continue our vigorous advocacy for their protections under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.”

The release provided details as to the outcome Nessel is aiming for.

“The Attorney General seeks as relief injunctions against the Churches and their several businesses, prohibiting them from operating in the snow removal, lawn care and landscaping sector, immediate fulfillment or refunds pertaining to outstanding consumer contracts, treble money damages to select and similarly situated customers, entrance of an order declaring (the) defendants unlawfully violated the MCPA, civil fines for knowing and repeated violation of the MCPA, entrance of an order striking non-disparagement clauses in any contracts held between defendants and consumers, an award of investigative and litigation costs incurred by the DAG, and the dissolution of Metro Mow ‘N Snow, LLC and all LLCs owned and operated by the Churches related to snow removal, lawn care, and landscaping,” the release states.

No attorney was listed for John and Michele Church. When reached by phone, John Church declined to comment.

Michigan consumers who suspect they are the victims of illegal or predatory business practices are encouraged to contact the Department of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team at (877) 765-8388.