Could Student's Facebook Page Topple a Towing Company?

A Michigan business is learning the hard way that one simple Facebook page can pack a whole lot of punch.

Since January, a Facebook page created by a Western Michigan University student for Kalamazoo residents to complain about a local towing company has swelled to more than 12,000 members. Now, the company, T & J Towing, is suing the student for $750,000, saying the "libelous and slanderous" site is causing it to lose income.

Justin Kurtz, the 21-year-old student who launched the site, said it all started back in January, when T & J Towing hauled away his car from his apartment building's parking lot, claiming that he didn't have a parking permit.

But claiming that the company scraped off the parking sticker so that he would have to pay $118 to retrieve the impounded car, he said he complained to his building's management and then to the police.

He said he showed the police a portion of the sticker still in his windshield and explained that his parking permit came with his apartment.

After trying to work with the company with little success, he decided to turn to Facebook, creating a page that says it's, "For every resident who was legitimately parked where they are supposed to be but were still towed by this company."

"It's social media," he said. "I could invite my friends, who would hopefully invite their friends, to see if there's more evidence of this happening to other people."

Towing Company: Kurtz's Allegations Are Untrue, Without Merit

Within two days, he said, about 800 people joined his page, "Kalamazoo Residents against T & J Towing."

As more and more local news outlets covered the story, he said, the membership continued to climb.

From the comments left on the page, Kurtz said, he doesn't think he's the only one who has had problems with the company.

"I was just the first one to get enough attention to do something about it," he said.

But in a lawsuit, Joseph Bird, owner of T & J Towing, said Kurtz has "made his crusade to post verbal and written claims and misuse of the Internet with allegations that are untrue and/or dishonest and without merit."

The lawsuit, filed in April, requests that Kurtz pay T & J Towing $750,000 in lost income and "immediately cease and desist any further libelous and slanderous written claims."

Student Files Countersuit, Claiming Company Is Violation Consumer Protection Act

Richard Burnham, Bird's attorney, told that T & J had lost a "substantial" number of clients.

"Mr. Kurtz made false accusations. We towed his car for a violation and he claims falsely that we tampered with his car to put him in violation and that's just not the case," Burnham said. "We've lost 10 to 15 good clients that we used to tow for as a result of his false accusations."

He said that while it's difficult to project future earnings, he estimated that the company would lose about $750,000 because of Kurtz's Facebook page.

Burnham added that it didn't matter that Kurtz is a college student with an $8.75-an-hour part-time job.

"It's got nothing to do with his ability to repay us," he said. "The genie's out of the bottle now. That's the problem. We'd like at least the court to request that he cease with his false accusations."

Burnham said the court should recognize the financial loss, so that if Kurtz could pay in the future, T & J could recoup lost income.

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