Fourth Complaint Filed Against School District Alleges Defamation, Breach of Contract

MT. CLEMENS, Mich. – A company hired to investigate the existence of mold and make recommendations for remediation and renovation at a Michigan school has charged the school district, its legal counsel, and other individual defendants with breach of conduct and defamation. Wonder Makers Environmental, Inc. and Dr. Michael Pinto v. Romeo Community Schools, a/k/a Romeo School District, et al., No. 02-1017-CK (Mich. Cir. Ct., Macomb Cty.).

The March 4 lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court represents the fourth in a series of complaints filed by separate parties against Romeo Community School District, all stemming from the discovery of mold and the resultant clean up operations at Washington Elementary School.

In the complaint, Wonder Makers charges the school district with breach of contract due to nonpayment of a $90,125 outstanding balance. Wonder Makers also charges individual defendants with defamation due to allegedly false statements made to such publications as The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, The Romeo Observer and Macomb Daily.

This is the only one of the four cases to involve defamation allegations. Two of the other cases, filed Jan. 25 and Dec. 20, also involve the alleged nonpayment of contractors. Those cases are Statewide Disaster Restoration, Inc. v. The Romeo Community Schools District, No. 02-408-CK (Mich. Cir. Ct., Macomb Cty.); Dennis Schutte v. Romeo Community School District, No. 01-5510-CK (Mich. Cir. Ct., Macomb Cty.).

The third lawsuit was filed Jan. 3 by Meagan Allen, a student claiming that she suffered injuries because the district did not remedy the existence of ‘hazardous mold’ at Washington Elementary School in a timely manner. Meagan Allen, a minor, by her Next Friend, Garth Allen v. Romeo Community School District, No. 02-25-NI (Mich. Cir. Ct., Macomb Cty.).

Wonder Makers v. Romeo

According to the most recent complaint, Wonder Makers was first contacted April 19, 2001, by a representative of Romeo Public Schools regarding possible environmental problems at one of the district’s elementary schools.

As described in the complaint, from the date of that telephone conversation through early October 2001, Wonder Makers conducted walk-throughs and visual inspections, collected samples for air quality testing, conducted post-cleaning inspections, made recommendations regarding remediation procedures, attended stake holders’ meetings, communicated ‘specific prices for billing of different work activities’ via letter, submitted and received signed work proposals, and carried out ‘various remediation and management activities.’

These activities are described in the complaint as being carried out not only at Washington Elementary School, but also at other area schools, portable classrooms and semi-trailers being used for storage. According to the complaint, schools where Wonder Makers performed testing or other activities include: Hamilton-Parsons Elementary School, Indian Hills School, Crosswell Elementary, Amanda Moore Elementary School, Romeo Middle School, and Powell Middle School.

Wonder Makers allegedly discovered several issues impacting air quality at Washington Elementary School, including ‘visual fungal growth, leaking roof drains, water stained materials, operative exhaust, inadequate ventilation, and lack of fresh air for some rooms.’ According to the complaint, Stachybotrys mold was also discovered at Crosswell Elementary.

During a July 27, 2001, walk-through of Washington Elementary, Wonder Makers also expressed concern to district representatives about remediation efforts being conducted at that location. According to the complaint, ‘uncontrolled demolition that took place at the school during July 2001…changed the entire school environment impacting the indoor air-quality.’

According to the complaint, Wonder Makers attended a school board meeting Sept. 10, 2001 to provide an update of the mold-related work in the district. The complaint also states that during the months of September and October 2001, Wonder Makers was in contact with the school district’s attorney, Frank L. Andrews of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone in Detroit, regarding the remediation activities.

As of Oct. 4, 2001 when the last samples were collected at one of the warehouses, the outstanding balance alleged to be owed by the school district was $90,125. The first four counts in the complaint, for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit concern the demand for this payment.

The remaining six counts allege defamation, defamation per se and false light allegations against the following individual defendants: legal counsel Frank Andrews; superintendent John Kingsnorth; trustee Linda Southby; Kenneth Hergenrader of Industrial Health Associates, Inc.; Dennis Patrick of The Traverse Group, Inc.; and Gene Tironi of Nth Consultants, Ltd.

According to the complaint, during and after Wonder Makers’ activities on behalf of the school district, the above defendants defamed and put in false light Wonder Makers’ reputation and business.

On Jan. 14, Wonder Makers sent letters to the defendants outlining the statements in question and requesting that they retract them to avoid litigation. As of March 4, Wonder Makers alleges in the complaint that no such retractions have been received.

Examples of defamatory statements described in the complaint include: that Wonder Makers misled the parents and public concerning their activities; that Wonder Makers ‘suppressed and/or misrepresented sampling data’ to imply that conditions were more severe than what actually existed; that Wonder Makers’ invoices ‘lack meaningful detail;’ that Wonder Makers ‘created additional tasks to perform’ without authorization; that it was ‘ridiculous’ for Wonder Makers to require workers to wear ‘dust suits’ and put up plastic barriers; that Wonder Makers’ data did not support the existence of a mold problem; and that Wonder Makers ‘greatly over-stated the mold issues at Washington Elementary, which lead [sic] to expensive measures being proposed that had little, if any, substantive value to the building occupants.’

Wonder Makers is represented by Norman A. Yatooma and Elias Muawad of Norman Yatooma & Associates in Birmingham, Mich.

For more information on Statewide, please see ‘Third Lawsuit Filed Against Romeo Community School District Due to Mold at Washington Elementary School’ on page 21 of the March 2002 issue of COLUMNS-Mold.

For more information on Shutte, please see ‘Discovery of Mold in Elementary School Halts Repairs and Leaves Contractors Unpaid: Suite Filed’ on page 22 of the February 2002 2002 issue of COLUMNS-Mold.

For more information on Allen, please see ‘Elementary School Student Sues Michigan School District Over Mold Exposure’ on page 21 of the February 2002 issue of COLUMNS-Mold.

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