One of the pleasures of being a practicing lawyer is the ability to take an informed stand against the daily injustices of life. Imagine the assured self-sufficiency that Ben Edelman, a Harvard Business school professor and licensed J.D., must have felt when he threatened his local Chinese restaurant with legal action himself over the money they overcharged him one December night – which came out to $4.00. Four dollars. Four.
As Boston.com narrates through the email exchange between the two parties in this dispute, Edelman has been on the warpath against Sichuan Garden owner Ran Duan since December 5th, when he ordered four items off of their online takeout menu. (For those who believe that you are what you eat: he ordered shredded and stir-fried chicken, plus braised fish with cabbage and and chili. We’ll leave the analysis to you.) When Edelmen contacted the restaurant, he noted the discrepancy between the online menu’s listed prices and the amount he was charged upon arrival; doing the math, it looks like that discrepancy divides down to an extra dollar per order. Edelman takes this analytical step as well, painstakingly detailing the cold hard numbers in his first email complaint. When Mr. Duan apologized for the mistake and offered a refund for the difference, Mr. Edelman responded that that just wasn’t good enough – or, to put it in the context of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute, which the professor invoked, he suggested that “the Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of the overcharge [as] the tripling reflects the approach provided under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for certain potential violations.” To translate the heady legalese (can you tell he’s a lawyer??!), he asked for $12.00 back for the original “violation” of $4.00, paid either to his credit card or via mailed check.
But Edelman’s sense of public justice, honed from his undergraduate career at Harvard University and post-graduate education at Harvard Law School, didn’t let him stop there. Indeed, he demanded that Sichuan Garden hold itself accountable for all the other customers it had intentionally misled via its fraudulent online menu, and urged Mr. Duan to refund past customers in addition to himself. In order to provide an incentive, Edelman apparently contacted the “applicable authorities” to speed along the process. Shockingly, the authorities didn’t seem to see this as a legitimate problem. Nonetheless, Ben Edelman somehow managed to swing a 50% refund for his order from Mr. Duan, probably more due to the sheer volume of his emails than any sort of logical basis to his tirade. The half-refund resolution was suggested by Edelman himself, as “appropriate thanks for my bringing this matter to your attention.” Just. No.
It’s not all losing-our-faith-in-humanity news, though! The public, too, is clamoring out against this injustice, but not quite in the way that Professor Edelman would expect. Not one, but two gofundmes have already raised a total of $90 in support of Sichuan Garden: that’s about 22 times the original $4 that started this saga. The positive Yelp reviews for the restaurant have also exploded in the past couple of days, making this whole battle of wills a boon for Sichuan Garden. And in a final delicious turn of the screw, it turns out that this HLS grad may have gotten the law wrong. Mmmm, taste that karma.
Readers interested in starting a third gofundme to support the ongoing media coverage of the dispute, including any and all potential courtroom transcripts, can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. While we wait for further updates, let’s reflect on how wonderful it is to see the best legal minds of our country putting their hard-won education and degrees to the benefit of the American public. Thank you, Ben Edelman.*
In the end, Ran Duan put it best in his 7th or 8th email to the professor: “You seem like a smart man, but is this really worth your time?”
*As of yesterday, Edelman has posted for his less-than-admirable emails on his blog. Looks like someone has been reflecting.
Photo via Bostonglobe.com