In September 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, our three-year-old granddaughter was newly enrolled in an area daycare. After five days, my daughter withdrew her.
Despite the daycare’s claims that they were observing the highest standards of precautions, the staff in direct contact with the children wore face shields rather than face masks and discouraged the children from wearing masks, a requirement at other daycare centers. Furthermore, in clear view of the drop-off location, staff could be seen inside in a common break area mingling with one another—maskless.
My daughter, a nurse, who had just completed a three-month rotation in the ICU where multiple deaths were a daily occurrence, was aghast.
I was outraged. Of course, I am always outraged.
When my daughter attempted to recover the $1,900 in various pre-enrollment fees, the daycare replied, “While we value your input,” after which they proceeded to cite their guidebook’s gobbledygook and refunded only half the fees.
And they defended their non-face mask practice.
When we complained to the state office governing daycare centers, they sent an investigator. By then, staff were all wearing masks.
At the advice of a lawyer friend, we sent a letter, by certified mail, to the daycare detailing the unsafe conditions and, again, requesting a full refund. The letter was never picked up at the post office, and was returned to us four months later.
Now, I am not the litigious sort. However, 45 years ago, when we bought our first house, I did go to small claims court over a leaky water tank. The contract stipulated that all utilities would be in working order.
After receiving the court directive to pay up, the seller wrote, “Let us put an end to this protracted affair,” and offered half the cost of replacing the tank.
The words “protracted affair” rankled then, and still rankle. I contacted the constable, who visited the seller’s place of employment, and returned with a check.
So, decades later, we re-entered the world of small claims to recover a sum too insignificant to justify using a lawyer.
Shortly after filing suit, we received not only an acknowledgment from the small claims court but also a letter from The People’s Court! Someone there must monitor cases, and decided this one had the poignancy so essential to the appeal of daytime TV. They offered an attractive “appearance fee” and warned: “up to 80% of plaintiffs never receive their money.”
Unfortunately, family modesty led to declining the offer of stardom.
In August 2021, the court date finally came around—via Zoom. It began with an hourlong lecture by the judge on the rules regarding small claims. I can only speculate about his frustration at not having the opportunity to address prestigious symposia at Harvard Law.
After the judge’s eternal preamble, our case was called. The daycare center was not present, and the case was decided against them by default.
Time to celebrate? No. Time to figure out how to collect.
We called the daycare center about paying up. The owner said, “I’m putting the check in the mail.”
A week later we called again and were told that the owner was “in a meeting” but would call back.
Both responses seemed like the buildup for some really funny joke. Neither the punchline nor the check ever arrived.
Next, we contacted the court officer, whose role is to actually collect the money. However, we needed to know where the daycare center kept its cash. Fortuitously, a friend mentioned how he once brought suit and was able to refer to a check that he had previously received from the defendant.
Fortunately, we still had a copy of the partial refund check. We passed on the bank’s name and account number to the court officer.
Months passed. We were cautioned by the court officer that the daycare might have moved their bank out of state, where it would be untouchable. As an alternative, if we could find a vehicle belonging to the daycare center, we could seize it in lieu of payment. I envisioned being arrested for lurking around the daycare parking lot, suspiciously inspecting cars.
Finally, the court officer found the bank account and, indeed, the check was in the mail. It arrived in May 2022, almost two years after the process had begun. For disdaining the legal process, the defendant ended up paying our filing fees. For the check not being in the mail and the phone call not being returned, they had to pay $100 to the court officer for recovering the funds.
Perhaps the wheels of justice grind slowly, and perhaps justice delayed is justice denied. But perhaps another cliché about patience (or pigheadedness) being rewarded was sufficient consolation for almost two years of legal hassle.