Judge bars tree-removal company accused of price gouging from collecting fees

Judge bars tree-removal company accused of price gouging from collecting fees
Lee County officials want to remind residents to cut down trees to 6 feet or less for them to be picked up. (Source: WALB)

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - A Superior Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction against an out-of-state tree removal company which keeps the owners from operating in North Carolina and collecting exorbitant fees they charged victims in Castle Hayne in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

“This out-of-state operator tried to rip off North Carolinians coping with the devastating effects of Hurricane Florence,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “I’m grateful that the court has blocked them from taking advantage of any other North Carolinians as we continue this case. My office will not stand for anyone who preys on the misfortune of others in violation of our state’s price gouging statute.”

Stein announced that his office had filed a lawsuit against Scotts Tree Service and its owners, Scott Lacey and Randy Shannon, during an October stop in Wilmington. The judge’s order will remain in place until the trial, according to Stein.

Homeowners from Castle Hayne testified that the company billed them $14,500 to remove two fallen trees without first discussing or getting an agreement on the price. The homeowners also testified that the work took approximately an hour and involved eight employees, which comes to more than $1,800 per man-hour. Lacey testified that he pays his employees around $30 to $60 per hour.

The homeowners further testified that Scotts Tree Service had one of the homeowners sign a statement of work to be done and later filled in the document with the $14,500 price, which the homeowner had not agreed to. After the homeowner refused to pay, the company sent the invoice to a bill collector, Goldberg & Donovan, Inc., a Massachusetts-based company. Earlier this year, a judge granted an injunction against Goldberg & Donovan, barring them from doing business in North Carolina.

Stein said his office will seek a permanent injunction against Scotts Tree Service to keep the company from doing tree work in North Carolina, along with restitution for victims, civil penalties, attorney fees, and other relief.

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