Specificity Abounds, Vagueness in The Wrong Key Place

I got a call from a forwarder friend of mine. They’re the kind of forwarder that I love: provides lots of detail, gets all the information to us up front, sends advanced costs without question, but most importantly, understands when a matter is a good one, and when one is futile.

Here was a case where the creditor, a custom office furniture company, which I will refer to as “The Downton Company”, had hundreds of pages of documentation with their customer, “E.S. Industries”. They proposals with email correspondence between the Downton and several different employees at E.S., signed agreements with the Director of Operations, custom design measurements, checks paid for deposits, change order requests, change order proposals, signed change order authorizations, delivery addresses, signed proof of delivery, and even, (get this!), photographs of the delivered and installed furniture. There was even a signed personal guarantee by the president of E.S.!

Sadly, E.S. Industries went out of business, and left a sizeable unpaid balance.

An investigation to the physical location where the furniture was delivered, showed that E.S. was no longer operating, and the premises were vacant. Calls to the business phone number were no good. Calls to the cell phone numbers of the various employees of E.S. were fruitless, as the numbers had been re-assigned to unrelated parties.

So, one would think (and I would agree!) that one would have a good case against the guarantor. Right? Right! Except the guarantor’s name was “Elizabeth Smith”.

Despite the voluminous documentation, Downton did not have any date of birth, social security number, or home address for Elizabeth Smith. Thus, began our search!

Maybe it was the Liz Smith, the editor of “Cosmopolitan” magazine? Or Elizabeth Smith who appeared in the 70’s TV shows “Magnum P.I.” and “Hawaii 5-0”? Or the Elizabeth Smith who starred in dozens of Scottish television shows? There’s also a Scottish Parliament Member named Elizabeth Smith! How about the Canadian Soccer player Liz Smith? OoO, there’s a Elizabeth Smith who is a Board Member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center! How about the Elizabeth Smith who was the curator of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art? Oh, I had a professor in college named Liz Smith! Maybe it was one of the 47 Elizabeth Smiths who live in New York City? I have five people named Elizabeth Smith, who share a “Mutual Friend” with me on Facebook! Or maybe it was Cynthia Watros, playing Elizabeth Smith on the television show, “Lost”?

Or, maybe this was just one of those cases where the forwarder had to know was futile.

Timothy Wan is the Senior Partner of the firm Smith Carroad Wan & Parikh, in Smithtown, New York, can be reached at twan@smithcarroad.com, and admits that the guarantor wasn’t actually named “Elizabeth Smith”. But was named something nearly as common.