HOPE for NH files suit against Facebook for withholding $12K in donations

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HOPE for NH, a community recovery center, on Wilson Street. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery, is taking on a juggernaut in suing Facebook, accusing the social media platform of violating the state’s Consumer Protection and Unfair Business Practices law.

The lawsuit filed April 20, 2021, by Friends of Recovery, New Hampshire, in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District, stemmed from contributions made to the 293 Wilson St. non-profit using the donation button on its Facebook page.  While the non-profit ultimately received the $12,116.34 in contributions, it argues that Facebook used unfair, false and deceptive conduct in withholding funds beginning in December 2018, and that it then failed and refused to transfer the funds despite more than 30 attempts by HOPE over six months.  The funds were only released, according to HOPE, after it filed the lawsuit.

Facebook is asking the court to dismiss the case, saying ultimately HOPE received every penny of the $12,116.34 but yet it filed suit for “purposes of seeking additional sums, including attorneys’ fees.” 

If it is to continue, Facebook wants the case heard in California, where the company is located, citing its Terms of Service contract that requires any claim arising out of or relating to use of Facebook products must “be resolved exclusively in federal or state courts in California.”

Facebook, in court documents filed by attorneys Gary M. Burt and Doreen F. Connor, said that HOPE agreed to those terms on at least seven occasions — each time clicking “Confirm” or “Accept and Submit” to communicate its assent – including every one of the six times HOPE paid for advertising on Facebook, beginning in 2015.

Facebook held for over a year more than $12,000 in donations made to HOPE for NH Recovery via their social media platform.

In 2017, HOPE added the donation button to its Facebook page.  Facebook would notify HOPE of a donation and transfer the funds to HOPE’s bank account.

Over the years, HOPE sporadically received small donations through that portal with the funds sent to its bank account at TD Bank in Manchester 

HOPE, which is located in a former furniture store, became the target of vandals in the summer of 2020 when someone threw a rock through one of its windows.  HOPE replaced it at a cost of $3,870 but then someone decided to break it again, and other windows as well.  HOPE installed a security system costing $2,801.98 but again the windows were broken.

According to the lawsuit, the broken windows were an eyesore, so HOPE hired an architect to redesign the windows to make them less inviting. The total cost for the redesign and replacement of windows was nearly $50,000.

At the time, HOPE did not realize substantial contributions were being made through the Facebook portal to help defray the cost.

HOPE Operations manager Karla Gallagher learned about the donations and discovered that no funds had been transferred to the non-profit since the end of 2018. She contacted Facebook numerous times between Aug. 24, 2020, through February 8, 2021, and while she was told they were investigating, nothing happened.

In January, Gallagher opened a case with the Better Business Bureau. Facebook responded asking for a form to be filled out and then someone from the Facebook team would be able to help.

After receiving the email, the Better Business Bureau closed its case.  Gallagher filled out the required information once again and then received an automated response informing her a longer-than-normal wait time might delay a further response.

That is when HOPE’s attorney, David P. Slawsky, got involved, sending an email and letter to Facebook. He received an automated response warning that, “We will not respond to your request if you are not a member of a law enforcement agency or an attorney representing a third party.”   

Slawsky and Keith Howard, HOPE executive director, also tried calling Facebook on a telephone number identified as its Filing Facebook Payments Inc. made with the New Hampshire Secretary of State.  A voice message said: “You have reached a non-working number at Paul Hastings.  If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try again.”

HOPE believes the reference is to Paul Hastings, a large corporate law firm that advertises its “innovative approach and unmatched client service have helped guide our journey to becoming one of the world’s leading global law firms in such a short time.”

After months of trying to get the funds, HOPE filed a lawsuit on March 3, 2021.  Facebook was served on Friday, March 12, 2021.  Five days later, Facebook transferred $12,116.34 to HOPE’S bank account.

HOPE, however, is continuing with a lawsuit maintaining Facebook violated the state’s Consumer Protection/Unfair Business Practice Act and should be subject to its penalty provisions requiring it to pay two or three times the amount of money withheld in addition to costs and attorneys’ fees.