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Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Was There an Agreement to Increased Pay?

(based on ruling 75039 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) helps clients receive mortgages. The defendant (=def), owner of a building company which cooperated with pl, used his services personally, and they agreed on a payment of 1% of the loan def sought (2.5 million shekels) if successful. According to pl, when the task proved to be particularly difficult, def agreed that he would pay an additional 25,000 shekel if successful, which they were. Def gave pl two checks of 25,000 shekels. One was used, and the other did not clear the bank because of a mistake in its date. Def denied agreeing to a second payment and said the second check was written on behalf of a client for a mortgage that did not materialize.    


Ruling: The second check, including its sum, certainly fits well with pl’s claim. Def’s explanation of that check is illogical and totally counterintuitive. Pl also presented videos of conversations with def which corroborate his claim, including showing discussions about rewriting the second check due to its mistake. The replacement check was written with an irregular initialing of yet another mistake, and def claims it was a forgery. However, there are several indications that this was a contrived claim. In their summary of claims, def did not even bother to respond to the evidence in the videotapes against him.

The Rosh (Shut 107:6) rules that when a litigant refuses to produce relevant materials or to give coherent answers to critical question, a dayan mumcheh (seasoned) can rule based on his strong impression that this represents proof that he is withholding incriminating information. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 15:4) accepts this in the case of a mumcheh who is singular in his generation. However, in our case, we will rule based on our overwhelming impression that def knows he owes the money based on the following two factors: 1) the parties signed our arbitration agreement, and our publicized policy is that we are authorized to rule based on very clear impressions. 2) the strong circumstantial evidence, including videotapes.

Def claims that even if he originally owed the extra money, he has an offsetting claim since he let pl keep a sign publicizing its business on def’s property. Def contradicted himself on whether he had explicitly demanded compensation for it at the time of the display, and a witness that def brought, when claiming that he made demands on def’s behalf against pl, implied that no claims were raised at the time in regard to the signs. Therefore, beit din rejects the offsetting claim.

The general policy of halacha and thus of our beit din is that litigants each pay their own legal expenses and share the beit din fee. The exception is when beit din has evidence that one side acted in bad faith, e.g., when they must have been clearly aware they were wrong. Ours is a classic case of that phenomenon. Therefore, def must pay 15,000 shekels for the expenses he caused pl in the adjudication, including lawyer’s fees, court fees in previous rounds of adjudication before coming to our beit din, time pl had to take off from work for adjudication, and the beit din fee.

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