First-Day-of-Spring CUP O’ JOE here! This week, we will be studying a case involving a courtroom battle in Peekskill, New York, between an Empowerment Coach and a Yoga Instructor.
Peekskill in the Spring is very pretty – transcendental, even. The name Peekskill comes from a combination of the surname of an early resident (and successful merchant,) Jan Peeck, and the Dutch word for stream, kill: Peekskill.
In 1609, when Henry Hudson anchored the Half Moon on the banks of the Hudson River at Peekskill, his first mate noted in the ship's log that it was a "very pleasant place to build a town." Little did the mate know how right he was and that Peekskill would eventually be just an hour train ride south to New York City, the capital of the world, and just a 3½-hour drive up to Syracuse, where you’ll soon get to see the New Carrier Dome, after passing the Tully exit and just before the Onondaga Nation coming north on Route 81. (I will miss the old Dome: When that white, teflon bubble sitting high above Central New York came into view, you knew you were close to a great game, great food, and an ice cold Southern Tier beer – on tap.).
Sorry. This is a case about the burst bubble of an agreement – a breach of contract. We have here a legal disagreement between two professionals who agreed to payment in trade – I coach you; you give me yoga lessons. Deal.
Linnea Wexler, an internationally trained Master Certified Life Coach
Jennifer Marvin, a trained Certified Yoga Instructor
They knew each other: Jennifer had been in Alcoholics Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous for approximately 27 years. Linnea was Jennifer’s AA sponsor.
In December, Linnea (Coach) and Jennifer (Yoga), entered into a Coaching Sessions Agreement. Linnea agreed to provide Jennifer a minimum of 10 hours of life coaching techniques and counseling in exchange for Jennifer providing 40 hours of pre-and post-natal yoga sessions to Linnea. Linnea claimed that she provided Jennifer with 10 hours of coaching sessions pursuant to the Contract, but Jennifer failed to provide Linnea with 40 hours of yoga sessions after repeated requests to do so. Linnea sued Jennifer. This is their trial:
TESTIMONY OF LINNEA (COACH)
Q. What is your business?
A. I am a Personal Development and Life Coach specializing in profound healing, emotional wellness, relationships and personal empowerment.
Q. And you provided services to Jennifer?
A. I did.
Q. And what were those services?
A. Basically, Jennifer’s sessions consisted of reviewing the mindset; tracking money with homework and tasking; submitting income and expenses to me for review; thinking sessions to find and clear out blocks; smart planning and goal setting; and teaching techniques to help remove pain from the body.
A. Yeah, Jennifer had injured her cervical and lumbar spine in a car accident in January.
Q. How many hours of service did you provide?
A. Ten hours, as per our agreement.
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF LINNEA
Q. Now you do not have any state or governmental licenses or certifications approving the services you perform in your business?
A. No. I don’t.
Q. Okay. And you hold yourself out as a Master Certified Coach, a Master Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a Master Certified Practitioner of Time Line Therapy, and a Master Certified Practitioner of Hypnotherapy, right?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. But you can produce no certificates to prove that you are in fact any of those things, right?
A. I cannot, but that’s not the issue…
Q. In fact, you do not possess a license to practice any profession, right?
A. That is accurate.
Q. And now you are claiming in this suit that Jennifer only provided 7 hours of yoga sessions to you and that she was supposed to provide 40 hours, accurate?
A. No, that is not accurate: Jennifer only provided me with 6 hours.
Q. I see. But she did provide you with some yoga sessions, right.
Q. But at some point, you directed Jennifer to NOT come to your house anymore, isn’t that right?
A. That is right. I didn’t trust her anymore because she was not living up to her end of the bargain.
Q. So, you ordered Linnea to stay away from her family.
Q. And your home is where Linnea provided you instructions, right?
A. That is right.
Q. And your only reason for doing so was because Linnea, in your words, did not fulfill her obligations to you?
Q. Not because she threatened harm to you or your family right?
A. Right…I just didn’t trust her.
Q. You never filed a complaint with the police, right?
A. I did not.
Q. Because you had nothing to complain about, fair.
A. That is fair. Yes.
Q. By the way, you had only two clients prior to Linnea, right?
A. Maybe three.
Q. Madam, I remind you that your are under oath…
A. Yeah, two. I remember.
TESTIMONY OF JENNIFER
Q. What is your business?
A. I am a certified yoga instructor.
Q. What does yoga mean?
A. It is taught that the Indian root of yoga is the same in English, and the meaning of the root is “yoke,” in the sense of a harness. Yoga is the harnessing of thoughts and emotions. It is, then, “concentration.”
Q. You heard the testimony of Linnea?
A. I did.
Q. You had an agreement with her?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did you fulfill your obligations under the contract?
A. I tried, but Linnea would not permit me to continue. She banned me from her home.
Q. You knew Linnea from before you entered this agreement?
A. I did. She was my AA sponsor. I trusted her deeply.
Q. Why did you seek Linnea’s services?
A. I had worked in radio media from New York to Los Angles, but post 911 I was not in a good place and I was not making good decisions. I took an online course on Craig’s list and got cleaned out financially, so I sought the services of Linnea to get back to a good place and to replenish what I lost.
Q. Did Linnea provide you with 10 hours of sessions as per the Contract?
A. She did.
Q. Did Linnea’s services help you?
Q. By the way, under the agreement, you went to Linnea’s house for the yoga sessions?
A. I had to travel one hour from New York to Linnea’s home in New Jersey to conduct her sessions, while Linnea did not have to travel at all.
Q. Why did you stop going?
A. Linnea decided to take a seven-month hiatus because of maternity leave. When I tried to schedule an appointment for her post-natal yoga sessions, she refused to allow me to come to her home. She just wanted her money back.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS OF JENNIFER
Your Honor, Linnea prevented Jennifer from performing her part of the Contract, when she told her not to come to her home or near her family anymore. Also, Linnea preyed on her vulnerabilities. Linnea used their previous sponsor relationship to her advantage. The contractual relationship between the parties was predatory and replete with conflicts of interests.
Finally, the huge difference in contract service hours between the parties was unconscionable and one sided. Your honor, this case should be dismissed.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS OF LINNEA
The only reason why Linnea helped Jennifer is because Jennifer reached out to her. The sponsorship relationship ended months prior to the parties’ contractual relationship. Also, Jennifer made it difficult to do the yoga training with her and the seven-month hiatus was involuntary. Finally, Linnea no longer trusted Jennifer around her family. Linnea must be made whole under the agreement. Linnea must be awarded the value of the 34 hours of yoga sessions due to her under the contract.
RULING OF THE COURT
There is no doubt that there is a legally binding contract in this case: There was an Offer and an acceptance of the Offer – (Offer: “If you do this, I will do that.” Acceptance: “Okay.”). And there was Consideration (both parties must give and receive something of benefit).
There is also no doubt that there was a breach of that contract here: Linnea did what she promised to do pursuant to the contract; and, Jennifer did not. Jennifer breached the contract and caused Linnea to lose the value of 34 hours of sessions.
However, I cannot rule in favor of Linnea even though it was proved that there was a contract and a breach of that contract. Here is why: there is an unspoken understanding on the part of each party that they will not intentionally do anything to prevent the other party from carrying out the agreement. Although some or all of the reasons cited by Linnea for prohibiting Jennifer from coming to her home to conduct yoga sessions may be true, none of those reasons constitute a legal reason for stopping Jennifer from performing her end of the deal.
Linnea is sent back home with no recovery but at least with newly imparted wisdom: you can’t make a deal with someone and then do something so that cannot do what they promised, and then expect to be able to run to court for assistance.
See you next week!
Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2020/2020_30788.pdf