|Middle Earth Threatened by Frivolous Lawsuit|
October 07, 2006Last week the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford, Vt. was served with a summons to appear in the Orange County Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt to answer to a motion for an immediate injunction to cease all activity at the music hall immediately.
Middle Earth has been presenting live music, on average, 3 to 4 nights a week in a basement space located on the central corner of the business district of Bradford, Vermont since May of 2002. At this time last year ( 2005 ) a new tenant took lease on the ground floor above Middle Earth and opened a restaurant. In April of this year ( 2006 ) the new tenant began in a series activities apparently designed to harass and intimidate the proprietors of Middle Earth for reasons we can only speculate upon. These activities included operating power equipment during shows, blocking access to the Main street entrance, defacing or covering signage and other acts of personal intimidation.
Throughout, the staff of Middle Earth has elected to take the high road and not be sucked into the tit-for-tat response the aggressors were obviously hoping for. Instead we have reported all negative actions to both the landlord and the local police. Unable to suck us into their sandbox , they then filed a "noise pollution" complaint with the landlord who came down solidly on our side. Stating that the presence of a live music hall in the basement was clearly noted in their lease before signing, they knew exactly what they were getting into when entering into the lease. Their response to the landlord was to withhold rent until he made corrections that suited their needs. After two months of withheld rent, the landlord's response to was to serve them with eviction documents.
It all sounds like justice was served... but not quite. Their response to the eviction was to counter sue both the Landlord and Middle Earth for " Constructive Eviction." This means that the defendants ( Landlord and Middle Earth ) intentionally created a situation that would sabotage their business and put them out of business. Their contention is that we purposely removed sound insulation from the ceiling over the performance space to intentionally make it louder upstairs therefore creating an unsuitable environment for them to conduct their business. Of course this is all made up. There never was any insulation in the ceiling and if there was, removing it to expose steel and concrete would be the last thing someone in the business of presenting live acoustic music would do.
The obvious solution would be for the landlord to install a sound barrier between floors which is something he was more than willing to discuss. But once he offered that option it became clear that peaceful co-existence was something the neighbors were not really interested in. It appears that they just weren't very good at the restaurant business and quickly found that they were in over their heads. Once the locals became aware of the dirty tricks they were playing on Middle Earth the restaurant had a full scale boycott on their hands.
It was Easter Sunday evening. We had Solas in playing before a packed house. Of course they were great. They were closing in on the end of the second set building to a climax to end a perfect evening. Suddenly there was a low rumbling vibration which sounded like the sound system was about to explode. The noise was so intense the band stopped dead and everyone in the room was silent for a second. Having spent a previous life in the construction trade, I was very familiar with the sound of a jackhammer. I immediately bolted upstairs to find two guys pounding away on a scrap of plywood directly over the listening room. They weren't working. They were intentionally making noise. When I asked them what they were doing the response was "You make too much noise down there and I can't have it!" Remember, it was Easter Sunday night. The restaurant had been closed since 5 PM and there was no one around but those two guys. It's been downhill ever since.
There were 125 people at the show that night. Needless to say, word spread like wildfire in the following weeks. This is a small town. Negative stuff travels fast. They actually were foolish enough to run the jackhammer a couple more times through the summer. After the second event people started writing letters to the editor. Soon the local newspaper added an editorial coming down on them for the harassment. Finally they responded in print by claiming there never was a jackhammer, we made the whole thing up and we were the bad guys because we were playing loud "rock" music and destroying their business.
Now we find ourselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit looking to shut us down and penalize us for over $100,000 in damages. They can't win. They don't have a case. We actually are the ones who have the case. But just having to defend our existence will cost us more than we could ever muster. We will counter sue but we'll never see an award. They'll just fold their corporation and split. It turns out they've pulled similar stunts before. A little research found that back in the early 90's they had as many as a dozen suits going at once. Sometimes they score, sometimes they don't. I guess it's just how they do business. The outfit is headed up by one man who calls himself a "prophet of God." His "church" is called " Victory in Jesus" and according to someone who was once involved he claims to be "the most important religious figure since Moses."
Right here in little Bradford!
...and he's homegrown talent!
We've got a good lawyer. I believe she will serve us well. I just don't know how we'll pay her. Maybe she'll end up the proud owner of Vermont's only Hobbit Hole. Maybe she'll give me a job.
I send this note to inform you of our situation and ask for your support. Be it financial, physical, spiritual or moral, we need to know that you guys have our backs and that our effort to stay in the game is worthwhile. It's been the summer from hell and it's getting hard to muster the energy to open the doors.
It's very simple. If the artists, agents and listeners we work for step up and show us our effort is vital we will give it our all. If Middle Earth has run it's course we will accept that fate and move on to the next chapter.
Tell us what you think. This is a community thing. We have to know the community is solidly behind us if we're going to beat this thing.
Thanks for listening.
Chris & Sue
Middle Earth Music Hall
phone: 802 222 4748