Real estate appraiser wins invasion of privacy lawsuit against CoesterVMS
It’s been a rough couple of months for Brian Coester, and it doesn’t seem like things are turning around just yet.
Coester once ran CoesterVMS, one of the largest appraisal management companies in the country. But in late 2018, word of financial troubles began to circulate, and appraisers were complaining that they weren’t being paid. By February, the AMC had officially closed its doors.
Now, Coester will likely be forced to cough up damages as a judge ruled against him Monday in a lawsuit brought on by Mark Skapinetz, a subcontracted appraiser who worked for CoesterVMS.
According to court documents, the drama started when Skapinetz sent an email to a client at Finance of America in which he described Coester’s business as a “criminal and fraudulent company” and attached documents pertaining to an ongoing legal battle between Coester and a third party.
The recipient then forwarded that email – sent through Skapinetz’s personal Gmail account – to Coester, who enlisted the help of a development contractor to investigate the identity of the email’s author, as the email address did not make that readily apparent.
Then, according to court documents, Coester used his authority as company owner to log into Skapinetz’s account within the CoesterVMS appraiser portal, retrieving this password and using it to attempt to log into Skapinetz’s business and personal Gmail accounts.
Court documents say Coester was surprised to find the password worked. Coester proceeded to read and print emails from Skapinetz’s business account. Meanwhile, a security notice informed Skapinetz that his personal account had been accessed somewhere in Maryland, and he promptly deleted that entire account.
Thus launched a two-year legal battle between Coester and Skapinetz, who sued alleging violations of the Stored Communications Act, trespassing, fraud and invasion of privacy.
The court dismissed the trespassing and fraud claims but found in favor of Skapinetz in regard to the other charges.
“Coester admits to taking several deliberative steps with the singular purpose of obtaining and reading Skapinetz’ email without authorization and to further Coester’s own personal and business objectives,” the court’s opinion states.
“Coester confessed that he searched his company’s database for Skapinetz’ email and password; used them with the purpose of getting into the emails; succeeded in accessing the emails, then searched, read and printed the emails because he wanted to learn more about Skapinetz’s knowledge of CoesterVMS’ business,” it continued.
Coester also countersued on the grounds of tortious interference, asserting that Skapinetz’s disparaging emails to Finance of America and loanDepot cost him business. The judge ruled against those claims.
The judge’s opinion also reveals that Coester’s attorneys filed a request to withdraw from the case, citing a difficult attorney-client relationship and CoesterVMS’ inability to pay for representation. The motion was granted.
Now, Coester may need new representation for a separate trial that will tack a dollar figure to those damages, which will include reimbursing Skapinetz for his legal fees.
For his part, Skapinetz shared the judge’s ruling on LinkedIn, saying that he has happy to put the case behind him.
“This was a fight that had someone more powerful try to bully and bribe me away. I stood my ground, even faced with a $20 million countersuit,” Skapinetz wrote. “Well today is vindication day for me, appraisers and more. This wasn’t just about me. This turned into something more and about the appraisers and profession…Finally I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Thanks to everyone who supported me and more during this.”