Legal question: Suing a company in small claims court: Where?

Suppose I wanted to sue Airbnb in small claims court. Would I have to do it in San Francisco, since that’s where their headquarters are; the city in which they are incorporated (I don’t know what that is); or where I live, since they did business with me here?


Two years ago I was approached by an email from an ad agency who represented Airbnb. They had seen a video with my original content on YouTube and wanted to use it in their advertising. I agreed to allow them to use it. They just wanted non-exclusive right to use, no transfer of copyright. In return they offered three Airbnb coupons worth $200 each. The agreement did not state the expiration so I asked, and the response (from two different ad agency reps) was that they never expire.

I tried to use them last week and all three had expired. I contacted one of the ad reps. She said she no longer worked for that agency, and that agency no longer had the Airbnb account so she could not help directly and recommended contacting Airbnb customer service. She did remember the video and she said Airbnb explicitly told her that the coupons would never expire.

I have been going back and forth with customer service for a few days. The person is just a low-level CSR and at first told me that their coupons expire after 1 year. I said that is irrelevant to the agreement I had with Airbnb, but I don’t know if my case is being escalated to the proper level for review of a legal agreement. I am still waiting for her next communication.

Airbnb does everything possible to make it difficult to contact them. They clearly do not want to deal with their customers.

I doubt it will be worth the trouble to actually bring suit but I am angry enough to consider it.

Venue is generally where the tort took place (unclear in your case) or where the defendant resides.

Download the app, then connect to customers service through there. I had a couple of issues when I was recently overseas, which were handled very swiftly and to my satisfaction. It’s text communication instead of phone calls, and response was very speedy indeed.

Just a suggestion, it might be worth a shot. Good Luck!

The proper venue for a dispute over a contract made online is a classic law school exam question. And it is a classic for a reason! It isn’t actually that simple.

There are a few questions buried in there:
[li]Which party is the right one to sue?[/li][li]Where can the party be sued as a constitutional matter?[/li][li]Where can the party be sued as a matter of state law?[/li][li]Did the language of the contract determine a venue?[/li][/ul]

The answers to these questions will depend on facts you haven’t given us, concerning the details of the back-and-forth by email. In particular, a lot depends on whether they knew or should have known where you were located, along with how they reached out to you.

Of course, since in this scenario it makes no sense to hire a lawyer to sort out these venue and jurisdiction questions, what most people would do is just pick a court and file there and let the other side argue it is the wrong court.

(This is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. Yadda yadda…)

Their initial contact was by sending me an email via my YouTube account. The entirety of the initial email was:

I don’t think my YouTube account indicates where I live, and if it does, they did not give any indication in the emails that they were aware of it. There was no inquiry or mention of where I live in any of the subsequent emails by either party.

In my next email I asked about the terms of the license, because I did not want to grant exclusive rights and I did not want to transfer the copyright. They wanted neither. After I agreed in principle to what they were proposing they sent me a release form in a Word document. I printed, signed, scanned, and sent it back. They did not return a signed copy; they just sent me the coupon codes. At that point I asked about expiration, which is when they told me they do not expire (two different people said this in two different emails). It seems to me that all the elements of a contract were present but I’m not sure that would pass a technical legal test.

The agreement names the ad agency “as an agent of Airbnb” so I do not know who is considered to have entered into the contract.

Sue them both and let the judge decide. That’s what they get paid to do.

Something to consider: is it worth it to sue them for $600 in coupons?

Small claims can be great for larger amounts, but sometimes it’s just better to write smaller ones off. Why? Because there will be court filing fees, possibly process server fees, and your own time and trouble. You’re already in for your time and trouble spent dealing with the agent and CSRs; you may not wish to spend more dollars and the worth of your own time, which would eat into an eventual settlement (if there is one).

Another thing to consider: there may be a statute of limitations in place. You mentioned that the deal occurred two years ago. In my jurisdiction, one cannot sue in a civil matter for something that happened two or more years ago. That time period can be lengthened by a raft of terms and conditions, depending on the facts. But you may want to find out if the facts in your matter indicate that you can indeed sue, or if you are, as we say, “time-barred” from suing.

In the end, the decision to sue or not is yours. I’m just offering a few things you may not have thought about.

(Disclaimer: IAAL, but I am not your lawyer, you are not my client, and this is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for legal advice applicable to your situation.)

Do you have the whole, “never expires” in writing or electrons? That’s the crux of the matter.

Another venue, after continued fruitless customer relations pursuit, is the court of public opinion with a complaint column in a newspaper or TV outlet. The mighty SDMB is built for fighting ignorance (ITLTWT), not bending major corporations to our will.

That may entangle you in court based on how their large legal department feels at the moment.

Believe me, I am considering that. In fact is not almost certainly not worth it economically. I am just angry at trusting what I was told then finding out it was not true.

Regardless of whether I actually follow through on this I was also interested in the answer to the core question.

How do you define “writing”? If you mean on hard-copy paper, there is nothing on paper whatsoever. The entire transaction was conducted through emails.

Check with your state Sec of State. sometimes they have the authority to accept process for a company doing business in their borders. Good luck collecting on a Small Claims judgment from an out of state entity though.

Maybe one of our lawyers can weigh in here, but I thought filing fees & associated costs can be recouped if you win.

Also, if they’re doing business in & paying taxes in your state, doesn’t that give them a ‘presence’ there?