The Fish Guy of Framingham, Mass., does not want to let Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes off the hook.
He wants payment for moving the football player’s tropical fish and aquarium to Buffalo. Joshua Wolfson, aka The Fish Guy, said Spikes owes him $4,045 for taking care of the fish, according to court papers. After waiting more than two years for his money, he obtained a court order to garnish Spikes’s Buffalo Bills paychecks.
But Spikes’ lawyer, Thomas W. Bender, said in court papers that the Fish Guy does not deserve to be paid.
Some of the fish didn’t survive the move in 2014, Bender said.
And Bender cited one reason in court papers: Wolfson sold Spikes an $8,000 custom-made half-circle aquarium “that proved to be inadequate for the type and number of tropical fish owned by Mr. Spikes.”
What’s more, Bender mentioned in court papers “the almost instantaneous death” of other fish a couple of years earlier when Spikes hired the Fish Guy to move his tanks from a loft to a house in Providence, R.I., while he was playing for the New England Patriots.
Bender estimates the total value of the dead fish at $2,500. That amount should be added to the $8,000 Spikes wants to recover for the half-circle aquarium. Spikes’ lawyer said in court papers.
Neither Spikes’ or Wolfson’s lawyers returned calls seeking comment.
According to court papers, Spikes did not pay Wolfson for transporting his tropical fish and custom-built aquarium from Providence to Buffalo in 2014, when the linebacker was picked up as a free agent by the Buffalo Bills.
Wolfson filed a lawsuit in December 2014 to recover the money. Among the charges on his invoices: $3,000 for packing up the fish, driving them to Buffalo and getting the new aquarium set up and filled, a process that took 20 hours.
Moving can be stressful for tropical fish. The Fish Guy’s invoices note he is not responsible for loss of the “livestock” after 10 days.
Bender said in his court filing last week that the fish deaths were “easily within the 10-day guarantee period.”
Bender, according to court papers, said he told Wolfson’s attorney in February 2015 that Spikes wasn’t going to pay because some of the fish died. But Bender did not file an official response to Wolfson’s lawsuit. The case then entered a period of confusion without communication.
It also came at a time of turmoil for Spikes personally and professionally.
After only one year with the Buffalo Bills, Spikes left the team and signed a $2 million deal on May 18, 2015, to return to the Patriots.
At the time, Wolfson had not received an answer to his lawsuit and did not know Spikes had left the Bills.
On May 27, 2015, he obtained a judgment against Spikes in Erie County for failing to appear on the fish case.
The judgment ordered Spikes to pay the debt plus interest and other costs, for a total $4,990. Notice of the judgment was sent to Spikes’ local address on Pearl Street, but he was no longer there.
And he wasn’t there when another notice was sent on June 8, telling him his Buffalo Bills paychecks would be garnished to pay off the debt.
By then, of course, he wasn’t getting checks from the Bills.
But he also was no longer with the Patriots. That team released him on June 8, after receiving word he was being investigated in connection with a hit-and-run crash a day earlier.
Spikes was eventually suspended by the NFL for the first four games of 2015, a symbolic move since he had no team for which to play. As far as the Fish Guy was concerned, there were no paychecks to garnish. The linebacker sat out the entire 2015 season. The fish bill went unpaid, and even his attorney assumed the case had been dropped.
But the Fish Guy didn’t forget.
In August 2016, Spikes signed a one-year, $760,000 contract with the Buffalo Bills, and by the end of the month, the Fish Guy had another order to garnish Spikes’ Bills paycheck.
Bender is now challenging the default judgment in State Supreme Court as being improper because of insufficient notification. He wants the judgment vacated and that any money already paid out to the Fish Guy to be returned.
Bender said that when he spoke with Wolfson’s attorney Raymond Pfeiffer, in February 2015, he suggested a “voluntary discontinuance” of the lawsuit because the legal costs would be higher than the disputed amount, according to court papers. He also said that Spikes planned “to defend the action and to raise counterclaims” over the dead fish if the case went forward.
Bender acknowledged that Pfeiffer told him in 2015 that he could have until March 30, 2015 to file an answer to the lawsuit. Bender said he was “careless” in not responding, but chalked it up to “law office failure.”
He contends, however, that Pfeiffer’s proceeding with the case without further contact was more egregious.
According to a court notice, as of Dec. 7, the balance on the judgment was $3,144.73. The garnishment was temporarily halted last Thursday, when acting Justice Mark J. Grisanti signed an order preventing further action to collect the money until he decides whether to vacate the order. The case is scheduled to be back in his court Thursday.