A judge last week upheld two judgments totalling $164,000 against a controversial cosmetic company that has been the subject of multiple lawsuits and complaints to police over allegedly high-pressure sales tactics.
Aspen Retail Management, which operates Luxe Skin Spa on the Hyman Avenue mall and another outlet nearby, failed to provide a reasonable excuse for why it never answered the latest two lawsuits, Judge Anne Norrdin of Pitkin County District Court ruled.
ARM’s attorney said Wednesday that the company may appeal.
Three people filed two lawsuits against the company in December, accusing California-based ARM of violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act for allegedly engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices, according to one claim in the suit. Other claims included assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Dean and Kim Reeves entered the Hyman mall shop last summer. They were each given a glass of champagne that may have been drugged, as they soon felt “very confused and out of sorts,” the lawsuit says.
Employees began applying creams to their faces, against the couple’s wishes, though “they were unable to refuse the demonstrations because they were so out of it, and the store attendants were so aggressive,” wrote their attorney, Chris Bryan of Aspen.
The Reeves’ provided a credit card and then filled out a shipping form in order to “escape the store and the high-pressure sales tactics employed,” Bryan wrote. Once outside, they called the store repeatedly in an effort to cancel the order, which totalled nearly $22,000.
The plaintiffs thought they were buying $700 worth of products, according to the lawsuit.
The other case was brought by Cheron Berastequi, who went into Aspen Beauty Boutique in September after being offered an eye-cream demonstration, and decided to purchase a product. An employee allegedly pressured her into buying a $9,000 light-therapy machine.
Berastequi repeatedly told the employee that she could not afford it, but feeling increasingly uncomfortable and looking to leave, she handed over her credit card, confident her credit card company would decline the charges because of her credit limit. But the employee said the charge went through without a problem — with one difference: He had charged her $21,000, Bryan wrote, adding she was unable to cancel the charge.
After the defendant firm failed to timely answer the lawsuits, a court clerk entered default judgments against ARM in January.
Attorneys for the company then filed motions to set those judgments aside. The firm argued that Bryan failed to properly confer with its lawyers, and that, based on what one of its attorneys told subsequent lawyers, it believed it had more time to file a response.
ARM’s “general counsel, David Beitchman, called and emailed [Bryan] multiple times, including on Dec. 20, 2018, and Dec. 21, 2018,” one of the motions says. “Mr. Beitchman explained he was general counsel and would like to discuss the case to determine settlement likelihood prior to spending more in time and fees. … Beitchman believed that there would be no need to file a response to the [lawsuit] until the parties could discuss the matter in detail.”
Bryan filed motions for default judgments on Jan. 11, the day after the company’s answer was due. But Beitchman, though he had not formally entered as the attorney for the defendant, had expected that Bryan would confer with him before such motions would be filed, wrote another of ARM’s attorneys, Joseph Lico of Parker.
Bryan responded in late February that the defendant’s motions were “yet another example of [ARM] refusing to play by the rules, assuming they will get away with it, and then obfuscating the facts to explain why they shouldn’t have to comply with the rules.
“Defendants’ pattern of flouting the civil procedure rules applies equally to defendants’ deceptive trade practices — which, to date, has yielded dozens of formal complaints, multiple lawsuits, unknown number of settlements and several investigations,” the response says.
In her ruling, Judge Norrdin highlighted the fact that Beitchman had not formally entered as the attorney for ARM and that he was not licensed to practice law in Colorado. The judge wrote that there was no basis for her to conclude that ARM’s “neglect in timely filing a responsive pleading is excusable.
“Common carelessness and negligence do not amount to excusable neglect under the law, and the motion does nothing to establish that the defendants’ failure to respond was anything other than the product of carelessness or negligence,” the ruling says.
Beitchman said Wednesday that he is now licensed in the state and that he and his client are taking “appropriate steps to address and perhaps appeal” the judge’s ruling on the motions to set aside the default judgments. ARM is looking forward to “showing the public, showing Aspen” evidence that the store employees did nothing wrong, including surveillance video of the plaintiffs’ interactions in the stores. He said he believes the video and audio will demonstrate that the Reeves and Berastequiare are pursuing the litigation fraudulently.
Bryan said in a prepared statement that his clients “are pleased with the court’s ruling and look forward to finally resolving these cases. Protecting consumers from deceptive trade practices is an important function of the law, as these cases demonstrate.”