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A minor billing dispute between eBay Inc. and one of its customers, San Francisco litigator Richard Hardack, has escalated into all-out war. Their battles began nearly two years ago when eBay suspended Hardack’s account amid a $58 disagreement and Hardack took eBay to San Francisco’s small claims court — the first time. He’s since filed two more small claims suits against the company, the most recent in February. This week, eBay sued back. The San Jose-based company is asking a San Francisco Superior Court judge to label Hardack a vexatious litigant, and to declare that eBay can kick him out of its Internet auction house for good, according to the complaint filed Tuesday. The vexatious designation could mean Hardack would have to get a presiding judge’s permission before filing any more pro per suits in state court. Hardack declined to comment on eBay’s suit against him, saying he had not yet seen it. But told that the company wants a court to declare him a vexatious litigant, he pointed out that he has prevailed on two of the small claims cases so far. The third is scheduled to go to court next month. The civil litigator, an associate with San Francisco’s Taylor & Company Law Offices, said he occasionally bought and sold books, music memorabilia, CDs and LP records on eBay. He began shopping and selling there as “rhardack” in 1999. The fuse of his dispute with eBay ignited more than three years later, when Hardack complained to the company that an outage on the site had interfered with some of his sales. Hardack didn’t want to be charged for the full listing fee for those items and refused to pay the entire bill without a breakdown of the charges, he said. Though eBay acknowledges its Web site occasionally experiences outages that prevent bidders from placing bids or finding items, the company claims its records showed no outage took place in Hardack’s case. So when the lawyer refused to pay, eBay suspended his account. “I tried to resolve this with them for five months before I took them to court the first time,” Hardack said Thursday. At loggerheads, he filed a $5,000 small claims suit in 2003 for fraud, retaliation and loss of income, among other things, and won $58, plus $32 in costs. About a month later, eBay kicked Hardack off its site. The company maintains it was well within its rights, pointing to part of its user agreement that says it can refuse to provide services if “we believe that your actions may cause financial loss or legal liability for you, our users or us.” According to an e-mail attached to its complaint, Hardack responded by accusing eBay of “illegal retaliatory practices,” and hinted he might file a class action if his account wasn’t restored. Instead, he filed a $2,600 small claims suit that alleged eBay illegally shut down his account. EBay didn’t show up for court — the company says it didn’t get timely notice of the hearing — and Hardack won $1, plus $32 in costs. When Hardack opened another account as “rbh888″ less than a month later and eBay closed that as well, he filed his third small claims suit. According to that pending complaint, he’s seeking $5,000 and accusing eBay of fraudulent rebilling and attempting to chill litigation, among other things. There are some items, like memorabilia, that you can only sell on eBay, Hardack said Thursday. But “it wasn’t just a money thing,” he added. “It’s a principle thing.” He claims the company told him early on they’d lift the suspension on his account if he paid his bill, yet still closed it after a court found he didn’t owe the money. “It’s an attempt to prevent people from using the small claims system,” he said. EBay spokesman Hani Durzy declined to comment beyond the company’s lawsuit, but again noted that the company’s customer agreement says it can cut off sellers under certain circumstances. “We will let our user agreement speak for itself.”

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