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Police blotter: Upset eBay buyer makes house call

A weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law. This episode: an eBay deal goes awry.

"Police blotter" is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law. This episode: an eBay deal goes awry.

What: Dispute over quality of Pfaltzgraff Heritage tumblers that were purchased on eBay.

When: Arrest made September 2001, case decided July 20, 2005.

Outcome: After being arrested on charges of stalking an eBay seller, Jay Howard Rothhaupt sued. He largely (but not entirely) lost before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

What happened: When Rothhaupt bought a set of Pfaltzgraff Heritage tumblers on eBay for $59, he was unhappy with the quality. Even after eBay sellers Seldon and Phyllis Scott offered a full refund plus return shipping costs, Rothhaupt remained irked.

Pfaltzgraff Heritage glasses
similar to the one pictured
here were the source of a
dispute that led to the arrest
of Jay Howard Rothhaupt.

After sending a string of nasty e-mail messages alleging fraud, Rothhaupt apparently thought he could secure a better response by showing up in person. So he drove from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, showed up at the Scotts' home and demanded $100.

It's not clear what happened next. The Scotts claimed that Rothhaupt refused to leave and they called the police (Seldon Scott is a special deputy with the county sheriff's department). Rothhaupt said he left the property when requested.

Seldon Scott followed Rothhaupt in his own car. Not long after, Rothhaupt was pulled over on interstate 71 by police and frisked. After acknowledging he had a rifle in the back of his car that he said was used for target shooting, Rothhaupt was arrested on charges of second-degree stalking, harassing communications, theft by deception, and third-degree criminal trespass. He was tried on two of the four charges and acquitted by a jury.

In response, Rothhaupt sued in federal court alleging his constitutional rights had been violated. The three-judge panel ruled in favor of the Scotts and the sheriff's department on all grounds but one, saying that the only claim that might have merit is that Rothhaupt was wrongfully arrested.

Quote: "We disagree with the district court on the propriety of the arrest, because (the deputy) lacked probable cause. Under the Fourth Amendment, an officer 'may not seize an individual except after establishing probable cause that the individual has committed, or is about to commit, a crime.'" --from the court opinion