Home Depot

In a U.S. District Court filing Aug. 19, 2019, Atlanta-based Home Depot disavowed any liability for $125,000 in deactivated gift cards a Weber County woman is stuck with after she bought them from an employee who embezzled them.

RIVERDALE — Home Depot says its has no responsibility to help a Weber County woman who “naively” bought $198,000 in stolen electronic gift cards.

Responding to a civil lawsuit filed by Kaitlyn Peterson, the Atlanta-based retailer said in court documents Monday that it is not liable for the actions of Daniel Martinez, an employee who embezzled at least $330,000 in cards and sold some on http://ksl.com.

“Home Depot cannot be held liable for the independent, criminal acts of others like Martinez,” the company said in asking the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to dismiss the suit.

Peterson bought two discounted gift cards from Martinez in October 2017. After she met Martinez at the Riverdale Home Depot and redeemed them without problems, she thought she had found an answer to her ongoing homebuilding project.

She eventually bought $198,000 in cards from Martinez, and after police and the retailer broke up the scheme in spring 2018, she was left stuck with $125,000 in cards Home Depot had deactivated.

Her suit contends Home Depot shirked a duty to prevent such thefts by employees, that it negligently hired, supervised and trained Martinez, and that it was liable to reimburse her.

In its filing Monday, the retailer cited several state and federal legal precedents where businesses were not held responsible for activities such as employees’ affairs or other misconduct that did not relate to their employment.

“While it is certainly true that Home Depot would like to have discovered Martinez’s theft sooner than it did, there is nothing that (it) could have done to prevent Martinez’s sale of the eGift cards,” the company said.

“Home Depot had no duty to prevent Martinez from stealing the eGift cards and then selling them,” it said.

The retailer had no legal “special relationship” with Martinez that may have raised an issue of liability, the company said, because Martinez sold the stolen cards “outside the scope of his employment and did not do so as a Home Depot employee.”

It also noted Peterson did not even know Martinez had been a Home Depot employee until after the scheme had been disrupted.

Peterson said Martinez, in explaining how he had access to Home Depot cards, told her he was an online gamer and trader and a Bitcoin insider who could redeem his winnings in gift cards that were quick and easy to sell.

In reality, “It is clear that Martinez stole and/or embezzled the Home Depot cards that plaintiff naively purchased,” the retailer said.

“Because Martinez did not hold proper title to (the cards) he could not have transferred good title” to Peterson, it said. “Consequently, Home Depot’s deactivation of (the cards) currently in plaintiff’s possession does not result in the loss of any property to which she held proper title.”

Further, Peterson violated Home Depot’s terms and conditions, which prohibit resale of gift cards and disavow responsibility for lost or stolen cards,” the company said.

If she was simply ignorant of the terms, “her ignorance is no excuse and does not impose a duty on Home Depot to protect her from Martinez,” it said.

Peterson’s suit argued that Home Depot should have had better employee and gift card security. Instead, the company “did nothing and allowed Martinez to operate with impunity selling fraudulent egift cards to plaintiff for eight months.”

In a plea bargain with the Weber County Attorney’s Office, Martinez on May 21 pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree felony communications fraud and a charge of theft by deception was dismissed.

On July 1, 2nd District Judge Reuben Renstrom sentenced Martinez, 34, to a suspended prison term of 0 to 5 years and put him on three years of court probation.

Renstrom ordered Martinez to pay $161,499 restitution “in behalf of Home Depot,” in payments of at least $500 per month, according to court records.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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