Need Advice Please - Client Put a Stop Payment on Check

Hello, I am new here and desperately need some guidance. (*Sorry for writing a book here)

I am more of a hobbyist website designer and have done more pro bono work than paid work. I do not advertise or solicit business for web design. I was contacted by someone I know about redesigning their website because they love my work. They initially contacted me for some advice. No problem, but when it came to actually designing a website I told them that I could not “give” them a design. The nature of their site is a business with products. They have over 200 pages as well. I suggested a CMS system such as Joomla or WordPress but they did not want to go that route for they didn’t want to change the extension of their current pages. The only other option for them was to use a .htaccess file so they could keep their current extensions. When they found out I could do this, they requested a proposal for 15 pages to get them started and they would finish the work. Because I don’t build websites for a living, I agreed to give them a considerable discount for what they wanted and agreed to give them 10 hours of training. They agreed to the terms of my proposal/contract, signed it and sent me a deposit.

Now, I build from scratch and do not use any templates. Therefore each item that I create is priced (ie, global style sheet, scripts to be configured, optimizing images, pages to be constructed, etc.). I do it this way so that there is a limit on the services I am expected to perform. My contract also states that transfer of copyright will be issued once final payment is received.

During the design process, the client wanted additional items in which the contract states that additional items will be billed at the price quoted in the contract. However, because I am not interested in clearing out someone’s pocket book, we agreed that we would “trade” any extras for their products. This however was a verbal agreement and I created the additional pages with the features, styling, scripts, etc. that they wanted.

The original contract was for 15 pages and I ended up building 33 pages adding more javascript functions, creating advanced styling for their forms, edited 162 images and scripted them (when the contract was only for 10 images), and so on. What should have been completed in a month ended up taking 6 months to complete with all their extras.

Anyhow, I finished my work, validated every page at W3C and finalized the site design with the client. The client then sent a check for the balance due. The day I received the check I deposited it in my bank. Although I know that the check will take a few days to clear my clients bank I was going to give him ftp access to the server that I built his site on so that he could download everything. However, immediately after sending him an email with the ftp information, I see an email from him stating that he had put a stop payment on the check. I immediately went back into my control panel and deleted the ftp account that I created and changed the name of the folder that his site was in.

I have since sent him an email stating that we would like to resolve any issue or concern he has regarding his website. That his website is completed and we would like to see him have the copyright to it. I also informed him that I will be sending him a final invoice along with a copy of the canceled check once I receive the check back from the bank.

What I would like to hear opinions on is… now that he has stopped payment on his check and has not tried to resolve any matter with us, I feel that I must invoice him for everything that I created even though half of it was created on a verbal agreement. I need to be sure I cover myself in the event that he or I decide to pursue court action. The original contract was for $4,000.00-$4,250.00. I gave him an acceptance discount of -$1,000.00-$1,250.00 bringing the contract price down to a flat $3,000.00. I’ve been paid $2,250.00. If I were to send him an invoice for all the work he approved in the site finalization the total would be over $8K. (I know… I’m an idiot for doing all this work).

What would you do?

I am not qualified to give you legal advice.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that I can empathize with you completely.
I, too, had spent time (more or less as a hobby) helping people with web development and pointing them to CMSs. Mostly people I knew in church who had a ‘small business’ and no technical expertise.
They, of course, needed some training on how to use anything related to the web. I spent hours on the phone and in person guiding them.
After several years of that; and countless times I said, “Don’t worry about it” in response to, “I can’t afford to pay you but I will one day.” I resigned myself to STOP giving away my skills and experience.

Now, as far as your particular problem I would say:

You did the right thing by writing a polite message offering to resolve the issue. {I assume you were polite and dignified }

Be sure to keep ALL correspondence you have had with this client. Surprisingly, they may try to sue you for some ridiculous reason.
Consider you have lost all the money and will never see it. If they cannot pay you now, it is silly to expect they can/will pay you ever.

Forgive me if this sounds harsh. This is the result of some “life lessons” that I am not at liberty to explain here.
God bless you for being generous with your time and talent. The most important thing I have learned is that it is NOT unfair to expect something of value in return for your time and expertise. This is regardless of how ‘easy’ it is for you or [even] if it is fun!

Hopefully lots of lessons learnt there - you clearly have the opportunity to claim the balancing payment for the original agreement, but unless you can prove you had some additional agreement over all this extra work, you’ll struggle clawing that back. Give them a ring, talk it through, find out why they cancelled the cheque. Then send them an invoice with professionally worded covering letter. Give them 30 days to pay, then 7 day final notice, then if you can be bothered, take them to small claims. But if you do, you need evidence that an agreement was in place (preferably a contract) but if you just have emails, make sure nothing is ambiguos. The fact that they cut the cheque in the first place will be in your favour.

But ultimately, weigh up whether it’s worth the stress of the fight. Good luck.

[FONT=verdana]You need to understand that the cancellation of the cheque is a separate issue - from a legal point of view - from the contract for the development of the website.

(Keep in mind that the law on this point varies from one jurisdiction to another; it would help us to know which country you are in.)

In general, if someone offers you a cheque, and you accept it, and if the payer then stops payment on the cheque, they are in breach of contract. In theory, you could sue them for the cancelled cheque, regardless of any issues regarding the original contract. Even if they could show that you failed to perform the website contract, that wouldn’t necessarily entitle them to stop a cheque after they issued it. You could argue that the fact that they issued the cheque implied that they had accepted that you had performed the website contract.

Of course, in practice, you probably don’t want to go down that road. Your main course of action should be to contact them to resolve the issue in a friendly way, which you’ve done. If they didn’t respond, try a couple more times to contact them, perhaps by phone or letter rather than email.

If that fails, you are entitled to pursue them for the amount outstanding. However, if I’ve understood it right, the original quote was for $3,000, and you’ve received $2,250, so you are only out $750, which might not be worth the effort of court action. What you can’t do is to retrospectively withdraw the acceptance discount, nor can you charge for the extra work you did that was not covered by the original quote.


Hi Everyone,

Thanks so much for your comments. I truly appreciate your input. And yes… this is a lesson learned.

This is what I have for the additional work.

  1. The contract states:

We are happy to provide minor copy updates at a reduced rate of $35.00 pr hour. Should you require more complex work such as creating new pages, slide shows, galleries, etc. the cost will be a flat rate based on the price for such item in this proposal.

  1. I have emails regarding changes he wished for the extra work.

  2. I emailed him a list of all the pages created (with the urls of each page) and requested his approval. Although his final approval was verbal, I have server logs proving he viewed the extra work prior to sending the check.

  3. I also have proof of emailing him the ftp information to download the site. However, as I stated in my first post, I deleted the ftp account that I created immediately after reading his email that he put a stop payment on the check.

I also want to mention that there was absolutely no prior communication written or verbal that he was unhappy or dissatisfied. However, the day I received his check he had written that he had thought that he would have received ftp information by now. I responded back telling him that I had just received his check that day and that I would be sending him ftp information soon. While I was creating the ftp account and drafting an email with the instructions, he had sent two emails. His last one stating:

I don’t know what is going on here, but I’ve had enough. I’ve just put a stop payment on the check.

This really came as quite a shock to me.

I was asked where the jusrisdiction is and that would be the US. Both parties reside in the US.

This is what I need to do. I need to send him a final invoice and I need to be sure to include all work that I’ve performed. What I’m not sure of is “do I charge him” or “give him the option to purchase it?” The reason I need to include all work performed is because should he dispute the work (and believe me… he is the sort of guy who would), I have enough proof to back it up. If this should go to court, I cannot add additional items to the invoice. A judge could tell me I am sol, and I’m fine with that but… a judge could also make it clear that for any of the extra work that I performed “that he doesn’t purchase” remains my property and that he is not to reproduce it in anyway. There are some minor pages that were created that didn’t take any extra scripting and these pages I will not charge for which will be reflected in the invoice. Also, I do realize that the amount of the invoice will determine which court to file a claim in. Each state has their own limits on small claims court. If the invoice goes over those amounts, a claim needs to be filed in a different court. I also believe that the jurisdiction is in my state since the work was performed here. Regardless, this is something that an attorney would have to clarify and I do plan to seek consultation simply because I don’t want to “give” my work away.

I guess I’m just wondering if anyone here has been in a similar situation or I’m wondering “what would you do?”