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updated: 1/29/2020 5:15 PM

Elburn company, ‘What’s happening’ Facebook site settle suit for $30K, webpage site disclaimer

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An Elburn-based HVAC company has settled the deceptive practices lawsuit it filed against the founder of local "What's Happening" groups on Facebook for $30,000 and an agreement that each site adds a disclaimer about its sponsorships and business affiliations.

Patriot Heating and Cooling sued Kevin Ketchum and Nexxus Publishing, arguing Ketchum's "What's happening" pages on Facebook operated under the guise of having community members make unbiased referrals for area businesses but instead favored its advertisers.

The Patriot lawsuit accused Ketchum of favoring and promoting businesses that advertised with Ketchum's print publication, deleting positive recommendations from users of businesses that didn't advertise with Ketchum and intentionally leaving up posts that were damaging and potentially libelous against Patriot.

"My client was doing this to right a wrong that was happening and creating an aura of unfair competition," said Patriot attorney Josh Feagans.

Last week, Patriot reached a settlement with Ketchum and Nexxus, requiring the payment and adding language to each "What's Happening" page's "About" section.

The disclaimer in paragraph 10 now says: "Some of the referrals contained on this page are made based upon employment and business relationships, including relationships with the page operators and/or administrators. Any such relationships that exist between the page operators and/or administrators and the business that is being referred should be disclosed. One such method of disclosing this connection is for the referrer/endorser to utilize the hashtags '#affiliated', '#employed', and/or '#sponsored'."

Ketchum and his attorney, Thomas Finn, did not respond to inquiries for an interview and comment this week and last week.

Feagan said neither side admitted liability in the settlement. Patriot hopes people will have a more complete picture of business referrals and promotions done on the "What's Happening" pages, Feagans said, adding users shared newspaper articles about the lawsuit when it was filed, helping to increase awareness of Ketchum's favoring of his advertisers.

"The lawsuit was not about money. It was about the way the pages were being operated," Feagans said. "People didn't know about the advertising deals. Our goal was to get them to post the disclaimer. It took two years to make that happen but they did it. The goal has been reached."

Patriot's lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, court records show.