They are keeping the dress, can they do this?

I took a dress to be repaired a while back. The place had advertised a special rate in the newspaper. When I went to pick up my dress I was given an invoice for an outrageous amount. I refused to pay and told the person at the desk that I would only pay the advertised price. I demanded my dress back in exchange for me paying that amount and they refused. They are keeping my dress. Is this criminal? Can I sue them?

This is a very tough question to answer without more facts. In response to whether a criminal violation has occurred, the theoretical criminal nature of the shop’s actions would depend on a variety of factors but, from a practical perspective, most likely a prosecutor would not initiate charges in this instance.

The shop could have what is called an artisan lien. An artisan lien exists when an artisan—in this case the dress repairer—makes, alters, or repairs an article of personal property and the customer refuses to pay for the just and reasonable value of the services.

If a valid lien does in fact exist, the artisan can then hold the article “hostage” until payment is made. The lien holder may even be allowed to sell the item after a requisite period of time has passed and no payment has been made. However, notice and other statutory requirements must be satisfied.

Note, however, that the lien only exists to the extent of the reasonable and just value of the services. Arguably, if the dress repair shop is demanding an unreasonably high price, you may only have to tender an amount for the reasonable value of the services. Upon the tendering of this amount, the shop’s retention of the property could be unlawful.

In response to another facet of your question, generally newspaper advertisements, price quotations, and catalog prices are just invitations to negotiate and cannot be accepted in a contractually-binding manner. There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule.

Thus, in answer to your question, determining who is “right” in this situation is difficult simply based on the facts given. Practically speaking, resolving this situation through the court may be cost prohibitive depending on the relative value of the dress and the services provided. Regardless of the law concerning advertisements or liens, this may be a poor business approach by the shop. Best of luck in resolving this thorny situation!