When I was a freshman in high school, won the botany division of my high school’s science fair and advanced to the city-wide/regional competition. I didn’t win top honors, but there were other, independent awards handed out; I was fortunate enough to win one, called (and I’m probably not being quite accurate here, as this was 25-ish years ago), the Army Achievement Medal. I walked on stage to receive my award, but they didn’t actually have it ready to go. Instead, I was to receive it in the mail. It never came. I still have the satisfaction of a job well done, but to this day, I still think about that medal once in a while and wish I had it. That’s nothing, though, compared to what Merida Manipoun has not yet received for winning a prize drawing at California’s Viejas Casino & Resort in May 2016.
Viejas held a contest called the “Dream Machine” in which patrons could earn entries into a drawing based on their play in the casino. The grand prize: a 2016 Aston Martin Vantage GT valued at $134,000.
Manipoun – also known previously as Anoma Sengvixay – had her name drawn and was celebrated on stage at the casino. Of course, as these things go, and as people sometimes lament when winning a big prize, Manipoun was also going to have to fill out a tax form and eventually pay taxes on the value of the car. But hey, it amounted to a relatively cheap luxury car, so let the good times roll, right?
Wrong. After winning, Manipoun – according to a lawsuit she has filed – was pressured by Viejas managers to accept a much smaller cash payment instead of the car. There was no violence involved, but the coercion was strong. The text of the lawsuit spells it out:
After receiving her public congratulations and posing for promotional materials, Ms. Manipoun was escorted into a back room, by one or more Defendants, and subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch in which she was strenuously encouraged to forego her entitlement to the Car and, instead, accept a relatively de minimis sum of cash compensation, on the apparent theory that such would afford her appreciable tax benefits.
Ms. Manipoun resisted the subject sales pitch and, instead, demanded that she be given the Car she had rightfully earned.
Oh, and Viejas still hit Manipoun with the tax form for the full value of the car, even though they wouldn’t give it to her.
Manipoun then went to the Aston Martin Dealership in San Diego that had provided the car for the promotion, but “she was informed that it was not in possession of any paperwork indicating her entitlement to the Car and, to the contrary, that she would not be receiving the Car.”
So there she was, no cash, no car, but a hefty tax bill. Lawsuit time!
What’s interesting here is that because Veijas is on tribal land and therefore has sovereign immunity protection against many lawsuits, Manipoun has gone after the casino staff. The lawsuit names casino operations manager Lou Dibela, manager of gaming activities Chris Kelly, and casino host Linda Carr, as well as twenty “John Doe” defendants and Aston Martin of San Diego. All but the car dealership are being sued for fraud, breach of unfair competition law, and twice conspiracy to defraud. The dealership is being sued for breach of unilateral contract claim.
One would think that Ms. Manipoun has an extremely strong case, especially considering that she won a very visible promotion and was “awarded” the car in front of casino customers, but the law can be an ugly thing, so we’ll just have to wait and see.