Jim Broomell thinks Cherry Hill Dodge sucks.
At least that's what the magnetic signs he stuck to his vehicle say.
Charles Foulke, the owner of Cherry Hill Dodge and several other well-known local dealerships, would disagree.
So much so that he filed a lawsuit against Broomell, accusing him of hurting his business by displaying the signs, among other indiscretions.
While some people would have sought a quiet resolution for what began as a sputtering pickup truck, Broomell wouldn't quit. He rejected an offer to abandon his crusade, which included e-mail addresses that incorporated his sentiments and several postings on consumer Web sites.
"It's my First Amendment right," he said. "When I get pushed into a corner, I fight."
For more than two years he fought, serving as his own attorney, accumulating a thick file of court papers and motions - all done in his spare time.
Superior Court Judge Irvin J. Snyder tossed the suit in December, on a technical matter. Even though he won the case, Broomell was conflicted, since he never got to make his First Amendment argument to a jury.
"It was a letdown when I got the motion," he said. "It was like practicing for a part and then having the play canceled."
Still, the case raises this question: When does an expression of consumer dissatisfaction cross the line, particularly on the Internet, where the venues for venting are limitless?
Harold Pohlman, the director of the Law and Public Service Program at Dickinson College, said speech - even hate speech - is protected "until you get into intimidation."
"I would be shocked if a simple assertion of 'I want to hurt your business' would be dispositive . . . especially if the signs asserted a simple expression of opinion," he said.
Sheldon H. Nahmod, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, agreed that negative opinions of businesses are free speech, but said lawsuits "are going to happen more and more because of the Internet."
"This is not a new issue," he said. As to "what makes it different . . . look at the kind of communication involved."
In addition to Web sites like Complaints.com that host a variety of rants, sites dedicated to individual companies have proliferated.
Forbes even compiled the top 10 "corporate hate sites," which included unsurprising targets, such as an airline (United), a phone company (Verizon), and the biggest-box retailer (Wal-Mart).
The domain names of the hate sites usually employ the company monikers in an off-color way.
In the Cherry Hill case, the auto dealership registered the domain names that Broomell used on his e-mail addresses, a move Judge Snyder called a wise "preemptive strike."
But immediately after the judge threw out the case last year, Broomell, an information-technology supervisor, started a Web site that explains his two-year court fight and includes pictures of his truck with the infamous magnetic signs.
"They screwed me, sued me and lost," Broomell explained. That also happens to be a phrase used in the name of his site.
Although Snyder threw the case out, he did address the dealership's request for an injunction to stop Broomell from using his e-mail addresses.
"The Constitution protects this type of language," he said. "The fact that speech could result in economic harm isn't enough to override the burden."
The whole thing began with a used pickup truck that faltered. Broomell filed a lemon-law suit against Chrysler, the manufacturer, and got an extended warranty out of it.
When the truck had more problems, Broomell said, Cherry Hill Dodge, a Cherry Hill Triplex dealership, refused to work on the vehicle despite the warranty.
Laura Ruccolo, an attorney for Triplex, said the dealership was not obligated to work on the truck and just didn't want to deal with Broomell anymore.
"I don't think the guy understands," she said. "He was yelling and screaming at people."
Both parties ended up in small-claims court, which threw out the case, saying Broomell had the option to go to another dealership.
Right after that, in 2004, Triplex sued Broomell for his signs and other activities.
"Broomell continues to make statements that the court already decided were untrue, such as my client refused to honor the warranty," Ruccolo said.
Before the case was resolved, Broomell said, Triplex would have to prove he had been "malicious and unjustified."
"I'm granting them malicious," he said. "I want them to lose business, and I don't want people to go there. . . . But I am justified, period."
As the case was nearing trial last year, Snyder urged Broomell to consider an offer to stop his campaign in exchange for Triplex's dropping the suit. He refused.
"It was worth it. I got my education out of it," Broomell said. "It was better than a semester at law school."
Snyder said Triplex could bring the case back in Chancery Court, where it could seek a restraining order and other relief for anything Broomell has done since the end of the small-claims case.
Ruccolo said Triplex's future plans were "not subject to disclosure at this point."
But Broomell said he was considering suing Triplex again to get his court costs back - about $500.
"Why should I have to pay that money?" he asked.