Tennessee hunter/jumper trainer Matt Martin is being sued for failing to disclose health and behavior issues of sales horses he recommended. The suit accuses Martin of fraud, breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation.
Plaintiff Lynn Kassem, of Georgia, is also suing Florida horse agent and trainer Debi Connor. The suit claims ‘many’ of almost $1 million in horses purchased by Kassem, with Martin’s help, came through Debi Connor Sales or one of her other businesses.
The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division, states Martin allegedly misrepresented sales prices, and his ownership stake in horses, in order to receive extra commissions.
In 2011, Kassem, an inexperienced equestrian mom, asked Martin to locate a horse that could successfully carry her daughter in the junior hunters and equitation. Documents state Martin approached Kassem about two horses. She purchased both for $65,000. Kassem paid Martin a commission since he reportedly failed to disclose he owned the horses.
Martin purchased the horses from Connor’s sister, Peggy Welden, of Tennessee. The mare named Rosalie was allegedly at Welden’s farm to be sold as a broodmare due to her history of lameness.
The suit states Martin used drugs to cover-up Rosalie’s unsoundness and encouraged Kassem not to do radiographs or a drug screen before the purchase. Not long after, both horses were lame.
After a bad horse lease experience landed Kassem’s daughter in the dirt multiple times, Martin recommended the purchase of City of Angels. Connor’s DC Sales and Entertainment, LLC offered the Holsteiner gelding for $275,000. Court documents accuse Connor and Martin of telling Kassem the horse was worth at least $500,000 since the horse qualified for the International Hunter Derby Finals.
Kassem purchased City of Angels for $275,000 and paid Martin a commission of $27,500. Within months of the purchase, City of Angels began having soundness, neurologic and behavioral issues. The grey gelding began stopping at fences, violently spinning and throwing Kassem’s daughter.
City of Angels was diagnosed with kissing spine disease or Dorsal Spinous Process (DSP) impingement. The gelding was unable to be used and had to be surrendered to the insurance company when a loss of use claim was made. Kassem recovered 70% of her loss, but City of Angels was euthanized.
The suit states Connor, directly or through her agent Don Stewart, failed to provide Kassem with written Bills of Sale that comply with the strict rules that govern horse sales in Florida. Under Florida law, a violation of these rules can be deemed a deceptive practice.
Martin’s alleged fraud continued until he left Kassem’s employment in 2015. Kassem is seeking a jury trial.