‘The backyard is a mud pit’ Landscaping company goes bankrupt, abandons pool project
Long-time Nicholasville landscaping company Nature’s Expressions abruptly filed for bankruptcy on Friday, leaving hundreds of debts unpaid and untold numbers of homeowners with unfinished jobs.
According to the bankruptcy filing, the company had between $1 million and $10 million in assets and in liabilities. The company also said that “after any administrative expenses are paid, no funds will be available to unsecured creditors.”
The company, which had been in business since 1998, filed for Chapter 7 or liquidation bankruptcy, with between 200 and 999 creditors.
Among them are Carrie and Craig Brogden, who own Machmer Hall, a Thoroughbred breeding farm.
Last fall, the Brogdens hired Nature’s Expressions to put in a 36-foot swimming pool, with landscaping, for their Lexington home. Work was slow but steady until March. The Brogdens said they paid about $90,000. Then, “everything ground to a halt and not a single person showed up,” Craig Brogden said.
Now their back yard is “a big mud hole,” he said. “The liner hasn’t even been put in. It’s just a metal frame and some stonework.”
After two months, Brogden began pressing in May for the project to be completed.
CEO Rich Richardson sent them an email with a plan of action, Brogden said. He promised a full work crew would show up and get the project done on June 3.
“And on the third of June they locked the gates,” he said.
According to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Eastern District in Lexington, on June 3 the directors and shareholders of Nature’s Expressions Landscaping, including Richardson, Kenneth Owen, Dale Flygstad and board chairman Dave Miller voted to liquidate the company and file for bankruptcy.
Now homeowners in Lexington and Nicholasville are wondering what will happen to their unfinished decks, pools, and landscaping.
Brogden has already begun looking for someone to finish the project.
“We can’t leave it like it is,” he said. “We will be last in line to get anything back out of them.”
Nature’s Expressions could not be contacted; the main number for the business had been disconnected by Monday. Richardson could not immediately be reached for comment.
One creditor sued last week, saying Nature’s Expressions owed almost $270,000. On June 3, Congleton Lumber and Trim filed a lawsuit in Fayette County Circuit Court against Nature’s Expressions. The suit accuses Nature’s Expressions of owing the lumber company for materials and supplies that were used on “different jobs in various counties within Kentucky.”
Congleton Lumber alleges that from the beginning of the business relationship between the companies, Nature’s Expressions had “repeatedly defaulted on its financial obligations” to the lumber company.
As a form of security, Richardson assured Congleton Lumber in March that proceeds from the sale of “real property” owned by him would be assigned to the lumber company to cover the debt, according to the lawsuit. At that point, Nature’s Expressions owed Congleton Lumber $150,000.
But the sale of the property offered to cover the debt “did not occur as promised by Richardson and no payment was made” to the lumber company, according to the lawsuit. By May 2019, Nature’s Expressions owed Congleton Lumber $269,921.28, according to the lawsuit.
Now that lawsuit has been put on hold with the bankruptcy filing. A notice of abatement was filed on Monday by Nature’s Expressions, notifying the court of the bankruptcy filing and saying that no further action would immediately be permitted in the civil case.
It is unclear what legal recourse creditors may have.
Ryan Cook, co-owner of C&S Pools, said that his company also is owed money for pools in various unfinished states in Lexington. Last week, he went to the Nature’s Expressions offices to find out why he wasn’t being paid.
He found the gates padlocked. As he was leaving, Cook met Brogden and heard about his pool.
Cook said he knows of several others in similar situations, and in some cases he’s been the one who broke the news to them of the bankruptcy.
“They didn’t call any of the customers,” Cook said. “They just stopped showing up. They’ve been waiting on them to show up to finish the work.”
In 2016, a lawsuit was filed in Jessamine County Circuit Court by seven people who worked at Nature’s Expressions Landscaping. The workers accused the company of failing to pay wages for work in excess of 40 hours a week.
The lawsuit was transferred to federal court in the Eastern District of Kentucky on March 30, 2016, and more than two dozen other former and current employees also joined the lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Hood approved a $277,000 settlement in July 2018 that set out a payment schedule. The third and last payment of about $70,000 was due June 21, 2019; that case also is in abatement now that Nature’s Expressions has filed for bankruptcy.