Published February 15, 2019, Dealer’s Voice – Most plaintiffs suing dealerships list as many violations as possible in the hope that at least one will stick. In a recent case, a car buyer alleged five violations in his complaint against the dealership where he bought and financed his car, and all five of them stuck. Keep reading to see all the things this dealership did wrong.
Mario Alexis went to PMM Enterprise to buy a used car. The salesman told Alexis that the price of the car was $16,900 and that it was “clean and had never been in an accident.” Alexis made a down payment of $2,000 and financed the balance. The retail installment contract listed the car’s purchase price as $18,000. Alexis was told by PMM that the $1,100 discrepancy was a “bank fee.” Alexis alleged that he was not given a copy of the purchase order or the RIC. About nine months later, Alexis learned that the car had sustained significant structural damage before he bought it and was unsafe to drive. Alexis returned the car to PMM and revoked acceptance. Alexis sued PMM, alleging violation of the Truth in Lending Act, Electronic Fund Transfer Act, and Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act as well as breach of implied and express warranties. Alexis moved for a default judgment after PMM failed to answer the complaint.
First, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut found that PMM violated TILA by (1) not giving a copy of the contract containing the required disclosures to Alexis before consummation of the agreement, and (2) including the $1,100 “bank fee” in the purchase price listed on the RIC. The court noted that inclusion of the “bank fee,” which was an additional charge beyond the price at which PMM would have sold the car for cash, allowed PMM to understate the finance charge. The court awarded Alexis $2,000 in statutory damages but found that he did not suffer any actual damages from the TILA violations.
Second, the court found that PMM violated the EFTA by requiring Alexis to set up preauthorized electronic transfers of the contract payments as a condition of financing the car. The court awarded Alexis statutory damages of $100 for the EFTA violation.
Third, the court found that PMM breached the implied warranty of merchantability by selling a car that was unsafe to drive while it knew or should have known about the condition of the car at the time of sale. PMM also breached an express warranty because its employee told Alexis that the car was “clean and had never been in an accident,” and Alexis relied on that statement when he decided to buy the car. The court awarded Alexis $2,000 in compensatory damages for these violations.
Finally, the court found that PMM’s negligent misrepresentation of the car’s condition elevated its breach of the implied warranty of merchantability and breach of express warranty to the level of a CUTPA violation. Alexis also established that PMM violated the CUTPA by violating TILA and potentially violating Connecticut’s Retail Installment Sales Financing Act when it misrepresented the car’s purchase price. The court awarded $2,000 in punitive damages for the CUTPA violations.
Here’s hoping that this dealership makes a New Year’s resolution to do more than just tweak a few things to make its operations compliant. Judging from this case, the dealership requires a frame-off restoration.