LEGAL FILE

Miami store fends off class action in lease-refund dispute

Related Links
Related Topics

A customer who claims a Miami dealership wrongfully refused to refund her the difference between the estimated and actual value of her lease trade-in cannot pursue a class-action lawsuit, the Florida Court of Appeal has ruled.

The unanimous three-member panel reversed class certification in a suit accusing Miami Automotive Retail Inc., which does business as Brickell Honda, of violating Florida’s consumer-protection law.

However, the appeals panel allowed plaintiff Christine Baldwin to pursue her individual claims against Brickell.

According to the decision, Baldwin bought a Honda CR-V in 2004. Brickell Honda agreed to treat her leased Civic as a trade-in and pay off the amount owed on it. The exact amount owed wasn’t available, so the parties estimated that amount and used it, in turn, to estimate the Civic’s trade-in value. Brickell listed the Civic’s estimated trade-in value on the purchase documents for the CR-V, which the plaintiff signed.

Baldwin contends the dealership told her that if its actual payoff amount on the Civic was less than the estimate, it would refund her the difference. Brickell’s actual payoff amount, $11,383, was below the $11,757 estimated trade-in value, but Brickell failed to make her a refund, the suit contends. Baldwin also claims that because the amount owed on her trade-in was overestimated, she was overcharged on the end price of her new vehicle.

At a hearing, Baldwin offered a dealership spreadsheet showing that Brickell overestimated lien payoffs 917 times and kept the difference 858 times from September 2002 to September 2006, resulting in an alleged windfall.

A Miami-Dade County judge certified a class of purchasers whose trade-ins were encumbered by liens and where Brickell overestimated the lien payoff but didn’t refund overcharges or provide an equivalent value in products or services.

However, the appellate court ruled that class certification is inappropriate because of the individual facts that must be determined about each transaction, such as representations made by salespeople to the customers.

For example, the court noted, Baldwin hadn’t told Brickell that she inadvertently made an additional lease payment on the Civic after signing the purchase agreement, thus reducing the amount paid by Brickell to satisfy the lease; nor did she seek reimbursement for that payment from Brickell or the leasing company.

The court also said the store’s spreadsheet shows situations in which Brickell correctly estimated, overestimated and underestimated amounts owed on trade-ins and that some customers received credit for the difference between estimates and the amount Brickell actually paid.

“Moreover, examining how Brickell handled these negotiations and whether such handling violated the consumer protection law would be impractical on a class-wide or aggregate basis,” Judge Leslie Rothenberg wrote for the panel.

Lawyers for Brickell and Baldwin didn’t respond to requests for comment.

You can reach Eric Freedman at freedma5@msu.edu.

Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.

Or submit an online comment below. (Terms and Conditions)




Rocket Fuel