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LEGAL FILE

Cleveland Infiniti store loses bid to dismiss spot delivery case

A customer who returned a G37 to a Cleveland Infiniti dealership after being denied a loan can pursue truth-in-lending and equal credit opportunity claims against the store, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent this month denied a bid by Airport Infiniti to dismiss Debra Fox Benton’s spot delivery case.

Benton bought the 2011 Infiniti G37 for $27,864 in February 2014. The retail installment sales contract, co-signed by Benton’s father, listed the dealership as the creditor. A standard provision in the contract allowing Airport Infiniti to cancel the deal was not checked off on the document, and the cancellation period was marked “NA,” according to court filings.

About a month after Benton took delivery, the dealership notified her that the lender had turned down the credit application. The store asked her to sign a new retail installment sales contract with different terms or return the G37.

She opted to return it, and the store canceled the deal. It refunded her $5,000 down payment after she hired a lawyer, the decision said.

The arguments

Benton’s lawyer, Thomas Robenalt of Rocky River, Ohio, describes the transaction as “a classic ‘yo-yo’ deal.”

“Anytime you extend credit as a creditor and then decide to change the terms of the deal,” it most often is a violation of federal law, he said. It’s also “highly deceptive” to consumers who believe they have a final deal and rely on that belief in trading in an old vehicle and making a down payment, he said.

Benton’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages under the federal Truth-In-Lending and Equal Credit Opportunity acts, as well as Ohio’s Consumer Sales Protection Act and Uniform Commercial Code.

The dealership countered in its filings that despite the refunded down payment and cancellation of the deal, Benton “seeks to further profit from the return of the vehicle by claiming that the paperwork related to her transaction was faulty.”

The dealership denied wrongdoing and also argued that it wasn’t a creditor for truth-in-lending purposes.

‘Premature’ conclusion

The judge dismissed the UCC claim only, letting Benton go forward on the other federal and state allegations.

In his decision, he held that the suit “clearly states” a truth-in-lending claim and said it’s premature to determine that Airport Infiniti isn’t a creditor under the language of the retail installment sales contract. As for the Ohio consumer protection claim, the judge said the RISC and buyer’s order don’t “indisputably establish” that the financing offer was contingent.

Robenalt said he now will ask the judge to rule in Benton’s favor on the alleged federal law violations and will seek pretrial discovery, including whether other Airport Infiniti customers had the same issues.

Dealership attorney James Niehaus of Cleveland said his client hasn’t authorized him to discuss pending litigation.

You can reach Eric Freedman at freedma5@autonews.edu

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