Was the customer framed when she came to Beechmont Volvo for recall work and routine service?
Actually, it was her license plates that were framed - with a holder advertising the suburban Cincinnati dealership - without the customer's consent. And that was a big enough deal to send her to court, accusing Beechmont of violating Ohio's consumer protection law.
A Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge originally tossed out the case. Now a split Ohio Court of Appeals panel has upheld that decision, holding that the dealership didn't 'commit a deceptive act' under the law.
As the court frames the story, the woman, who was named only as M. Richards in the decision, brought her vehicle to Beechmont in response to a recall notice. At the same time, she paid $52.34 for routine servicing and minor repairs.
Without her knowledge or consent, the dealership removed her license-plate frames and replaced them with ones promoting Beechmont.
'When Richards complained, she learned that Beechmont replaced the license-plate frames on all vehicles brought in for service,' Appeals Judge Rupert Doan said. 'Originally, the dealership told her it could do nothing because her original frames had been destroyed. But it obtained license-plate frames identical to her original frames from the Dayton dealership where Richards had bought her Volvo.'
Speaking for the 2-1 majority, Doan rejected the argument that Beechmont's conduct was 'deceptive and unconscionable.' Richards had no gripe about the quality of the warranty or repair work, Doan added, and replacement of the frames was merely a 'minor, incidental situation' beyond the intent of the consumer protection law.
The dissenter, Judge Mark Painter, voted to reinstate the suit, which sought triple damages and attorney fees.
Had Richards known her license-plate frames would be replaced 'by stealth,' she may have chosen a different dealership to patronize, he said. 'If the Consumer Sales Practices Act does not protect against such an outrage, it is faulty indeed.'
Beechmont's lawyer, Jeffrey Wade of Cincinnati, said, 'To us, it was just somebody who had a complaint. We tried to address it, but not to her satisfaction, so we had a lawsuit.'
The customer's lawyer (and husband), Gates Richards of Cincinnati, said he will 'absolutely' ask the Ohio Supreme Court to review the decision. 'The Consumer Sales Practices Act is an abomination, and I say that as generally a dealer lawyer. The act requires that anytime you take something off or put it on a car, you have to list it,' he said.
Richards refused to reveal his client's first name.