Lessees who filed an unsuccessful fraud lawsuit against an Ontario, Calif., dealership must cover its $18,961 in attorney fees and legal costs, a state Court of Appeal panel has ruled.
There was no evidence to support allegations that Crown Toyota defrauded Juan and Lynn Rodriguez when the original version of their lease agreement described the vehicle as a 1997, rather than 1996 Yukon, the court said. The dealership corrected the error in a revised lease a few weeks later.
The agreement had a standard provision that entitles the winner in a lease-related lawsuit to recoup attorney fees, dealership lawyer Lee Sherman of Tustin, Calif., said.
"Normally, the plaintiffs use this as a hammer," Sherman said. "It's a reverse of the usual situation."
According to the court's decision, the Rodriguezes leased the Yukon in 1999. Although they learned of the initial mistake a month later, they waited more than a year to sue for fraud, breach of contract, negligence and breach of warranties. A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge dismissed all claims without trial.
The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld that decision and the award of attorney fees.
The court said there was no showing of any misrepresentation other than the model year, no proof that Crown intentionally provided the wrong year, and no evidence that the Rodriguezes would have picked a different vehicle or negotiated a lower price if they had known it was a 1996 model, the court said.
"Both (Rodriguezes) agreed that the vehicle they leased had all the attributes they wanted," Judge Manuel Ramirez said.
He noted that the lessees "did nothing about it for 14 months and then only acted because they had a dispute with Crown over who would pay for a repair."
Their lawyer, Matthew Matern of Los Angeles, declined to discuss the decision.
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