WASHINGTON -- A Virginia car dealer's persistence paid off Tuesday with a U.S. Supreme Court victory that will benefit thousands of lenders, including other dealers.
The court, in an 8-1 decision, said that disgruntled used-car buyer Bradley Nigh is entitled to no more than $1,000 in damages for a lending law violation by the dealership, formerly Koons Buick-Pontiac-GMC of Alexandria, Va.
Lower courts had awarded Nigh more than $24,000.
Nigh argued that the dealer had violated the law by falsely listing a charge of $965 for a car alarm he did not order or receive.
The jury awarded him about $24,000, which represented double the amount of the finance charges.
The justices accepted the argument of Mike Field, president of the dealership, now known as Field Auto City. He beat extremely long odds against just getting the high court to accept his appeal -- and then winning.
Field and his allies contended that the lending law had been obscured by various amendments over the years but that Congress never intended to remove the $1,000 cap on damages for wronged car buyers and other consumer borrowers.
He was backed by the National Automobile Dealers Association, the American Bankers Association and other business groups. Consumer organizations lined up behind Nigh.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that rejecting Field's argument would have led to an absurd result -- caps on damages for bigger loans, such as mortgages, but nearly unlimited damages for car loans.
Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia said the court should not be responsible for correcting congressional drafting errors.
The justices, who hear arguments on only one out every 100 appeals filed with them, did not rule on whether the dealership actually mistreated Nigh.
Nigh convinced lower courts that Koons tricked him to get more money and mishandled the finance contract when he tried to buy a 1997 Chevrolet Blazer four years ago. Ultimately the deal fell through.