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Chaudoin v. Thor Motor Coach, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 15, 2017

EDWARD CHAUDOIN, Plaintiff,
v.
THOR MOTOR COACH, INC., and GENERAL RV CENTER, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          PAUL D. BORMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This action centers around an allegedly defective recreational vehicle that Plaintiff Edward Chaudoin purchased from Defendant General RV Center, Inc. (“GRV”), and which had been manufactured in part and sold to GRV by Defendant Thor Motor Coach, Inc. (“Thor”). Plaintiff has asserted ten separate causes of action against both Defendants jointly, nine of which arise under Michigan law, and the tenth of which was brought pursuant to the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq.

         Before the Court are two Motions for Summary Judgment filed separately by the two Defendants. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims except for the product liability claim asserted in Count VII of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiffs Purchase of the RV and Relevant Documents

         On May 16, 2014, Plaintiff bought a recreational vehicle at a trade show from GRV for $130, 526.50. The transaction is reflected in the Purchase Agreement between Plaintiff and GRV. (ECF No. 25, Defendant General RV Center, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def. GRV's Mot”) Ex. 2, Purchase Agreement; Def. GRV's Mot., Ex. 1, Deposition of Edward Chaudoin 15:13-15.) The vehicle (the “RV”), which Plaintiff bought new, was a 2015 model 37KT Challenger, and as part of the transaction Plaintiff traded in a 2001 Coachmen Santara that he owned. (Purchase Agreement at 2; Chaudoin Dep. 12:15-18.) The purchase price included a service contract with non-party CornerStone RV (“CornerStone”) which Plaintiff purchased through GRV for $4, 505. (Purchase Agreement at 2.) Plaintiff testified that he negotiated with GRV representatives over the price, but not over any other terms of the purchase. (Chaudoin Dep. 160:9-14.)

         Before buying the RV, Plaintiff spoke with a GRV salesman, who represented that there was a factory warranty on the vehicle. (Chaudoin Dep. 23:15-17.) Plaintiff testified that his perception at the time was that Thor was warranting the coach while Ford Motor Company was warranting the motor and frame, but that his understanding in any case was that his warranty was "bumper to bumper” and that Thor would have primary responsibility for repairs. (Chaudoin Dep. 40:17-42:3.) Plaintiff did not perform any research into Thor products or speak to any representatives from Thor prior to making the purchase. (Chaudoin Dep. 21:5-13.)

         Plaintiff was presented with, reviewed, and signed various documents at the time of the purchase. These documents are significant in one way or another to nearly all of the claims asserted in this action, and so their relevant provisions are set forth below.

         i. Purchase Agreement (GRV)

         On the Purchase Agreement, a block of text above Plaintiff's signature states:

THIS PURCHASE AGREEMENT CONTAINS THE ENTIRE UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN GENERAL RV AND PURCHASER NO ONE HAS AUTHORITY TO MAKE ANY REPRESENTATION BEYOND THIS AGREEMENT NO OTHER REPRESENTATIONS OR INDUCEMENTS, VERBAL OR WRITTEN HAVE BEEN MADE WHICH ARE NOT CONTAINED ON THIS DOCUMENT PURCHASER HAS NOT RELIED ON ANYTHING WRITTEN INTO THIS PURCHASE AGREEMENT SUCH THAT NOTHING ELSE IS THE BASIS OF THE BARGAIN OR IS ENFORCEABLE AGAINST GENERAL RV, EVEN IF ALLEGED TO BE A MISREPRESENTATION BY SIGNING BELOW, PURCHASER ACKNOWLEDGES THAT PURCHASER HAS RECEIVED A COPY OF THIS AGREEMENT AND THAT PURCHASER HAS READ AND UNDERSTANDS THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, INCLUDING THOSE PRINTED ON THE REVERSE SIDE, WHICH INCLUDE . . . AN “AS IS” CLAUSE . . .

(Purchase Agreement at 2.)

         The reverse side of the Purchase Agreement contains additional terms, two of which are relevant here. Paragraph 12 on the reverse side states:

PURCHASER UNDERSTANDS THAT THERE MAY BE WRITTEN WARRANTIES COVERING THIS RV, BUT THAT THESE WARRANTIES ARE OFFERED BY THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE RV, ITS COMPONENTS AND/OR ITS APPLIANCES THESE WARRANTIES HAVE BEEN PROVIDED TO PURCHASER AND PURCHASER HAS READ AND UNDERSTANDS THESE WARRANTIES PURCHASER UNDERSTANDS THAT DEALER OFFERS NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, ON THIS RV THIS RV IS SOLD “AS IS” BY DEALER, AND DEALER DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

(Id. at 3 (emphasis in original).)

         Paragraph 13 on the reverse side states:

Except in states that do not allow limitation of damages, the following limitation of damages shall apply DEALER DISCLAIMS ANY INCIDENTAL AND/OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, SUCH THAT PURCHASER SHALL NOT BE ENTITLED TO INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES FROM DEALER Also, since this is an “AS IS” purchase as to Dealer, Purchaser cannot rescind nor revoke acceptance of this contract, or the vehicle, or return the vehicle to Dealer.

(Id. (emphasis in original).)

         Plaintiff testified that he was handed the Purchase Agreement and it was explained to him, whereupon he signed it. (Chaudoin Dep. 26:18-22.) Plaintiff testified that he did not read the Purchase Agreement “word for word, ” and while he admitted that he could have requested the opportunity to do so, he also testified that “[i]f I would have read all the paperwork that they gave me word for word, I'd have been there for 16 hours.” (Chaudoin Dep. 27:12-14.)

         ii. Limited Warranty (Thor)

         Most of the documents that accompanied the purchase of the RV are not in dispute. There is a significant factual dispute regarding one of the purchase documents, however, and it is over whether Plaintiff received Thor's Limited Warranty at the time of sale. (ECF No. 26, Defendant Thor Motor Coach Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def. Thor's Mot.”) Ex. 1, Limited Warranty.) Plaintiff maintains that the owner's manual he received from GRV listed the Limited Warranty in its table of contents, but that the specific pages containing the Limited Warranty had been removed from the manual itself. (ECF No. 29, Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Thor Motor Coach Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pl.'s Thor Resp.”) at 4; Pl.'s Thor Resp., Ex. 1, RV Owner's Manual Warranty Section.) Thor admits that the pages had been removed, but claims that this was because the Limited Warranty was changed after the owner's manual was printed. (ECF No. 31, Defendant Thor Motor Coach Inc.'s Reply Brief to Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def. Thor's Repl.”) at 2; Pl.'s Thor Resp., Ex. 2, Defendant Thor Motor Coach's Answers to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories.) The parties agree that Plaintiff obtained the Limited Warranty separately from the owner's manual at some point, but disagree on precisely when. Thor claims that Plaintiff received it at the time of sale. (Def. Thor's Repl. at 2.) Plaintiff claims that he demanded it from GRV after he began having problems with the RV, and GRV gave him a copy only then. (Chaudoin Dep. 39:14-40:12.)

         While the time at which Plaintiff received the Limited Warranty is in dispute, the contents of the Limited Warranty are not. (Def. Thor's Mot., Ex. 1, Limited Warranty; Pl.'s Thor Resp., Ex. 11, Defendant Thor's Alleged, Post-Sale Limited Warranty.) By its terms, the Limited Warranty lasted until the earliest of 15, 000 miles or 12 months after delivery of the RV by an authorized dealer, with a longer period (24, 000 miles or 24 months from the purchase date) for “the steel or aluminum frame structure, only, of the sidewalls (excluding slide outs), roof, and rear and front walls.” (Limited Warranty at 2.)

         Under a section entitled “LIMITATION AND DISCLAIMER OF IMPLIED WARRANTIES, ” the Limited Warranty states:

IMPLIED WARRANTIES, IF ANY, ARISING BY WAY OF STATE LAW, INCLUDING ANY IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY AND ANY IMPLIED WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, ARE LIMITED IN DURATION TO THE TERM OF THIS LIMITED WARRANTY AND ARE LIMITED IN SCOPE OF COVERAGE TO THOSE PORTIONS OF THE MOTORHOME COVERED BY THE LIMITED WARRANTY. WARRANTOR DISCLAIMS ALL IMPLIED AND EXPRESS WARRANTIES, INCLUDING THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY AND THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, ON COMPONENTS AND APPLIANCES EXCLUDED FROM COVERAGE AS SET FORTH BELOW. There is no warranty of any nature made by Warrantor beyond that contained in this Limited Warranty. No person has authority to enlarge, amend or modify this Limited Warranty. The dealer is not the Warrantor's agent but is an independent entity. Warrantor is not responsible for any undertaking, representation or warranty made by any dealer or other person beyond those expressly set forth in this Limited Warranty. Some states do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty lasts, so the above limitation may not apply to you.

(Limited Warranty at 2.)

         Also of particular importance here is that under the section entitled “LEGAL REMEDIES, ” the Limited Warranty states:

THIS LIMITED WARRANTY DOES NOT EXTEND TO “FUTURE PERFORMANCE”. ANY ACTION TO ENFORCE THIS LIMITED WARRANTY OR ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES SHALL NOT BE COMMENCED MORE THAN 90 DAYS AFTER THE EXPIRATION OF THE APPLICABLE WARRANTY COVERAGE PERIOD DESIGNATED ABOVE. UNLESS PROHIBITED BY STATE LAW, THE PERFORMANCE OF REPAIRS SHALL NOT SUSPEND THIS LIMITATIONS PERIOD FROM EXPIRING AND ANY LEGAL ACTION TO ENFORCE WARRANTY RIGHTS AGAINST WARRANTOR MUST BE BROUGHT WITHIN THE STATE OF INDIANA.

(Id.)

         iii. Registration and Acknowledgement (Thor)

         Relevant to Plaintiff's receipt (whenever it took place) of Thor's Limited Warranty is the fact that on the date that he purchased the RV, Plaintiff signed Thor's Registration and Acknowledgement of Receipt of Warranty and Product Information. (Def. Thor's Mot., Ex. 2, Thor Registration and Acknowledgement.)

         Under its header, the Thor Registration and Acknowledgement prominently states “IMPORTANT THE CUSTOMER IS REQUIRED TO READ THIS DOCUMENT BEFORE SIGNING IT.” (Thor Registration and Acknowledgement at 2.) The next paragraph states as follows:

We have listed several items which will help acquaint you with your new recreation vehicle. You the purchaser, should not submit this form until (1) you have received and reviewed the Limited Warranty and owner's manual; (2) you have had the opportunity to inspect and opertate [sic] the vehicle; (3) all items have been demonstrated and/or explained to you; (4) the dealer has answered any questions you may have, and; (5) you find the vehicle in good condition. The dealer is not authorized to deliver this vehicle until this has been done and both you and the dealer have signed this form.

(Id.)

         Only Plaintiff's signature appears on the Thor Registration and Acknowledgement. Above the signature line (and Plaintiff's signature on it), the document states in relevant part:

Before I purchased this vehicle, I received, read and agreed to the terms and conditions of Thor Motor Coach's 1 page Limited Warranty, published within its Owner's Manual . . . I understand and agree that any legal action for breach of express or for breach of implied warranties that may arise by operation of law must be filed within ninety (90) days of the expiration of the applicable warranty coverage period as defined within the limited warranty . . . I also agree that the selling dealer is not an agent for Thor Motor Coach but is an independent company with no authority to make any representation or promise for Thor Motor Coach[.]

(Id.)

         As noted above, Plaintiff testified that he first saw the Limited Warranty when he obtained a copy of it from GRV after noticing that the pages that purportedly contained it were missing from the owner's manual he had received. (Chaudoin Dep. 39:14-40:12.) He did not ask to see the Limited Warranty any time prior to that because he “thought there was no need” since “[i]t was a new vehicle.” (Chaudoin Dep. 40:13-16.) And whether he received it at the time he purchased the RV or at some point later, Plaintiff testified that he never read the Limited Warranty. (Chaudoin Dep. 124:9-10.)

         iv. Warranty Disclaimer (GRV)

         Also included among the documents reviewed and signed by Plaintiff at the time of the purchase was a GRV document entitled “General RV Arbitration, ‘AS IS' and Warranty Disclaimer Form, and Acknowledgement of Michigan Law and Michigan Forum Controlling.” (Def. GRV's Mot., Ex. 3, GRV Warranty Disclaimer.)

         The GRV Warranty Disclaimer is a one-page document reiterating several of the key terms in the Purchase Agreement. Among other things, the GRV Warranty Disclaimer states that the signer understands: (1) that the Purchase Agreement is the only document that represents an agreement with GRV; (2) that the signer has no right to revocation, rescission, or repurchase because the vehicle was purchased “AS IS”; (3) that GRV offers no express or implied warranty and any warranties on the vehicle are from manufacturers; (4) that any such manufacturer warranties have been provided to the signer; and (5) that the signer is not entitled to any incidental or consequential damages, provided that applicable state law allows limitation of damages. (See Id. at 2.)

         Above Plaintiff's signature, the GRV Warranty Disclaimer reads: “General RV has answered all of my questions regarding my purchase to my satisfaction I am satisfied with the RV's current condition, and I have read and understand this document.” (Id.) Plaintiff testified that he “skimmed through” this document before signing it. (Chaudoin Dep. 30:4-8.)

         v. Confirmation of Understanding of Purchase Agreement (GRV)

         Another GRV form reviewed and signed by Plaintiff reiterated that he (as the undersigned) had the opportunity to review the “fully completed contract” and have any questions answered to his satisfaction, and that he fully understood the “terms and conditions of the sales agreement presented to [him].” (Def. GRV's Mot., Ex 4, Confirmation of Understanding of Purchase Agreement.)

         Plaintiff testified that he “skimmed through” the paragraphs on this form as well. (Chaudoin Dep. 36:14-23.) He further testified as follows:

Q These [paragraphs] talk about, in particular, for example, the second one states, all my questions regarding the sales agreement was answered to my satisfaction before I signed the agreement. Did you agree with that statement?
A Well, I thought at the time that they were telling me everything I needed to know.
Q Okay. I'm going to have you read each one of those statements, just to yourself, and ask you if you agree that those were accurate?
A I would say, pretty much I understood everything.
Q Okay, and you agreed with those statements at the time you signed this?
A At the time I signed it, yeah.

(Chaudoin Dep. 36:24-37:12.)

         vi. Service Call Agreement (GRV)

         Plaintiff reviewed and signed a separate Service Call Agreement with GRV, which stated that while the buyer was encouraged to obtain any warranty repairs through local service providers, GRV would send repair staff to service the RV at the buyer's location if the buyer could not have the necessary repairs done locally. (Def. GRV's Mot. Ex. 5, GRV Service Call Agreement.) The GRV Service Call Agreement outlined the amounts that GRV would charge the buyer for servicing the vehicle at the buyer's location and for towing the vehicle to the “servicing dealer” closest to the buyer's location, as well as the circumstances under which GRV would facilitate Plaintiff's seeking reimbursement for repair costs from a manufacturer. (Id.)

         The GRV Service Call Agreement begins with the following language:

It is important for you to be aware of the Manufacturer's warranty policy regarding your recreational vehicle/unit since General RV sold it to you "AS IS, " and since General RV does not issue any warranties whatsoever, express or implied, and because all warranties received by you are solely issued by the manufacturer of your recreational vehicle/unit[.]

(GRV Service Call Agreement at 2.)

         Plaintiff acknowledged in his deposition testimony that he signed the GRV Service Call Agreement after he “skimmed through it.” (Chaudoin Dep. 38:3-7.)

         vii. Title Application

         The Title Application signed by Plaintiff itself included language-close to and above the signature field but nearly so small as to be illegible-representing that the undersigned understood that any applicable warranties were offered by manufacturers, that the RV was sold to him “AS IS, ” and that GRV disclaimed all express and implied warranties. (Def. GRV's Mot. Ex. 6, Title Application.)

         viii. Cornerstone Service Contract

         In connection with his purchase of the RV, Plaintiff also bought from GRV an extended service contract with non-party CornerStone for $4, 505. (Purchase Agreement at 2.) The service contract specifies that “[t]his Contract is between You and the Obligor (hereinafter referred to as We, Us, or Our)[.]” (Def. GRV's Mot., Ex. 8, Cornerstone RV Service Contract at 2.) The CornerStone Service Contract contains various provisions, including a provision specifying that the contract's duration was 60 months or 75, 000 miles from the date of purchase, and a provision stating that this term of coverage included “all manufacturer, dealer, and/o[r] other applicable warranties.” (Id.) The document was signed both by Plaintiff and by a representative of GRV, which is referred to in the document as the “SELLING DEALER.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that he “looked through [the CornerStone Service Contract] like I looked through everything else” presented to him in the transaction, that at the time of purchase he understood the CornerStone Service Contract took effect “when the factory warranty ended, ” and that he was not aware of GRV providing him with any other warranties. (Chaudoin Dep. 34:6-36:8.)

         2. Plaintiff's Problems with the RV

         On or shortly after Plaintiff purchased the RV on May 16, 2014, he took the vehicle home. (Chaudoin Dep. 45:23-46:4.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff testified, he left on his first weekend trip in the RV, and noticed at the outset of the trip that the water pump was broken. Plaintiff spent eight hours at GRV's repair facility to have the pump fixed and accordingly shortened the trip by a day. (Chaudoin Dep. 47:5-49:12.) On the trip, Plaintiff also noticed issues with the paint job, the windshield wipers, the radio, and the television. (Chaudoin Dep. 50:19-52:12.)

         Between that time and the end of May of 2015, when Thor took possession of the RV, Plaintiff took the vehicle in to be serviced a number of times. Plaintiff testified that the pattern that characterized that year or so was that he would become aware of a malfunction or other problem with the RV, he would take the vehicle to GRV to be repaired, he would inspect the repairs, after which he would take the RV home and begin using it again, and soon after that he would notice additional problems. (Chaudoin Dep. 62:1-7.) According to a summary of repairs that Plaintiff's counsel sent to both Defendants around the time that Plaintiff purported to revoke his acceptance and arrange for the RV's return to Thor, Plaintiff took the vehicle in for repairs on 10 different occasions between May 2014 and March 2015, in which 54 separate components of the vehicle were serviced. (See ECF No. 28, Plaintiff's Response to Defendant General RV Center, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pl.'s GRV Resp.”) Ex. 4, GRV Revocation Letter at 5-6.)

         By the time Plaintiff took his first extended trip with the RV in January of 2015, the RV had been taken in for repairs five times. On or around January 20, 2015, Plaintiff was in Georgia with his fiancée during that trip, and as Plaintiff was exiting the RV to refuel at a small-town gas station, one of the steps broke as he stepped on it, causing Plaintiff to fall and injure his face. (Chaudoin Dep. 91:2-92:7.) Plaintiff testified that he bled from his nose for approximately two hours, but chose not to seek medical treatment because of the remoteness of the area that he was in. (92:9-16.) Plaintiff and his fiancée drove the RV to a Camping World retail and repair facility in Lake Park, Georgia, and stayed at the nearby campgrounds for several days while they waited for a replacement step to arrive and the steps to be repaired. While they were waiting, the RV's furnace broke down, and also had to be repaired. (Chaudoin Dep. 102:22-106:4.)

         3. Plaintiff's Return of the RV

         After GRV had completed a set of repairs around the end of April of 2015, and after Plaintiff noticed continuing issues with the RV after those repairs had been done, he contacted Thor about picking up the RV, and provided Thor with a list of needed repairs. (Chaudoin Dep. 126:19-128:1.) Plaintiff testified that his intention was to permanently return the RV, but that he gave Thor a list of repairs in the event that Thor did not take the vehicle back. (Chaudoin Dep. 131:20-132:6.)

         Around this time, on April 30, 2015, Plaintiffs attorney sent letters to GRV, Thor, and Thor's registered agent, which outlined the maintenance issues that had arisen over the past year and expressed Plaintiffs intention to return the RV to Thor in exchange for the down payment he had made. (GRV Revocation Letter; Pl.'s Thor Resp., Ex. 8, Thor Revocation Letter.) The letter to GRV stated that GRV was in breach of any and all express or implied warranties, demanded rescission of the Purchase Agreement, and stated that the letter constituted notice of Plaintiffs revocation of acceptance under Mich. Comp. Laws § 440.2608. (GRV Revocation Letter at 3-4.) The letter to Thor (and the identical copy sent to Thor's registered agent) requested the return of Plaintiffs down payment and repossession of the RV by Thor. (Thor Revocation Letter at 3, 7.) All three letters were accompanied by an “Evidentiary Memo, ” which listed the purchase date of the RV and summarized repairs that Plaintiff had obtained (as well as their costs to him, where applicable) on ten different occasions between May of 2014 and March of 2015. (GRV Revocation Letter at 5-6; Thor Revocation Letter at 4-5, 8-9.)

         Thor picked up the RV from Plaintiff on or around May 20, 2015. (Pl.'s Thor Resp. at 15.) Thor remains in possession of the RV. (Def. Thor's Mot. at 15.)

         B. Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed suit against both Defendants in the Circuit Court of Livingston County on October 2, 2015, and the action was removed to this Court on November 3. (ECF No. 1, Notice of Removal to Federal Court.) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on November 30, 2015 (ECF No. 8, Am. ...


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