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McCray v. Jefferson Chevrolet Co. Inc.

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

April 26, 2018

Denise McCray, Plaintiff,
v.
Jefferson Chevrolet Company, Inc., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDERGRANTINGINPART AND DENYINGIN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT[#14]

          Hon. Gershwin A. Drain United States District Court Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 14. Defendants request this Court dismiss the present action because Plaintiff does not bring enough evidence to support her claims. Plaintiff asserts that her deposition and other evidence in the record are sufficient to preclude summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion.

         II. Factual Background

         On July 12, 2016, Plaintiff's 2004 Trailblazer would not start, and she had it towed to Defendant Jefferson Chevrolet (Dealer). Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 7-8 (Pg. ID 420-21). The next day, Plaintiff learned that her car was not repairable. Id. at pg. 8 (Pg. ID 421). She discussed buying a new car with a salesperson at Jefferson Chevrolet, Wilson Andrew Roberts. See Id. Plaintiff lives off of a limited income. Plaintiff receives $912.00 per month via Social Security Disability. Id. at pg. 6 (Pg. ID 419). She also receives about $20.00 per month in child support payments because she is the primary caretaker of her seven-year-old grandson. Id. at pg. 5, 19 (Pg. ID 418, 432). Plaintiff receives $90.00 per month in food stamps. Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 4 (Pg. ID 10). Therefore, Plaintiff discussed buying an “affordable” car with Mr. Roberts, with payments at around $300.00 per month. Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 8 (Pg. ID 421).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Dealer extended her consumer credit to buy a 2016 Chevrolet Traverse. Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 9). Plaintiff states that Defendant Dealer, through her discussions with Mr. Roberts, told her that it would accept her 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer as a trade-in on the purchase of the 2016 Chevrolet Traverse. Id. From her conversation with Mr. Roberts, Plaintiff believed that the total cost of the 2016 Traverse was $28, 000. Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 14 (Pg. ID 427). Plaintiff's monthly payments on her 2004 Trailblazer were $381.00 per month. Id. at pg. 8 (Pg. ID 421). Mr. Roberts told Plaintiff that her monthly payments on the 2016 Traverse would be less than her payments on her 2004 Trailblazer, about $350.00 per month or lower. Id. at pg. 9 (Pg. ID 422). This is despite the fact that the newer car cost more-Plaintiff's 2004 Trailblazer cost a total of $10, 000 and Plaintiff believed the 2016 Traverse to cost $28, 000. Id. at pg. 8-9 (Pg. ID 421-22). Plaintiff did not think this was abnormal because she believed that she was getting a special deal, similar to deals that she had seen on television. Id. at pg. 14 (Pg. ID 427). Defendant Dealer also agreed to pay off the lien-approximately $6, 800-on Plaintiff's 2004 Trailblazer. Id. at pg. 8 (Pg. ID 421).

         On July 13, 2016, Plaintiff entered into a Retail Installment Sales Contract (RISC) with Defendant Dealer. Dkt. No. 14-3. Defendant Dealer assigned the RISC to Defendant Ally Financial Services, Inc. (Ally Financial). Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 9). The first page of the RISC includes Federal Truth-In-Lending Disclosures, which states the annual percentage rate, finance charge, amount financed, total payments, and total sale price of the deal. Dkt. No. 14-3, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 88). The first page of this document also lists Plaintiff's monthly payment on the Traverse as $655.69 per month. Id. Plaintiff alleges that she only saw the second page of the RISC on the day that she signed it. Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 15 (Pg. ID 428). Plaintiff also asserts that none of the terms of the contract were filled in when she signed it, except for a rebate amount of $7, 826.00.[1] Id. at pg. 11 (Pg. ID 424). Plaintiff signed the contract despite it being mostly blank because Mr. Roberts “asked [her] to. He was the dealer, [and Plaintiff] was following his instructions.” Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 11 (Pg. ID 424). Plaintiff asserts that she did not receive any documents before signing the RISC. Id. Plaintiff also states that the only documents she received to take home after she signed the RISC were registration documents for the 2016 Traverse. Id.

         Plaintiff took possession of the 2016 Traverse after signing the RISC. Defendant Dealer had Plaintiff's 2004 Trailblazer towed back to her house for Gateway, the company with a lien on the Trailblazer, to pick up. Id. at pg. 9 (Pg. ID 422). Dealer claimed there was no room for Plaintiff's 2004 Trailblazer on the lot. Id. at pg. 10 (Pg. ID 423). The keys to the 2004 Trailblazer stayed in the car. Id. Plaintiff did not know her 2004 Trailblazer was not traded in until Gateway called and asked for payment on the Trailblazer. Id. at pg. 15 (Pg. 428). Plaintiff then discovered that Defendant Dealer did not pay off her lien on the 2004 Trailblazer. Id. at pg. 5 (Pg. ID 11). Plaintiff also discovered that the monthly payments on the 2016 Traverse were higher than what Defendant Dealer had represented-approximately $655.69 per month. Id. at pg. 6 (Pg. ID 12); Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 6 (Pg. ID 12). The 2004 Trailblazer was repossessed due to Plaintiff's missed payments. Id. at pg. 18 (Pg. ID 431). Plaintiff was also not able to meet her payments on the 2016 Traverse, and it was repossessed. Id. Plaintiff's credit score went from about 690 to 494 after the repossessions. Id. Plaintiff now has to pay family members to complete her daily travels around town. Id. Plaintiff also states that she still owes Gateway $6, 800, and she owes Ally Financial approximately $12, 000 after the repossession of the 2016 Traverse. Id. at pg. 19 (Pg. ID 432).

         Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Circuit Court for Wayne County on May 22, 2017. Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 16 (Pg. ID 22). In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges eight counts: (1) fraud and/or misrepresentation, (2) breach of contract, (3) violation of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act, (4) violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, (5) conversion and treble damages, (6) violation of the Truth in Lending Act, (7) Holder Liability, and (8) exemplary damages. Id. at pg. 6-15 (pg. ID 12-21). On June 23, 2017, Defendants removed the action to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction for Plaintiff's claim under the Truth in Lending Act. Dkt. No. 1. On January 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Reopen Discovery in order to dispose the salesperson who contracted with Plaintiff, Wilson Andrew Roberts. Dkt. No. 15. Defendants opposed the Motion on February 12, 2018 citing Plaintiff's delay in initiating discovery. Dkt. No. 17. This Court denied the Motion on March 19, 2018. On January 30, 2018, Defendants filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff opposed the Motion on February 21, 2018. Dkt. No. 18. Defendants filed a reply on March 6, 2018. Dkt. No. 21.

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) governs summary judgment. The Rule states, “summary judgment shall be granted if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Cehrs v. Ne. Ohio Alzheimer's Research Ctr., 155 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 1998). “All factual inferences ‘must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.'” Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). There is a genuine issue of material fact “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Ultimately, the court evaluates “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Truth In Lending Act (Count VI)

         Plaintiff's sole federal claim, count six of her complaint, alleges a violation of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 13 (Pg. ID 19). The Truth in Lending Act requires several disclosures to consumers, such as the amount financed, the finance charge, the annual percentage rate, the total of payments, and the sale price. 15 U.S.C. § 1638. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated 15 U.S.C. § 1638(3)-(6), and (9) by not disclosing the amount financed, the finance charge, the annual percentage rate, the total of payments, the sale price, and the security interest. See Dkt. No. 1-2, pg. 14 (Pg. 20). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants violated 15 U.S.C. § 1638(b) and Regulation Z, 12 CFR §§ 226.17 and 226.18, by not giving Plaintiff a copy of the disclosures in a form that she could keep prior to signing the RISC. Dkt. No. 19, pg. 7 (Pg. ID 500).

         Plaintiff's deposition testimony asserts that the RISC that she signed was blank when she signed it, except for the rebate section. Dkt. No. 18-1 at pg. 11 (Pg. ID 424). Plaintiff's deposition testimony also asserts that Defendant Dealer did not give her any paperwork to take home with her before she signed the RISC- Plaintiff only received her registration after she had signed the RISC. Id. Plaintiff cannot provide any corroborating evidence that the RISC was not filled out when she signed it besides her own testimony. Id. at pg. 20 (Pg. ID 433). Additionally, no other evidence in the record supports Plaintiff's testimony.

         Defendant Dealer claims that it provided Plaintiff with all the required disclosures when she received a copy of the RISC when she bought the 2016 Traverse. Dkt. No. 14, pg. 23 (Pg. ID 154). On page two of the RISC, Plaintiff signed directly below a statement indicating that before she signed the contract, “[Defendant Dealer] gave it to [her], and [Plaintiff was] free to take it and review it.” Dkt. No. 14-3, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 189 The statement also read, “[y]ou confirm that you received a completely filled-in copy when you signed it.” Id. Defendants also provided the affidavit of Brian Tellier, General Manager of Jefferson Chevrolet. Mr. Tellier testified that it was impossible for the RISC to only have the rebate amount of $7, 826.00 filled in when Plaintiff signed it. Dkt. No. 14-7, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 201). This is because the software that generates the purchase documents can never print an incomplete form. Id. The software also cannot print on a previously signed, partially filled-in document. Id. Therefore, Plaintiff's testimony that the rebate amount of $7, 826.00 was filled in on the contract necessarily requires that the entire RISC was filled in. Id. at pg. 4 (Pg. ID 202).Wilson Andrew Roberts, Plaintiff's salesperson in the RISC transaction, also provided a statement. Mr. Roberts stated that Plaintiff “was provided a complete and filled-in copy of all the purchase documents for her review, including the . . . RISC.” Dkt. No. 14-9, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 207).

         Other circuits have considered what constitutes sufficient evidence of compliance with the TILA. The Eighth Circuit has held that an acknowledgement signed by the appellants that they received a fully completed copy of the disclosure statement was prima facie proof of delivery. Whitlock v. Midwest Acceptance Corp., 575 F.2d 652, 653 (8th Cir. 1978). The court continued to say that because there was prima facie proof, the appellants could not rely on the allegation in their complaint that they did not receive disclosures before they signed the contract. Id. The appellants had to have more evidence in support of their allegation. Id. The appellants did not offer any support for their allegations by affidavit or deposition. Id. Therefore, the district court was correct in granting summary judgment. Id. In this case, Plaintiff also signed an acknowledgement that she received a fully completed copy of the disclosure statement. However, unlike the appellants in Whitlock, Plaintiff did provide evidence other than the allegations in her complaint to support her allegation. Plaintiff provided the deposition testimony that the RISC was mostly blank, except for the rebate provision, at the time that she signed it. Plaintiff has more evidence than just the allegations in her complaint. Therefore, she can survive summary judgment, unlike the appellants in Whitlock.

         The Eastern District of Michigan has held that a signed acknowledgement of delivery, together with an RISC that outlined all the requisite disclosures, complied with the TILA. Jackson v. Telegraph Chrysler Jeep, Inc., No. 07-10489, 2009 WL 928224, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 31, 2009). The plaintiffs in Jackson alleged that their contract contained a hidden finance charge because the defendants did not disclose the market value of the car plaintiffs were buying. Id. The market price of the car differed from the cash price the defendants listed on the contract. Id. Here, the Plaintiff is alleging that she did not receive any disclosures because she signed a blank contract. This is unlike the plaintiffs in Jackson, who did not allege that they failed to receive any TILA disclosures before signing their contract. The Jackson court did not have to consider testimony from the plaintiffs alleging that they signed a blank document. Therefore, the Jackson holding is not clearly analogous to the present case such that this Court can grant summary judgment.

         The Eastern District of Virginia considered a similar issue in Harper v. Lindsay Chevrolet Oldsmobile, LLC. 212 F.Supp.2d 582, 587 (E.D. Va. 2002). In Harper, the plaintiff alleged TILA violations, arguing that she did not receive the required disclosures before she became contractually obligated to the defendant for the purchase of a car. Id. Plaintiff signed a disclosure document that stated she had read the retail installment contract, completely filled in. Id. The disclosure document also acknowledged that the plaintiff received the disclosure before the retail installment contract and the disclosure was completely filled in before she signed it. Id. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff had acknowledged in the contract documents that she had an adequate opportunity to review the retail installment contract before signing it. Id. The court also noted that in the plaintiff's deposition, she stated that the sales representative explained certain portions of the retail installment contract with her, like the “Itemization of Amount Financed” section. Id. Therefore, the court held that the record was uncontradicted in reflecting that plaintiff was shown the required TILA disclosures in writing before she signed the contract. Id.

         In this case, Plaintiff also signed a disclosure statement stating that she had received a copy of the RISC, and that the RISC was completely filled in before she signed it. However, Plaintiff's deposition did not acknowledge that Defendant Dealer had explained portions of the RISC to her as it presently appears. Plaintiff stated in her deposition that Mr. Roberts explained the deal to her, but it was a different deal than what the filled-in RISC currently looks like. Dkt. No. 18-1, pg. 11 (Pg. ID 424). The only thing Mr. Roberts pointed out to Plaintiff on ...


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