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Anaya v. Betten Chevrolet, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 15, 2019

SAMUEL ANAYA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BETTEN CHEVROLET, INC., doing business as BETTEN CHEVROLET GMC CADILLAC, and MATT ROOT, Defendants-Appellants.

          Muskegon Circuit Court LC No. 16-003986-NI

          Before: Markey, P.J., and Borrello and Boonstra, JJ.

          BOONSTRA, J.

         Defendants Betten Chevrolet, Inc. (Betten), and Matt Root (Root) appeal by right the trial court's final judgment entered after a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff. Defendants challenge the trial court's directed verdict in favor of plaintiff regarding whether defendants violated the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Act (MVSRA), MCL 257.1301 et seq, and its subsequent post-verdict award of attorney fees and costs based on that violation. We reverse the trial court's grant of a directed verdict in favor of plaintiff, remand for entry of an amended judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff's claim for violation of MVSRA, and vacate the related award of attorney fees and costs.

         I. PERTINENT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In October 2013, plaintiff and Doris Myricks (Myricks) took Myricks's automobile to Betten for service and maintenance. Service technician Root performed a tire rotation but did not properly tighten the lug nuts on the left front wheel of the vehicle. Myricks drove away from Betten with plaintiff as her passenger. Approximately two blocks from the dealership, the left front wheel came off the vehicle, which caused it to skid and hit a curb. Plaintiff complained of severe low back and leg pain following the single-vehicle accident.

         Plaintiff filed a negligence action against defendants in 2017, alleging that they had breached their duties to properly perform vehicle maintenance, rotate the tires, and secure the tires to the vehicle, causing him various injuries and damages. Plaintiff later amended his complaint to additionally allege that defendants had violated MVSRA. The amended complaint did not identify a specific section of MVSRA that defendants allegedly had violated; however, plaintiff later filed a trial brief arguing that defendants had violated MCL 257.1307a by charging for a repair that was not performed and by failing to perform a promised repair within the period of time agreed or a reasonable time. See MCL 25.1307a(a), (e). Defendants denied plaintiff's negligence and MVSRA allegations and asserted various affirmative defenses.

         Before trial, defendants admitted that Root had rotated the tires on Myricks's vehicle and had failed to properly tighten the lug nuts on its left front wheel, and that defendants had breached their duty not to perform the tire rotation negligently. But defendants contested the elements of causation and damages, and a jury trial was held on those issues relating to plaintiff's negligence claim. At the close of plaintiff's proofs, defendants moved for a directed verdict. They argued in part that plaintiff had failed to present testimony or evidence to support his MVSRA claim. Plaintiff argued that the evidence presented at the trial demonstrated that defendants had misrepresented that the tire rotation had been completed despite defendants' failure to tighten the lug nuts on the wheel.

         The trial court denied defendant's motion, concluding that plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence that defendants had violated MVSRA by charging for a repair that was not performed. Plaintiff then moved for a directed verdict on that issue under MCL 257.1307a(a). Defendants responded that they had completed the repair, albeit incorrectly, and further that plaintiff was not able to bring a MVSRA claim because he was not defendants' customer. Defendants again argued that they were entitled to a directed verdict that they did not violate MVSRA by failing to perform a tire rotation. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion, holding that MCL 257.1307 did not limit a facility's liability only to customers, and that defendants had failed to perform the tire rotation because rotating tires involved the removal and replacement of the lug nuts, and defendants had failed to properly replace all the lug nuts. The trial court directed a verdict in favor of plaintiff regarding whether defendants had violated MVSRA.[1]

         The jury was instructed that defendants had violated MVSRA and had admitted to negligence. It returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $40, 000. The jury's verdict form reflected its conclusion that defendants' negligence and violation of MVSRA were proximate causes of plaintiff's injury. After the verdict, plaintiff moved for the entry of a judgment in his favor in the amount of the jury award plus penalty damages, reasonable attorney fees, and costs under MCL 257.1336. The trial court again held that plaintiff was not entitled to penalty damages because defendants did not willfully violate MVSRA, but awarded attorney fees and costs in excess of $70, 000 based on defendants' violation of MVSRA.

         This appeal followed. On appeal, defendants do not challenge the jury verdict or the amount awarded as actual damages, but challenge the trial court's directed verdict regarding whether they violated MVSRA and the related post-judgment award of attorney fees and costs.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews de novo issues of statutory interpretation. Bush v Shabahang, 484 Mich. 156');">484 Mich. 156, 164; 772 N.W.2d 272 (2009). Additionally, we review de novo a trial court's decision on a motion for directed verdict. Krohn v Home-Owners Ins Co, 490 Mich. 145, 155; 802 N.W.2d 281 (2011). A directed verdict is appropriate only when no factual question exists upon which reasonable minds could differ. Aroma Wines & Equip, Inc v Columbia Distrib Servs, Inc, 303 Mich.App. 441, 446; 844 N.W.2d 727 (2013); Heaton v Benton Ins Co, 286 Mich.App. 528, 532; 780 N.W.2d 618 (2009). In reviewing a directed verdict, we review all the evidence presented up to the time of the motion to determine whether a question of fact existed. Silberstein v Pro-Golf of America, Inc, 278 Mich.App. 446, 455; 750 N.W.2d 615 (2008). In deciding whether to direct a verdict, the trial court must view the testimony and all legitimate inferences from the testimony in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party to determine whether a directed verdict is appropriate; we review the evidence in the same manner. Chouman v Home-Owners Ins Co, 293 Mich.App. 434, 441; 810 N.W.2d 88 (2011); Krohn, 490 Mich. at 155; Aroma Wines, 303 ...


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