A Law Division Judge has held that a New Jersey car dealer’s failure to advise a purchaser of a car that it had previously been used as a loaner constitutes a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act. In this case, the purchaser bought a 2008 Mercedes Benz ML350 from the defendant for $42,815. Soon after, the purchaser’s wife noticed sticker residue spelling “Courtesy Car” in the rear window. The purchaser complained to the dealership and the dealership agreed to take back the car for $10,000 less than that which the purchaser had paid. The purchaser did not accept the offer. The purchaser then sued the dealership claiming that it “misrepresented, deceived and committed an unconscionable commercial practice through fraud and falsity by advising [the purchaser] that the automobile was a lease car traded in by its owner.” The purchaser claimed that he would not have bought the car if he had known it was a loaner car.
The dealership argued that it was technically correct to say that the vehicle in question was a leased car traded in by its owner because the dealership had bought the car from the manufacturer and then sold it to its leasing subsidiary. This in turn allowed the dealership to use it as a loaner.
The court permitted the purchaser to prosecute a Consumer Fraud Act claim against the dealership. After a jury trial, the purchaser was awarded treble damages in the amount of $30,000 and attorney’s fees and expenses in the amount of $45,202.
As an aside, the court found plaintiff’s counsel’s hourly rate of $400 an hour to be reasonable. Additionally, the judge enhanced the fees by 10% because plaintiff’s attorney did not require payment up front and agreed not to bill the client if he lost.
This is a case of first impression in New Jersey. Montgomery v. Millennium Auto Group, MRS-L-2839-10.