On October 17, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey issued an opinion allowing consumer protection claims to proceed against a car dealership related to fees added to vehicle purchase prices, while granting two other related entities’ motions to dismiss. The plaintiff’s complaint against the dealership and related entities alleged that the dealership charged her additional mandatory fees when purchasing the vehicle, required her to spend $3,500 on a service contract in order to obtain financing, and charged interest on the contract even though, the plaintiff alleged, the contract constituted a fee related to the extension of credit and therefore was not subject to interest. These actions, the plaintiff alleged, violated TILA, the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act, and the Consumer Service Contract Act (CSCA). According to the plaintiff, the contracts contained cancellation provisions that guaranteed a full refund if a request was submitted within a specified period with a guaranteed 10 percent penalty for each 30-day period for which the refund was unpaid. The plaintiff executed timely refund requests but claimed that the entities failed to refund the fees within the allotted contractual period. In separate motions to dismiss, the entities argued that, while the allegations could be considered contractual breaches, they were not sufficient to constitute violations under the alleged consumer protection statutes. The court agreed and granted the entities’ motions, ruling that their contract language complied with the CSCA and that, although the entities allegedly failed to perform under their contracts, they would only have violated the CFA if they knew at the time the contract was formed that they did not intend to fulfill their contractual duties. Moreover, the court referred to a New Jersey Supreme Court holding, which said that a breach of warranty or contract, “‘is not per se unfair or unconscionable. . .and. . .alone does not violate a consumer protection statute” unless there are “substantial aggravating circumstances.” As such, the court determined, the entities’ alleged breaches of the cancellation provisions were not “‘unconscionable commercial practices’” as required under the CFA. However, the plaintiff can amend her claims.
Moreover, the court ruled that the allegations against the dealership can proceed, and denied the dealership’s bid to send the case to arbitration. According to the court, the dealership’s argument that it never received notices that the plaintiff had initiated arbitration proceedings because of a “clerical error” or a wrong mailing address were unpersuasive, and referred to the American Arbitration Association’s decision to decline “to administer the case due to the failure of [the dealership] to pay the required arbitration fees.”