Court of Appeals: Div. III – Dealership’s Taking Advantage of Vulnerable Customers Not A Violation of Consumer Protection Act
This case involved two separate parties that both felt like they had been taken advantage of by a car dealer. The facts are certainly disturbing. The two parties were Kathleen Walker and Florence Pedraza. Both parties visited an auto sale that was advertised in both the newspaper and on the radio by Wenatchee Kia. The sale took place in Ellensburg for one week.
Walker Case: Ms. Walker had suffered brain damage from having a brain tumor removed. She was unable to read or write and relied heavily upon her 16-year-old daughter Ashley. The Walkers went to the sale specifically looking for an advertised Kia Sportage. At the lot, Ashley did not see the advertised vehicle and was driving off the lot when Brad the salesman jumped in front of their vehicle. Brad convinced the Walkers to look at a different Sportage and they decided to buy it. Here come the real heart-warming facts: Brad convinced the Walkers (16-year-old Ashley and her brain damaged mother) to buy a Sportage with a manual transmission even though Ashley didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission. “Brad assured her she could easily learn.” Brad went with the Walkers to their home to help search for the title to their trade-in although the record said he slept on the couch while the Walkers searched.
After finding the title and returning to the lot to consummate the sale, Ashley had to sign the sales agreement on behalf of her mother. Then they called a friend to drive the vehicle home because it had a manual transmission.
Pedraza Case: Ms. Pedraza was an 86-year-old woman who supplemented her income by working at the local Taco Bell with Ashley Walker. She also wanted a to buy the Sportage advertised for $13,000. She ended up buying a different one for roughly $24,000 (tax & license). With the cost of financing she paid about $29,000.
Wenatchee’s No. 1 Salesman
Both Walker and Pedraza brought claims against Wenatchee Kia for violations under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). After a confusing litigation history wrought with failures to file required documents, both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court dismissed the claims based on the dealership’s claim that there was a one year statute of limitations under the Auto Dealers Practices Act (ADPA) and that there was no causal connection between the dealership’s practices and the parties’ decisions to buy the vehicles. Plaintiffs appealed.
The dealership claimed that the one year statute of limitations set forth in the ADPA (enacted in 1967) supersedes the four year statute of limitations set forth in the CPA (enacted in 1961). The Court of Appeals did not agree. Early provisions of the ADPA (RCW 46.70) stated that the chapter “shall be cumulative to existing laws.” In addition, RCW 46.70.310 specifically states “Any violation of this chapter is deemed to affect the public interest and constitutes a violation of chapter 19.86 RCW” (the CPA statute). I think I would have started with this last argument, but hey that’s just me.
The dealership also argued that the CPA did not apply here because the CPA specifically says that it does not apply to “transactions permitted by any other regulatory body.” Thus, they argued, since dealership advertisements are regulated by the Department of Licensing, the CPA does not apply. The Court of Appeals agreed that Wenatchee Kia’s advertisements did not violate the Washington Administrative Codes requirements, but the cause of action was not based on whether the advertising complied with the Code or not.
“The complaint alleged that the dealer's sales practices did not conform to its advertising, thus amounting to deceptive behavior in violation of the CPA. In other words, the activity regulated by the code involves advertising, not sales practices. The fact that the dealership advertised its sale does not immunize its allegedly deceptive sales tactics from the reach of the CPA.”
So the trial court erred in dismissing the case based on a violation of the statute of limitations. However, not such a happy ending! Remember the trial court also dismissed because it found no causal connection between the dealership’s practices and the parties’ decisions to buy the vehicles. After reviewing the facts, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, the Court of Appeals agreed that there was no connection.
“The record suggests that the dealership took advantage of vulnerable customers. It does not establish that CPA violations occurred.” So all we can do is get the word out there about a dealership that takes advantage of the elderly and the disabled. Good sell Brad!