DDS No. 09-2-4512
July 2, 2014 (Date Decided)
For appellant: Andrew R. Wolf (The Wolf Law Firm LLC, attorneys; Mr. Wolf and Aaron Mizrahi, of counsel and on the briefs; Andrew W. Li and Christopher J. McGinn, on the briefs).
For respondent: Jane A. Rigby (McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, attorneys; Ms. Rigby and Stephen F. Payerle, of counsel and on the brief).
Plaintiff Jorge Casal and defendant Hyundai Motor America (HMA) entered into a settlement agreement concerning an action seeking relief under the Lemon Law, relating to Casal’s purchase of a new Hyundai Santa Fe from Sansone Hyundai, Inc., a dealer for HMA. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the issue of the appropriate counsel fee award under the statute arose. The trial judge found that a substantial portion of counsel’s time was expended in obtaining relief from the cost to Casal of optional vehicle protection contracts that Casal purchased through the dealer from third party vendors. The court denied relief, concluding that the statute did not include the cost or transfer of these contracts.
HMA argued that there is no cost at all from these third party contracts since they can be cancelled and reimbursements can be obtained. The appellate panel disagrees. HMA imposed the duty of negotiating with these third parties, the dealer, and the finance company on Casal, and as a result he had to incur counsel fees. The dealer has an ongoing business relationship with the manufacturer. The third parties involved have ongoing business relationships with the dealer, and all of these contracts were offered as part of the sale of the vehicle. All were negotiated by the manufacturer’s dealer with the consumer, albeit on behalf of a third party.
The appellate panel finds the language of the statute in no way excludes optional contracts arranged by the dealer. The statute lists additional charges such as fees for state taxes, registration costs or finance charges. The Lemon Law requires reimbursement for them by the manufacturer. The statute also says that reimbursement is not limited to these items. It is clear from the statute that the consumer is to be made whole for all costs associated with the purchase as long as they are arranged by the dealer.
The appellate panel holds that the Lemon Law requires the consumer to be made whole and authorizes a counsel fee award, if counsel is needed to obtain relief from any options sold through the dealer, as part of the purchase transaction. The Legislature specifically stated the purpose of the statute is to resolve these disputes expeditiously. Where counsel is needed, the consumer is entitled to an award of reasonable counsel fees to obtain full relief under the statute. Hence, the panel reverses and remands for reconsideration of the attorney fee award.