COA reverses judgment for Penske dealer, rules for buyer

A Maryland man who sued an Indianapolis auto dealer for fraud successfully overturned the grant of summary judgment in favor of the dealer, with the Indiana Court of Appeals instead ordering summary judgment for the man on Thursday. 

In June 2015, Adam Boots traveled from Maryland to Indiana to purchase a Corvette from the Penske Chevrolet dealership in Indianapolis. Paul Fiene, the Penske salesman, worked with Boots on the purchase and agreed to an acceptable price.

While Boots was signing paperwork, Fiene presented him with a Carfax report showing the vehicle had a “lemon” history and had previously been a manufacturer buyback. Fiene assured Boots that everything “was fine now,” including the certificate of title, and presented Boots with a signed document attesting that the state did not brand the title to the Corvette.

However, when Boots returned home and attempted to trade in the Corvette, he learned the Indiana certificate of title had a buyback vehicle brand. Thus, Boots filed a complaint against Penske alleging fraud and a violation of Indiana’s Buyback Vehicle Disclosure Law, Indiana Code section 24-5-13.5.

Penske moved for summary judgment and Boots moved for partial summary judgment, but the Hamilton Superior Court ultimately ruled in favor of Penske. The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, in a case that drew an amicus brief from the Automobile Dealers Association of Indiana, reversed the grant of summary judgment on Thursday and entered judgment for Boots as a matter of law.

Judge Patricia Riley, writing for the unanimous appellate panel, said that under Indiana law, “the face of a certificate of title of a buyback vehicle must be branded with the statement, ‘Manufacturer Buyback – Disclosure on File.’” Though Penske argued the statutory language only required written disclosure and extended warranty the first time a dealer sells a buyback vehicle after the manufacturer refurbishes it, Riley said the court could not read such a provision into the statute.

“Nowhere in the statutory language did the Legislature include a limiting provision for the statute’s applicability; rather, the statute plainly governs all buyback vehicle that ‘are sold, leased, transferred, or replaced by a dealer or manufacturer in Indiana’ regardless of whether this involves a first resale or the tenth,” Riley wrote.

Further, the court found Boots’ fraud claim also should have survived summary judgment because the uncontested evidence showed Fiene assured Boots that “everything with the certificate of title was fine.” The same Carfax report that Fiene referenced was used by the Maryland dealership to advise Boots of the branded title, so there was evidence that Fiene knew his statements were false, the court said.

“Because of Fiene’s assurance, Boots was deprived of the opportunity to make the informed decision of whether to purchase a Corvette with a branded certificate of title,” Riley wrote.

Thus, the case of Adam Boots v. D. Young Chevrolet, LLC d/b/a Penske Chevrolet, and Capital One Auto Finance, Inc., 29A04-1708-PL-1948, was remanded for further proceedings.

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