Appeals court allows class action against Mishawaka car dealer to continue

A Mishawaka car dealership failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that it was wrongly denied its motion to dismiss a class action complaint from several angry customers after the panel found general allegations of uncured and incurable acts against the dealership were enough for dismissal. 

In purchasing their respective vehicles from Michiana Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram Fiat, Tatiyana Sanders, Shalonda Vida and Robert Sheppard alleged they were each charged with a document preparation fee that was neither affirmatively disclosed nor negotiated. The customers thus argued in a July 2017 class action complaint against Michiana that the document fee exceeded actual expenses incurred for preparation of the documents, and that other Michiana customers who purchased cars in the two years prior had also been unfairly charged.

Specifically, the buyers alleged Michiana’s fee was an “unfair, abusive, or deceptive act, omission, or practice in connection with a consumer transaction” in violation of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. However, the customers instead cited a statutory provision from the Indiana Motor Vehicle Dealer Services Act, Indiana Code section 9-32-13-7.

Michiana filed a motion to dismiss the customers’ complaint, arguing they had failed to state a claim for relief pursuant to the Consumer Act and that they had no private right under I.C. section 9-32-13-7. Despite agreeing that they had no private cause of action under their cited statute, the customers asserted the reference was merely descriptive of an unfair consumer practice prohibited by the Consumer Act.

Noting a catch-all provision broadly defining deceptive acts in the Consumer Act permitted the claim of non-disclosure, the St. Joseph Circuit Court denied Michiana’s motion to dismiss and certified the order for interlocutory appeal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found the trial court correctly denied Michiana’s motion in Gasbi, LLC d/b/a Michiana Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat v. Tatiyana Sanders, et al.,18A-PL-1865, noting Michiana was not justified on grounds that the consumers identified acts already addressed by I.C. section 9-32-13-7 without providing a private cause of action.

Additionally, the court found that in order to state a claim under the Consumer Act, the consumers needed to allege Michiana committed an uncured or incurable deceptive act. It also noted, however, that the consumers’ complaint relied on the premise that conduct that would constitute a violation of I.C. Section 9-32-13-7 would also be a deceptive act within the meaning of the Consumer Act.

“We find the general allegations of uncured and incurable acts adequate to withstand dismissal. The question before the trial court was whether the complaint stated a claim as opposed to whether the plaintiffs would likely prevail on the merits,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the court. “At the pleading stage, a party may assert alternative and even inconsistent theories of recovery; it is sufficient to plead the operative facts of the case so that the defendant is put on notice of the expected trial evidence.”

The appellate court thus found the customers’ complaint should not be dismissed as long as it stated a set of allegations on which it could be granted relief, “no matter how unartfully pleaded.”

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