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BYRNE v. AUTOHAUS ON EDENS

March 20, 1980

JAMES C. BYRNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AUTOHAUS ON EDENS, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marovitz, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Motion for Summary Judgment

Plaintiff James C. Byrne brings this action pro se against Autohaus On Edens, Inc. under the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act (the "Act"), 15 U.S.C. § 1981-91. Pending before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted.

The Act, and the regulations promulgated thereunder,*fn1 create a federal regulatory scheme designed, inter alia, to prevent the alteration of motor vehicle odometers, 15 U.S.C. § 1984, and to ensure that transferors of motor vehicles supply their transferees with accurate odometer information. 15 U.S.C. § 1988. More specifically, section 1984 makes it unlawful for any person to alter an odometer with the intent to change the number of miles recorded thereon. Section 1988 requires that each transferor of a motor vehicle issue to the transferee a statement disclosing the cumulative mileage registered on the vehicle's odometer and, if the odometer reading is known by the transferor to be less than the number of miles the vehicle has actually travelled, disclosing that the actual mileage is unknown. The transferor's statement must be signed by the transferor and bear the date of transfer. 49 C.F.R. § 580.4. In addition, section 1988 prohibits a transferor from knowingly making any false statements when making the disclosures required by the Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1988(b). The primary purpose of the Act is to better enable owners of motor vehicles to know the condition and value of their motor vehicles. S.Rep. No.413, 92d Cong., 2d Sess. reprinted in [1972] U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News p. 3960.

Section 1989 provides that any person who violates any of the Act's provisions with an intent to defraud shall be liable for three times the plaintiff's damages or $1,500.00, whichever is greater, and plaintiff's costs and attorney's fees.*fn2 Section 1989(b) establishes federal jurisdiction for actions brought under the Act. In addition, section 1989(b) creates a statute of limitation of two years "from the date on which the liability arises."

  The purpose of Congress's creation of a private right of
action with punitive, as well as compensatory remedies, is to
punish persons who tamper with odometers and to reward persons
who discover tampering. E.g., Stier v. Park Pontiac, Inc.,
391 F. Supp. 397 (S.D.W.Va. 1975); Delay v. Hearn Ford, 373 F. Supp. 791
 (D.S.C. 1974). In light of this two-pronged Congressional
objective, the courts have interpreted the Act to permit a
purchaser to bring an action for a violation of the Act against
any prior transferor in the motor vehicle's chain of
title.*fn3

Rule 56 provides in, pertinent part, that summary judgment is appropriate when the record discloses that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court finds the following facts to be established by the pleadings before it. In December 1972, the motor vehicle which is the subject of this action was transferred to the defendant. Rosengarden Affidavit, ¶ 5. At that time, the vehicle's odometer registered approximately 80,000 miles. Anthony Deposition, p. 17. In February 1973, the vehicle was transferred by defendant to a Mr. Hile. Rosengarden Affidavit, ¶ 5. Defendant did not furnish Hile with an odometer statement as required by the Act. Id. At the time Hile purchased the vehicle, the odometer registered approximately 30,000 miles. Hile Deposition, p. 4. When Hile subsequently discovered that the vehicle's actual mileage exceeded the mileage recorded on the odometer by approximately 50,000 miles, he brought a complaint against defendant before the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Attorney General. See id., p. 10. The dispute between defendant and Hile was settled as a result of defendant's repurchase of the vehicle from Hile in August 1973 for a price approximately $250.00 in excess of what Hile had paid to defendant. Defendant's Exhibits C and D. When defendant repurchased the vehicle, Hile furnished defendant with a signed and dated statement which disclosed the odometer reading at that time to be 40,493 miles and further disclosed that the actual mileage was unknown. Defendant's Exhibits E and F.

Defendant thereafter transferred the vehicle to a Ms. Maurer in October 1973. Rosengarden Affidavit, ¶ 9. The defendant furnished Maurer with the identical odometer statement it had received from Hile. Id. ¶ 10. This statement is a printed form which bears the following language:

  Federal regulations require you to state the
  odometer mileage upon transfer of ownership. An
  inaccurate statement may make you liable for
  damages to your transferee, pursuant to § 409(a) of
  the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act
  of 1972, Public Law 92-513.

Defendant's Exhibits E and F. The statement nowhere bore either defendant's name or the signature of one of its agents. Further, the statement did not bear the date of transfer of the vehicle to Maurer.

Thereafter, Maurer in June 1976 transferred the vehicle to a Mr. Shabica. Shabica in May, 1978 transferred the vehicle to plaintiff. Neither the Maurer-Shabica nor the Shabica-plaintiff transfer was accompanied by an odometer statement. The vehicle is now allegedly in need of substantial repairs.

The instant action was commenced on March 2, 1979 pursuant to section 1989(b) of the Act. Count I of plaintiff's two-count complaint alleges that defendant turned back the odometer on plaintiff's vehicle in February and October 1973 in violation of section 1984 of the Act. Plaintiff, however, has now abandoned his claim that defendant turned back the vehicle's odometer in October, 1973. Plaintiff's Response Brief, p. 1. Count II alleges that defendant violated section 1988(a) and (b) when it transferred the vehicle to Maurer without furnishing her with its own odometer statement. Apparently, the sole basis for plaintiff's assertion of a violation of 1988(b) is his contention that by giving Hile's odometer statement to Maurer, defendant knowingly made a false statement to Maurer in that Hile's statement indicates the true mileage to be unknown when defendant allegedly knew the vehicle's actual mileage. See Plaintiff's Response Brief, p. 13. Plaintiff alleges actual damages in the amount of $3,000.00, which sum is the estimated cost of repairs presently needed by the vehicle. Defendant has filed a third party complaint against Maurer and Shabica which seeks indemnity against the third-party defendants for any liability that may be imposed upon defendant as a result of the principal action.

Defendant has raised the applicable two-year statute of limitation as a bar to plaintiff's claims. 15 U.S.C. § 1989(b). As stated above, section 1989(b) provides that actions brought under the Act are barred if not brought "within two years from the date on which the liability arises." Id. If the statute of limitations began to run from the dates upon which defendant allegedly violated the Act, it is clear that plaintiff's action is time-barred. Plaintiff, however, argues that defendant's alleged liability arose within the meaning of the Act when he discovered sufficient facts to put him on notice of defendant's alleged violations of the Act.

The legislative history is silent as to how the Act's statute of limitation is to be applied. Consequently, the Court approaches the issue presented herein without the aid of any Congressional guidance, other than Congress's announcement of the purposes to be served by the Act. Further, the issue is virtually one of first impression for the courts. The only reported case which the Court has discovered on this question held that ...


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