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Robinson v. Toyota Motor Credit Corp.

December 30, 1999

EMMA J. ROBINSON AND LATANYA KEMP, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR CREDIT CORPORATION, AND POINT-ONE TOYOTA, EVANSTON, AND RIVER OAKS TOYOTA,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. No. 95 M3 3372 HONORABLE MICHAEL B. GETTY, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

Plaintiffs, Emma J. Robinson and Latanya Kemp, appeal from the dismissal with prejudice of their second amended complaint. Plaintiffs sued defendants, Toyota Motor Credit Corporation, Point One Toyota, Evanston, and River Oaks Toyota, contending that motor vehicle lease agreements between plaintiffs and defendants violated various federal and state laws. Plaintiffs sought relief for themselves and for a class of people similarly situated. For the following reasons we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

On July 6, 1993, plaintiff Emma Robinson entered into a 48- month closed-end motor vehicle lease agreement with defendant River Oaks Toyota. On May 14, 1993, plaintiff Latanya Kemp entered into a similar 42-month lease agreement with defendant Point One Toyota, Evanston. Both leases were assigned to defendant Toyota Motor Credit Corporation (Toyota).

Prior to the pendency of this case, plaintiffs were members of a class action entitled Mortimer v. River Oaks Toyota, Inc., 278 Ill. App. 3d 597, 663 N.E.2d 113 (1996)(Mortimer), which involved similar claims against Toyota. Plaintiffs opted out of the Mortimer class action and settlement. On August 31, 1995, plaintiffs filed an eight-count complaint against defendants, alleging that the lease agreements entered into between plaintiffs and defendants violated the federal Consumer Leasing Act (15 U.S.C. §§1667a, 1667b (1994)) and various Illinois state laws. On May 23, 1996, the circuit court granted, in part, Toyota's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint in June 1996.

On June 13, 1996, plaintiffs filed a motion seeking class certification in the case at bar. Toyota responded on September 4, 1996, that plaintiffs' motion should be denied because the superior court for the State of California had already certified a nationwide class that included plaintiffs, in Ramirez v. Toyota Motor Credit Corp., No. 752044-8 (Ramirez). On October 1, 1996, Toyota filed additional materials showing: the California class action had been pending since 1995; that the class in that action was certified on February 21, 1996, to include all individuals who had leased a vehicle pursuant to a Toyota lease agreement in the United States after August 1, 1993, or who opted out of the Mortimer class action; and that plaintiffs were members of that class. In August 1996, Toyota mailed notices of the Ramirez class action to all identifiable class members, including plaintiffs. The opt-out deadline in Ramirez was September 2, 1996. Both plaintiffs sent notice of their desire to be excluded from the Ramirez class action and settlement on September 5, 1996, after the deadline.

On October 2, 1996, the circuit court entered an order granting Toyota leave to file a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' first amended complaint. The circuit court also told plaintiffs' counsel that the court would give him an opportunity to try to extricate his clients from the Ramirez class action.

In December 1996, plaintiffs filed motions in the Ramirez case to extend the opt-out period and to modify the class definition. The California court denied both motions.

On January 17, 1997, Toyota filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' first amended complaint pursuant to section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1996)), based upon their status as Ramirez class members. Plaintiffs filed a motion to allow the case to proceed. On January 23, 1997, the circuit court granted Toyota's motion and dismissed plaintiffs' first amended complaint. The circuit court stated that the plaintiffs could petition the court for leave to reinstate their action if a California appellate court reversed the decisions of the superior court of California which denied plaintiffs' motions to extend the opt-out period or redefine the class in the Ramirez case.

On January 27, 1997, the Ramirez court entered an order stating:

"As a matter of law the court finds that California statutory and common law cannot be applied to claims of class members whose lease transactions were negotiated and entered into within the borders of foreign states *** This ruling does not bar nonresident class members from bringing actions for their claims under the applicable laws of the states in which they entered into their leases."

Because this order confirmed that non-Californian class members could pursue their own lawsuits, plaintiffs moved the circuit court in Illinois to reinstate their case. On May 7, 1997, the circuit court denied plaintiffs' first motion to reinstate.

On July 9, 1997, Toyota's counsel sent plaintiffs' counsel a letter offering to allow plaintiffs to opt out of the Ramirez class. Plaintiffs rejected this offer.

On August 13, 1997, plaintiffs filed their second motion to reinstate. On September 24, 1997, the circuit court denied plaintiffs' second motion to reinstate, holding that the Ramirez order "does not bar plaintiffs from bringing actions for their claims under Illinois law. However, the ruling does not go further to state that these claims may be brought in Illinois courts." The circuit court denied plaintiffs' second motion to reinstate without prejudice so plaintiffs could refile the motion if they procured an order from the California court specifically decertifying them from the Ramirez action for the purpose of pursuing their Illinois claims in an Illinois court.

On December 30, 1997, plaintiffs filed their third motion to reinstate. Simultaneously, plaintiffs filed a motion to decertify in the California court in Ramirez. On February 6, 1998, the California court denied plaintiffs' motion to decertify but entered the following order:

"IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the motion to Decertify Ms. Robinson and Ms. Kemp is DENIED. However, based on the Court's ruling re: Motion for Summary Adjudication of Issues dated January 27, 1997, the court hereby orders that each of the petitioners herein, i.e., Robinson and Kemp, may continue or file his or her own lawsuit against Toyota Motor Credit Corporation in the State of Illinois based upon violations of Illinois law. This court does not address any right to pursue claims under Federal law."

In September 1997, the Ramirez plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint. On December 10, 1997, the Ramirez court dismissed the action pursuant to the settlement agreement executed by the parties in that case and entered its final judgment order. Plaintiffs' counsel participated in the December 10, 1997, hearing in the Ramirez case and did not object to the settlement.

Following entry of the February 6, 1998, order in Ramirez, the circuit court in this case granted plaintiffs' third motion to reinstate. In April 1998, plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint alleging violations of the federal Consumer Leasing Act (15 U.S.C. §§1667a, 1667b (1994)), the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 1996)), the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (815 ILCS 510/1 et seq. (West 1996)); and breach of contract. Plaintiffs sought relief for themselves and for a class of people similarly situated.

The circuit court dismissed plaintiffs' second amended complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 1996)). Plaintiffs appeal. We review the circuit court's ruling under both of these sections de novo. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508 v. Coopers & Lybrand LLP, 296 Ill. App. 3d 538, 696 N.E.2d 3 (1998).

On appeal plaintiffs contend that: (1) the circuit court erred in finding that plaintiffs' federal Consumer Leasing Act claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata; (2) the circuit court erred in finding that plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act; (3) the circuit court erred in finding that plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action under the Uniform ...


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