Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 99 L 10490 Honorable Allen S. Goldberg, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice O'brien
Plaintiff, Miyoshi Bates, filed a two-count complaint alleging that defendant engaged in common-law fraud and violated section 2C of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (Consumer Fraud Act) (815 ILCS 505/2C (West 2000)) in connection with plaintiff's purchase of a used automobile. A jury trial was conducted on the common-law fraud count, and the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $1,060 in compensatory damages and $7,500 in punitive damages. The parties then submitted written memoranda to the trial court concerning the Consumer Fraud Act claim. The trial court found in favor of plaintiff and awarded plaintiff $1,060 in compensatory damages and $17,500 in attorney fees. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) the trial court erred in denying its motion for a new trial/judgment notwithstanding the verdict on plaintiff's claim of common-law fraud; and (2) the trial court erred in ruling in favor of plaintiff on her Consumer Fraud Act claim. We affirm.
At trial, plaintiff testified that on July 10, 1999, she went to defendant's dealership to shop for an automobile. Plaintiff was approached by Richard Johnson, one of defendant's salespersons. Plaintiff told Mr. Johnson that she wanted to buy a Kia Sportage, but that she only had $1,000 to put down, that her credit was bad, and that she did not want her monthly payments to exceed $350.
Mr. Johnson told plaintiff that he could not finance the Kia Sportage at $350 per month, but he told her that he could provide the requested financing for a Nissan Pathfinder. Plaintiff agreed to buy the Nissan Pathfinder.
Mr. Johnson walked her to the finance department, where she met with Ray Valone. Plaintiff told Mr. Valone that her credit was bad and that she was afraid financing would be difficult. Mr. Valone told plaintiff that her credit was "no problem" and that he would "shop around" and find plaintiff a "good deal."
Plaintiff told Mr. Valone that she could afford to pay, at the most, $350 per month. Mr. Valone told plaintiff that "he didn't see it being a problem."
Plaintiff testified that Mr. Valone then presented her with a retail installment contract. The contract set forth an annual percentage rate of 24.95% and monthly payments of $428.07. The contract did not state who would be financing the car.
Plaintiff testified as follows regarding her reaction to the contract:
"Q: Tell us who said what to whom when that document was put in front of you?
A: *** I looked at this, and I said, '24.95%? Oh, no.' I said, 'Ray, if I have to pay this percentage rate at this monthly installment, I might as well leave out of here right now.' He said, 'Oh, no, no.' He sat back and he said, 'Look, I'm not trying to do you in or anything. This is the worst case scenario.' He said, 'This is not what your payments is going to be.' He said, 'Your payments will not be this.'
And he proceeded to tell me about his wife and children. We had like a conversation because he wanted me to feel comfortable. So he said, 'No, this is not what it would be. I'm going to shop around.' And that's what he promised me to do. He said he was going to shop around and find the best rate and then he would call me and let me know what it would be.
Q: Did you say anything further after that?
A: After he told me that -- oh, I asked him, I said, 'Is it possible that I can end up with this contract?' And he said, 'No.' He said, 'That's why I want you to sign the blank one because after I shop around, after I find the best rate possible, then I will have this contract that's already signed blank, and I will fill it in there.' But I refused to sign that, and so he said, 'You know what, you can sign this other sheet. This lets you know that if we don't get you financed, you can get your money back.'
Q: This other sheet, what are you referring to?
A: It was another sheet of paper that had on there William Chevrolet's emblem up top, and it was on their letterhead. It was a letter that they had written, and then my signature goes on the bottom.
Q: It's not a document that you have?
Q: At some point, you agreed to sign [the retail installment contract]?
A: Right. I agreed because he told me-he said, 'Look, the only reason why you are signing this document is because you are taking our vehicle off the lot. You're taking it off the lot, and if you get stopped by the policeman or anything, you want to have proof that you actually purchased this vehicle.' And I said, 'I want to make sure that I'm not going to be paying this note. I can't afford it. I have four children.' He said, 'Look, Ms. Bates, I know you can't afford it. I have a wife and children myself. I'm not trying to stick you with this.'"
Plaintiff signed the retail installment contract and supplied a cashier's check for $1,000 and a personal check for $1,000 that the dealership was to hold until plaintiff received her next paycheck in two weeks' time. Plaintiff also provided a personal check for $60 "for an insurance binder." Plaintiff then drove the car off the lot.
Plaintiff subsequently received several letters from various financing companies, informing her that she had been denied financing. On July 11 or 12, plaintiff returned to defendant's dealership in order to find out if she had been financed.
Plaintiff met with a manager named Brian and told him that she wanted to speak with Mr. Valone. Brian told plaintiff that Mr. Valone was not in the office that day. Plaintiff then asked Brian to look at her file and tell her whether she had been financed. Brian looked at her file and told her that he believed she had been financed. However, Brian also told her that she needed to talk to Mr. Valone. Plaintiff then left the dealership.
Plaintiff returned to the dealership on July 14, accompanied by her pastor, Rayford Grady. They met with Mr. Valone in his office, and plaintiff asked him if she had been financed. Mr. Valone told her that she had been financed under the terms of the retail installment contract that she had previously signed.
Plaintiff reminded Mr. Valone that she could not afford the terms of the retail installment contract and that Mr. Valone had promised her that he would shop around and get her the best rate. Mr. Valone told plaintiff that he did not "remember saying that to [her]."
Mr. Valone told plaintiff that she had been financed by the Consumer Finance Corporation and that he had handwritten the name of that finance company on the retail installment contract. Plaintiff asked to see the paperwork. Mr. Valone refused, so plaintiff grabbed it out of his hands.
Mr. Valone ran to get Brian, who yelled, "Shut down the dealership. Shut it down." They then shut the gates to the dealership, locked the doors, and threatened to call the police. Plaintiff asked for the return of her down payment; Brian refused, telling ...