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HAMILTON v. O'CONNOR CHEVROLET

June 22, 2004.

DEBORAH AND KWANZA HAMILTON, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
O'CONNOR CHEVROLET, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARK FILIP, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT O'CONNOR CHEVROLET, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiffs Deborah and Kwanza Hamilton ("Plaintiffs" or "the Hamiltons") purchased an automobile from O'Connor Chevrolet, Inc. ("Defendant" or "O'Connor") and have brought suit regarding that transaction under various federal and state statutes. The Court's jurisdiction is premised on federal questions presented in Counts I, III, and VI of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Class Action Complaint ("Second Amended Complaint"), which are brought, respectively, under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. ("TILA"), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691 et seq. ("ECOA"), and the Federal Odometer Act, 49 U.S.C. § 32701 et seq. ("Odometer Act"). As discussed more fully below, Judge Lefkow previously dismissed Counts II and IV, which were also brought under TILA and the ECOA, respectively. Count V alleges a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq., but the parties do not dispute that the Magnuson-Moss claim cannot provide a jurisdictional basis here because of the relatively small amount of money at issue in Plaintiffs' case. Counts VII and VIII allege violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, 815 ILCS 505/2 et seq.

Defendant has filed a motion requesting that the Court grant summary judgment in Defendant's favor on Counts I, III, and VI, and that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Counts V, VII, and VIII. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted as to Counts I and VI, and is denied as to Counts III, V, VII, and VIII.

  RELEVANT FACTS

  Kwanza Hamilton remembers shopping for financing for the purchase of an automobile at only one place prior to March 15, 2001, Rizza Chevrolet ("Rizza"). (D.E. 35, Ex. A, at 23-24.) Rizza denied Kwanza's credit application. (Id. at 23.) Kwanza's mother, Deborah Hamilton, agreed to co-sign a loan with him through Rizza, but Kwanza did not like the terms Rizza offered. (Id. at 24; D.E. 43 at 4-5.)

  On March 15, 2001, Ms. Hamilton and Kwanza went to O'Connor to purchase a car. (D.E. 43 at 2.) Ms. Hamilton testified at her deposition that she and Kwanza were told by an O'Connor salesperson that the 1996 Chrysler LHS they were considering purchasing was "privately owned." (D.E. 35, Ex. C, at 13.) Ms. Hamilton further testified that she understood this to mean that the car had only one previous owner. (Id. at 16.)*fn1

  That same day, in relation to their purchase of the 1996 Chrysler LHS, Ms. Hamilton and Kwanza signed a retail installment contract with a financing rate of 12.75%. (D.E. 43 at 2; see D.E. 35, Ex. 1 to Ex. B, at 1.) Before the Hamiltons signed this contract, Ms. Hamilton said "maybe I should go some place else" to O'Connor representative Karen Zimmerman. (D.E. 35, Ex. C, at 30.) Ms. Zimmerman reportedly told Ms. Hamilton "[t]his is the best deal you're going to get here." (Id.; see also id. ("She [Ms. Zimmerman] said that was the best she could do.")).*fn2

  In support of Plaintiffs' opposition to Defendant's summary judgment motion, Ms. Hamilton submitted a written certification. (D.E. 43, Ex. 1.) In it, she states that she remembers signing a contract on March 15, 2001 with a financing rate of 11.75% and that she does not remember signing a contract with a 12.75% financing rate. (Id. at 3.) She further states that she must have signed two contracts on March 15, 2001 and that
The reason I did not see that I had signed a second contract for 12.75% was that when I was given documents to sign by Karen Zimmerman, they were kept in a stack. I was instructed to sign at the bottom of each piece of paper where only the signature line was visible. I never had the opportunity to look at the 12.75% `voided' document that I signed and which was produced to my lawyers. Karen Zimmerman stood over me while she held onto the paperwork and showed me where to sign. The paperwork I signed on March 15, 2001 was never handed to me until after I had signed it and in fact, the 12.75% contract was never handed to me. I never knew that I had been obligated to a 12.75% contract until O'Connor took my deposition." (Id.) (emphasis in original). Defendant contends that Ms. Hamilton's certification should be disregarded because it contradicts Plaintiffs' earlier disclosures. (D.E. 48 at 4-8, citing, inter alia, Patterson v. Chicago Ass'n for Retarded Citizens, 150 F.3d 719 (7th Cir. 1998)).
  On March 15, 2001, GMAC sent O'Connor a fax stating that Ms. Hamilton and Kwanza were approved for financing at "Tier: B." (D.E. 43, Ex. 3, at 1.) On March 26, 2001, GMAC sent O'Connor a fax stating "Please send a check or new contract for the rate difference. B tier is 14.75%, Contract is 12.75. To buy down it is $845.40." (D.E. 43, Ex. 4, at 1.)

  Sometime shortly after March 26, 2001 (roughly two weeks after March 15, 2001, and at least March 26, 2001), the Hamiltons returned to O'Connor and signed a retail installment contract with a financing rate of 15.75%. (D.E. 49 at 2-3.) This contract was dated March 15, 2001 even though it was executed approximately two weeks after that date. (Id.) Plaintiffs have not asserted that any O'Connor representative stood over them and held onto this retail installment contract or otherwise failed to give it to them in a form they could keep before they signed it.

  O'Connor truthfully disclosed the mileage of the 1996 Chrysler to Plaintiffs on the "Application For Vehicle Title and Registration." (D.E. 43 at 7.) Plaintiffs do not challenge the accuracy of the odometer reading or contend that O'Connor tampered with the odometer in any way. (Id. at 7-8.) O'Connor apparently does not dispute that it did not show Plaintiffs the vehicle's title document. (D.E. 49 at 3 (statement by Defendant that "in deals such as the Hamiltons', where a vehicle is financed, the title is not given to the customer, it goes to the lien holder until the loan is paid.")) The title shows that the car had two prior owners. (D.E. 49 at 4.)

  Deborah Hamilton testified that, at some point after she and Kwanza purchased the car, she spoke to an O'Connor representative and was "complaining about the contract." (D.E. 35, Ex. C, at 85.) She told the representative, "I didn't want the car no more. We were tired of all the problems we were having with it. I told them I was not going to be paying Enterprise all this money for car rentals and paying a car note and pay insurance and then have a car sitting in the driveway and pay a car note. I said, that don't make sense." (Id. at 85-86.) She was told to speak to Sean Galvin, another O'Connor representative. (Id.) She told Mr. Galvin, "I want another car . . . I want a car worth $25,000," (id. at 86), which is what she claims O'Connor said was the value of the 1996 Chrysler LHS. (Id.)

  Ms. Hamilton testified that Mr. Galvin said that O'Connor would need to look at the car. (D.E. 35, Ex. C, at 86.) Ms. Hamilton further testified that she asked "but how [are] you going to have somebody look at [it] when they say it could be weeks or months before the car can be looked at because the garage is so backed up[?]" (Id. at 86-87.) According to Ms. Hamilton, Mr. Galvin said "well, since you are black, you get the black book price." (Id. at 87.) Ms. Hamilton took this to mean that "they're trying to tell me that I'm black and I'm lower than low, right, lower than dirt." (Id. at 92.)

  O'Connor denies that Mr. Galvin made the "black book" statement. According to O'Connor, "[t]he Official Used Car Market Guide `Black Book' is a periodical publication which contains listings of wholesale auction prices for used automobiles and trucks in multiple states." (D.E. 48 at 9.) Mr. Galvin testified that the Black Book is one source he uses in assessing the value of used cars. (D.E. 43, Ex. 7, at 81; see also D.E. 48 at 9.)

  Plaintiffs filed their first complaint in this action on March 14, 2002. They filed a second complaint on April 23, 2002. (D.E. 34 at 4.) As Judge Lefkow previously found, neither of those complaints mentioned that Plaintiffs returned to O'Connor after March 15, 2001 to sign another contract or asserted a claim based on backdating of a contract. (Id. at 6.) The first time the Plaintiffs raised such a claim was in Count II of their Second Amended Complaint, which they filed on August 5, 2003. (Id. at 4, 6.) On December 11, 2003, Judge Lefkow, on Defendant's motion, ...


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