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Burzlaff v. Thoroughbred Motorsports, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 10, 2014

RONALD BURZLAFF, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THOROUGHBRED MOTORSPORTS, INC., Defendant-Appellant

Argued: February 10, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 12-CV-92 -- Aaron E. Goodstein, Magistrate Judge.

For Ronald Burzlaff, Plaintiff - Appellee: Shad A. Merwin, Attorney, Schaumberg Law Offices, Llc, Wauwatosa, WI.

For Thoroughbred Motorsports Incorporated, Defendant - Appellant: Nathaniel Cade Jr., Attorney, Cade Law Llc, Milwaukee, WI.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, HAMILTON, Circuit Judge, and KENDALL, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 842

Hamilton, Circuit Judge .

The trial judge in this case provided textbook examples of how to construe a

Page 843

statute and how to modify pattern jury instructions that do not quite fit the facts of the specific trial. Plaintiff Ronald Burzlaff bought a defective " Stallion" motorized tricycle from defendant Thoroughbred Motorsports, Inc. When Burzlaff reported the first of multiple problems to Thoroughbred, the company instructed him to take his vehicle to a nearby Ford dealer for warranty repairs. Burzlaff wound up doing so repeatedly. After the vehicle had been out of service for repairs for 71 days during the first year, Burzlaff finally demanded under the Wisconsin Lemon Law that Thoroughbred replace the vehicle or refund his purchase price. Thoroughbred refused. A further effort to repair the vehicle at the Thoroughbred factory in Texas also failed to correct the defects.

Burzlaff then sued Thoroughbred under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq., and the Wisconsin Lemon Law, Wis. Stat. § 218.0171.[1] A jury found for Burzlaff on both claims. The district court awarded double damages plus costs and attorney fees for a total judgment of nearly $95,000 under the more generous provisions of the state Lemon Law. On appeal, Thoroughbred challenges the jury instructions on the Lemon Law claim, the sufficiency of the evidence on that claim, and the submission of the Magnuson-Moss claim to the jury. We affirm in all respects.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

We present the facts as shown by trial evidence when viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. Harvey v. Office of Banks and Real Estate, 377 F.3d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 2004). On October 19, 2009, plaintiff Ronald Burzlaff purchased a Thoroughbred Motorsports " Stallion" Motor Trike at a total cost of over $35,000. The Stallion is an unusual vehicle with a steering wheel, heat and air conditioning, and other features uncommon in motorcycles. Defendant Thoroughbred Motorsports, Inc. is a small company based in Texas with only about 20 authorized dealers nationwide. Burzlaff bought his Stallion from the only Thoroughbred dealer in Wisconsin, which is located 300 miles from Burzlaff's home in Greenfield.

During the first year after purchase, Burzlaff experienced numerous problems with his vehicle. It was delivered without a gas cap and would not start. The heating and air conditioning failed. The transmission leaked. The cooling system leaked. Other plugs and seals leaked. The steering wheel was loose and the front wheel came out of alignment, making the vehicle unstable. One tire would not hold air. The radio did not work. The headlight and taillight sockets were loose.

In November 2009, Burzlaff telephoned Thoroughbred about the first issues with his vehicle. He explained that the only Wisconsin dealer would be inconvenient for repairs because it was too far away. Burzlaff had seen a 2009 brochure for the Stallion advertising its Ford-made drivetrain and boasting that the Stallion could be serviced at Ford dealers. He asked about the possibility of going to a Ford dealer. The Thoroughbred representative told Burzlaff he could take it to a nearby Ford dealer for warranty repairs. (Burzlaff was also told to go to specialized shops for other problems, such as radio and tire repairs.)

During the first year, the vehicle was in various shops for repairs for a total of 71 days. That number is significant because a vehicle is not deemed a " lemon" under the Wisconsin law unless either there have

Page 844

been four unsuccessful attempts to repair the same defect or the vehicle is out of service for 30 or more days during the first year. See Wis. Stat. § 218.0171(1)(h) (defining " reasonable attempt to repair" ).

Thoroughbred did not specify a particular Ford dealer. Burzlaff chose to go to Amato Ford, a nearby Ford dealer. Although Amato Ford was not an authorized Thoroughbred dealer, Burzlaff knew it had previously serviced other Stallions. Over that first year, Thoroughbred provided Amato Ford with parts and excerpts from the Stallion manual to help it repair Burzlaff's vehicle. Amato Ford billed the repairs directly to Thoroughbred, which paid for all of them. Thoroughbred never instructed Amato Ford to stop repairing Burzlaff's vehicle.

Before the end of the first year after the purchase, Burzlaff met the president and founder of Thoroughbred, Jeffrey Vey, at a motorcycle rally in Wisconsin. Burzlaff complained about the ongoing repairs and asked Vey to have Thoroughbred replace the vehicle or refund his purchase price. Vey refused to replace or refund, but he offered to transport Burzlaff's Stallion back to the factory in Texas for repairs. Burzlaff followed up with a letter to Vey later that month, but the vehicle was not actually picked up for transport to the factory until some weeks later, more than one year after the purchase.

Six more months passed before the vehicle was returned to Burzlaff. Burzlaff then filed suit against Thoroughbred in a Wisconsin state court alleging violations of the Lemon Law, Wis. Stat. § 218.0171, and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq . Thoroughbred removed the case to the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The parties consented to have Magistrate Judge Goodstein preside over the case under 28 U.S.C. ยง ...


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