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Hoopes v. Gulf Stream Coach, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 29, 2014

NATHAN HOOPES and DEVON HOOPES, Plaintiffs,
v.
GULF STREAM COACH, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

RUDY LOZANO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed by Defendant Gulf Stream Coach, Inc. on December 16, 2013. (DE #64.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiffs' Ohio Lemon Law Act, Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, Indiana Lemon Law Act, state law negligence claims, and Plaintiffs' alternative prayer for relief on the basis of revocation and/or rescission of the contract. However, the motion is DENIED as to Plaintiffs' Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act claim.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case was originally brought by Plaintiffs, Nathan and Devon Hoopes, (collectively "Plaintiffs") against two Defendants, Gulf Stream Coach, Inc. ("Gulf Stream") and General RV Center, Inc. ("GRV"). GRV filed a Motion for Summary Judgment to Enforce Arbitration Clause on May 16, 2011. This Court denied GRV's motion to compel arbitration but granted GRV's motion seeking dismissal of the claims against it as set forth in Plaintiffs' amended complaint.

Gulf Stream filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on December 16, 2013. Plaintiffs filed a response to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on January 13, 2014. Defendant then filed a reply to Plaintiffs' response on February 3, 2014. Thus, the instant motion is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

FACTS

For purposes of this motion, the material facts are largely undisputed.[1] On January 23, 2010, Plaintiffs, who reside together in Ohio, purchased a Gulf Stream Super Nova recreational vehicle with a VIN of 1HTMPAFM29H542344 (the "RV"). Nathan Hoopes, a high school graduate, owns and operates an aluminum smelting company. He attended a college of technology and took classes in electrical and mechanical engineering. Devon Hoopes is a manager of administration for Mercy Medical Center. She graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in business. The RV at the center of this dispute was manufactured by Gulf Stream, an Indiana corporation, in Indiana and sold to Plaintiffs by GRV, an independent, authorized dealer of Gulf Stream vehicles, in Ohio for a total taxable price of $132, 004.33 and a total delivered price of $139, 645.11.[2] GRV originally bought the RV from Gulf Stream for $129, 880.00.

At the time of purchase, Plaintiffs and GRV entered into a Purchase Agreement, which was signed by Plaintiffs and a representative of GRV (the "Purchase Agreement"). The Purchase Agreement contains a choice of law provision which states, in part:

THIS PURCHASE AGREEMENT CONTAINS THE ENTIRE UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN [GRV] AND PURCHASER. NO ONE HAS AUTHORITY TO MAKE ANY REPRESENTATION BEYOND THIS AGREEMENT AND NO OTHER REPRESENTATIONS OR INDUCEMENTS, VERBAL OR WRITTEN HAVE BEEN MADE, WHICH ARE NOT CONTAINED ON THIS DOCUMENT. BY SIGNING BELOW PURCHASER ACKNOWLEDGES THAT PURCHASER HAS RECEIVED A COPY OF THIS AGREEMENT AND THAT PURCHASER HAS READ AND UNDERSTANDS THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, INCLUDING THOSE PRINTED ON THE REVERSE SIDE, WHICH INCLUDE AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT, AN "AS IS" CLAUSE, AND A CHOICE OF LAW PROVISION INDICATING THAT MICHIGAN LAW WILL APPLY TO ANY POTENTIAL DISPUTES.

(Purchase Agreement, DE #67-9, p. 2.) (capitalization in original). Plaintiffs' signatures are recorded directly below this language. The Court previously determined that the substantive law of Michigan applied to the claims between Plaintiffs and GRV. (See DE #35, pp. 9-11.)

According to Plaintiffs, at the time of purchase and "near the end of the paperwork signing process, " the GRV representative indicated a written Gulf Stream Motorized Limited Warranty (the "Limited Warranty") existed but would not be provided to Plaintiffs until they returned to trade in their old vehicle. (Aff. of Nathan Hoopes, ¶ 7, DE #70, p. 23.) Plaintiffs state that the GRV representative discussed some details and explained that the Limited Warranty did not cover the chassis or any inside appliances and urged them to purchase an extended warranty to cover the entire RV. ( Id. ) Plaintiffs agreed to do so. ( Id. ) Plaintiffs contend that they did not see the actual Limited Warranty itself or any information pertaining to it on the day they purchased the RV. ( Id. at ¶¶ 4-7, pp. 23.) Despite this contention, however, the signed Purchase Agreement contains the following language:

PURCHASER UNDERSTANDS THAT THERE MAY BE WRITTEN WARRANTIES COVERING THIS RV, BUT THAT THESE WARRANTIES ARE OFFERED BY THE MANUFACTURERS OF THE RV, IT'S (sic) COMPONENTS AND/OR IT'S (sic) APPLIANCES. THESE WARRANTIES HAVE BEEN PROVIDED TO PURCHASER AND PURCHASER HAS READ AND UNDERSTANDS THESE WARRANTIES. PURCHASER UNDERSTANDS THAT DEALER OFFERS NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, ON THIS RV.

(Purchase Agreement, DE #67-9, p. 3.) (capitalization in original).

It is undisputed that the Limited Warranty was not actually signed by Plaintiffs until January 30, 2010, when they returned to GRV to drop off their old vehicle for trade-in. According to Plaintiffs, they were standing by GRV's popcorn machine when the same GRV representative who initiated the sales paperwork approached them, made some "general talk" about the RV being ready for pick up in a few days, and asked them to sign the Limited Warranty. (Aff. of Nathan Hoopes, ¶ 11, DE #70, p. 24.) "He put the warranty paper down on the table next to the popcorn machine stand and said to sign right here and pointed to where to sign, so we did." ( Id. ) Both Plaintiffs' signatures are recorded on the signature lines located directly below the choice of law provision which states:

Exclusive jurisdiction for deciding any claims, demands or causes of action for defects or representations of any nature or damages due from such defects or representations shall be in the courts in the State of Manufacture. The laws applicable to any litigation, dispute, mediation, arbitration or any claim whatsoever arising from the sale, purchase, or use of the recreational vehicle shall be those of the State of Manufacture. The State of Manufacture of the recreational vehicle is Indiana.
...
I/WE HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I/WE HAVE READ AND RECEIVED THIS LIMITED WARRANTY PRIOR TO ENTERING INTO ANY CONTRACT TO PURCHASE MY/OUR GULF STREAM RECREATIONAL VEHICLE AND AGREE TO ABIDE BY ALL OF ITS TERMS AND PROVISIONS INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE DISCLAIMER OF ALL OTHER EXPRESS AND IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING ANY IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TO THE EXTENT APPLICABLE LAW ALLOWS, AND THE PROVISIONS HEREOF PROVIDING THAT THE EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION FOR ANY CLAIMS WHATSOEVER SHALL BE IN THE COURTS IN THE STATE OF MANUFACTURE AND THAT THE APPLICABLE LAW SHALL BE THE LAW OF THE STATE OF MANUFACTURE.

(Limited Warranty, DE #67-10, p. 4.) (capitalization and bold in original). In a section entitled "Important Facts, " the Limited Warranty clarifies that the covered RV was sold to an "independent dealer, and not an agent of Gulf Stream, for resale in the ordinary course of the dealer's business, " that the initial Purchase Agreement is "solely with the dealer, not Gulf Stream, " that "Gulf Stream does not participate in retail sales or retail contracts, " and that "[a]uthorized dealers and service centers are independent contractors and independently owned businesses." ( Id. at p. 4.) The Limited Warranty provides a one (1) year warranty "against defects in Gulf Stream materials and/or workmanship in the construction of the recreational vehicle" and a two (2) year warranty "against structural defects in Gulf Stream materials and/or workmanship in the construction of the floors, walls and roof." ( Id. at p. 3.) The Limited Warranty indicates that Gulf Stream will arrange for repair or replacement of defective materials and that it is "ready, willing and able to make every effort for a quick response." ( Id. ) The RV's slide-out room is a component covered by the Limited Warranty. After the Limited Warranty was signed, the GRV representative took the paperwork with him and Plaintiffs left. Plaintiffs took possession of their new RV a few days later, which was about ten days after initially signing the Purchase Agreement.[3] They then discovered the Limited Warranty inside of the RV along with the Owner Manual and other associated booklets.

Between the time Plaintiffs took possession of the RV in February of 2010 through July of 2010, they allege to have experienced various issues with the RV including toilet and shower leaks and problems with the beds, bunks, air conditioning units, vents, television, power inverter, and slide-out room. (Aff. of Nathan Hoopes, ¶¶ 19, 29, DE #70, pp. 26-27; GRV Work Orders, DE #70, pp. 29-40; Letter of Nathan Hoopes, DE #70, p. 45.) Plaintiffs brought the RV to GRV several times to be repaired pursuant to the Limited Warranty. The repairs by GRV were ultimately unsuccessful. On June 15, 2010, Plaintiffs' attorney sent a letter to Tony Suddon, Gulf Stream's director of consumer affairs, which was received by Gulf Stream within a week of the date of mailing. The letter states, in part:

[Plaintiffs'] vehicle has experienced continuing defects with the full-wall slideout on the vehicle, which [GRV] has been unable to repair or correct after three repair attempts.
I am enclosing copies of repair invoices describing the defect and repair attempts. The full-wall slideout is covered by your written warranty.... [Plaintiffs'] elect to return the vehicle [to GRV] and receive a refund of the full purchase price, all indidental damages, including but not limited to, any fees charged by the lender for making or cancelling the loan, interest, and equipment installation charges, and expenses incurred through result of the nonconformity. Please advise, whether Gulf Stream Coach intends to refund the full purchase price and pay related incidental and other expenses as required by law. I will obtain and provide documentation of the incidental and other expenses. Please feel free to call and discuss this matter.

(June Attorney Letter, DE #70, p. 42.) Copies of the GRV work orders and the Purchase Agreement were included with the letter. On August 13, 2010, Plaintiffs' attorney sent another letter to Suddon providing "additional notice of defects in the vehicle" that included a comprehensive list of the alleged defects as authored by Nathan Hoopes. (August Attorney Letter, DE #70, p. 47; Letter of Nathan Hoopes, DE #70, p. 45.) After receipt of the letters, Gulf Stream did not offer in writing to remedy or "adjust or modify" any terms of the transaction. (Aff. of Nathan Hoopes, ¶ 30, DE #70, p. 28.)

Plaintiffs filed a multi-count Complaint against both Gulf Stream and GRV on October 19, 2010. GRV was subsequently dismissed as a defendant in the case on March 26, 2012, because the Court found that the claims against it were subject to arbitration. Only the claims against Gulf Stream are currently pending before this Court.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment must be granted when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the deciding court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010). "However, our favor toward the nonmoving party does not extend to drawing inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture." Fitzgerald v. Santoro, 707 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Harper v. C.R. Eng., Inc., 687 F.3d 297, 306 (7th Cir. 2012)).

A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely on allegations or denials in her own pleading, but rather must "marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case." Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). If the non-moving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he or she bears the ...


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