Update (March 21, 2018): Another successful prediction by Minnesota Litigator…
Original post (November 8, 2017): Esmeralda Sorchaga sued Ride Auto in connection with her purchase of a used pick-up truck (specifically, a 2008 Ford F-350) from Ride Auto. She alleged fraud by the salesman. Following a bench trial, the district court awarded Sorchaga $14,366.03 in damages and $21,949.35 in attorney fees. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed. Ride Auto sought Minnesota Supreme Court review.
At oral argument last week, out of the blocks, attorney Robert Bruno, counsel for Auto Ride, stumbled, beginning his argument by pointing out that the buyer and Ride Auto salesperson spoke to one another in Spanish. Justice Lillehaug promptly questioned how that had any relevance to the case. Mr. Bruno did not seem to have a satisfactory answer. It was odd strategy to highlight this at the outset of Ride Auto’s argument.
And it did not get much better from there.
Mr. Bruno argued that a car seller could tell a prospective car buyer, “Pay no attention to the ‘as-is’ term in this car sale contract. If you buy this car and have problems, we’ll fix it for free,” and, Mr. Bruno argued, the “as is” clause would still be enforceable. Mr. Bruno suggested that there is no recourse for oral fraud in connection with the sale of a used car if the car is sold “as is.”
We might call this doctrine Xtreme Caveat Emptor™.
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug seemed gobsmacked: “No matter how drastic the fraud, no matter how sleazy the salesperson behaves, that word, ‘as-is,’ ends the case as far as the warranty of merchantability?”
In response, Mr. Bruno denied Justice Lillehaug’s hypothetical though, at other times in his argument, Mr. Bruno adopted, endorsed, and embraced the very argument that he rejected in response to Justice Lillehaug’s question.
Justice Stras asked Mr. Bruno about duress. “Let’s say the salesperson put a gun to a customer’s head and said, ‘You need to sign that sales contract right now…would we enforce that contract?”
Mr. Bruno answered that this would not be an enforceable contract since the contract was compelled under duress. Justice Stras suggested that Mr. Bruno’s distinction between duress and fraud made no sense.
The puzzle with this case is not who will win the appeal but why the Minnesota Supreme Court took the case.