If a Consumer Pays a Deposit as Part of a Consumer Transaction, the Supplier Must Have an Articulated Refund Policy

If a Consumer Pays a Deposit as Part of a Consumer Transaction, the Supplier Must Have an Articulated Refund Policy

William and Joan Layne, consumers as that term is defined in the Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01, et seq., entered into a consumer transaction with Tru-Built Homes, Inc., to build a detached garage on their property.  The contract price of $7,196.00 was to be paid in three installments, with the first as a down payment at the time the contract was signed.  The contract went on to guarantee that the supplier would: “fix, replace, or repair any part that goes wrong, that is our fault, because of poor workmanship or faulty materials for one full year at absolutely no cost to the consumer.”

The concrete garage floor that was poured by the contractor did not conform to the contract’s specifications in that it did not align with the house.  The parties negotiated for several weeks, trying to resolve the non-conformity, without reaching an acceptable solution.  Finally, it was agreed that the contractor would remove and re-pour the pad.  A subcontractor started the task, but did not complete it.  Finally, the Laynes terminated the contract relationship, and filed litigation alleging breach of contract and violations of the Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01 et seq.

A jury awarded damages of $6,277.00 on the breach of contract claim, but the trial court ruled against plaintiffs on the CSPA claim.  On appeal, the 2nd District reversed, finding that there was sufficient evidence in the record to find that the defendant had engaged in deceptive and unconscionable practices by accepting a deposit without articulating a refund policy, engaging in a pattern of inefficiency and incompetency, and failing to honor an express warranty, all of which have been held to violate the CSPA.

R.C. §1345.09(B) states that when a supplier in a consumer transaction has engaged in a deceptive or unconscionable act, a consumer is entitled to three times actual damages or $200, whichever is greater.  On remand, the lower court did not separate the breach of contract damages previously found by the jury from the CSPA violations damages, as the appellate court clearly contemplated, and simply trebled the jury’s finding of $6,277.00, totaling $18,831.00, as plaintiffs’ actual damages.  Defendants appealed again, and the appellate court agreed that damages were due and owing for the several CSPA violations but disagreed with the trial court’s basis for its finding of actual damages, so the court remanded that matter a second time for the trial court to re-examine each CSPA violation to fashion an appropriate damages award.

The 2nd District left alone the trial court’s award of attorney fees under the CSPA, reasoning that the supplier had knowingly committed the violation, which is enough to justify awarding attorney fees under R.C. §1345.09(F).  Quoting from the Supreme Court decision in Einhorn v. Ford Motor Co., (1990) 48 Ohio St. 3d, 27, 30, the appellate court stated that knowingly committing an act or practice “ ‘means that the supplier need only intentionally do the act…The supplier does not have to know that his conduct violates the [CSPA]. ’ ”   Id., at p. 6.  The trial court had held a separate hearing on attorney fees following the first remand, finding that $18,329.70 was a reasonable amount for plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the pursuit of their CSPA claims.

Layne v. McGowen, 2nd Dist. Case No. 16400, November 14, 1997

PIF #10001592: Decision under Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01, et seq.

 

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