Judge widens lawsuit against car dealership

Thousands can join action over $595 fee

September 06, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has ruled that thousands of people who bought vehicles from Jerry's Chevrolet can join a suit alleging that the Carney dealership slapped bogus charges on its customers.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan certified as a class action the suit that was filed against Jerry's last summer by Catherine M. Duffy, a Carney resident.

She claims that she was assessed a $595 charge for "Karcraft Finish Protection" when she bought a Chevrolet Blazer from the dealership in 1997 but that she received no services in return.

In his order, Dugan noted that Gerald Stautberg, Jerry's president, acknowledged in a pretrial statement that delivery services were the same on all vehicles regardless of whether customers paid $595 for finish protection.

"It is interesting to note that, during his deposition, Mr. Stautberg ... admitted under oath that Jerry's customers received nothing in exchange for this fee," Dugan wrote in a 12-page order.

Dugan's order means that the 5,000 to 6,000 customers who purchased Chevrolets from Jerry's after Duffy's purchase in August 1997 and before the charge was dropped in July 2000 could join the suit as plaintiffs, said Richard S. Gordon, Duffy's lawyer.

"It's a major victory for consumers," Gordon said.

He said his office will send notices to Jerry's customers informing them of the suit after Dugan approves the notification list in the next few months.

Allegations denied

But Douglas Nazarian, the lawyer for Jerry's Chevrolet, denied the allegations yesterday and said he will prove there was no wrongdoing when the case is tried.

"They're making false allegations about what Jerry did with this customer and with other customers," Nazarian said.

"We think this customer was treated fairly and that all Jerry's customers are treated fairly, and we intend to prove that," he said.

Duffy's suit alleges that she was never given an explanation for the $595 fee and that it was charged for a service that never existed.

"Jerry's systematically and deceptively inflates the cost of its new vehicles," the suit alleges. "Jerry's practices are misleading, deceptive and unconscionable."

The suit seeks refunds for all Jerry's Chevrolet customers between August 1997 and July 2000, along with unspecified damages.

It alleges breach of contract, breach of implied warranty, violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and unjust enrichment.

But Nazarian said in court papers that the fee covered the cost of cleaning and waxing the vehicle, that it was listed in the sales agreement as part of the original asking price and that Duffy was free to negotiate it.

He noted that she negotiated a price of $29,238, which was $1,282 less than the asking price for the vehicle.

She "ultimately paid a price considerably below Jerry's asking price," Nazarian said in court papers.

Similar to Lustine suit

A similar class action suit filed against Lustine Chevrolet of Hyattsville ended with settlement in Prince George's County Circuit Court on July 3, 2000.

Lustine agreed to pay 4,700 plaintiffs refunds of $595 for the "gas and glaze package" they were assessed, according to papers filed by Gordon.

But Gordon and Nazarian said yesterday that they expect the Jerry's case to go to trial.

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