Wednesday, October 31, 2007

consumer - motor vehicles - MVSFA - private right of action

Nawrocki v. Faulkner Ciocca Ford - ED Pa. - October 29, 2007

Under the facts of this case, Plaintiffs did not have a private cause of action under the Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act (MVSFA), 68 P.S. sec. 601 et seq, for claims that a) the notice of repossession violated the MVSFA and b) the car dealer improperly applied for financing in the plaintiffs' name.

The "Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the MVSFA creates a private right of action." However, in Witthoeft v. Kiskaddon, 733 A.2d 623, 616 (Pa. 1999), the Court "adopted a portion of the test from Cort v. Ash, 422 US 66, 78 (1975), to determine when a court may infer a private right of action under a statute"

Under the Witthoeft case, Pennsylvania courts consider whether
- plaintiff belongs to the class for whose special benefit the statute was enacted
- there is is an indication of any explicit or implicit legislative intent to create or deny such a remedy
- a private right of action would be consistent with the purpose of the legislative scheme.
The second of these "is the most important and [is] given the greatest weight."

The court noted that several sections of the MVSFA do specifically create private rights of action for their violation, citing examples. However, the court said that it could "not imply a private right of action in the entire MVSFA simply because the MVSFA contains provisions that the buyer can enforce." Such a reading would "ignore the difference between a statute that creates a private right of action and one that supplies an element of an existing cause of action. When a statute creates a private right of action, a plaintiff need only make out a violation of the statute to recover. On the other hand, when a statute supplies an element of a cause of action, the plaintiff must make out the violation of the statute and all of the other elements of the relevant cause of action before she can recover." (emphasis in original)

In this case, the court held that the violation of the sec. 623 notice provision supplied one element of a cause of action for the tort of conversion, i.e., interference with the plaintiff's use or possession of her car without her consent and "without lawful justification." (emphasis in original). However, "the MVSFA does not make a defective repossession notice in and of itself the subject of an implied cause of action."

There is no specific section of the MVSFA that covers an alleged application by a car dealer for financing in plaintiffs' names, without their knowledge or consent (even though such "behavior would likely violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which plaintiffs duly invoke.")