Carton, Crahay and Handler.
This action was initiated on the complaint of the Attorney General filed under the Consumer's Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 et seq. It involves a dispute between the owner of a small pleasure boat and a boat yard operator. Crystallized the allegations were that --
John Zuback, trading as Zuback's Boat and Motor Works (Zuback) was in the business of hauling, repairing and storing motorboats.
In October 1973 Joseph Roome asked Zuback for an estimate to replace an oil pan and front engine mount on his 1969 Ventura Cabin Cruiser, and was told that the cost of the work would be $50 for four hours labor plus the cost of parts. It was claimed that shortly later the estimate was confirmed and that the work would be completed "within a few days," whereupon the parties entered into a contract for the repairs.
Several weeks later Zuback telephoned Roome "to urge * * * replacement of an additional part * * * an alternator." Roome refused to have that work done.
On November 29, 1973 Zuback notified Roome that the job was completed and that the bill was $467.65, representing $80.15 for parts and $362.50 for 29 hours labor at $12.50 an hour. Roome paid the bill under protest, claiming Zuback threatened to increase the charges if payment was withheld.
It was claimed that not only was the front engine mount not replaced, but that Zuback performed defective work in a variety of ways, causing additional damages to the boat totalling $300.
The gravamen of the cause of action was that
Respondent's [Zuback] demand and retention of consumer's [Roome] monies which include a labor charge greater than seven times the quoted and confirmed estimate for such work both individually and in conjunction with respondent's failure to inform the consumer of the labor charge overrun and an intent to perform work for which no prior authorization had been secured constitutes the use and employment of fraud, misrepresentation, deception, unconscionable commercial practices and the knowing concealment, suppression, and omission of material facts with the intent that the consumer rely upon said concealment, suppression and omission, all in violation of N.J.S.A. 56:8-2.
The relief sought was (1) the assessment of civil penalties in the amount of $2,000; (2) restorative and consequential damages to the consumer Roome, and (3) a "cease and desist" order against future illegal practices.
Following a hearing it was essentially held that (1) the transaction was within the purview of the act, and (2) appellant committed unconscionable commercial practices, contrary to N.J.S.A. 56:8-2.
It was ordered that (1) in the future Zuback give estimates in writing free of false promises designed to induce consumers to authorize repairs; (2) in the event it appeared that Zuback could not perform work in accordance with an original estimate, he discontinue work and not resume it until he had procured the consumer's approval. Zuback was assessed costs in the amount of $300 and ordered to pay civil penalties of $1,000. He was also directed to make compensatory ...