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Heywood v. Cruzan Motors Inc.

June 6, 1986

MARIA HEYWOOD, APPELLANT,
v.
CRUZAN MOTORS, INC.



Author: Mansmann

Before: HUNTER, WEIS and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

Two questions presented are on appeal: (1) whether the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies set forth in Title 12A of the Virgin Islands Code when she brought her consumer complaint to the territorial court and later appealed to the district court without first receiving a written decision on her request for reconsideration before the Virgin Islands Consumer Services Administration; and (2) whether her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress failed to state a cause of action. Although we agree with the district court that exhaustion is required, under the particular circumstances presented, we remand the plaintiff's consumer complaint to the district court with instructions to remand it to the Consumer Services Administration. With respect to the tort claim, however, we affirm the dismissal.

I.

Our jurisdiction is predicated upon 28 U.S.C. § 1291 since this is an appeal from a final decision of the district court.

Because this appeal involves the application of legal precepts and statutory construction, our standard of review is plenary. See, e.g., Universal Minerals, Inc. v. C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 101-02 (3d Cir. 1981).

II.

The genesis of this action is the plaintiff's purchase of a new 1980 Pontiac Phoenix from the defendant in June of 1979. Shortly after her purchase, the plaintiff discovered multiple defects. The plaintiff returned her car (which was under warranty) to the defendant for repairs and various repairs were made. She later requested a refund, but to no avail.

The plaintiff then filed a complaint with the Virgin Islands Consumer Services Administration ("CSA"), an entity created by the enactment of Title 12A of the Virgin Islands Code, which provides that the CSA has "the primary purpose of protecting, representing, advising and guiding the public consumer . . ." V.I. Code Title 12A § 1 (1982). Pursuant to the investigatory powers of the CSA set forth in § 4, an investigation was conducted and an administrative hearing was held in connection with the plaintiff's complaint. By decision of the Director of the CSA dated January 13, 1982, the plaintiff was awarded $300.00 for the inconvenience she experienced due to her loss of use of the vehicle. This decision also provided that the vehicle was to be returned to the plaintiff as it was found that all repairs had been made. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration pursuant to V.I. Code Title 12A § 7(a). She asserted that reconsideration was warranted because she was without the use of her for for approximately two years, not sixty days as found by the Director, and because several defects were still uncorrected. Thereafter, the plaintiff's attorney sent a letter to the Director of the CSA, inquiring about the nature of the CSA hearing. In response, by letter dated February 10, 1982, the Director of the CSA indicated that the plaintiff's hearing was "informal" and "non-binding." No mention of the petition for reconsideration was stated nor has any response to the petition ever been received by the plaintiff.

Subsequently, without first receiving a written decision from the CSA on her petition for reconsideration, the plaintiff filed an action in the territorial court. Her original complaint alleged breach of warranty; she later amended her complaint to include a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The territorial court dismissed on two grounds: first, that the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies; and second, assuming arguendo that the matter was ripe for judicial review, that the district court is vested with exclusive jurisdiction over appeals from decisions rendered by the CSA on requests for reconsideration. The territorial court also suggested that the plaintiff obtain a written decision on her request for reconsideration to permit her to press her complaint. The territorial court did not address the tort claim.

Following this adverse decision, the plaintiff appealed to the district court, which affirmed the dismissal of both claims. With respect to the breach of warranty claim, the district court found that it was properly dismissed because the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by initiating her action in the territorial court without first receiving a written decision on her petition for reconsideration pending before the CSA. Although the district court reasoned that the territorial court arguably had jurisdiction over the breach of warranty action as a collateral proceeding, it held, however, that res judicata prevented the relitigation on the consumer claim in the territorial court. With respect to the tort claim, the district court stated that since it was not part of the CSA proceeding, it was properly before the territorial court. The district court held, however, that this claim failed to state a cause of action. We will address each count of the complaint separately.

III.

A. The Breach of ...


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