the lease, or otherwise retain the allegedly nonconforming vehicle. In a moment of rhetorical overstatement, plaintiff derides such an interpretation of the Lemon Law as unfairly "requiring a consumer to retain possession of a two (2) ton juggernaut, capable of mass destruction at any moment, simply to protect his financial claims." Plaintiff's Brief at 2.
Unadorned by hyperbole, the question for this court is whether the statutory requirement contained in New Jersey's Lemon Law that a prevailing consumer receive a refund is severable from the requirement that the manufacturer accept the return of the vehicle, so that a consumer may seek a remedy under the Lemon Law, even if the vehicle cannot be returned to the manufacturer. In construing Pennsylvania's Lemon Law, Pennsylvania's intermediate appellate court and the district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, have answered this question "No."
In reaching this conclusion, those courts have reasoned that the definition of a "Purchaser", under Pennsylvania's Lemon Law is limited to those having possession of the vehicle in question. This rationale may be questioned, at least insofar as the courts proclaim an unwillingness to expand upon legislative definitions, while simultaneously adding a purely judicial gloss, the requirement of "continued possession," to the legislature's original handiwork. See Reeves, 609 A.2d at 831 (McEwen, J., dissenting). Nevertheless, Pennsylvania courts clearly have construed a much narrower statute than the New Jersey Lemon Law, which, by its express terms, protects a broad class of "consumers," including lessees.
More important than the rationale supporting the Pennsylvania decisions, however, is the fact that all of them address anomalous situations which deprived an erstwhile "purchaser" of title or continued possession of the vehicle. For example, for a plaintiff in a Pennsylvania Lemon Law action, the lesson to be learned from Simons is not to "trade-in" his or her vehicle during the pendency of the suit. Similarly, Berry merely requires a plaintiff whose car is subject to a lien to continue to make payments on the vehicle. These decisions do not erect significant barriers before the very class of persons protected by the Pennsylvania Lemon Law.
To apply the reasoning of the Pennsylvania cases to New Jersey's Lemon Law would work a much greater hardship upon New Jersey "consumers."
The purpose of New Jersey's Lemon Law is to provide "procedures to expeditiously resolve disputes between a consumer and a manufacturer," without requiring the consumer to prove fraud. See N.J. Stat. Ann § 56:12-29. Clearly, the Lemon Law is a remedial statute. As such, courts should construe the Lemon Law liberally to achieve its remedial purpose. Abbamont v. Piscataway Twp. Bd. of Educ., 138 N.J. 405, 431, 650 A.2d 958 (1994). Furthermore, courts "should avoid a literal interpretation of individual statutory terms or provisions that would be inconsistent with the overall purpose of the statute." Young v. Schering Corp., 141 N.J. 16, 25, 660 A.2d 1153 (1995).
The New Jersey Lemon Law specifically affords relief to lessees. The statutory period in which a consumer must seek repairs is two years or 18,000 miles. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-31. It must be assumed that a three-year, or even a four-year, lease could easily expire before the final adjudication of a Lemon Law suit. To require the lessee, in all such circumstances, to seek to extend the lease term, or to purchase the vehicle, if that is allowed under the lease, would create an insurmountable hurdle for a potentially large class of plaintiffs who seek the protection of New Jersey's Lemon Law.
Furthermore, although many "consumers" will no doubt discover nonconformities in their vehicles early in the lease term, any construction of New Jersey's Lemon Law which absolutely bars recovery when the plaintiff no longer possesses the leased vehicle, would serve to encourage manufacturers, or their authorized dealers, to promise to repair or correct any nonconformity simply in order to delay potential legal action until the lease is about to expire.
It is the Lemon Law's stated aim to "expeditiously resolve disputes." The statute must be construed so as to promote cooperative resolution of disputes, not in a manner that would encourage delay. For all of these reasons, defendant's motion for partial summary judgment will be denied.
Because I have concluded that the statutory requirement that a vehicle which has been determined to be a "lemon" must be returned by the lessor to the manufacturer is not an indispensable part of the scheme of New Jersey's Lemon Law, an appropriate remedy can be fashioned to meet the facts of this case. If plaintiff ultimately prevails in this action, Land Rover will not be required to "provide the motor vehicle lessor with a full refund of the vehicle's original purchase price . . . ." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-32(b). Nor can this court oblige Land Rover to conform to the notice requirements of section 56:12-35.
It must be stressed that this court's conclusion in no way reflects on the merits of plaintiff's claim as to the alleged non-conformities of the Range Rover. As was noted, the plaintiff had amassed over 45,000 miles on the vehicle by the conclusion of the lease term, and owed the lessor an additional payment for excess mileage. In light of the accumulated mileage, one might understandably be dismayed by plaintiff's claim that the alleged non-conformities rendered "control of the vehicle extremely difficult and driving quite dangerous." Plaintiff's Brief at 1. Whatever the merits of Singer's claim, however, they cannot defeat the broad remedial purpose and public policy reflected in New Jersey's Lemon Law.
For the reasons set forth above, the court will deny the motion of defendant, Land Rover North America, Inc., for partial summary judgment. The court will enter an appropriate order.
STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY
United States District Judge
Dated: March 18, 1997
This matter having come before the Court on the motion of defendant, Land Rover North America, Inc., for partial summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b), Delia A. Clark, Esq., of Kimmel & Silverman, P.C., appearing on behalf of the Plaintiff, and William J. Tinsley, Esq., of Sills, Cummis, Zuckerman, Radin, Tischman, Epstein & Gross, P.A., appearing on behalf of the Defendant; and,
The Court having considered the motion, the briefs and exhibits filed in support of and in opposition to the motion, for the reasons set forth in this Court's OPINION filed concurrently with this ORDER;
It is on this 18th day of March, 1997,
ORDERED that the motion of defendant, Land Rover North America, Inc., for partial summary judgment is DENIED.
STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY
United States District Judge