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Ryan v. American Honda Motor Co.

July 26, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-4374-01.

Per curiam.


Argued July 10, 2007

Before Judges C.S. Fisher and Grall.

In this appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial judge erred by granting summary judgment in favor of defendant American Honda Motor Co., which dismissed his claims based on the Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -20, and the Magnuson-Moss Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 2301 to 2312. We conclude that plaintiff failed to rebut defendant's assertions that the problems with plaintiff's vehicle were the product of vandalism or flooding and not covered by the warranty, and affirm.

On March 2, 1999, plaintiff leased a 1999 Honda Passport manufactured by defendant for a period of three years. As part of that transaction, plaintiff received defendant's basic limited warranty -- for a period of three-years or 36,000 miles, whichever came first -- by which defendant agreed to "repair or replace any part that is defective in material or workmanship under normal use." This warranty did not cover "the failure of any part or accessory due to . . . abuse, misuse, accidental damage, or acts of God."

On June 24, 2000, after having driven the vehicle approximately 22,000 miles, plaintiff returned it to the dealership, complaining of engine problems. The dealer's representatives advised that the engine problems had resulted from external damage or tampering and were not covered by the manufacturer's warranty. The dealer suggested that plaintiff file a claim against his insurer. Such a claim was made and the insurer, which also concluded that the damage was the result of tampering or flooding, authorized repairs at a cost of $8,236.99. The repairs were made, but plaintiff alleged that he continued to experience problems with the vehicle.

In 2001, plaintiff filed a complaint, asserting claims based on the Consumer Fraud Act, the Magnuson-Moss Act, and, also, the New Jersey Lemon Law, N.J.S.A. 56:12-29 to -49. Defendant moved for summary judgment as to all aspects of the complaint. During the pendency of the motion, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the Lemon Law claim, acknowledging its inapplicability because the vehicle had been driven more than 18,000 miles at the time of the reported problems. See N.J.S.A. 56:12-31.

The trial judge granted the motion with regard to the Magnuson-Moss Act claim by holding that plaintiff was a lessee and not a buyer of the vehicle.

Plaintiff appealed. In a reported opinion, we held that plaintiff met two of the three definitions of "consumer" contained in the Magnuson-Moss Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 2301(3), in that plaintiff was both a person "to whom such product is transferred during the duration of an implied or written warranty," and a person "who is entitled by the terms of such warranty . . . or under applicable State law to enforce against the warrantor . . . the obligations of the warranty." Ryan v. Amer. Honda Motor Corp., 376 N.J. Super. 185, 190 (App. Div. 2005). We also held that the trial judge had dismissed the Consumer Fraud Act claim "without analysis," and remanded, without retaining jurisdiction, for findings and conclusions with respect to that aspect of defendant's motion for summary judgment. Id. at 200.

The Supreme Court granted defendant's petition for certification and affirmed. The Court held, as to the Magnuson-Moss Act claim, that only the third prong of the Act's definition of "consumer" fit the circumstances here. But, the Court also held, as we had held, that plaintiff was entitled to pursue a Magnuson-Moss Act claim despite being only the vehicle's lessee. Ryan v. Amer. Honda Motor Corp., 186 N.J. 431, 436-37 (2006).

Following these appellate proceedings, defendant again moved for summary judgment on both the Consumer Fraud Act and the Magnuson-Moss Act claims. Defendant presented evidential material, which plaintiff failed to adequately rebut, that the engine problems occurring during the warranty period were not caused by a defect in material or workmanship but resulted from the introduction of water into the engine.

As we have observed, upon initial inspection after the vehicle was towed to the dealership in June 2000, the dealer's representative indicated that the damage to the engine was not covered by the warranty and suggested that plaintiff make a claim against his insurance company. The insurer had the vehicle examined by an expert who opined that water was introduced into the engine, suggesting that this may have occurred when the vehicle encountered flood waters or was driven through a large puddle.

In response, plaintiff argued that the vehicle was never vandalized, that it was not subjected to flood waters, and that he never drove it through a large puddle. Plaintiff claimed that this response generated a disputed question of fact that ...

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