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Griffin v. Burlington Volkswagen

February 8, 2010

JOSEPH GRIFFIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BURLINGTON VOLKSWAGEN, INC., AND AUGUSTINE STAINO, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-2756-08.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted October 27, 2009

Before Judges Skillman, Gilroy and Simonelli.

In August 2006, plaintiff Joseph Griffin purchased a car from defendant Burlington Volkswagen. This purchase required Griffin to obtain financing. According to Griffin, he was assured at the time of the sale by defendant Augustine Staino, an employee of Burlington Volkswagen, that he had already been approved for such financing. After paying a $1,000 deposit and signing a retail order form, Griffin obtained possession of the car and thereafter received what he described as a "certificate of ownership." Griffin subsequently drove the car to Texas where he was enrolled in college.

Approximately a month after entering into this transaction, Griffin was informed by Burlington Volkswagen that the third-party lender it had expected to provide financing for Griffin's purchase of the car had changed its mind and was unwilling to provide financing. Moreover, Burlington Volkswagen declined to finance the purchase itself and instead undertook efforts to repossess the car from Griffin. According to Griffin, these efforts consisted of harassing telephone calls to Griffin and his employer at Griffin's place of employment and to Griffin and his girlfriend at their residence.

According to Griffin, Burlington Volkswagen also reported to the Burlington Police Department that Griffin had stolen the car by forcibly removing it from their premises. As a result of this report, a warrant was issued for Griffin's arrest. Based on this warrant, Griffin was arrested while driving the car in Mississippi and incarcerated overnight. Griffin had to retain local counsel, post a bond, and remain in Mississippi until he provided an explanation for his possession of the car sufficient for Mississippi law enforcement authorities to allow his release. Griffin also alleges that the Mississippi police seized the car and that he has not seen the car since.

Thereafter, Griffin had to return to New Jersey to respond to the criminal charges brought against him as a result of Burlington Volkswagen's report of his theft of the car. On May 7, 2007, those charges were dismissed.

Griffin subsequently brought this damages action against Burlington Volkswagen and Staino in the Law Division, asserting common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress and a statutory claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act of 2004, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2.

Before filing an answer, Burlington Volkswagen moved to dismiss Griffin's complaint on the ground that he was required to arbitrate his claims under an arbitration provision contained in the retail order form. The trial court granted this motion. Griffin appeals.

The arbitration provision that the trial court concluded requires Griffin to arbitrate his claims against Burlington Volkswagen states in pertinent part:

The parties to this agreement agree to arbitrate any claim, dispute, or controversy, including all statutory claims and any state or federal claims, that may arise out of or relating to the purchase or lease identified in this Motor Vehicle Retail Order and the financing thereof. By agreeing to arbitration, the parties understand and agree that they are waiving their rights to maintain other available resolution processes, such as a court action or administrative proceeding, to settle their disputes. New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, Used Car Lemon Law, and Truth-in-Lending claims are just three examples of the various types of claims subject to arbitration under this agreement. . . .

There are no limitations on the type of claims that must be arbitrated, except for New Car Lemon Law and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act claims which are ...


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