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Williams v. American Honda Finance Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 27, 2016

RACHEL WILLIAMS, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA FINANCE CORP., Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Docket Nos. 41, 52]

JENNIFER C. BOAL, District Judge.

In this putative class action, plaintiff Rachel Williams alleges violations of state law - specifically, the Uniform Commercial Code, the Motor Vehicle Retail Installment Sales Act, and Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws - arising from the repossession of her car by defendant American Honda Finance Corp. ("Honda"). She asserts these claims on behalf of herself and all other Massachusetts residents who have financed their cars through Honda and then had their cars repossessed. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment. Docket Nos. 41, 52.[1] For the following reasons, this Court recommends that the District Judge assigned to this case deny Williams' motion, grant Honda's motion, and grant summary judgment in favor of Honda.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Williams filed this putative class action in Norfolk Superior Court on April 7, 2014. Docket No. 10 at 2, 4-27. Honda removed the action to this Court on July 3, 2014. Docket No. 1. On July 30, 2014, Williams filed a motion to remand the action to state court. Docket No. 6. The District Court denied the motion to remand on October 30, 2014. Docket No. 18.

Williams filed a motion for summary judgment on April 30, 2015. Docket No. 41. On June 16, 2015, Honda opposed Williams' motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 52. Williams filed a reply on July 15, 2015. Docket No. 55. On August 12, 2015, Honda filed a surreply. Docket No. 61. The Court heard oral argument on January 13, 2016.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Scope Of The Record

In order to determine precisely which materials are properly before the Court for purposes of deciding the parties' motions for summary judgment, this Court must first decide Honda's objections to certain of Williams' exhibits. First, Honda objects to Williams' Exhibit F, a printout of the National Automobile Dealers Association ("NADA") values for a vehicle of similar make, model year, mileage, geography, and condition as Williams' car. See Docket No. 44-6. While it appears that NADA values are widely used in the auto industry and the courts as evidence of a vehicle's value, see, e.g., In re Roberts, 210 B.R. 325, 330 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 1997), this exhibit has not been properly authenticated.[2]

To enable their consideration in a summary judgment motion, "documents must be authenticated by and attached to an affidavit that meets the requirements of Rule 56[]." Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 131 (1st Cir. 2000) (quotations omitted). Rule 56(c)(4) provides that "[a]n affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Here, Williams has submitted the affidavits of her attorney and a paralegal in an effort to authenticate Exhibit F. See Docket No. 44-6, Docket No. 69-1.[3] However, neither the attorney nor the paralegal are competent to testify as to the exhibit because they have no personal knowledge of the information contained therein. All they can attest to is that they received the document from an unidentified NADA customer service representative. See Docket No. 44-6 at ¶¶ 5-9; Docket No. 69-1 at ¶¶ 2-3. Accordingly, the Court will not consider Exhibit F.

Similarly, Exhibit E, a redacted credit report for Williams' Honda Account (Docket No. 44-5) has not been properly authenticated. Again, Williams submits an affidavit from her attorney, attesting that he obtained the report online from CIN Legal Data Services. See Docket No. 69-2 at ¶ 3. In addition, the credit report is inadmissible hearsay. Williams' attorney is not competent to provide the foundation that would support allowing this document into evidence under any of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. See, e.g., Gannon v. IC Sys., Inc., No. 09-60302-CIV, 2009 WL 3199190, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 25, 2009); Cruz v. MRC Receivables Corp., 563 F.Supp.2d 1092, 1095 (N.D. Ca. 2008). Accordingly, the Court will not consider Exhibit E.[4]

Finally, Honda objects to Exhibit J, a copy of WSF's Financial Repossession Notice. Williams has not authenticated this document, has not responded to Honda's objection, and, in any event, has not shown that this document is material for summary judgment purposes. Accordingly, the Court will not consider Exhibit J.

B. Facts[5]

On August 29, 2007, Williams entered into a motor vehicle retail installment sale contract (the "Contract") for the purchase of a 2007 Honda Accord (the "Vehicle") for $38, 259, financing $26, 407 of this amount. SOF ¶ 2. The Contract provides that it is governed by the laws of Massachusetts. SOF ¶ 3. The Contract states that "[i]f Seller repossesses the Vehicle, Seller can, ... sell it and apply the money received to what Buyer owes. Proceeds of sale... will be applied to the unpaid sums owing under this Contract." SOF ¶ 5. The Contract further states that "Buyer will be liable for any deficiency incurred" and "Seller has the right to a deficiency judgment... in accordance with applicable law." Id.

On September 20, 2011, Honda caused the Vehicle to be repossessed. SOF ¶ 6. On September 21, 2011, Honda sent Williams a notice (the "Pre-Sale Notice") advising her of the repossession and of its intent to dispose of the Vehicle. SOF ¶ 7. In relevant part, the Pre-Sale Notice states:

We have the motor vehicle described above because you broke promises in our agreement, and we will sell it a private sale sometime after October 11, 2011.
The money received from the sale (after paying our costs) will reduce the amount you owe. If the auction proceeds are less than what you owe, you will still owe us the difference. If we receive more money than you owe, you will receive a refund, unless we must pay it to someone else. If you would like a written explanation on how the amount you owe was determined, or need additional information about the sale, please send your request to the address below.
You can get the property back at any time before we sell it by paying the full payoff amount, including our expenses. As of today, the payoff amount is $13, 366.78, which is subject to change due to the addition of applicable fees and/or finance charges.

Williams Ex. B.

On October 27, 2011, Honda sold the Vehicle at a private sale for $8, 900. SOF ¶ 10; Williams Ex. C. On November 1, 2011, Honda sent a letter to Williams informing her of the sale and stating that after applying the sale price to the money owed by Williams, there was deficiency of $4, 173.32 (the "Deficiency Notice"). SOF ¶¶ 11, 12; Williams Ex. C. Honda calculated Williams' deficiency by subtracting the auction sale price of $8, 900 from the outstanding loan balance at the time of the sale, and adding its costs of repossession and storage. SOF ¶ 13.

When Honda repossessed Williams' Vehicle, it was in rough, below-average condition for a car its age. SOF ¶ 27. In October 2011, the Black Book wholesale value for a car of similar make, model year, mileage, geography, and condition as Williams' car was $7, 750. SOF ¶ 28. The Black Book estimated retail value of such a car was $9, 800. SOF ¶ 19. The Black Book is generally recognized in the motor vehicle collections, customer, service, and credit industry to assist in setting a basepoint to start establishing values for vehicles. SOF ¶ 18.[6]

Honda set a floor price of $8, 700 before selling the Vehicle at auction. SOF ¶ 29. Honda disposes of lease-end and repossessed cars in the same manner, in a process designed to obtain the highest possible price. SOF ¶ 30.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard Of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A dispute is genuine' if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party." Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996) (quotations and citations omitted). A material fact is one which has "the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Id . (quotations and citations omitted).

The Court "must scrutinize the evidence in the light most agreeable to the nonmovants, who are entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom." Ahern v. Shinseki, 629 F.3d 49, 53-54 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Cox v. Hainey, 391 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 2004)). "A properly supported summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by relying upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, acrimonious invective, or rank speculation." Id . (citations omitted).

"Cross motions for summary judgment neither alter the basic Rule 56 standard, nor warrant the grant of summary judgment per se. " Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). "Cross motions simply require us to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed." Id . "Where, as here, a district court rules simultaneously on cross-motions for summary judgment, it must view each motion, separately, through this prism." Estate of Hevia v. Portrio Corp., 602 F.3d 34, 40 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Blackie v. Maine, 75 F.3d 716, ...


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