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Gliottone v. Ford Motor Co.

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

July 31, 2019

THOMAS R. GLIOTTONE, JR.
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY & others.[1]

          Heard: September 13, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on July 25, 2014.

         A motion for summary judgment was heard by Angel Kelley Brown, J.; a motion for summary judgment was heard by Rosalind H. Miller, J., and the entry of judgment was ordered by her.

          Christopher M. Lefebvre (Clovis C. Gregor, of Rhode Island, also present) for the plaintiff.

          Michelle I. Schaffer for Ford Motor Company & another. Ronald P. Langlois for Tasca Automotive Group, Inc.

          Present: Rubin, Sacks, & Shin, JJ.

          RUBIN, J.

         This case requires us to decide whether a plaintiff suing under the Massachusetts Lemon Law, G. L. c. 90, § 7N 1/2, must introduce expert testimony to prove that the subject vehicle did not comply with the applicable express or implied warranties. A judge of the Superior Court answered this question in the affirmative and on this basis granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford).[2] We disagree and therefore, for the reasons set out infra, vacate the judgment entered in favor of all the defendants.

         Background.

         We summarize the facts, many of which are disputed, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here the plaintiff, Thomas R. Gliottone, Jr., in accordance with the traditional standard for summary judgment. See Augat, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 410 Mass. 117, 120 (1991). Under that standard, summary judgment is appropriate only when "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, all material facts have been established and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Id. Our review of the summary judgment is de novo. See Miller v. Cotter, 448 Mass. 671, 676 (2007).

         On July 23, 2010, Gliottone bought a 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck from defendant Rodman Ford Sales, Inc. (Rodman), an authorized dealer of Ford vehicles located in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The vehicle, manufactured by Ford, came with a limited warranty that covered manufacturing defects. Shortly after the purchase, the truck began exhibiting mechanical problems: the truck would not start, it would stall, it experienced loss of power, and the on-board diagnostic panel would show that it was in "wrench" mode. Gliottone contacted Ford's roadside assistance, which instructed him to bring the vehicle to defendant Tasca Automotive Group, Inc. (Tasca), a different authorized Ford dealer located in Cranston, Rhode Island. He did so on or about August 14, 2010, and Tasca representatives told him that installing a supercharger would solve the mechanical problems and would not adversely affect his warranty. Gliottone agreed to pay for the supercharger, which cost $8, 038.68 for parts and labor. The invoice for this service shows that the truck had been driven 1, 461 miles and was ready for pickup on September 24, 2010. Ford disputes that the supercharger was an authorized repair, but we are reviewing a motion for summary judgment and there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was: the invoice states that the supercharger was installed for "engine repair." Ford also continued to pay for warranty services for problems it blames on the supercharger even though it would have had no obligation to do so under the warranty if the malfunctions were caused by a "modification[]."

         According to Gliottone, the vehicle's wrench mode reactivated and the same mechanical problems with failing to start, power loss, and stalling resurfaced in October of 2010. These issues would also occur when the vehicle's "hill descent" and "tow haul" modes were activated. He took the vehicle back to Tasca on October 20, 2010, and the vehicle remained out of service for ten days.[3]

         The truck's problems did not end here. It was towed to Tasca on May 16, 2011, apparently through Ford's roadside assistance hotline, because it would crank but not start.[4] By May 19, Tasca had replaced the truck's throttle position sensor and the truck was ready to be picked up.

         Gliottone then returned to Tasca on June 1, 2011, because, again, the truck would crank but not start. Tasca kept the truck until June 24 and replaced the fuel pump.

         Gliottone again returned to Tasca on August 3, 2011, this time because, when he drove the truck, the hill descent light would illuminate and the truck would lose power. It would also idle "rough." After also discovering problems with the accelerator pedal, Tasca eventually replaced a power ...


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