High Court to Mull Requirements of Unfair Trade Practices Claim
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law can be applied to allegedly inflated charges that a rental car company levied against a driver for damages to a vehicle.
On Jan. 30, the high court agreed to consider whether a driver will need to allege and prove justifiable reliance claims to pursue a cause of action under the UTPCPL's catch-all provision. The court will also hear whether the driver hiring an attorney to fight the allegedly excessive charges satisfies the law's "ascertainable loss" requirement.
In March 2013, a three-judge panel of the state Superior Court had determined that the plaintiff's claim in Grimes v. Enterprise Leasing Co. of Philadelphia was actionable under the UTPCPL because it was covered under the law's catch-all provision and satisfied the ascertainable-loss requirement. The holding reversed the trial court's decision to toss the plaintiff's claims.
Judge Sallie Updyke Mundy, writing the majority opinion, said that case law and the deterrent value of the UTPCPL swayed the court's decision.
"In our view, these allegations plainly meet the UTPCPL catch-all provision's requirement of 'fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding,'" Mundy said, quoting the UTPCPL. "Given the instruction from our Supreme Court that courts are to liberally construe the UPTCPL in order to effect the legislative goal of consumer protection and the facts of this case, we conclude the element of loss has been clearly established."
Judge Paula Francisco Ott joined the opinion and Judge William H. Platt concurred in the result.
James C. Haggerty of Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, who represented the plaintiff, said the issue of whether the UTPCPL catch-all requires plaintiffs to allege and prove justifiable reliance claims has been an open question since the catch-all provision was amended in 1996.
"We welcome the opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify the issue, and we're hopeful of prevailing, just as we did before the Superior Court," Haggerty said.
According to Mundy, in December 2010, plaintiff Christina Grimes rented a vehicle from Enterprise Leasing and agreed that if the vehicle was damaged during the rental period she would pay for repairs, loss of use, diminution of value and administrative costs.
She returned the vehicle with a 10- to 12-inch scratch along the body, and was notified by Enterprise that the total costs would be $840. Four months later, Grimes then filed a counterclaim alleging that deceptively inflated fees fell into the UTPCPL's catch-all provision and that the legal fees she incurred to fight the charges constituted ascertainable loss.