Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dean v. Beckley (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: October 1, 2010.
Opinion by Judge Catherine C. Blake.

Held: Allegations that Defendant failed to disclose to purchaser of an RV before selling a warranty that RV manufacturer had declared bankruptcy when questions were raised regarding the nature of the warranty is sufficient to deny a motion to dismiss a claim alleging fraud in the inducement.

Facts: Plaintiff made a down payment to purchase a new RV from a dealer. Before closing on the sale, the manufacturer of the RV filed for bankruptcy. Eight days later, Plaintiff and employees of the dealer discussed a limited warranty while conducting a walk-through of the RV. None of the employees informed the Plaintiff of the bankruptcy. Plaintiff purchased a seven-year warranty on the RV. Plaintiff soon discovered numerous problems with the RV allegedly covered by the warranty. In subsequent conversations, the dealer allegedly agreed to accept return of the RV and refund Plaintiff's money. Ultimately, the dealer refused both the return and the refund.

Plaintiff sued the dealer and the individual employee that discussed the warranty with the Plaintiff, alleging fraud in the inducement among other things. Defendants moved to dismiss.

Analysis: Under Maryland law, corporate officers are personally liable for the torts they personally commit. Plaintiff's allegations that the individual employee personally explained in detail the nature of the warranties they would receive, while knowing the manufacturer had filed bankruptcy, coupled with the allegation that the bankruptcy was a material fact within the "unique possession" of the Defendants is sufficient to permit the fraud claim to proceed against the individual.

The Court found allegations of false representations regarding (i) the quality of the RV itself and (ii) the acceptance of the RV's return and subsequent refund of Plaintiffs money to be insufficient as the representations concerning the quality of the RV were puffery and the alleged promise to accept a return was promissory in nature. However, Plaintiff made sufficient allegations regarding failure to disclose and fraudulent concealment of the manufacturer's financial troubles to deny the motion to dismiss.

"Generally, the failure to disclose does not amount to a false representation unless there is a separate duty to disclose." In transactions conducted at arm's length, such as here, a duty may arise if the fact is material, the concealer has superior knowledge and knows the other is acting on the assumption the fact does not exist. Here, Plaintiff alleged the specific inquiries regarding the warranty gave Defendants knowledge that Plaintiffs assumed the manufacturer would be able to honor the warranty."

The full opinion is available in pdf.

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