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Landry v. Charlotte Motor Cars, LLC

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

September 6, 2017

JAMIE LANDRY, Appellant,
v.
CHARLOTTE MOTOR CARS, LLC, and AMERICAN STATES INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Charlotte County; Lisa S. Porter, Judge.

          Zachary A. Harrington, Roger D. Mason, II, and Ashley V. Goodman of Roger D. Mason, II, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

          Sara Castro and David A. Holmes of Farr, Farr, Emerich, Hackett, Carr & Holmes, P.A., Punta Gorda, for Appellees.

          WALLACE, Judge.

         Jamie Landry appeals the trial court's order that dismissed her action for alleged odometer fraud against Charlotte Motor Cars, LLC, and American States Insurance Company (collectively, "the Dealership"), as a sanction for the asserted spoliation of the vehicle in question after it was repossessed. Because the Dealership failed to establish that the vehicle was lost, misplaced, or destroyed, we reverse.

         I. THE FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         In October 2013, Ms. Landry purchased a 2004 Dodge Durango from Charlotte Motor Cars. About six months later, Ms. Landry went to another car dealer to trade in the vehicle, and the other car dealer told Ms. Landry that there were odometer rollback issues with the vehicle. In late 2014, United Auto Credit repossessed the vehicle.[2]

         On January 12, 2015, Ms. Landry filed her initial complaint against the Dealership. Over a year later, on or about May 17, 2016, the Dealership's attorneys sent a preservation letter and request to inspect the vehicle to Ms. Landry's attorneys, demanding that Ms. Landry preserve the vehicle and make it available for inspection. Ms. Landry responded through her attorneys, "[Ms. Landry] no longer has the vehicle and you know that she no longer has the vehicle, so I'm not sure what the purpose of this letter is." The Dealership's attorneys replied, "That has been our understanding on this end . . . . If she did still have possession, custody, or control, we would want to inspect the vehicle. Now that we have confirmation she does not, we can proceed accordingly." A few days later, the Dealership filed its motion for sanctions, alleging that Ms. Landry had spoliated the vehicle.

         On May 24, 2016, Ms. Landry filed an amended complaint, alleging various common law and statutory claims based on the alleged odometer fraud regarding the vehicle that Ms. Landry had purchased from Charlotte Motor Cars. The Dealership timely filed its response to the amended complaint and affirmative defenses. The trial court established August 29, 2016, as the deadline for the parties to complete discovery and set a three-day jury trial for the trial period beginning September 6, 2016.

         On July 12, 2016, Ms. Landry filed a response and memorandum of law in opposition to the Dealership's motion for sanctions. In Ms. Landry's response to the motion for sanctions, Ms. Landry alleged that after another dealership told her about the odometer issues, she contacted Charlotte Motor Cars. According to Ms. Landry, Charlotte Motor Cars "told her that the odometer situation was her problem and refused to assist her in any way." Ms. Landry also stated that she submitted discovery to United Auto Credit in an attempt to locate the vehicle.

         A hearing on the motion for sanctions was set for Monday, July 18, 2016. The hearing was not noticed as an evidentiary hearing. On the Friday before the Monday hearing, the Dealership filed a memorandum of law in support of its motion for sanctions, an affidavit from an "expert witness" in support of its motion, and a supplemental witness list in which it added the name of the "expert witness" who completed the affidavit. At the hearing, Ms. Landry's attorney objected to the late filing of the Dealership's memorandum of law. The parties did not introduce the Dealership's expert affidavit or any other exhibits into evidence or call any witnesses to testify. Ms. Landry's attorney informed the trial court that his client was still in the process of trying to locate the vehicle.

         The trial court entered an order on July 21, 2016, granting the Dealership's motion for sanctions and dismissing the case. In its written order, the trial court found (1) that Ms. Landry does not have possession of the vehicle; (2) that she did not willfully dispose of the vehicle; (3) that she "had a duty to preserve the direct evidence in this case"; and (4) that the Dealership lacked the ability to defend itself without inspecting the vehicle. Ms. Landry filed a timely motion for rehearing, alleging that the vehicle still exists, has an active Florida title, and was then for sale at a car lot in Sanford, Florida. The trial court denied the motion, and this appeal followed.

         II. THE PARTIES' ...


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