Horvitz & Levy persuaded the Court of Appeal to issue a published opinion that favorably resolves recurring issues on which trial courts had lacked appellate guidance.
Plaintiff Anabell Ruiz Nunez bought a used Jeep Patriot in October 2013. It had previously undergone repairs for a power-reduction problem, and Ruiz Nunez had no problem with the car herself for over two years, by which time the five-year warranty period had expired. The dealer had to try three times to effect repairs this time, without charge to Ruiz Nunez, after which the malfunction did not recur. Ruiz Nunez nonetheless demanded that FCA (formerly known as Chrysler) buy back her Jeep, and she sued FCA when it declined her demand.
Ruiz Nunez claimed the warranty had not actually expired when she brought the Jeep in for repairs, arguing that the malfunction she experienced stemmed from a defective part that was not replaced during the work done for the prior owner. She contended that, under the Song-Beverly Act (lemon law), a warranty effectively never expires for problems that are brought in during warranty but that recur again post-warranty. Ruiz Nunez’s counsel persuaded the trial judge to specially instruct the jury on this theory as a basis for evading FCA’s defense that Ruiz Nunez’s repair history was outside her warranty period and thus did not give rise to a breach of warranty claim. The jury found that FCA breached its warranty and the court entered a substantial attorney fee award. The court granted FCA’s nonsuit motion on a claim for breach of implied warranty. Both parties appealed.
Horvitz & Levy argued in appellate briefing that Ruiz Nunez’s special instruction conflicted with a standard jury instruction properly given at FCA’s request, which sets forth a 60-day notice requirement after a failed in-warranty repair; absent such notice, the warranty will not be extended based solely on a later claim that repairs had not prevented recurrence of a malfunction. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed for a new trial under proper instructions. The court emphasized the need to apply the plain meaning of the Song-Beverly Act, which cannot be disregarded to yield a pro-consumer outcome in a particular case. The court also affirmed the nonsuit on the implied warranty claim because, as a manufacturer rather than a retailer or distributor, FCA owed no implied warranty on the sale of the used car to Ruiz Nunez.