In a major victory for New Jersey consumers, the Supreme Court decided this week in Bosland v. Warnock Dodge that the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) does not require a consumer to seek a refund from an offending merchant before filing a complaint against it.
In March 2003, plaintiff Rhonda Bosland purchased a new Jeep Grand Cherokee from Warnock Dodge, paying for the vehicle in full at the time of the sale. The dealership charged her $117 for what was listed in the paperwork only as a “registration fee”—a price that Bosland later learned was significantly higher than what the Motor Vehicle Commission actually charged New Jersey drivers for vehicle registration.
Upon deducing that the dealership was fraudulently profiting from this transaction by not disclosing or itemizing documentary fees associated with her vehicle registration, as required by automobile sales regulations, Bosland did not contact Warnock to ask for a refund for the amount she had been overcharged. Rather, she filed a complaint, seeking relief for herself as well as for a class of similarly situated car buyers. The complaint’s two statutory claims asserted that Warnock had violated the CFA as well as the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act.
The trial court dismissed this case, in part due to the conclusion that Bosland’s CFA claim was barred by her failure to seek a refund prior to filing her complaint. The Appellate Division disagreed with this reasoning, rejecting the earlier findings in the relevant Feinberg v. Red Bank Volvo that asking for a refund first was a “necessary element of proof” of the claim’s legitimacy.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Bosland v. Warnock Dodge marks a great step forward for consumer rights.