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Grauer v. McGuire Cadillac

A-1373-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

CONSUMER FRAUD ACT—There is no provision in the Consumer Fraud Act requiring a threshold showing by a complainant that he or she was a bona fide consumer.

An automobile dealership admitted that an advertising sign in front of the dealership “was deceptive and ‘definitely in violation’ of advertising regulations.” A jury found that neither the actions of the dealership nor of its employees were a proximate cause of any damages to the complainant. The complainant saw the sign, but when he called the dealership or visited the dealership, he was told that he did not qualify for the advertised price and that even if he did qualify, the price referred to a lease and not to a purchase.

Under the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), a “finding of no ascertainable loss does not preclude attorney’s fees under the CFA.” With that in mind, the lower court ordered the dealership to pay substantial attorney’s fees. A question arose, however, whether the CFA requires “a bona fide consumer for CFA protection.” The lower court ruled that it did not, and that the complainant’s “actual intent to purchase the vehicle was relevant only to the issue of damages and counsel fees.” The dealer appealed that ruling. In the rejecting the dealer’s argument, the Appellate Division pointed out that the CFA provides that: “Any person who suffers any ascertainable loss ... as a result of the use or employment by another person of any method, act or practice declared unlawful under this act ...” may seek relief. It took note that “[t]here is no provision in the statute requiring a threshold showing that the plaintiff is a ‘bona fide consumer.’”

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