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Ollendorf v. Monk

2005 WL 3478146 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

CONSUMER FRAUD—The Consumer Fraud Act is applicable to part-time business operators, including to an automobile mechanic who fixes vehicles, for pay, on his or her home driveway.

A car owner sued a mechanic alleging that the mechanic “failed to repair his car’s engine in a proper and timely fashion and violated the Consumer Fraud Act.” The lower court, although willing to enter a default judgment for damages, was unwilling to apply the Consumer Fraud Act (Act). Under the Act, the car owner was required to prove that the mechanic was “an automotive repair dealer” engaged in the “business” of providing repair services “to the public.” The lower court found that the mechanic did not qualify as such because he “had been repairing [the car owner’s] cars for many years; he did not have a sign outside his home indicating he was operating a business; he ‘informally’ fixed cars for people and did not advertise his services; [and] he had a regular job and did this work on a part time basis.” On the other hand, the car owner had, in fact, “offered proof indicating that [the mechanic] had been fixing cars for money for many years and at times had so much work that he used assistance to help him.”

The Consumer Fraud Act “has been held applicable to part-time businessman, ... and it must be construed liberally in favor of consumers to ‘accomplish its deterrent and protective purposes.’” When the Appellate Division applied those principles, recognizing that it was constrained to treat the car owner’s proofs indulgently, it disagreed with the lower court’s ruling that the Consumer Fraud Act was “inapplicable here on the ground that [the mechanic] was not an automotive repair dealer.” For that reason and because of deficiencies in the proofs that the lower court used to determine the amount of the judgment, the matter was remanded for a further hearing.

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