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Shiplet v. Copeland

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

September 30, 2014

JULIE SHIPLET, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
LARRY L. COPELAND AND JUDITH A. COPELAND, D/B/A C & C CAR SALES, Respondent-Appellant, BOB LEES, D/B/A AUTO BODY PLUS, Respondent

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cass County, Missouri. The Honorable J. Michael Rumley, Judge.

Theodore R. Hoefle, Harrisonville, MO, for appellant-respondent.

Kenneth C. Hensley, Raymore, MO, for respondent-appellant.

Before Division Four: Alok Ahuja, Chief Judge, Presiding, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and David H. Miller, Special Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

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Billy Shiplet (" Billy" ) sued Larry Copeland (" Larry" ) and Judith Copeland (" Judith" )[1] (collectively the " Copelands" ), d/b/a C& C Car Sales, and Bob Lees (" Lees" ), d/b/a Auto Body Plus, alleging violations of the Missouri Merchandizing Practices Act (" MMPA" )[2] in connection with the sale of two vehicles. After suit was filed, Billy died, and his personal representative, Julie Shiplet (" Julie" ), was substituted as plaintiff. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Julie and against the Copelands and Lees, jointly and severally, in the amount of $9,000 in connection with the sale of one of the vehicles. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Julie and against Lees in the amount of $5,705.73 in connection with the sale of the second vehicle. The trial court did not award Julie attorney's fees. Julie appeals, alleging error in the failure to award attorney's fees and in the calculation of the $9,000 damage award. The Copelands cross-appeal, alleging they were not legally liable for Lees's sale of a vehicle to Billy. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background[3]

The Copelands are the owners of C& C Car Sales, a used car dealership licensed in the state of Missouri.[4] C& C Car Sales originally operated from a location located at 100 South Madison in Raymore, but on the 2001 motor vehicle dealer license application, the Copelands indicated that the physical location of C& C Car Sales had moved to 202 Evans in Raymore. That address is also home to Lees's

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automobile body repair business, Auto Body Plus.

Before completing the 2001 license application for a motor vehicle dealer, Larry approached Lees with a business proposition regarding the physical location of C& C Car Sales. Larry and Lees never reduced their agreement to writing, but the testimony at trial established that the two men struck a deal in which C& C Car Sales would be physically located at Auto Body Plus for the purpose of motor vehicle dealer licensing, and in exchange, Larry would allow Lees to use dealer tags allotted to C& C Car Sales. Larry and Lees took several actions that demonstrated their agreement, including (1) installing a " C& C Car Sales" sign in front of the Auto Body Plus building; (2) printing business cards that listed Lees as an owner of C& C Car Sales; (3) using sales made by Lees to meet the requirements of C& C Car Sales for motor vehicle dealer licensing; (4) authorizing Lees to act as a representative of C& C Car Sales for the purpose of inspections by the Department of Revenue or law enforcement; and (5) naming Lees as an owner of C& C Car Sales on the applications for a motor vehicle dealer license.

In 2008, while Larry and Lees's business arrangement regarding C& C Car Sales remained in place, Billy attempted to purchase two vehicles located at 202 Evans in Raymore. The first vehicle Billy purchased was a 1993 Pontiac owned by Lees's son. The Pontiac was in a wrecked condition and required automobile body repair. Billy gave Lees's son cash and personal property valued at $5,705.73 in exchange for the Pontiac. Testimony at trial was conflicting as to whether the purchase price included the parts and labor required for the Pontiac's repair. Nonetheless, Lees never completed the repairs on the Pontiac, and Billy never took possession of the Pontiac.

The second vehicle Billy purchased was a 2002 Volkswagen also owned by Lees's son. Billy agreed to purchase the Volkswagen for $12,000. Billy gave Lees a cashier's check in the amount of $10,500 made payable to C& C Car Sales and promised to pay the remaining $1,500 at a later unspecified date. Billy took possession of the Volkswagen, and Lees provided Billy with a temporary permit to use until he could license the vehicle. Billy did not, however, receive the title to the Volkswagen at the time of purchase. When Billy attempted to license the Volkswagen, the Department of Revenue rejected his application because he did not have the title. Billy talked to Lees about receiving the title to the Volkswagen. Lees did not deliver the title, but offered Billy a C& C Car Sales's dealer tag to use on the Volkswagen. Billy accepted the dealer tag and continued driving the Volkswagen.

The Volkswagen started having mechanical issues following Billy's purchase of it. Lees repaired the Volkswagen once. Approximately four months after Billy's purchase, the Volkswagen again had mechanical problems. Billy returned the Volkswagen to Lees. Billy demanded return of the $10,500 he paid for the vehicle, as he had never paid the $1,500 balance of the purchase price. While the vehicle was in Billy's possession, it was driven approximately 3,500 to 4,000 miles.

Billy filed suit alleging, inter alia, that the Copelands d/b/a C& C Car Sales and Lees d/b/a Auto Body Plus violated the MMPA in connection with the sale of the Pontiac and the sale of the Volkswagen. The petition asserted that, with respect to the sale of each vehicle, the " Defendants made certain false or misleading representations and led [Billy] to believe certain falsehoods about the vehicle, specifically

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[that the] Defendants would pass clear title to [Billy] [and] [t]he condition of the vehicle." The petition also asserted two counts alleging negligence per se and two counts alleging common law fraud.

The case was tried to the court on April 15, 2013.[5] At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court asked if there was " [a]ny other evidence from Plaintiff." Julie's counsel responded that there was not, and the trial court advised that " [t]he evidence is closed in this matter." The trial court advised the parties following closing arguments that it was taking the matter ...


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