Defense Win
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
by: Michelle Pham & Kristy Ball, Helsell Fetterman

Section: Summer 2023

Michelle Pham and Kristy Ball of Helsell Fetterman recently obtained a defense verdict for their used car dealership client in a bench trial against plaintiff’s counsel, Eugene Bolin. The Honorable Paul Thompson presided over the trial in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Plaintiff alleged that, in October 2019, he flew from Georgia to Seattle to purchase a 1995 Dodge Viper and met with an employee who Plaintiff claimed was identified as a manager on the dealership’s website. He alleged that he wrote a $34,180 check to purchase the Viper and that it would be “held” while a repair could be completed and a contract drawn up. The check was cashed, yet he never received the Viper so he agreed to a Corvette as a substitute with the difference in cost to be refunded. He received the Corvette for a few days before reaching out to the employee about a repair to the Corvette. After the Corvette was towed away by an unknown person, Plaintiff claimed that he never received the Corvette or a refund.  As a result, he claimed he had to fly back and forth from Georgia to Seattle  multiple times in to attempt to get his car and/or money back.
Plaintiff filed causes of action for (1) Negligence (specifically, negligent hiring, retention, or supervision of the dealership’s employee); (2) Fraud; (3) Breach of Contract; (4) Violations of the Auto Dealers Practices Act, RCW 46.70, et seq. (“ADPA”); (5) Dealership’s Liability for Acts of Employees; (6) Violations of the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”); (7) Individual Liability of Owners and Officers Under the CPA; (8) Negligent Hiring and WAC 308-66-210(2); (9) Conversion; and (10) Unjust Enrichment against the dealership, its owner, and the employee. By the time the Complaint was filed, the employee was no longer working at the dealership, and Plaintiff obtained an order of default against him.
During the pendency of the case, the parties had numerous discovery disputes regarding Plaintiff’s failure to produce relevant discovery, some of which mysteriously appeared during trial. On several occasions, Mr. Bolin accused the defense of lying in discovery conferences.
Several months before trial, we were able to get  most of Plaintiff’s claims dismissed by Judge Miguel Duran on summary judgment. The case proceeded to trial on Plaintiff’s remaining claims for negligence and conversion against the dealership and its owner. At trial, Plaintiff asked for the return of the $34,180, about $165,000 for the loss of use of the Viper and/or the Corvette for the three years since the incident, nearly $10,000 in cab bills he allegedly incurred during his attempts to reach the employee to get the Corvette back, counseling costs, and more.
The trial lasted four days, culminating in Plaintiff’s decision to voluntarily dismiss his conversion claim in closing argument and the Court ultimately finding in favor of Defendants. The Court found that the dealership refused to sell the Viper to Plaintiff after encountering multiple red flags, including Plaintiff’s attempt to pay for a vehicle with an out-of-state check that could not be certified, his credit check results, and calls from Wells Fargo and MoneyTree when Plaintiff tried to obtain cash to pay for the Viper. Further, the Court found that:
  • The dealership had sold the Corvette to its employee for his personal use, and the employee turned around and sold it to Plaintiff in a private transaction off dealership premises and after hours. Plaintiff’s own complaint to the Attorney General’s Office in November 2019 confirmed that he met with the employee at a Starbucks at night.
  • The check attached to the Complaint was written to Defendants’ employee individually.
  • Plaintiff’s own actions, such as waiting across the street from the business for extended periods of time, making a check to an individual instead of a business, not actually going to the business to inquire as to the status of the “transaction”, were all in contrast to someone who believes they are actually dealing with the business.