Illinois Appellate Court Rules Reversible Error Occurred When Trial Judge Failed to Deliver Complete Jury Instructions

In February 2009, Valerie Mobley’s Subaru developed transmission problems. Mobley found Best Transmissions, which acted as a broker and referred auto repair jobs to various repair shops. Mobley called the number listed on the website that she found and spoke to a salesman who told her that a neighborhood shop would do the repair work and that no work would be done without a prior estimate and customer authorization. Mobley was told that no charges would be assessed unless she decided to go elsewhere for the work.

Mobley received an e-mail that contained an agreement for authorization for the work on her car. The agreement listed the price not involving “hard parts” as $1,397. The next day a tow truck came and took the Subaru without telling her where the vehicle was being taken.

Mobley called Best Transmissions again and an employee there gave her the number of the repair shop. The repair shop was called Tramco and was located nearly 30 miles from her home. When Mobley called Tramco she was directed back to Best Transmissions. Mobley was told that Best Transmissions was the customer of Tramco, not Mobley.

Over the next four days, Mobley called Tramco and Best Transmissions multiple times without receiving a return call. On the fourth day she received an e-mail from Best Transmissions stating that the total price for the repairs was $3,947 or $4,822 and required an immediate deposit of $2,825 or $3,700.

Mobley wrote a letter to the president of Tramco demanding that her vehicle be returned to her; she also wrote that she would pay nothing more than the towing charges. The president of Tramco answered Mobley by saying that he would not authorize the release of her Subaru until she paid for the work that was already done. Tramco also threatened a lien against the car to secure the amount of money it believed it was owed for the work it claimed.

Mobley rented a replacement car and formally accused Tramco of holding the Subaru illegally. She eventually bought another car. Two months later a shop foreman called Mobley telling her that Tramco no longer had a relationship with Best Transmissions and offering to repair the Subaru for $2,800. Mobley demanded that her car be returned to her and refused to pay.

Several days later Best Transmissions offered to return her car in exchange for $250 in towing costs. Mobley then agreed, but the car was returned without a transmission in it.

Mobley sued Tramco for violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and the Illinois Automotive Repair Act and brought a claim against them for conversation. Tramco countersued for costs incurred. Mobley claimed that Tramco performed unauthorized work and illegally held her car.

At trial, the court found in favor of Tramco on all counts and fined Mobley’s daughter $835 for costs that Tramco incurred. Mobley appealed arguing that the court chose not to tell the jury about how violating the Automotive Repair Act bars a facility from asserting a lien. The appellate court emphasized that the threshold for instruction is not high, requiring only slight or insubstantial evidence justifying the jury instruction and that refusing to give such an instruction to the jury results in a new trial and that it seriously prejudices the result.

Mobley claimed that without the jury instruction, the panel mistakenly believed that Tramco was allowed to violate the Automotive Repair Act and still be entitled to place a lien on her car. The appellate court agreed that it was an abuse of discretion and reversed the decision of the trial judge remanding the case on the original claim and the counterclaim and ordering a new trial.

Michelle Mobley and Valerie Mobley v. Tramco Transmission, Inc., No. 2014 IL App (1st) 122123-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling commercial litigation for individuals and businesses for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Rosemont, River Grove, Gurnee, Mount Prospect, Villa Park, Vernon Hills, Wheeling, Lincolnshire, Lincolnwood and Morton Grove, Ill.

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