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Gebremedhin v. New Day Auto Sales, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 8, 2015

WUBALEM GEBREMEDHIN
v.
NEW DAY AUTO SALES, INC.

Session Date March 24, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 13C630 Amanda Jane McClendon, Judge

Robert C. Bigelow and Joshua L. Burgener, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Wubalem Gebremedhin.

Michael H. Rowan, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, New Day Auto Sales, Inc.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

OPINION

RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On December 15, 2011, Wubalem Gebremedhin ("Plaintiff") purchased a 2005 Honda Accord for $8, 250.56 from New Day Auto Sales, Inc. ("Defendant"). Plaintiff made a downpayment of $3, 500.00 and financed the remaining balance at $150.00 per month; as of March 31, 2012, Plaintiff had made $750.00 in payments to Defendant. On May 2, Defendant repossessed the automobile and sold it.

Plaintiff filed suit in General Sessions Court for intentional misrepresentation, fraud, coercion, breach of contract, and violations of the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq., and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-101, et seq., arising out of the purchase and repossession of the car. The court entered a judgment in favor of Plaintiff of $5, 652.50. [1] Defendant appealed the judgment to the Davidson County Circuit Court; Plaintiff also appealed. In Circuit Court Plaintiff amended the complaint, adding a claim that Defendant violated various provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code, specifically Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-9-610-616.

The case was tried before a jury, and at the close of the proof, Plaintiff moved for a directed verdict on two claims: that the sale of the car after repossession was not commercially reasonable as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-610 and that he was not properly notified of the sale in compliance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-614. The court denied the motion as to § 47-9-610 and granted the motion as to § 47-9-614. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff on the following claims and awarded damages accordingly: $500.00 for an unfair or deceptive act in violation of the TCPA; $3, 500.00 for negligent misrepresentation arising out of the purchase and financing of the Honda; $1, 000.00 for conversion of the Honda; $500.00 for fraud; and $500.00 for breach of contract. The jury did not award damages for violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-614 upon which the court had directed a verdict for Plaintiff and found in favor of Defendant on Plaintiffs claim pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-610. The court entered judgment on the jury verdict.

Plaintiff moved for treble damages under the TCPA and for damages pursuant to the UCC. Following a hearing, the court awarded damages pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-625 of $475.00 for "Defendant's violation of Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-9-611-614"; the court reserved ruling on treble damages. Plaintiff then moved pursuant to the TCPA for an award of attorneys' fees in the amount of $72, 909.00 and $4, 537.95 in costs. Following a hearing on the motions for treble damages and fees, the court declined to award treble damages and awarded $10, 000.00 in attorneys' fees and $3, 584.00 in discretionary costs.

Plaintiff appeals, contending that the court abused its discretion when it only granted $10, 000.00 in attorneys' fees; specifically, Plaintiff argues that the court failed to apply the correct legal standard in making the award. Plaintiff does not appeal the award of costs.

II. Discussion

The TCPA provides that, where a trial court finds that a violation of the TCPA has occurred, it may award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to the party bringing the proceeding. When making an award of attorney's fees under the Act, trial courts are to consider the factors set forth in Connors v. Connors, 594 S.W.2d 672 (Tenn. 1980), and, when appropriate, the guidelines listed in Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 1.5.[2]Brooks v. Tenn. Farmers Mut. Ins. Co., No. M2013-02326-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 6735129 at *9 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 2014). The "determination of reasonable attorneys' fees is necessarily a discretionary inquiry" by the trial court; absent an abuse of that discretion, we will uphold ...


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