A case that is pending before the Tennessee Supreme Court could make it impossible for class action lawsuits to be filed against businesses under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, according to members of the legal community.
The case, Walker v. Sunrise Pontiac, was first filed in Memphis by a plaintiff alleging he was charged fraudulently by a car dealership. The Supreme Court’s opinion could establish whether violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act should be considered individual causes of action, rather than class actions.
“When the opinion comes out, it will be an important opinion for business,” said George “Buck” Lewis, a Memphis-based attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC representing Sunrise Pontiac in the case.
Class action consumer protection suits aren’t as common in Tennessee as in states including Mississippi and California, Lewis said. But the Volunteer State does see its share of activity.
In recent months, for example, The Sportsgrille, a restaurant in the Nashville downtown Hilton, as well as the Opry Mills location of the Sun & Ski chain of stores were sued for not complying with federal and state regulations created to protect consumers from identity theft and credit and debit card fraud.
Credit card issues, insurance claims, retail sales and the automobile industry – especially in regards to car dealerships – are among the most common areas in which class action suits are filed related to the Consumer Protection Act, though a wide range of consumer transactions are covered as well.
Last year, a decision rendered in the Tennessee Court of Appeals case Tucker vs. Sierra Builders included a footnote stating that a class action suit couldn’t be brought under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
That case was appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear it. The Court did, however, agree to hear an appeal of the ruling in Walker vs. Sunrise Pontiac, which was ruled in favor of the plaintiff in circuit court and in the Court of Appeals.
Since the Tucker opinion, viability of class action suits related to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act has been mixed, according to Lewis. There are “several” class action cases related to the Act that have been kept on hold, as attorneys and businesses watched the progress of Sunrise, Lewis said.
“There literally are, [in a way], planes waiting on the tarmac for take-off,” Lewis said. “This is the Supreme Court’s opportunity to say whether or not they agree with that footnote in the Tucker opinion.”
The case has not yet been added to the Supreme Court’s docket, though it could be heard as early as November and as late as this spring, Lewis said.