On May 23, 2017, in Nissan North America, Inc. v. Tustin Import Auto Sales, LLC, et al., No. 16-117-BC, the Tennessee Business Court found that the only remaining defendant, Raymond Enriquez, had defrauded the plaintiff and violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) by “false, fictitious and fabricated warranty repair claims.” The court had previously determined that it had in personam and subject matter jurisdiction over all of the foreign defendants. The liability of Enriquez was established by default. The trial court conducted a damages hearing.
Actual, compensatory damages were found to be $6,448,088, and the court allowed prejudgment interest on this amount at 8%.
The court also allowed two times the compensatory damages, per T.C.A. 47-18-109 (a)(4), or, alternatively, punitive damages in the amount of two times the compensatory damages. Applying Concrete Spaces, Inc. v. Sander, 2 S.W.3d 901 (Tenn. 1999), the court required the plaintiff to elect whether to accept the enhanced damages under the TCPA or punitive damages under T.C.A. 29-39-10:4
This is a very large recovery against Defendant Enriquez. The Court does not award this sum lightly or reactively. After careful deliberation, the court finds that, as provided below, the recovery is justified because the evidence of record is clear and convincing in establishing a brazen, intentional, and malicious multi-million dollar scheme of fraud and deception in which Defendant Enriquez was an active and controlling participant whose position and actions at Tustin enabled the scheme to be perpetrated on the Plaintiff.
The Business Court found that the requirements for punitive damages had been met and awarded the maximum (2 times compensatory) punitive damages. T.C.A. § 29-39-104(a)(5). It noted that the defendant’s assets were unknown (because defendant failed to participate in the litigation). It found that the evidence met the “clear and convincing” standard and that the conduct was intentional, malicious, fraudulent, and egregious. It also found that the award was necessary to punish the defendant and deter others from similar conduct. “This last purpose is significant in this case because businesses have to reply upon and trust their dealers.” The Business Court further incorporated its findings concerning the award of enhanced damages under the TCPA.
After noting the requirements for enhanced damages under the TCPA, and noting the enormity of the enhanced damage award amount, the court found that it was “proportionate and commensurate with the wrongful conduct” of the defendant. The defendant’s brazen lies and willful participation in the “multi-million dollar deception” justified the damages enhancement.
Three (3) days after the court’s memorandum opinion was issued, the plaintiff elected to recover punitive, rather than TCPA enhanced, damages, and judgment was entered accordingly.
Authored by William R. O'Bryan, Jr.