Milhollin v. Ford Motor Credit Co.

Decision Date28 December 1978
Docket Number77-3584 and 77-3569,77-3084,76-3217,Nos. 76-2914,s. 76-2914
Citation588 F.2d 753
PartiesDennis MILHOLLIN and Michelle Milhollin, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. FORD MOTOR CREDIT CO., a corporation, and Dee Thomason Ford, a corporation, Defendants-Appellants. Dennis MILHOLLIN and Michelle Milhollin, Plaintiffs-Cross Appellants, v. FORD MOTOR CREDIT CO., a corporation, and Dee Thomason Ford, a corporation, Defendants-Cross Appellees. Donna M. EATON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FORD MOTOR CREDIT CO., a corporation, Defendant-Appellant, Bud Meadows Mazda, Inc., Defendant. Darrell MESSINGER, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FORD MOTOR CREDIT CO., a corporation, and Marv Tonkin Ford Sales, Inc., a corporation, Defendants-Appellants. David P. ANDRESEN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FORD MOTOR CREDIT CO., a corporation, and Webster-Wolfard Ford, Inc., a corporation, Defendants-Appellants, and The California Loan and Finance Association, Amicus Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Herbert H. Anderson, Richard A. Slotte, Portland, Ore., for plaintiffs-appellees and defendants-appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

Before WRIGHT and GOODWIN, Circuit Judges, and JAMESON, * District Judge.

EUGENE A. WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:

In these consolidated cases, Ford Motor Credit Corporation (Ford Credit) and several Ford dealers appeal from adverse judgments finding that they violated provisions of the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601 Et seq. (1976) (Act) and the regulations promulgated thereunder, 12 C.F.R. § 226.1 Et seq. (1978) (Regulation Z). 1 Milhollin cross appeals from a limitation of Ford Credit's liability.

Although plaintiffs below (Consumers) allege a number of violations, we need to decide only two issues common to the above cases and one issue raised by the Milhollins:

(1) Whether Ford Credit was clearly identified as a creditor on the face of the contract;

(2) Whether it is necessary to disclose an acceleration clause on the face of the contract; and

(3) Whether an inadequate disclosure made to a husband and wife as joint obligors results in a multiple recovery.

I. FACTS 2

Ford Credit, wholly owned by the Ford Motor Company, provides financing for Ford dealers by extending operating and inventory loans and by purchasing retail installment contracts for the sale of automobiles by dealers.

A Ford Credit booklet explains its program to dealers and gives guidelines for drafting contracts it is willing to purchase. It also provides forms of credit applications, contracts and rate charts for calculating finance charges. Use of the supplied forms is not mandatory, and Ford Credit purchases contracts on other agreement forms. Many dealers disregard the suggested rate charts and develop their own finance charges.

Dealers negotiate all terms of contracts directly with customers, including the interest rate. Contracts are typically assigned shortly after sales are consummated. Although Ford Credit normally is unaware of any specific sale until the contract is proffered for assignment, dealers may get prior approval for customers with marginal credit ratings.

Ford Credit is not obligated to purchase any contracts from dealers, but usually rejects only a small percentage of those offered. It pays dealers cash for the contracts less its discount.

Each dealer here has assigned the great majority of its contracts to Ford Credit. 3 Shortly after each sale Ford Credit purchased the contract, notified the buyer, and provided him a payment book. Consumers made subsequent payments to Ford Credit.

II. DISCLOSURE OF FORD CREDIT AS A CREDITOR

In each of these cases, the district court found that Ford Credit was not clearly identified as a creditor on the face of the contract, and that this nondisclosure violated the Act and Regulation Z. To uphold the district court, we must conclude that (a) the identity of each creditor is a required disclosure under the Act or Regulation Z; (b) Ford Credit is a creditor in these transactions within the meaning of the Act; and (c) Ford Credit's status as a creditor was not adequately disclosed on the face of the contract.

Consumers maintain that Regulation Z requires the disclosure of each creditor to a transaction on the face of the contract. 4 A number of courts have agreed. 5 Consumers also interpret a Federal Reserve Board Official Staff Interpretation of Regulation Z to require disclosure of each creditor. 6 Ford Credit reads the Official Interpretation narrowly to reach an opposite result. 7

Consumers allege that Ford Credit is a creditor within the meaning of the Act 8 because it extended credit directly to them, using the dealers merely as a means to arrange for the credit. Ford Credit argues that it was a subsequent assignee of the retail installment contract, extending only commercial credit to the dealers. It cites the apparently different treatment accorded an "original creditor" and a "subsequent assignee" in various sections of the Act as evidence that Congress did not intend subsequent assignees to be subject to the same disclosure requirements as creditors. 9 Consumers respond by citing cases that, in certain circumstances, equate subsequent assignees with creditors for disclosure purposes. 10

For our purposes it is unnecessary to decide whether the identification of each creditor is a required disclosure or if Ford Credit is a creditor of Consumers. Assuming an affirmative answer to these questions, we conclude that the status of Ford Credit, even if it is as a creditor, was adequately disclosed.

On the face of each contract, opposite the signature of Consumers, appears the following disclosure:

The foregoing contract hereby is accepted by the Seller and assigned to Ford Motor Credit Company in accordance with the terms of the assignment set forth on the reverse side hereof.

Seller ___

By ____________ Title ___

Consumers argue that the terms of 12 C.F.R. § 226.6(d) (1978), which provide that "each creditor . . . shall be clearly identified," are not met by disclosing that Ford Credit would be an assignee of the contract. They apparently argue that, because the precise word "creditor" was not used in describing Ford Credit's prospective involvement in the transaction, the Act was violated. We disagree. Nowhere does Regulation Z require use of the word "creditor." Here, the exact role that Ford Credit ultimately played in each transaction was clearly disclosed. Requiring Ford Credit to use the word "creditor" would not have given Consumers additional information nor better served the purposes of the Act.

In Main v. Faller Ford, Inc., Civil Action No. 74-337 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 22, 1976), the court held that an identical statement satisfied the creditor disclosure requirements of Regulation Z:

Whether Ford Credit may be described as the term is used in (12 C.F.R.) § 226.6(d) need not be decided in this factual context because to require such a disclosure by Ford Credit on a separate piece of paper would not be a meaningful disclosure nor would it further the goals of the Truth-In-Lending Act. Ford Credit was accurately described in the contract as the assignee and it is undisputed that plaintiff personally understood that Ford Credit would actually extend her credit and consequently be the recipient of her monthly installment payments. . . . To require Ford Credit to also disclose to plaintiff that it was also a "creditor" within the Act would be a meaningless and needless exercise providing plaintiff with duplicative information, and such duplication cannot be justified by the Act's purpose nor by the practical considerations of these circumstances.

Accord, Sharp v. Ford Motor Credit Co., 452 F.Supp. 465 (S.D.Ill.1978) (appeal pending); Antonio v. Canal Motors, Inc., Civil Action No. 74-3163 (E.D.La. Nov. 18, 1977) (appeal pending); Augusta v. Marshall Motor Co., 453 F.Supp. 912 (N.D.Ohio 1977) (appeal pending).

We agree with the reasoning in Main and hold that the district court erred in finding that Ford Credit was not adequately identified as a creditor on the face of the contract. 11

III. DISCLOSURE OF AN ACCELERATION CLAUSE

The reverse side of each contract contained an acceleration clause that did not explain the effect of acceleration on unearned interest. Ford Credit maintains that its uniform practice, although not explicitly disclosed, is to rebate unearned interest to the customer upon acceleration in the same manner as that following a voluntary prepayment.

This court faced a similar situation in St. Germaine v. Bank of Hawaii, 573 F.2d 572 (9th Cir. 1977). We held there that

(t)he creditor must disclose whether a rebate of unearned interest will be made upon acceleration and also disclose the method by which the amount of unearned interest will be computed if the debt is accelerated.

Id. at 577. Failure to make these disclosures is a violation of the Act.

In Milhollin, the district court concluded on different grounds than those stated in St. Germaine that failure to disclose the acceleration clause on the face of the contract was a violation of the Act. The court held, however, that it would result in liability only after the decision in Woods v. Beneficial Finance Co. of Eugene, 395 F.Supp. 9 (D.Or.1975), the first Oregon case recognizing this nondisclosure as a violation. In so holding, the district court exceeded its authority because "(t)he application of doctrines limiting the retroactivity of judicial decisions is restricted to appellate courts." Kessler v. Associates Financial Service Co., 573 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1977).

We hold on the basis of St. Germaine that Ford Credit is liable to the Milhollins for failure to disclose the acceleration clause and its effect on unearned interest on the face of the contract.

IV. RECOVERY FOR INADEQUATE DISCLOSURE BY JOINT OBLIGORS

At the time of the transaction in Milhollin, plaintiffs were husband and wife. Both signed the retail installment contract,...

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