Quicken Loans, Inc. v. Brown

Decision Date21 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–0910.,11–0910.
Citation737 S.E.2d 640,230 W.Va. 306
PartiesQUICKEN LOANS, INC., Petitioner v. Lourie and Monique BROWN, Respondents.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Syllabus by the Court

1. “In reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court made after a bench trial, a two-pronged deferential standard of review is applied. The final order and the ultimate disposition are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, and the circuit court's underlying factual findings are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject to a de novo review.” Syl. pt. 1, Public Citizen, Inc. v. First Nat. Bank in Fairmont, 198 W.Va. 329, 480 S.E.2d 538 (1996)

2. “The essential elements in an action for fraud are: (1) that the act claimed to be fraudulent was the act of the defendant or induced by him; (2) that it was material and false; that plaintiff relied on it and was justified under the circumstances in relying upon it; and (3) that he was damaged because he relied on it.’ Horton v. Tyree, 104 W.Va. 238, 242, 139 S.E. 737 (1927).” Syl. Pt. 1, Lengyel v. Ling [ Lint ], 167 W.Va. 272, 280 S.E.2d 66 (1981).' Syllabus Point 5, Kidd v. Mull, 215 W.Va. 151, 595 S.E.2d 308 (2004).” Syl. Pt. 5, Folio v. City of Clarksburg, 221 W.Va. 397, 655 S.E.2d 143 (2007).

3. “The legislature in enacting the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, W.Va.Code 46A–1–101 et seq., in 1974, sought to eliminate the practice of including unconscionable terms in consumer agreements covered by the Act. To further this purpose the legislature, by the express language of W.Va.Code, 46A–5–101(1), created a cause of action for consumers and imposed civil liability on creditors who include unconscionable terms that violate W.Va.Code, 46A–2–121 in consumer agreements.” Syl. pt. 2, U.S. Life Credit Corp. v. Wilson, 171 W.Va. 538, 301 S.E.2d 169 (1982).’ Syl. pt. 1, Orlando v. Finance One of West Virginia, Inc., 179 W.Va. 447, 369 S.E.2d 882 (1988).” Syl. Pt. 3, Arnold v. United Companies Lending Corp., 204 W.Va. 229, 511 S.E.2d 854 (1998), overruled, in part, on other grounds, Dan Ryan Builders, Inc. v. Nelson, ––– W.Va. ––––, 737 S.E.2d 550 (2012).

4. ‘A determination of unconscionability must focus on the relative positions of the parties, the adequacy of the bargaining position, the meaningful alternatives available to the plaintiff, and the “existence of unfair terms in the contract.” Syl. pt. 4, Art's Flower Shop, Inc. v. Chesapeake and Potomac Tel. Co., 186 W.Va. 613, 413 S.E.2d 670 (1991).” Syl. Pt. 4, Arnold v. United Companies Lending Corp., 204 W.Va. 229, 511 S.E.2d 854 (1998), overruled, in part, on other grounds, Dan Ryan Builders, Inc. v. Nelson, ––– W.Va. ––––, 737 S.E.2d 550 (2012).

5. Statutes which relate to the same subject matter should be read and applied together so that the Legislature's intention can be gathered from the whole of the enactments.’ Syllabus Point 3, Smith v. State Workmen's Comp. Comm'r, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975).” Syl. Pt. 4, Community Antenna Serv., Inc. v. Charter Communications VI, LLC, 227 W.Va. 595, 712 S.E.2d 504 (2011).

6. ‘A statute should be so read and applied as to make it accord with the spirit, purposes and objects of the general system of law of which it is intended to form a part; it being presumed that the legislators who drafted and passed it were familiar with all existing law, applicable to the subject matter, whether constitutional, statutory or common, and intended the statute to harmonize completely with the same and aid in the effectuation of the general purpose and design thereof, if its terms are consistent therewith.’ Syllabus Point 5, State v. Snyder, 64 W.Va. 659, 63 S.E. 385 (1908).” Syl. Pt. 5, Community Antenna Serv., Inc. v. Charter Communications VI, LLC, 227 W.Va. 595, 712 S.E.2d 504 (2011).

7. Statutes which relate to the same persons or things, or to the same class of persons or things, or statutes which have a common purpose will be regarded in pari materia to assure recognition and implementation of the legislative intent. Accordingly, a court should not limit its consideration to any single part, provision, section, sentence, phrase or word, but rather review the act or statute in its entirety to ascertain legislative intent properly.’ Syllabus Point 5, Fruehauf Corp. v. Huntington Moving & Storage Co., 159 W.Va. 14, 217 S.E.2d 907 (1975).” Syl. Pt. 6, Community Antenna Serv., Inc. v. Charter Communications VI, LLC, 227 W.Va. 595, 712 S.E.2d 504 (2011).

8. ‘Equity will not enforce a forfeiture.’ Syllabus, in part, Craig v. Hukill, 37 W.Va. 520, 16 S.E. 363 (1892).” Syl. Pt. 1, Helton v. Reed, 219 W.Va. 557, 638 S.E.2d 160 (2006).

9. “When the trial court instructs the jury on punitive damages, the court should, at a minimum, carefully explain the factors to be considered in awarding punitive damages. These factors are as follows:

(1) Punitive damages should bear a reasonable relationship to the harm that is likely to occur from the defendant's conduct as well as to the harm that actually has occurred. If the defendant's actions caused or would likely cause in a similar situation only slight harm, the damages should be relatively small. If the harm is grievous, the damages should be greater.

(2) The jury may consider (although the court need not specifically instruct on each element if doing so would be unfairly prejudicial to the defendant), the reprehensibility of the defendant's conduct. The jury should take into account how long the defendant continued in his actions, whether he was aware his actions were causing or were likely to cause harm, whether he attempted to conceal or cover up his actions or the harm caused by them, whether/how often the defendant engaged in similar conduct in the past, and whether the defendant made reasonable efforts to make amends by offering a fair and prompt settlement for the actual harm caused once his liability became clear to him.

(3) If the defendant profited from his wrongful conduct, the punitive damages should remove the profit and should be in excess of the profit, so that the award discourages future bad acts by the defendant.

(4) As a matter of fundamental fairness, punitive damages should bear a reasonable relationship to compensatory damages.

(5) The financial position of the defendant is relevant.”

Syl. Pt. 3, Garnes v. Fleming Landfill, Inc., 186 W.Va. 656, 413 S.E.2d 897 (1991).

10. “When the trial court reviews an award of punitive damages, the court should, at a minimum, consider the factors given to the jury as well as the following additional factors:

(1) The costs of the litigation;

(2) Any criminal sanctions imposed on the defendant for his conduct;

(3) Any other civil actions against the same defendant, based on the same conduct; and

(4) The appropriateness of punitive damages to encourage fair and reasonable settlements when a clear wrong has been committed. A factor that may justify punitive damages is the cost of litigation to the plaintiff.

Because not all relevant information is available to the jury, it is likely that in some cases the jury will make an award that is reasonable on the facts as the jury know them, but that will require downward adjustment by the trial court through remittitur because of factors that would be prejudicial to the defendant if admitted at trial, such as criminal sanctions imposed or similar lawsuits pending elsewhere against the defendant. However, at the option of the defendant, or in the sound discretion of the trial court, any of the above factors may also be presented to the jury.”

Syl. Pt. 4, Garnes v. Fleming Landfill, Inc., 186 W.Va. 656, 413 S.E.2d 897 (1991).

11. Attorneys fees and costs awarded under West Virginia Code § 46A–5–104 (1994) of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act shall be included in the compensatory to punitive damages ratio in cases where punitive damages are available.

12. Rule 60(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure applied to clerical errors made through oversight or omission which are part of the record and is not intended to adversely affect the rights of the parties or alter the substance of the order, judgment or record beyond what was intended.” Syl. Pt. 3, Savage v. Booth, 196 W.Va. 65, 468 S.E.2d 318 (1996).

13. “Where there is a single indivisible loss arising from the actions of multiple parties who have contributed to the loss, the fact that different theories of liability have been asserted against them does not ... prevent them from obtaining a verdict credit for settlements made with the plaintiff by one or more of those jointly responsible.” Syl. Pt. 8, in part, Board of Educ. of McDowell County v. Zando, Martin & Milstead, Inc., 182 W.Va. 597, 390 S.E.2d 796 (1990).

14. Defendants in a civil action against whom awards of compensatory and punitive damages are rendered are entitled to a reduction of the compensatory damage award, but not the punitive damage award, by the amount of any good faith settlements previously made with the plaintiff by other jointly liable parties.” Syl. Pt. 1, Burgess v. Porterfield, 196 W.Va. 178, 469 S.E.2d 114 (1996).

Thomas R. Goodwin, Johnny M. Knisely, II, Goodwin & Goodwin, Charleston, WV, for Petitioner.

James G. Bordas, Jr., Jason E. Causey, Christopher J. Regan, Bordas & Bordas, Wheeling, WV, for the Respondents.

Martin P. Sheehan, Sheehan & Nugent, P.L.L.C., Wheeling, WV, for Amicus Curiae Jay D. Hixson.

John W. Barrett, Jonathan R. Marshall, Bailey & Glasser, Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Daniel F. Hedges, Bren J. Pomponio, Mountain State Justice, Inc., Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae Mountain State Justice, Inc.

Frances A. Hughes, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Jill L. Miles, Deputy Attorney General, Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae State of West Virginia ex rel. Darrell V. McGraw,...

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