Wilson v. General Motors Acceptance Corp.

Citation883 So.2d 56
Decision Date29 July 2004
Docket NumberNo. 2003-CA-00233-SCT.,2003-CA-00233-SCT.
PartiesConstrilla Washington WILSON v. GENERAL MOTORS ACCEPTANCE CORPORATION and American Lenders Service Company of Jackson, Mississippi, Inc.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

Gerald Patrick Collier, attorney for appellant.

Victor A. Dubose, Derek Royce Arrington, Joe S. Deaton, III, Flowood, Joseph Blair Lobrano, attorneys for appellees.


EASLEY, Justice, for the Court.


¶ 1. On January 8, 1999, Constrilla Washington Wilson (Wilson) filed suit in the Circuit County of Claiborne County (trial court) against General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), Constrilla Washington Wilson v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., Cause No. 99-0002. The suit alleged wrongful repossession, conversion and tortious breach of contract regarding a 1995 Ford Mustang which had been purchased by Wilson's husband, James E. Wilson (James), and financed by GMAC. Wilson was not a party to the purchase contract for the Ford Mustang with GMAC. GMAC removed the case to the United States District Court of Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division (federal court), Civil Action No. 5:99-CV-88WS, arguing that Wilson refused to admit in admissions propounded by GMAC that she would not seek damages in excess of the minimum federal jurisdictional amount of $75,000 for diversity of citizenship cases and that her claim did not exceed $75,000. Wilson's complaint also demanded a judgment against GMAC in the amount of $75,000, and any other relief which the court or jury deemed just and appropriate. On Wilson's motion to remand, United States District Judge Henry T. Wingate remanded the case to circuit court based on Wilson providing an affidavit stating that she would not seek damages in excess of $75,000 in the lawsuit.

¶ 2. On July 24, 2000, Wilson filed a separate suit for wrongful repossession and conversion in the Circuit Court of Claiborne County against American Lenders Service Company of Jackson, Mississippi, Inc. (American Lenders), Constrilla Washington Wilson v. American Lenders Service Company of Jackson, Mississippi, Inc., Cause No.2000-159. American Lenders was the repossession company used by GMAC.

¶ 3. GMAC again removed the action to federal court based on Wilson's deposition testimony that "in her head" the case was worth $80,000, but she acknowledged that she signed the affidavit for $75,000 and sought only $75,000. In Civil Action No. 5:00-CV-317LN United States District Judge Tom S. Lee remanded the case back to circuit court based on Wilson's acknowledgment in her affidavit that she did not seek in excess of $75,000 against GMAC.

¶ 4. On Wilson's motion the trial court consolidated the cases against GMAC and American Lenders and set the consolidated case for trial. On January 17, 2002, the jury returned its verdict against GMAC "guilty of breach of contract" and "guilty of conversion" assessing compensatory damages against GMAC in the amount of $2,500,000. The jury returned its verdict against American Lenders finding it "guilty of breach of the peace" and assessing compensatory damages in the amount of $1,000,000. The trial court immediately reduced the verdict against GMAC to $75,000 consistent with Wilson's affidavit and entered its final judgment on March 7, 2002.1 ¶ 5. Wilson filed a motion to alter or amend the final judgment. Wilson argued the trial court should not have reduced the judgment against GMAC to $75,000. Wilson contended that "seek" and "recover" are very different terms, thereby, not precluding her from recovering the jury award of $2,500,000 despite her affidavit to not seek in excess of $75,000 against GMAC. The trial court denied Wilson's motion.

¶ 6. The trial court granted American Lenders' and GMAC's motion for JNOV, and it denied GMAC's motion for mistrial.2 The trial court set aside the $1,000,000 jury verdict against American Lenders and the $75,000 judgment against GMAC.3 The trial court stated:

There were two jury verdicts in this case. One against Defendant, GMAC, for $2.5 million dollars, which was reduced to $75,000.00, as per the agreement that Plaintiff would not seek more than $75,000 and one against Defendant, American Lender, for $1 million dollars. This Court must look at the facts of the individual case to see if the facts rise to the level to provide a basis where upon the Court could assume that either of the Defendant's actions were so outrageous or the type to evoke revulsion, thereby allowing the Plaintiff to not have to put forth evidence of her mental anguish/distress against both Defendants. The Court must also look to see if the repossession was done in a manner that would constitute a breach of the peace or conversion. The last thing that the Court must decide is if reasonable men could have differed whether there was a breach of contract. The facts here are that the Plaintiff's car was repossessed allegedly without her approval, previous to this she had asked for and was granted an extension payment, after the repossession there is confusion as to if she told GMAC that it was ok to keep the car. Plaintiff did not put on any evidence that the repossession by American Lenders was done in a manner inconsistent with the statute, or that they breached the peace. There is no confusion that GMAC was told by different people, one being the Plaintiff's previous attorney, who swore out an affidavit AND testified that the Plaintiff told him to tell GMAC to keep the car and send her a refund, the others being the relatives of the deceased that were listed on the Mustang's financial paperwork, to keep the car. The evidence also shows that after the Mustang was repossessed, the Plaintiff cashed an extension payment refund check sent to the Plaintiff by GMAC. As to Plaintiff's claim of breach of contract, by cashing the extension payment refund check, Plaintiff was put back in as good of a position, or possible a better one, then she would have been had the contract not been formed. Plaintiff failed to put on evidence to support punitive damages for breach of contract since she did not show that Defendant's actions were "intentional and so egregious as to descend to a level of an individual tort." The only evidence that the Plaintiff put on concerning mental distress was her comments that she lost sleep, was upset, and had nightmares about the repossession. Plaintiff failed to put forth any credible evidence that the repossession was done in a manner that would be considered a breach of the peace, nor was there any evidence put forth that the Plaintiff was threatened by the Defendant, American Lenders Service Company of Jackson. Since there is not any evidence that would support an unbiased jury finding of past, present, and/or future emotion distress or breach of peace, conversion, breach of contract, or punitive damages for breach of contract, a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict should be granted on behalf of the Defendants, GMAC and American Lenders.


¶ 7. On October 31, 1995, James purchased a 1995 Ford Mustang which he financed through GMAC. Only James's name appeared on the GMAC purchase agreement. At the time of the purchase, James was not married. Wilson did not marry James until June 7, 1997. Wilson's name did not appear on any of the GMAC paperwork. James had listed his sister, Patricia Wilson (Patricia), and his parents, Archie and Tarisha Wilson, as contact persons.

¶ 8. On November 20, 1997, James died in an automobile accident not involving the Mustang. Following James's death, his sister, Patricia, and his mother contacted GMAC on December 2, 1997, and December 31, 1997, to have GMAC pick up the Mustang. On December 2, 1997, James's mother informed GMAC that James had been killed in an automobile accident and that it should pick up the Mustang. On December 31, 1997, Patricia informed GMAC that James was killed in an automobile accident on November 20, 1997, that his wife could not afford the payments, and that is should pick up the Mustang.4 Patricia provided directions to pick up the Mustang.

¶ 9. On December 11, 1997, J.B. Brown (Brown), collection supervisor for GMAC, requested permission to issue a request for repossession based on the telephone call from Patricia that James's girlfriend was driving the Mustang without a driver's license.5 GMAC supervisor, Pat Reed (Reed), authorized the repossession on January 5, 1998, and she authorized American Lenders to perform the repossession.

¶ 10. Wilson contacted GMAC in mid-December 1997, requesting an extension on James's account. GMAC agreed to the extension, and Wilson paid GMAC via money order dated December 12, 1997, for the extension agreement on James's account. The Mustang payments were due on the 10th of each month and had not been paid for November and December of 1997.6

¶ 11. On January 6, 1998, Wilson purchased a new 1998 Saturn SL2 vehicle from Herrin-Gear Autoplex in Jackson, Mississippi.7 Wilson purchased the Saturn with her sister, Hedrick. Monthly payments on the Saturn were $320 per month as opposed to the $600.42 per month payments on the 1995 Mustang which had a balance of approximately $19,578.18.8 Hedrick testified that she helped Wilson purchase the Saturn. Hedrick's involvement in the purchase of the Saturn for Wilson was because her credit status was necessary in order to finance the Saturn. Hedrick testified that she helped Wilson purchase the Saturn because she was in a financial challenge and did not have the money to pay for the Mustang.

¶ 12. GMAC had furnished American Lenders with documentation requesting repossession of a purple 1995 Ford Mustang, vin # 1FALP42795SF161881. Patricia was listed as the person to contact for directions. On January 8, 1998, American Lenders' repossession agent, Clayton Gay (Gay), contacted Patricia for directions to her home. Gay followed Patricia to Wilson's home. The two repossession...

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