ANALYSIS OF APRIL 6, 2023 SUPREME COURT OPINION
(Posted April 6, 2023) Today brings one concise opinion from the Supreme Court of Virginia. Ranger v. Hyundai Motor America was argued in March; it arose in Accomack County and implicates Virginia’s motor vehicle Lemon Law.
Ranger bought a Hyundai that he felt was a lemon. This morning’s opinion recites that the car “had to be repeatedly repaired.” Ranger got himself a lawyer who wrote to demand Lemon Law relief: a refund of the price plus some assorted expenses. He added a demand for prelitigation attorney’s fees.
The manufacturer replied commendably, as I see it: It offered to buy the car back and to pay some of the legal fees. Because the offer didn’t cover all of those fees, Ranger directed his lawyer to head to court.
Because Ranger’s name is on the western side of the “v.” in this case, you know that this didn’t end well for him in circuit court. That court ruled that the manufacturer’s offer complied with the statute, so Ranger had no right to sue. The court granted summary judgment in Hyundai’s favor.
This case bears the Record Number 220058, meaning it was the 58th appeal filed in the Supreme Court last year. I infer that the final order came down before December 1, 2021, because otherwise Ranger would have been entitled to an appeal of right in the Court of Appeals, simply by filing his notice of appeal on the first business day of 2022. The earlier judgment date meant that he had to run the writ gantlet in the Supreme Court.
The good news for Ranger is that the justices awarded him one of the court’s precious writs. The bad news is that the Supreme Court today affirms. In a matter of first impression here in Virginia, the court holds that prelitigation attorney’s fees aren’t within the “collateral and incidental damages” that a buyer is entitled to under the Lemon Law. True, the act allows an award of fees to a successful litigant once he goes to court; but to avoid Lemon Law liability, a manufacturer need only tender an offer that meets the statutory requirements before a suit is filed, and those don’t include fees.
Justice McCullough pens today’s short opinion for a unanimous court.