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Appeals court reverses order in arbitration case involving car dealer

By John Severance | Apr 11, 2017

MIAMI — The 3rd District Court of Appeal recently reversed a trial court’s denial of an arbitration case involving a car dealership that sold vehicles to buyers who did not speak English.

Kendall Imports LLC in Miami sold vehicles to Dayron Ortega, Erislandis Marquez and Dianellys Dias. When they purchased their automobiles, they each signed a purchase order and a sales contract, which were written in English.

Both documents contained arbitration clauses, but they were not identical, according to court records. As a result, the buyers filed a class-action lawsuit, seeking damages and alleging violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The buyers also claimed the Florida Motor Vehicle Retail Sales Finance Act was violated. They said the blank spaces in the purchase documents were allegedly filled in after the buyers’ execution, adding extra fees and products without their consent.

In court, the dealership moved to commence arbitration, and after a hearing, the district court denied the motion, saying the sales staff never explained the arbitration clause to the buyers or made any attempt to provide a translator.

The dealership appealed the court’s decision.

The appeals panel ruled that the trial court erred, saying there was no agreement to arbitrate.

"We find that, as a matter of law, each of the trial court’s alternative findings for denying Kendall’s motion to compel arbitration are flawed," the appeals court wrote in its opinion. "Because the Buyers did not attempt to learn what the documents they were signing said or meant by reading them, requesting that they be read or explained to them, or ask any 32 question to educate themselves as to the terms; there is no evidence that the Buyers were rushed, pressured, or coerced into signing the documents."

The judge’s opinion said the provisions in the purchase order and financing agreement did not irreconcilably conflict.

"The trial court erred by finding that there was no valid agreement to arbitrate," the opinion said. "We also reject the trial court’s finding of procedural unconscionability. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order denying Kendall’s motion to compel arbitration and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The court also weighed in on the relevance of the buyers' inability to speak English.

"The trial court found that there was no agreement to arbitrate because the Buyers could not effectively communicate in English, and there was no evidence that anyone attempted to explain the documents, and specifically, the conflicting arbitration provisions to the plaintiffs," the opinion said.

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Florida Third District Court of Appeal