Supreme Court blocks car battery warranty suit

By Nathan Bass | Jan 24, 2013

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has granted a writ of prohibition to Advance Stores, blocking a circuit court from allowing a case involving a car battery warranty to go forward on the plaintiff’s third amended complaint.

Justice Robin Jean Davis delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Petition for Writ of Prohibition arose out of a protracted litigation of a case first filed in March 2004 in the Circuit Court of Ohio County.

Scott McMahon filed an action against Advance Stores alleging that Advance was obligated to provide a replacement car battery on a car that he, after the purchase of the battery, sold to another person.

Advance refused to replace the battery because it said that the limited warranty on the battery expired when McMahon sold the vehicle the battery was on.

The original complaint previously was amended twice –- the first amendment added a cause of action for unjust enrichment and the second amendment added the buyer of the vehicle, Karen John, as a plaintiff.

At some point in the litigation, a certified question was asked of the Supreme Court as to whether “the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act applies to suits for breach of limited warranty by subsequent purchasers where the limited warranty involved limits its availability to original purchasers.”

The court answered the certified question in the negative and remanded the case back to the circuit court for “further proceedings consistent with the opinion.”

The circuit court then allowed the plaintiffs to file a third amended complaint, adding an additional cause of action under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Advance moved to dismiss the third amended complaint.

After the trial court denied the motion to dismiss in part, allowing the third amended complaint to go forward, Advance filed the Petition for Writ of Prohibition to try and block the circuit court from allowing the amended complaint.

“The issues presented by Advance Stores may be divided into two parts,” Davis wrote. “First, Advance Stores contends that the mandate in McMahon I did not allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint on remand.

“Second, Advance Stores has attacked the merits of the amendment and its application to various legal theories.

“We need only address the first issue, i.e., whether the circuit court exceeded the scope of the mandate in McMahon I by allowing the complaint to be amended.

“[W]hen we remand a case after answering a certified question, that answer is dispositive of the direction the case must take. In other words, neither the parties nor the trial court may litigate a case beyond the narrow boundaries of our response. Because the unique facts of each certified question will dictate the limitations of the remand, there can be no question that the remand is limited and not general.

“Because McMahon I presented as a certified question, the remand was limited. We must now determine whether the trial court exceeded the limitations of the mandate.

“In sum, in answering the certified question in McMahon I, we conclusively determined that the plaintiffs could not assert a cause of action against Advance Stores under the limited express warranty. Thus, on remand, the plaintiffs were limited to litigating the implied warranty theory as it was set out in the second amended complaint.

“However, the circuit court erroneously concluded that our remand was a general remand and allowed the plaintiffs to amend the complaint a third time to assert a cause of action under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that was based upon the purchase receipt as an express warranty.

“The plaintiffs argue that they always have contended that the purchase receipt was the actual express warranty. The truth of this assertion is of no consequence because the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allegations in the third amended complaint were not set out in the complaint that was considered in McMahon I.

“In view of the foregoing, we grant the requested writ of prohibition. That part of the circuit court’s April 5, 2012, Memorandum of Opinion and Order that denied Advance Stores’ motion to dismiss the third amended complaint, in part, is prohibited from enforcement and is vacated.

“On remand, the circuit court is directed to enter an order granting in full Advance Stores’ motion to dismiss the third amended complaint.”

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