ORANGE PARK, Fla. – A retired Jacksonville couple suing an Orange Park RV dealership suffered a blow earlier this month when a judge sided with the dealership, ruling the case will be moved to Michigan.
Leon and Patsy Carrigg's lawsuit, filed in federal court in Jacksonville in May, centers on a used 2013 RV they purchased from General RV in November 2016. The suit seeks at least $75,000.
The Carriggs were one of two couples suing the dealership for claims of bad business practices. General RV has denied wrongdoing in each case.
The Carriggs' lawsuit says they only put 600 miles on the RV before problems cropped up, including a leaking windshield, dead batteries, a hydraulic jack system that doesn't work and a defective awning.
But according to the company, the couple bought the vehicle as is -- without a warranty.
The elderly couple said they didn’t totally understand all the fine print, including what’s called a forum selection clause that forces any lawsuit against General RV to Michigan, where the company's corporate headquarters is located.
A judge ruled Nov. 9 that that forum selection clause is “mandatory, valid and enforceable,” which means if the Carriggs want to continue their suit, they'll have to do it in Michigan.
They said moving the case up north and hiring a Michigan attorney would be a major financial and logistical burden for them -- which, they say, is exactly what General RV wanted.
The Carriggs' attorney, Eric Jones, claims including the clause in contracts is how General RV stops elderly and potentially cash-strapped couples from fighting them in court.
“Once they can get everything transferred back to that jurisdiction, it is well-known that the consumer protection laws in Michigan have been basically gutted, virtually nonexistent,” Jones said. “So a lot of the consumer protection laws here, such as the unfair and deceptive trade practices act that we have in Florida -- my clients may not even be able to exercise those rights in the state of Michigan.”
Jones said in the commercial world today, few people read the fine print until it comes back to hurt them.
But General RV officials said buyers are made well-aware of the clause during the sale process. They contend they’ve done nothing wrong and tried to work with the Carriggs and the other couple suing the dealership.
"We remain willing to work with these customers, but they decided to file a lawsuit and stop communicating with us,” Attorney Michael Dolenga, who represents General RV, told News4Jax earlier this year.
The Carriggs said they borrowed thousands of dollars to put up a legal fight.
“Obviously, we're very saddened about this transfer,” Jones said. “The judge had to make a ruling based on the law, but my clients are committed to the truth.”
Below is a copy of General RV's complete statement previously provided to News4Jax:
Mr. and Mrs. Carrigg purchased a used, 2013 RV, “AS IS” from General RV in November of 2016. We sold the RV with paperwork indicating the RV was used, AS IS, and sold without any warranties. In addition, if any disputes arose between General RV and Mr. and Mrs. Carrigg, which could not be resolved without litigation, any lawsuit had to be filed in Michigan. These customers were fully informed of that, as they signed 3 documents stating it. One of them is their Purchase Agreement, which states, in red ink and all Capital Letters directly above their signature, that it has choice of law and forum selection clauses indicating that Michigan law applies to all potential disputes and that all claims must be filed in Michigan.
Despite this, when these customers complained to representatives of General RV we worked hard to address their alleged issues, even going so far as to attempt to find a way to get them into a different RV or fix the things they are allegedly not satisfied with. They have not worked cooperatively with us and instead have pursued litigation against us. As a result, we are following the terms of the paperwork they signed with us, which fully complies with Florida and Michigan law.