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11/7/2007
New Jersey Appeals Court Penalizes Motorist for Anti-Dealership Slogan
An Edison, New Jersey Mercedes dealer wins lawsuit against disgruntled motorist with anti-dealership slogan on his vehicle.

Ray Catena dealershipAn Elizabeth, New Jersey man's attempt to get back at an automobile dealership that he felt had given him a raw deal backfired. The appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court on Monday imposed a $3150 fine on Victor Curto after he put letters on the back of his 2006 Mercedes-Benz S350 that read, "I Got Royally Screwed by Ray Catena," referring to the luxury car dealership in Edison.

The dispute arose from a September 2005 deal where Curto traded in his 2001 Mercedes S430 for $23,000 toward the purchase of a new car. Curto had received a great bargain when he first purchased the S430 because it had a salvage title, meaning that at some time an the vehicle had suffered significant damage or been flooded. Catena did not realize that this would be a hindrance when the time came to sell the vehicle, so he did not mention it to the dealership at the time he traded it in.

"We put everything in writing and you know, sign here, sign there," Curto explained in a posting on the Ripoff Report. "That's your payment. Sign, sign, sign and I never read what I signed."

Three weeks later, the Mercedes dealership sold the S430 at auction for $11,000 -- $12,000 less than it had given Curto in trade. The dealership filed suit against Curto for that amount after realizing the car had a defective title. Curto had signed a paper certifying that the title was clear.

"Personally I got royally screwed and Ray Catena gets a big tax write-off plus all kinds of legal expenses for the company," Curto wrote.

On July 21, 2006, Catena and Curto reached a settlement where Curto agreed to pay the full $12,000 and remove the "I Got Royally Screwed by Ray Catena" slogan, or he would pay $150 for each day it remained on his Mercedes. Although Curto kept the lettering for three weeks after signing this agreement, a Middlesex County court refused to enforce the $150 per day penalty. The appellate court overruled the decision Monday.

"Defendant, who presumably drove his vehicle throughout various parts of New Jersey with the derogatory statement regarding plaintiff, may well have influenced potential car buyers to avoid purchasing a car from plaintiff," the two-judge appeals panel wrote. "We are satisfied that the $150 sum arrived at by the parties in the settlement agreement, given the facts and circumstances of this case, constitutes enforceable liquidated damages as opposed to a penalty."

Curto's legal payments to the dealership will now total $15,150. The full text of the court decision is available in a 28k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Ray Catena Mercedes-Benz v. Curto (New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, 11/5/2007)



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