Some say that my lawsuit against Ed Morse Honda for slander and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practice Act is just a squabble between two car dealers who will be airing their “dirty laundry” in public.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. I will prevail in court, and I have no doubt of this. How else can a jury possibly decide when they have all of the facts and understand how deceptive the dealer fee truly is? Most likely every juror has bought cars in Florida. Those who paid a dealer fee and didn’t know it until now will be furious. Those that saw the fee but thought it was like a state, federal, or local “official fee” will be angry when they learn the truth. Those few who understood what the dealer fee was and were forced to pay it anyway, will be very happy to see that they can do something to end dealer fees.
There are two parts to my suit…slander and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The damages awarded me by the jury for slander will be donated to charity. When the dealer fee is found to be in violation of the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, it will be the end of the dealer fee in Florida. This is why my lawsuit is very important to you and every other Florida car buyer. This verdict will be worth tens of millions of dollars to Florida car buyers.
Below are my comments at the press conference on Wednesday, August 21, the date I filed the suit. And below that is my press release which got less coverage than it could have due to tropical storm Fay.
I'm announcing today the filing of a lawsuit against Ed Morse Honda for slander and deceptive trade practices. I will donate any damages that I am awarded to local charities.
The lawsuit stems from a radio ad this dealership has been airing alleging that I am hiding dealer fees in my prices
I know he's targeting my dealership in the ad because I'm the only dealer in Palm Beach County, and nearly all of the state of Florida, who advertises on TV that I don't charge a dealer fee.
A dealer fee is pure profit, ranging from a couple of hundreds of dollars to sometimes $1,000, added on to the price of a car after the price is negotiated.
Most people don't know that it's not a tax -- they think it's a government mandated fee -- because it's on the sales agreement at the end by the taxes.
It is impossible to comparison shop for cars when a dealer fee is charged, because my price will look higher than my competitors because they add the fee on at the end after the price has been negotiated and the customer doesn't know it's there until they're signing the papers for the final sale.
I am suing for slander because the Ed Morse ad is false and attacks my reputation as an honest car dealer.
I have gone to great lengths to earn a reputation for honest dealing:
My dealership is built on the philosophy of Customers for Life. All of my employees must read this book and practice its concepts in dealing with our customers.
Any customer with a complaint or a compliment can pick up one of four red phones connected directly to my cell phone.
I have mounted a statewide campaign to outlaw the dealer fee because I feel it's unfair to consumers. I testified before the Florida Senate Commerce Committee and have addressed this issue with the Florida Automobile Dealers' Association
I write a weekly newspaper column on how to buy and care for a car and answer consumer's questions every morning on SeaView Radio and on my hour long call in radio show every Saturday morning from 9- 10 a.m. on Seaview 960
I traveled throughout the county addressing groups on ”How to Buy a Car without getting Ripped Off," exposing all of the tricks of the trade practiced in most car dealerships.
The suit also claims that Ed Morse Honda is violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act because he does not disclose his $699 dealer fee as required by law.
If the court agrees with me that the charging of dealer fees is a violation of this law, it will be great news for car buyers throughout Florida.
They will be able to comparison shop accurately and will pay less to the car dealer without the dealer fee. These savings could amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach
Sues Ed Morse Honda for slander and deceptive trade practices
Suit stems from radio ad alleging hiding of dealer fee
Stewart pledges to donate anticipated damages to local charity
A lawsuit has been filed by attorneys representing Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach seeking an immediate injunction against the airing of a radio ad by Ed Morse Honda claiming that the car dealer hides a dealer fee in the sales price of his cars. The lawsuit also seeks damages against Ed Morse Honda for slander against Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach and for damages resulting from Ed Morse Honda’s alleged violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Earl Stewart will donate to charity all of the jury’s award for his damages by Ed Morse Honda for slander. Stewart is also bringing the suit on behalf of Florida car buyers. A declaration finding the use of the dealer fee to be a deceptive trade practice could amount to tens of millions of dollars in savings to consumers buying cars in the state.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday, August 21 in Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Court by Michael Weeks of the Ward, Damon and Posner law firm on behalf of Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach.
The lawsuit alleges that Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach has suffered damages due to lost car sales resulting from an Ed Morse Honda radio ad which claims to expose a local car dealer who claims he doesn’t charge a dealer fee but actually “packs the equivalent of a dealer fee …in your price…where you can’t see it.” Since Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach is the only car dealer with television advertising in Palm Beach County stating that he does not charge a dealer fee, the ad specifically targeted the dealership and is slanderous, the suit states. Damages are sought because Earl Stewart has, according to the suit, “built its reputation and focuses much of its advertising upon the strength of Earl Stewart Toyota’s honesty with its customers and integrity in the automobile industry.”
The lawsuit alleges that Ed Morse Honda is in violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act because the dealership charges a $699 dealer fee on all of its car sales, but does not disclose it in price negotiations, in violation of the act. The act allows for “anyone aggrieved by violation of the Act to obtain a declaratory judgment” against the party committing the violation.
The suit claims that not disclosing the dealer fee in advertisements or price stickers “results in a deceptive environment for consumers and hurts dealers who disclose all of their profit in the prices they quote.” The result is that consumers cannot fairly comparison shop for cars from dealer to dealer if one price includes all of the dealer’s profit while another does not and has the extra profit added on as a dealer fee after the price is quoted. The suit claims that this practice is “an obvious evasion of Florida Law” and “flies in the face of the purpose of the Florida Deceptive Trade Practices Act.”
Earl Stewart is known as an outspoken advocate for eliminating the dealer fee in Florida and this year testified for its elimination before the Florida Senate Commerce Committee. This spring he initiated a state-wide internet campaign to urge consumers to contact their state legislators to pass legislation outlawing the dealer fee.
Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach is a four-time recipient of The President’s Award, the highest award Toyota gives for customer satisfaction. The dealership is the only Toyota dealership from Vero Beach to Ft. Lauderdale to win the award this year. Stewart also is a featured speaker at numerous civic groups, clubs and public libraries on the topic of “How to buy a car without getting ripped off.” He also answers consumers’ questions on a live hour-long radio show broadcast each Saturday at 9 a.m. on Seaview 960 AM and writes a weekly consumer article for Hometown News. These articles are part of his blog site offering advice to consumers on buying and servicing cars, found at http://www.earlstewartoncars.com/. Stewart said he plans to donate any damages received from the lawsuit to a local non-profit organization.
Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach sells more hybrid vehicles than any other car dealership in America, outside of California where strict emission laws boost hybrid sales. He is the number one volume Toyota dealer in Palm Beach County.
You can read the entire lawsuit, by clicking on http://www.earlstewart.com/.