Court limits consumer protection act attorney fees; takes unwarranted swipe at counsel
Darlen Stariha sued Chrysler Group under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and Magnuson-Moss, a similarly-intentioned federal act. Chrysler responded with an offer to repurchase the car and pay Stariha's attorney $2,000.00 in fees, so apparently the car was a lemon. Stariha's attorney, Dani Liblang, who has specialized in "lemon law" for a number of years, attempted to accept the re-purchase while contesting the offered statutory fee. Ultimately, her client accepted a subsequent offer and the trial judge held a hearing on the fee issue. The Court concluded that Liblang did not adequately inform her client about the initial offer made by Chrysler, and for that reason, limited her fees to the original offer made by Chrysler. Liblang appealed, arguing that the fee should have been the full $3500.00 that she normally charges under similar circumstances, in order to fulfill the intent of the Consumer Protection Act fee-award provisions.The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's fee decision for several reasons. It concluded that the award was not an "abuse of discretion" and outside the boundaries of what a judge might reasonably decide, based on the evidence presented. In a typical Kirsten Kelly swipe at consumer-interested attorneys, however, Kelly and her majority companion upheld the trial court's opinion which went one step further and suggested that Liblang "concealed the real reason she was advising against the acceptance" of the original offer.
Bless his heart, Judge William Whitbeck, a long-serving Republican judge, clarified the record by pointing out that there was NO evidence in the record to support the claim that Liblang actively concealed information. Since the record was "completely lacking in evidentiary support" for this finding, Judge Whitbeck dissented from the majority opinion and "refused to impute misconduct" on the part of the plaintiff's attorney. Judge K. F. Kelly, on the other hand, appears to be eager to impute misconduct on Plaintiff's counsel; she just frankly doesn't like consumer claims, injury claims or other challenges to her establishment interests.