Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lease & Rental Mgmt. Corp. v. Arrowhead Central Credit Union (Cal. Ct. App. - February 14, 2005)

Okay, so Justice Gaut busts his streak here. This opinion I'm much less psyched about, and think that he may well get it wrong. (And yes, I read and post seriatim; I had no idea this was going to be "Justice Gaut Day".)

The proper resolution of this case is fairly fact-specific, but can be briefly summarized. Basically, defendant gives good credit references about a third party to plaintiff, when in fact third party's credit is (at least sort of) pretty darn far from good. Justice Gaut upholds the grant of summary judgment to defendant, holding that, on the facts of the case, defendant's representation that plaintiff had "good credit" was fairly subjective, and should not properly subject it to liability.

But my reaction was a bit different. I thought that this was somewhat clearly a jury issue, and hence improperly resolved on summary judgment. Sure, maybe you could say that defendant's representations of good credit were subjective. But there were a lot of objective facts to the contrary, none of which were disclosed to the plaintiff. Like the fact that the third party had over 2400 NSF checks even though defendant wrote "N/A" on the form about how many NSF checks defendant had. Or that defendant (admittedly) misstated the third party's credit line. Or the fact that defendant evaluated the defendant's history as "satisfactory" even as the Vice President of defendant was saying that she was "very concerned" about the account and threatened to close it. Or the legions of other stuff explored in the opinion.

At some point, even a subjective evaluation of creditworthiness has to be made reasonably and in good faith. For every line, of course, someone has to draw it. Here, I thought that the issue was close enough that a jury -- not the judge -- was entitled to make the call. (Justice Gaut's related claim that defendant didn't necessarily know what the credit check was for is a fairly lame argument. Obviously you're doing a credit check to see if you're going to extend credit. Duh.)

So I think Justice Gaut gets this one wrong. Not horribly or anything. I'm not going to start screaming for impeachment hearings. But wrong is still wrong.