The Fair Dept Collection Practices Act states that car repossession companies can forfeit their right to take possession of a vehicle from someone who is behind in their payments if a "breach of peace" occurs while the vehicle is being taken, according to the court. Damages in these types of cases can run over $10,000 per incident- not including plaintiff attorney fees, according to Stapleton.
Aviles bought the 2006 Honda Accord from CarMax in 2009, and arranged financing through Wells Fargo Bank, according to the lawsuit complaint filed by attorney Daniel Blinn, of the Consumer Law Group in Rocky Hill, on behalf of Aviles and Soto.
He started falling behind on payments in June 2012, and was told that his car would be repossessed if he did not pay by Aug. 11, 2012. Aviles took the car to Steben Auto Body in West Hartford on Aug. 8, 2012, three days before the deadline, to look at repair options for the vehicle. In the meantime, a repossession order had been sent to Wayside, a company that Wells Fargo uses to repossess cars from debtors. One of the Wayside tow-truck drivers happened to be circling outside Steben Auto Body while Aviles was inside and his niece was sitting in the car.
The driver, Robert Penny, had been looking for the Honda for about three weeks. When he saw the car parked in front of the shop, he backed the tow truck up behind the Honda, and began hooking it on to his tow truck. That's when Soto, who was in the car, looked up. A confrontation ensued, during which Penny told Soto to get out of the car, using explicit language, according to Stapleton.
Soto eventually got out of the car after Aviles came outside and exchanged words with Penny, who then towed the car away.
The verbal altercation was enough to convince U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant that Penny had harassed Soto. His actions, under the Fair Debt Collections Act, forfeited his lawful right to take the car, according to Stapleton.
A settlement conference will occur on Dec. 4 before the case goes to trial in early 2015.