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Holder v. General Motors Corp.

Other Lower Courts

September 7, 2001

Aubrey I. Holder, Plaintiff,
v.
General Motors Corporation et al., Defendants.

Page 298

COUNSEL

Andree Sylvestre-Johnson, Brooklyn, for plaintiff.

Paul R. Ades, P. L. L. C., Babylon, for General Motors Acceptance Corporation, defendant.

OPINION

Victor M. Ort, J.

This is an action by a debtor against a former creditor for issuance of a negative credit report. Plaintiff asserts claims for breach of contract, negligence, and violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Defendant General Motors Acceptance Corporation is moving for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

In February 1987 plaintiff Aubrey Holder purchased a 1987 Buick LeSabre automobile from defendant Garden Buick, AMC

Page 299

Corp., a Buick dealer.T he vehicle was purchased pursuant to a retail installment contract which Garden Buick assigned to defendant General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). In April 1992 plaintiff commenced an action against General Motors Corporation, GMAC, and Garden Buick in the District Court of Nassau County alleging breach of warranty and various defects in the vehicle. In October 1992 the District Court action was settled. According to the terms of the settlement agreement, General Motors paid plaintiff $5,000 and relieved plaintiff from paying $1,337.48 which was outstanding on the retail installment contract. The settlement was memorialized by a letter to plaintiff from a member of General Motors' legal staff as well as a release agreement which was executed by plaintiff.

The present action was commenced on March 20, 1997. Plaintiff alleges that in May 1992 defendants reported to credit agencies that plaintiff's account was closed and that the sum of $1,337 had been charged off as a bad debt. Plaintiff further alleges that as a result of the negative report, he was denied credit when he attempted to purchase another vehicle. Plaintiff's credit history report, which he has submitted as exhibit B to his affirmation in opposition, suggests that the denial of credit occurred sometime between May and August of 1996. Plaintiff's theories are that defendants breached the terms of the settlement agreement by issuing the negative report and were negligent in failing to rectify it. Plaintiff also claims that defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. ยง 1692 et seq.). Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $150,000 from defendant GMAC. [*]

A " settlement" is an adjustment between persons concerning their dealings or difficulties. (See Black's Law Dictionary [6th ed].) Thus, the settlement of the District Court action constituted an agreement between the parties adjusting their differences concerning the plaintiff's purchase of the defective automobile. While a settlement agreement compromises a dispute, it does not confer affirmative obligations upon either party to the agreement. (See Exhibitgroup/Giltspur, Inc. v Spoon Exhibit Servs., 273 A.D.2d 874 [4th Dept. 2000].) Plaintiff points to no language in the documents comprising the settlement agreement which may be construed as an express or implied promise on General Motors' part to issue, or refrain from issuing, any particular type of credit report. Moreover,

Page 300

the fact that the release agreement runs in favor of defendant militates against any claim that plaintiff derived any contractual rights from the settlement, other than discharge of the outstanding indebtedness and the right to receive the cash payment.W hile an obligation of good faith and fair dealing may be implied on the part of a party to a contract, it will not be implied where it is inconsistent with other terms of the contractual relationship. (Murphy v American Home Prods. Corp., 58 N.Y.2d 293, 304 [1983].) The parties in this case formerly stood in the relationship of debtor and creditor, and GMAC as a former creditor was entitled to communicate credit information concerning plaintiff to other parties with a legitimate interest in plaintiff's creditworthiness. (Weir v Equifax Servs., 210 A.D.2d 944 [4th Dept. 1994].) Thus, the court cannot infer that GMAC was under a good-faith obligation to issue a favorable credit report concerning the plaintiff. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted as to the first cause of action sounding in breach of contract.

A duty of reasonable care owed by the tortfeasor to the injured party is elemental to any recovery in negligence. (Palka v Servicemaster Mgt. Servs. Corp.,83 N.Y.2d 579 [1994].) The existence and scope of an alleged tortfeasor's duty is ordinarily a question of law for the court to determine with proper regard to the relationship between the parties and the policy issues involved. (Id. at 585.) Based on the nature of the previous relationship between plaintiff and defendant, the court concludes that defendant was not under a duty of reasonable care with regard to the dissemination or correction of credit information concerning plaintiff. As a former creditor of the plaintiff, defendant GMAC possessed a qualified privilege to communicate credit information concerning plaintiff to parties who had a common interest in the information, such as credit agencies. (Liberman v Gelstein,80 N.Y.2d 429, 437 [1992].) The fact that defendant shared an interest in communicating financial ...


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