CBS Detroit – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined the fight with other Ford Focus and Fiesta owners who bought cars that according to the Detroit Free Press had defective transmissions. This case however has ramifications for all consumers in the state under Michigan’s consumer protection laws.

In a brief filed Thursday, Nessel joined six other county prosecutors requesting the Michigan Supreme Court provide clarity to the Michigan Consumer Protection Act in how it is interpreted and applied in a motion of reconsideration from a previous court ruling. Other county prosecutors and Nessel claim how the lower courts and the Michigan Supreme Court have interpreted the act has made it ineffective when it comes to providing relief to consumers.

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The case with Ford revolves with Ford selling thousands of Focuses and Fiestas with faulty transmissions that were “prone to shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking, and sudden acceleration” when they were changing gears. In 2020 Ford settled a class-action case that gave relief ranging from $20 to vehicle buy-backs. However, according to Ken Stern, a Novi lawyer representing 12,000 people across the U.S. who chose to sue Ford individually told the Free Press, “Whether through direct litigation against Ford or through the class-action settlement, Ford must still be held fully accountable for design and manufacturing defects of the Powershift transmission,”. Approximately 600 residents could benefit if Nessel’s case is successful.

The issue that has Michigan A.G. Nessel in the fight stems from a ruling from Judge Annette Berry of the Wayne County Circuit Court who ruled Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act gives consumers standing to sue. The ruling went to an appeals court who said the act didn’t apply. The case is now going to the Michigan Supreme Court. according to Nessel, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to restore the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

According to Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit, “the Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court Judges have interpreted the Consumer Protection Act in a way that applies to nobody”. If a business is regulated by a governmental agency, that can’t be sued in Michigan. “Consumers don’t even get an opportunity,” Savit told the Free Press.

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Being that Ford has to follow Federal regulations, the courts have ruled in Ford’s favor. Said Deep, a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Co. told the Free Press, “Consumers should have protections.” But, he said, in this case, the Court of Appeals’ unanimously ruled “they do under other existing statutes or regulations. The Michigan Supreme Court fully reviewed an application to appeal that decision and decided not to take the case. Ford believes this is the correct interpretation of the statute.”

The Detroit Free Press reports that in Nessel’s legal brief she wrote, “Nearly 40 years ago, former Attorney General Frank J. Kelley explained to this Court: ‘If every person or business which engages in an activity authorized by some statute or regulation were exempt from the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, then it would be a “cruel hoax” on the policymakers who sought to give consumers protection”, According to Nessel,”The very thing he feared has come to pass.”

For prosecuting attorneys like Eli Savit of Washtenaw County, getting a clarifying decision should make is so consumers can be protected from being grossly overcharged, taking advantage of a disability, misrepresenting the quality of goods, or engaging in consumer coercion. For Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese of Marquette County, further clarity on the act will help him bringing actions on behalf of consumers. With people in the community complaining about mortgage companies, used car dealers, and credit card solicitors, and robocalls.

Savit told the Free Press, “This is really a position about the institutional ability of prosecutors as well as the attorney general to go after and investigate consumer abuse,” saying prosecutors in Illinois under similar law have prosecuted 500 consumer scams. However, Savit says decisions over the years by the Michigan Supreme Court has made it impossible for prosecutors to hold people accountable to the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Resulting in businesses feeling free to engage in consumer abuse. Savit concluded, “That is unacceptable. It is our hope that the Supreme Court will take the opportunity to clarify the scope of the act — and allow prosecutors to protect consumers in their communities.”

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