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Robert Barabino v. Citizens Automobile Finance

December 21, 2010

ROBERT BARABINO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIZENS AUTOMOBILE FINANCE, INC., A CORPORATION; JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, A CORPORATION; WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, A CORPORATION; AND DOES ONE THROUGH TWENTY; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is a Motion by Defendant JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. ("Chase") for Judgment on the Pleadings. Defendant's Motion is made on the grounds that the claim for declaratory relief asserted by Plaintiff Robert Barabino ("Plaintiff") against Chase in this proceeding is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. For the reasons set forth below, Chase's Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

On January 14, 2002, Plaintiff executed a "Retail Installment Sales Contract" ("Contract") for the purchase of a 2001 Bounder Diesel ("Vehicle") from Dan Gamel's Rocklin RV Center ("Seller"). The Contract stated that "ANY HOLDER OF THIS CONSUMER CREDIT CONTRACT IS SUBJECT TO ALL CLAIMS AND DEFENSES WHICH THE DEBTOR COULD ASSERT AGAINST THE SELLER OF THE GOODS OR SERVICES OBTAINED PURSUANT HERETO" ("Holder Clause"). Subsequent to Plaintiff's purchase, Seller assigned its rights under the Contract to Bank One, NA. Chase acquired rights under the Contract as successor in interest to Bank One, N.A. by way of merger. Plaintiff made payments to Chase in excess of $25,000 until Chase assigned its rights to Citizens Automobile Finance, Inc. ("Citizens") on or about January 11, 2005. Citizens continues to hold the contract and Plaintiff has continued to make payments to Citizens. Pl.'s Compl., ¶¶ 5-8.

On November 3, 2004, Plaintiff filed suit in Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:04-cv-2359-MCE-EFB, (hereinafter "Barabino I") against Seller and the manufacturer of the Vehicle alleging violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and fraud. In 2009, Plaintiff obtained judgment on all causes of action against Seller and was awarded damages in the amount of $270,590.20.

On November 26, 2008, Plaintiff filed a second action in state court ("Barabino II") That suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:09-cv-86-GEB-KJM. Both Chase and Citizens were named as Defendants. In Barabino II, Plaintiff alleged that pursuant to the "Holder Clause" both Defendants were subject to the same claims brought against Seller in Barabino I. Ultimately, the court in Barabino II dismissed Plaintiff's claims as barred by the statute of limitations.

Plaintiff's Complaint in the present action ("Barabino III") contains one cause of action requesting declaratory relief. The cause of action, however, requests resolution of two issues:

1) whether the Contract held by Citizens is enforceable, and

2) whether Defendants have any liability for claims which Plaintiff has or could have asserted against Seller.

Prior to the filing of the present motion, both Defendants filed motions to dismiss. Those motions were granted in part and denied in part. In its Memorandum and Order filed March 29, 2010, this Court held that Plaintiff was collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of whether Defendants are subject to liability for claims that could have been asserted against Seller. In partially denying Defendants' motions, however, the Court explained that enforceability of the Contract had not been directly addressed in either Barabino I or Barabino II.

The motion now before the Court for adjudication seeks judgment on the pleadings on Chase's behalf. Chase argues that the face of the complaint in Barabino III makes it clear 1) that Chase has no interest in the Contract since before January 11, 2005, when the Contract was assigned to Citizens; and 2) that no payments have been made to Chase since that time; and 3) that no payments will be made to Chase in the future given the assignment.

Although Citizens filed its own motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and while that Motion was denied by Memorandum and Order dated October 5, 2010, the Court's denial of Citizens' motion was predicated on the fact that the issue of whether the Contract, as held by Citizens, continues to be enforceable, and whether Plaintiff still owes monies pursuant to that Contract, remain an unresolved question properly subject to adjudication. See October 5, 2010 Order, 8:22-27.

In bringing the present motion, Chase argues that those concerns simply are inapplicable to Chase since Chase long ago ceased to have any interest in the Contract. As Chase points out, even Plaintiff appears to concede in his opposition to this motion that the only arguably viable allegation against Chase at this juncture turns on whether Chase "will be required to ...


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