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Hills Machinery Company, LLC v. Pea Creek Mine, LLC

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 21, 2019

HILLS MACHINERY COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
PEA CREEK MINE, LLC, JOC FARMS, LLC, and JOSEPH D. BRILEY, JR., Defendants.
v.
JOC FARMS, LLC and PEA CREEK MINE, LLC, Counterclaim and Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
HILLS MACHINERY COMPANY, LLC, Counterclaim Defendant, and CNH INDUSTRIAL AMERICA, LLC d/b/a CASE IH, Third-Party Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 26 March 2019.

          Appeal by JOC Farms, LLC from order entered 1 May 2018 by Judge Alma L. Hinton in Pitt County, No. 14 CVS 2408 Superior Court.

          Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC, by Michael J. Tadych, for third-party plaintiff-appellant JOC Farms, LLC.

          Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, by Jamie A. Dean and Ryan H. Niland, for third-party defendant-appellee CNH Industrial America, LLC.

          TYSON, JUDGE.

         JOC Farms, LLC ("JOC") appeals from the trial court's order, which granted CNH Industrial America, LLC, d/b/a Case IH ("Case") summary judgment on JOC's claims for breach of warranty, fraud, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. We affirm the trial court's order.

         I. Background

         JOC purchased a 2006 model 921C loader (the "Loader") manufactured by Case from Briggs Construction Equipment, Inc. ("Briggs") on or about 30 April 2009. Briggs had previously purchased the Loader from Case on 29 August 2008. Case had issued a manufacturer's warranty (the "Case Warranty") for the Loader. The Case Warranty states, in relevant part:

         What's Covered

If a defect in material or workmanship is found in a unit and reported during the Warranty Period, Case will pay parts and labor costs to repair the defect, if the services are performed by an authorized Case dealer at the dealer's location. [Emphasis supplied].

         The warranty period stated in the Case Warranty began "at the time that any person, dealer or agent first places the unit into service" and ended "when either the month or machine hour limit is reached, whichever limit occurs first." The warranty period for the Loader's engine lasted 24 months or until the engine reached 2, 000 machine hours, whichever occurred first. The warranty period for components, other than the engine, was one year after the date the Loader was placed into service.

         The Case Warranty also states, in relevant part:

No Modification or Extension of Warranty
The Case Warranty is limited to the written terms in this pamphlet. Case does not authorize any person, dealer or agent to change or extend the terms of this warranty in any manner. Any assistance to the purchaser in the repair or operation of any Case product outside the terms or limitations or exclusions of this warranty will not constitute a waiver of the terms, limitations or exclusions of this warranty, nor will such assistance extend or re-establish the warranty. [Emphasis supplied].

         The Case Warranty included the following disclaimer:

THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS THE ENTIRE CASE WARRANTY. CASE MAKES NO OTHER REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIESEXPRESSED OR IMPLIED AND SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDES THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

[Emphasis in original]

         When Appellant purchased the Loader from Briggs, the Loader had already accrued 887 machine hours. Before completing the purchase, Appellant's owner Joseph Briley, Jr. ("Briley) took the Loader for a test drive. During the test drive, Briley mentioned to Briggs' salesman that the Loader exhibited a significant vibration. Briley did not think the vibration was significant enough to preclude his purchase.

         When purchasing the Loader, JOC also purchased a 3-year/3, 000 hour extended warranty plan, referred to as a "Purchased Protection Plan," ("PPP") through Briggs' dealership. The PPP was issued by EPG Insurance, Inc. ("EPG"). According to the affidavit of Mark T. Heman ("Heman"), a product support manager for Case, "PPPs are sold through the dealer and are generally designed to cover defects that arise after the manufacturer's warranty has expired[, ]" and "[Case] is not a party to any PPP issued by EPG."

         After JOC's purchase of the Loader, JOC and a sister company named Pea Creek Mine, LLC ("Pea Creek") began using the Loader for industrial tasks, including extracting sand, loading, and hauling lime and fertilizer. Pea Creek was also owned by JOC's owner, Briley. Over a five year period after purchase, JOC and Pea Creek amassed more than 7, 000 machine hours on the Loader.

         The first time JOC took the Loader to Briggs for servicing was on 8 June 2009. JOC reported that the Loader's battery would not hold a charge and the cables were not working. A warranty claim was submitted to Case, who paid the claim under the Case Warranty.

         The next time JOC brought the Loader to Briggs for repairs was September 2010. The reported issue was a problem with the Loader's fuel coil. A warranty claim was not submitted to Case for this problem. Instead a claim was submitted to EPG by Briggs under the PPP. EPG paid the covered portion of this claim. At the time JOC brought the loader to Briggs for repair in September 2010, the Loader had accrued 2, 508 hours.

         In February 2011, JOC brought the Loader to East Carolina Equipment Company for repairs related to a bearing in the transmission which was causing "vibration in power train while traveling." A claim was submitted to EPG for the repairs and EPG paid the covered portion under the PPP.

         In April 2011, Case received a warranty claim relating to the Loader's transmission. In October 2011, Case received another warranty claim relating to the Loader's instrumentation. The Case Warranty had long expired by accrued hours and passage of time when both of these claims were filed. According to Heman's affidavit, for the April 2011 claim, Case paid $6, 625.00 to JOC for a rental loader. For the October 2011 claim, Case paid $1, 146.29 towards the repair costs. According to Heman, Case made these payments as gestures of goodwill to maintain clients and as "assistance to the purchaser in the repair or operation of any Case product outside the terms or limitations or exclusions of [the] warranty."

         Sometime in 2011 or 2012, JOC contacted Case to request further financial assistance with an alleged vibration problem with the Loader. Case's product support manager, Jeffrey Schoch, met with JOC's representatives to discuss the issue. According to JOC's owner, Briley, Schoch told him that Case "would stand behind their product." JOC and Pea Creek continued to use the Loader.

         On 20 February 2012, JOC filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy protection under Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. See 11 U.S.C. § 301. On 26 February 2013, the Bankruptcy Court approved JOC's proposed plan of reorganization. JOC did not list any potential legal claims against Case as an asset in its bankruptcy filings.

         Sometime in September 2013, JOC brought the Loader to Hills Machinery Company, LLC ("Hills") for repairs. In May 2015, Hills filed suit against JOC, Pea Creek, and Briley, allegedly for the failure to pay a balance due of $34, 708 allegedly owed for repairs to the Loader. JOC responded by filing counterclaims against Hills and asserting third-party claims against Case on 4 August 2015. JOC alleged that problems with the Loader were related to a vibration it asserted Case had undertaken to repair during the warranty period, but had failed to do. JOC asserted claims for breach of warranty, fraud, and unfair and deceptive trade practices against Case.

         On 23 October 2017, Case filed a motion for summary judgment on JOC's claims pursuant to Rule 56(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. On 26 October 2017, Pea Creek and JOC gave notice of five depositions to Hills and Case. Hills filed a motion for a protective order to reschedule the deposition of one of its witnesses due to a medical condition. Case filed an emergency motion for a protective order to prevent Pea Creek and JOC from proceeding with the depositions. The trial court heard Case's and Hills's motions for protective order, and ordered JOC to postpone one of the noticed depositions. The parties consented to JOC and Pea Creek proceeding with the other four depositions.

         Following the completion of depositions by JOC and Pea Creek, Case filed a renewed motion for summary judgment. The trial court heard Case's summary judgment motion and granted summary judgment to Case on all of JOC's claims. JOC filed timely ...


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