What is the duration of the implied warranty of merchantability under California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civil Code §1790 et seq.) (“The Song-Beverly Act”)? Is its duration simply as set forth in Civil Code § 1791.1(c):
“The duration of the implied warranty of merchantability. . . shall be coextensive in duration with an express warranty which accompanies the consumer goods, provided the duration of the express warranty is reasonable; but in no event shall such implied warranty have a duration of less than 60 days nor more than one year following the sale of new consumer goods to a retail buyer. . . .”
Or, is it something different? Does the statute mean what it says or something else?
In Mexia v. Rinker Boat Company, Inc., (Case No. E045443), Division Two of the Fourth Appellate District of the Court of Appeal in California (June 15, 2009) held that these words do not mean what they say, but, indeed, mean something different.
On April 12, 2003, Jess Mexia purchased a boat manufactured by defendant Rinker Boat Company (“Rinker”) and sold to him by Miller Landing (“Miller”). By July 2006, the boat needed repairs due to defects relating to corrosion in the engine. (Id. at 4). He returned the boat on July 8, 2005 for the repairs. When defendants allegedly failed to repair the boat so that it would conform to the applicable warranties, Mexia filed suit in November 2006.
The trial court sustained the demurer without leave of Rinker and Miller on the grounds that this statute is a one year statute of limitations and thus barred Mexia’s claim. Mexia appealed the trial court’s judgment dismissing his lawsuit.
On appeal, Rinker and Miller changed their argument to urge that although the applicable statute of limitations is four years, this lawsuit is still barred because Mexia was required to discover and report the defect within the time specified by the statute.
The appellate court rejected this argument. The court determined that given the plain language of the statute, it “. . . creates a limited, prospective duration for the implied warranty of merchantability; it does not create a deadline for discovering latent defects or for giving notice to the seller.” (Id. at 3).
The appellate court rejected the notion proffered by Rinker and Miller “that latent defects must be discovered and reported to the seller within a specified time” (Id. at 17), claiming that this theory had no support in the text of the statute. The appellate court reasoned that “if the legislature had intended the duration provision to impose a deadline for consumers to give notice of defect. . . it could have easily done so. It did not” (Id. at 18).
Rather, the appellate court interpreted this “duration provision” - Civil Code § 1791.1(c) – as providing the implied warranties under the Song-Beverly Act with a limited prospective existence beyond the date of delivery” (Id. at 20) but as not imposing any sort of notification deadline. (Id. at 18).
Based on its determination, the appellate court reversed: Mexia could allege a breach of the implied warranty even though he did not first raise the issue until more than two years after he purchased the boat.
The morale of this story: a statute does not always mean what says. Especially where as here, the statute is consumer oriented, and enacted to expand consumer protection and remedies, a court will provide an expansive interpretation whenever possible. It will construe the statute as broadly as possible so as to implement what it views to be the legislative intent.
. . . Just something to think about.