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Williams v. American Honda Finance Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 8, 2017

RACHEL C. WILLIAMS, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA FINANCE CORPORATION, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Leo T. Sorokin, U.S. District Judge] [Hon. Jennifer C. Boal, U.S. Magistrate Judge]

          John Roddy, with whom Elizabeth Ryan, Bailey & Glasser LLP, Steven R. Striffler, and Law Office of Steven R. Striffler were on brief, for appellant.

          Stuart T. Rossman, National Consumer Law Center, and Jennifer P. Nelson on brief for National Consumer Law Center, amicus curiae in support of appellant.

          Eric S. Mattson, with whom Daniel R. Thies, Sidley Austin LLP, Tracy M. Waugh, and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          Per Curiam.

         American Honda Finance Corporation ("Honda") loaned Rachel Williams money to buy a car. After Williams defaulted on the debt by failing to repay the loan as agreed, Honda repossessed the vehicle and sent Williams two notices in connection with its efforts to sell the car and collect any deficiency owed on the loan, a pre-sale notice and (after selling the car at auction) a post-sale notice.

         Williams thereupon filed this putative class action, claiming that each of the two notices violated the Uniform Commercial Code and Massachusetts consumer protection laws. Williams faults the pre-sale notice because instead of saying that the credit due to her in calculating the deficiency would be the "fair market value of the car, " the notice used terms such as "money received from the sale (after paying our costs), " "auction proceeds, " and "proceeds of sale." She also faults the post-sale notice because it calculated her deficiency obligation by reference to the auction proceeds, which she contends do not represent the fair market value of the car.

         The outcome of this case hinges entirely on questions of Massachusetts law concerning which the Massachusetts courts have not spoken. Therefore, even though the parties have not requested it, we certify three questions to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court pursuant to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:03. See Fortin v. Titcomb, 671 F.3d 63, 66 (1st Cir. 2012). Some context for those questions, along with the questions themselves, follows.

         I.

         Honda financed Williams's purchase of a Honda Accord in 2007. Four years later, Williams defaulted on her loan. After repossessing the car, Honda sent Williams the first notice that is the subject of this appeal. It stated:

We have [your vehicle] because you broke promises in our agreement, and we will sell it at a private sale sometime after October 11, 2011.
The money received from the sale (after paying our costs) will reduce the amount you owe. If the auction proceeds are less than what you owe, you will still owe us the difference. If we receive more money than you owe, you will receive a refund, unless we must pay it to someone else. If you would like a written explanation on how the amount you owe was determined, or need additional information about the sale, please send your request to the address below.
You can get the property back at any time before we sell it by paying the full payoff amount, including our expenses. As of today, the payoff amount is $13, 366.78, which is subject to change due to the ...

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