Milford Lumber Co. v. Rcb Realty, Inc.: Using the Consumer Protection Act to Protect a Seller from the 'Rascality of One of Its Customers'
New Hampshire Bar Journal, Vol. 43, 2002
11 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2015
Date Written: 2002
In September 2001, contrary to the express language and purpose of the Consumer Protection Act ("CPA"), the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that a seller had a viable cause of action against a business consumer. In Milford Lumber Company, Inc. v. RCB Realty, Inc., Milford Lumber, a business, attempted to collect money owed by an evasive consumer, RCB Realty, which was also a business. Milford Lumber alleged, inter alia, a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. "The court allowed Milford Lumber to recover under the CPA stating that the Consumer Protection Act "does not bar sellers from availing themselves of its protection."
The New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, enacted in 1970, protects consumers from unfair or deceptive business activities. Its purpose is "to regulate business practices for consumer protection by making it unlawful for persons engaged in trade or commerce to use various methods of unfair competition and deceptive business practices." The New Hampshire Supreme Court has accepted and applied the purpose of the statute as a basis for analyzing cases brought under the CPA. The court has further elaborated that the CPA's purpose "is to ensure an equitable relationship between consumers and persons engaged in business."
The Milford Lumber court looked to the inclusive language of New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated ("RSA") 358-A:2, and of 358-A:10 and the broad definition of "person" in 358-A:1, I, to hold that sellers are not barred from availing themselves of the protections of the CPA. This article considers the court's decision by examining the CPA, principles of statutory construction, and applicable case law. More specifically, this article uses a three part analysis to show that by using the CPA to penalize a dishonest consumer, the court: (1) violated the plain meaning of the CPA; (2) ignored the legislative intent of the CPA; and (3) contradicted prior New Hampshire case law.
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