CHARLIE THOMAS CHEVROLET, LTD D/B/A CHAMPION CHEVROLET GULF FREEWAY, Appellant
GENARO MARTINEZ, Appellee
Appeal from the 164th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2012-27666
consists of Justices Lloyd, Kelly, and Hightower.
RICHARD HIGHTOWER JUSTICE
Martinez sued Charlie Thomas Chevrolet, LTD d/b/a Champion
Chevrolet Gulf Freeway for instigation of false imprisonment
and for violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act
(DTPA). Martinez had acquired a new pickup truck from
Champion Chevrolet and a few weeks later was briefly detained
by police when paperwork mistakes by Champion Chevrolet led
it to believe that Martinez's truck had been stolen from
trial, a jury found Champion Chevrolet liable for instigation
of false imprisonment and for DTPA violations and awarded
Martinez $25, 500 in actual damages, $75, 000 in additional
damages, and $21, 900 for attorney's fees through trial,
along with conditional attorney's fees on appeal. The
jury also found Martinez to have been negligent and 15%
responsible. Martinez elected to recover on his DTPA claim,
and the trial court entered judgment for Martinez on his
damages (reduced by 15%) and for attorney's fees.
one issue with numerous sub-issues, Champion Chevrolet argues
that the judgment on the DTPA claims must be reversed and
that judgment should not have been rendered for instigation
of false imprisonment. We reverse the judgment and render
judgment that Martinez take nothing on his DTPA claims. We
remand the case to the trial court for consideration of the
jury's alternative finding that Champion Chevrolet
instigated the false imprisonment of Martinez.
November 2011, Martinez went to Champion Chevrolet, a former
Houston auto dealership, to buy a new truck. He dealt with
salesman Lupe Garcia. They attempted to complete deals on two
used trucks, but Martinez had poor credit and could not
obtain financing on either of them. Seeking a solution,
Garcia suggested that Martinez find a co-signer, so Martinez
left and later returned with his co-worker Andrew Cisneros,
who was to be his co-signer.
test drove both a new black and a new white Chevrolet
Silverado truck and selected the black one. Garcia then
completed the Retail Purchase Agreement for the sale of the
black Silverado, but to get around Martinez's poor
credit, the agreement was made between Champion Chevrolet and
Cisneros, rather than with Martinez. Garcia was aware,
however, that Martinez would be using the truck following its
purchase by Cisneros.
filling out the Retail Purchase Agreement, Garcia made a
critical error. Although Martinez had selected the black
Silverado, Garcia erroneously filled in the Vehicle
Identification Number (VIN) for the white Silverado that
Martinez had also test-driven. Garcia also erroneously
indicated in the agreement that the white Silverado was being
purchased, rather than the black one. This error resulted in
Champion Chevrolet's records reflecting that the white
Silverado had been sold and was no longer in the
dealership's inventory and that the black Silverado
Martinez had driven off the lot was still in the inventory.
Martinez was given a copy of the Retail Purchase Agreement
signed by Cisneros but did not notice that it erroneously
referenced the white Silverado.
couple of weeks after the sale, Champion Chevrolet performed
its monthly inventory reconciliation. During that process, it
discovered that the black Silverado was not on the lot and
became concerned that it was missing and possibly stolen.
After learning that the black Silverado was missing, General
Sales Manager Tania Eubanks asked an employee to look for it
on the lot. After that search was unsuccessful, Eubanks
obtained the "key report" for the black Silverado,
and it showed that the salesman Garcia was the last person in
possession of the black Silverado's keys.
Champion Chevrolet management learned that Garcia had shown
the black Silverado to Martinez, Garcia was asked to call
Martinez to make sure that he was not in the incorrect
vehicle. Garcia was asked to have Martinez read to him the
VIN off the body of the vehicle and to make sure the Retail
Purchase Agreement was for the correct vehicle.
first called Cisneros, who unsurprisingly did not have the
black Silverado, and then Martinez. Garcia told Martinez that
the dealership was missing a vehicle. He then asked Martinez
to go outside and read to him the VIN off the body of the
truck. Martinez replied that it was dark outside and instead
read to Garcia the VIN on his copy of the Retail Purchase
Agreement, which was of course identical to the VIN on
Garcia's copy. Because the VIN read by Martinez matched
the VIN on Garcia's copy of the Retail Purchase
Agreement, the VIN mix-up was not discovered. This
conversation reinforced the dealership's belief that
Martinez did not have the black Silverado.
disputed Garcia's version of that phone call. He
testified that Garcia called him one night and told him that
he needed the VIN on the truck. Martinez told him that he had
the paperwork, that it was cold and he was not going outside
at that time, and that he read to Garcia the VIN off of the
paperwork. Martinez then asked Garcia if everything was all
right, and Garcia told him not to worry about it and to enjoy
his truck. Champion Chevrolet did not go to Martinez's
residence to inspect the VIN, ask Martinez to bring his truck
to the dealership for inspection, or even ask him what color
his truck was.
Chevrolet continued its efforts to locate the missing black
Silverado, searching its body shop and "make ready"
area. Finally, it called Onstar, which the vehicle was
equipped with, and requested that Onstar locate the truck
electronically. Onstar would not activate its location
system unless the police were notified that the truck had
been stolen, so Champion Chevrolet called the police and
reported the black Silverado as stolen.
Police Department records reflect that Champion Chevrolet
called to report that the black Silverado was stolen. Under
the report section entitled "Details of Offense,"
the report states: "Complainant's vehicle was
stolen. Complainant will prosecute. No suspect. No
arrest." The report did not mention Martinez at
all, including as a suspect.
response to the report, Officer G. Olvera was dispatched.
Officer Olvera testified that the call to the police
"dropped as a tracked vehicle," which meant that
someone (in this case Onstar) was tracking it. He was in the
area and went to the location that Onstar had electronically
fixed for the truck and had provided to police. That location
was the apartment complex where Martinez lived. By that time,
Onstar had remotely deactivated the truck. Officer Olvera
parked and watched the truck, and when its headlights came
on, he called for backup, approached the truck, and found
Martinez with it.
Olvera testified that, before the event, no one from Champion
Chevrolet had told him that Martinez was a thief or had
stolen the truck and that Champion Chevrolet never requested
that he target or arrest Martinez. Officer Olvera did not
know that Martinez was going to be there when he arrived at
the address where the truck had been located.
Olvera testified that the police announced themselves to
Martinez and, as part of normal police procedure, handcuffed
him and told him that he was being detained for questioning
because they were tracking a possibly stolen vehicle. Officer
Olvera could not remember if he or any other officer drew
their weapons when they approached Martinez, but he said that
if they did, it would have been proper police procedure for
the investigation of a stolen vehicle.
testified that shortly before he was detained by the police,
he had gotten into his truck to pick up some food for his
family for dinner, but his truck would not start-unknown to
him, it had been disabled by Onstar. Martinez called Champion
Chevrolet because he thought there was something wrong with
his truck, and he was told to get his other key and try to
start it again. Martinez went back into his home to get his
other key, and when he returned to the truck to attempt to
start it again, police were ...