Frustration at a car rental company proved inadequate to maintain a class action, the Sixth Circuit held yesterday in Salling v Budget Rent-a-Car Systems. The plaintiff, steamed by a $13.99 refueling charge, brought a putative class action premised on fraud and unjust enrichment theories. Budget successfully removed to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act, and the district court eventually granted summary judgment. Budget ultimately prevailed on appeal based on the voluntary payment doctrine – meaning that the plaintiff voluntarily paid the fee rather than disputing the fee when he returned the car.
Two points of interest spring from this opinion. First, the Court ultimately addressed Budget’s argument even though it did not raise the issue below until its reply brief on summary judgment. While the Court frowned upon that, it decided that judicial economy dictated addressing the argument. But this is another reminder about error preservation at the trial court. Second, while this dispute may seem mundane or even silly, giving the voluntary payment doctrine teeth can have real consequences in consumer-based litigation. It will remain to be seen how both the Circuit and the district courts apply this, for it may emerge as a viable defense in an array of consumer cases.