In Seungtae Kim v. BMW Financial Services NA, LLC, 2015 WL 6680911, at *2 (C.D.Cal., 2015), Judge O’Connell denied a new trial to an automobile finance company, against whom a $430,000 jury verdict was assessed. The facts were as follows:
On August 28, 2015, the jury rendered its unanimous verdict, finding in Plaintiff’s favor on two of his three claims. (Judgment at 1.) As to the CIT claim, the jury found that Plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was a victim of identity theft and that Defendant violated the CIT law. (Jury Verdict at 1–2, 6–7.) The jury assessed a civil penalty of $30,000 against Defendant—the maximum allowed under the CIT statute—and also awarded Plaintiff $150,000 in noneconomic damages. (Judgment at 1.) With respect to the FCRA claim, the jury concluded that Defendant damaged Plaintiff by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation of Plaintiff s dispute. (Jury Verdict at 2.) Specifically, the jury determined that Defendant negligently performed its investigation, but it determined that Defendant did not “willfully” violate the FCRA. (Id. at 3.) The jury ultimately awarded Plaintiff $250,000 for the injury to his reputation or creditworthiness caused by Defendant’s negligent FCRA violation. (Judgment at 1.) As to the CCRAA claim, while the jury found that Defendant reported inaccurate or incomplete credit information about Plaintiff to one or more credit bureaus, thereby harming Plaintiff, it ultimately concluded that Defendant maintained reasonable procedures to comply with the CCRAA. (Jury Verdict at 4–5.) Accordingly, the jury found in Defendant’s favor on the CCRAA claim and awarded no damages. (Judgment at 1.)
The Court denied the Defendant’s Rule 50 Motion, finding that the jury had rejected the Defendant’s argument that a Power of Attorney from the Plaintiff to the alleged ID Theft perpetrator authorized the transaction at issue.
Defendant first contends that the evidence presented during trial supports a conclusion that Plaintiff’s identity was not stolen. (Renewed Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law (“RJMOL”) at 5.) Defendant relies heavily on the power of attorney form that Plaintiff allegedly signed, which purportedly authorized Mike Kim to purchase an automobile on Plaintiff’s behalf. (Id.) According to Defendant, it was “undisputed and unrefuted at trial” that the signature appearing on the power of attorney document was Plaintiff’s signature. (Id.) As such, Defendant implies that a reasonable juror could not have determined that Plaintiff’s identity was stolen. The Court disagrees. Drawing all inferences in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there was substantial evidence presented at trial to support the jury’s conclusion that Mike Kim stole Plaintiff’s identity. First, Plaintiff and Mike Kim gave conflicting testimony as to whether Plaintiff authorized Mike Kim to purchase the 2007 BMW using Plaintiff’s information. Specifically, Mike Kim testified that he prepared the power of attorney and that Plaintiff signed it in his presence. (Transcript at 438:23–439:1, 439:25–440:3.) However, Plaintiff testified that he never gave Mike Kim permission to use his personal information to purchase a vehicle. (Id. at 364:24–365:2.) Given the conflicting testimony, the jury made a credibility determination as to whom to believe. The Court reiterates that it cannot make credibility determinations, Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, and that it must give deference to the jury’s credibility findings consistent with the verdict, Brown, 738 F.2d at 1468 n.8. Accordingly, the Court gives deference to the jury’s apparent credibility determination in Plaintiff’s favor. Additionally, the parties offered conflicting expert evidence with regard to the legitimacy of the power of attorney document. Defendant’s expert testified that the form bore Plaintiff’s signature and was created “in one continuous action,” indicating that Plaintiff intended to authorize Mike Kim to purchase the vehicle on his behalf. (RJMOL at 6.) However, Plaintiff’s expert testified that although the signature was indeed Plaintiff’s, the “form had misaligned text, indicating that it had been prepared at more than one sitting.” (Opp’n to RJMOL at 6.) Plaintiff also presented evidence that, years earlier, he had signed documents which Mike Kim falsely represented would help Plaintiff secure employment or a green card, and that Mike Kim could have still possessed those documents at the time he created the power of attorney form. (Id. at 7.) From this evidence, a jury reasonably could have inferred that Mike Kim used Plaintiff’s signature from one of the previously signed documents to forge the power of attorney form. The jury also could have relied on the fact that Mike Kim admitted he had bad credit, (Transcript at 437:14–15), to infer that, given Mike Kim’s poor credit history, it would be highly unlikely that Plaintiff would allow Mike Kim to use Plaintiff’s personal information to purchase a car. (Opp’n to RJMOL at 5.) Plaintiff presented evidence during the trial tending to show that Mike Kim’s testimony was generally unreliable, which would have further supported the jury’s decision to discredit Mike Kim’s testimony. (Id. at 4.) In addition to the fact that Mike Kim’s and Plaintiff’s testimony conflicted, Mike Kim testified that he was signing the purchasing documents in Plaintiff’s name, and that nobody at the BMW dealership ever asked to see his personal identifying information. (Id. at 5; Transcript at 454:4–6.) The jury reasonably could have inferred that a car dealership is unlikely to sell a vehicle to a person without asking for the person’s identification. From this inference, the jury could have then concluded that, contrary to his testimony, Mike Kim likely produced Plaintiff’s identification and forged Plaintiff’s signature on the vehicle purchasing documents. (Opp’n to RJMOL at 5.) Considering the foregoing evidence presented at trial, and drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, the Court must uphold the jury’s conclusion that Mike Kim stole Plaintiff identity, as it is supported by “substantial evidence.” Todd, 642 F.3d at 1215.
The Court found that the jury’s $150,000 award under the FCRA was supported by the evidence even though the Plaintiff was denied credit, maybe, once.
Even though a reasonable jury could have determined that one of the three credit denials occurred within the two- or three-month period of time between Defendant’s completed investigation and the end of 2013, a denial of credit is not required to prove damages. Guimond, 45 F.3d at 1333. Thus, even assuming the jury did not conclude that Plaintiff was denied credit during the relevant time period, the jury also could have relied on the expert testimony of Thomas A. Tarter to conclude that Plaintiff’s creditworthiness was harmed as a result of Defendant’s failure to remove the car loan from his credit report. (Opp’n to RJMOL at 11.) Mr. Tarter testified that the derogatory mark relating to the BMW Financial loan on Plaintiff’s credit report was a “very serious” derogatory. (Transcript at 187:5–188:16.) He also stated that derogatories similar to the one at issue lead to lower credit scores, affect one’s ability to obtain employment, and raise insurance costs. (Transcript at 187:22–25.) Accordingly, the jury could have inferred from this expert testimony that the mere appearance of the erroneous derogatory on Plaintiff’s credit report harmed Plaintiff’s reputation or creditworthiness.