By TOM KERTSCHER
Lawyers say they have found a way to use a Wisconsin law, which is like no other in the nation, to bring a class-action lawsuit against the giant General Motors Acceptance Corp., alleging that the financial services arm of General Motors has systematically repossessed vehicles illegally for years.
Only Wisconsin, says Seattle attorney Robert Taylor-Manning, requires that finance companies obtain permission from a court or the owner of a vehicle before repossessing the vehicle. GMAC, according to a lawsuit he filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, has regularly repossessed vehicles without getting any permission and then resold the vehicles.
In fact, the suit alleges, GMAC would resell the vehicles at auction and then file court action against the former owners for additional costs.
"GMAC is clearly using the courts when the courts give them something but they don't use the courts when it is an impediment to taking something from somebody," said Taylor-Manning, of Hagens-Berman in Seattle.
A GMAC spokeswoman declined comment.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Milwaukee man and seeks certification as a class action. Attorneys said the case was filed to protect Wisconsin consumers from alleged "predatory acts of the largest vehicle financing company in the world."
Taylor-Manning said he believes the suit eventually could represent hundreds of Wisconsin car buyers.
The lawsuit alleges that many of the consumers have been subjected to embarrassment and emotional distress as a result of GMAC's repossessions, subsequent lawsuits and garnishment of wages and other collection activity.
The lawsuit names a single plaintiff, Larry Yachinich Jr. of Milwaukee, who had leased a 1998 Chevrolet Blazer through GMAC. Yachinich paid $1,911 and agreed to pay 35 monthly payments of $555, but then fell behind before the Blazer was repossessed in November 1998 without notice.
GMAC then sold the repossessed vehicle at auction, according to the lawsuit, and in June 1999 filed a lawsuit against Yachinich saying that he owed a "deficiency balance" of $23,768 to GMAC.
After obtaining a judgment against Yachinich, GMAC garnisheed his wages from September 1999 to October 2000.
Tom Kertscher is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.