Mo. SC sides with Home Depot in case over tool rental agreement

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 1, 2013, 2:00pm

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) -- The Missouri Supreme Court ruled this week that home improvement retailer Home Depot did not violate the state's Merchandising Practices Act by automatically including a damage waiver fee in a customer's tool rental agreement.

In a 5-0 ruling Tuesday, the state's high court upheld the decision of the St. Louis County Circuit Court and ruled against plaintiff Janet Chochorowski.

Chochorowski filed a class-action lawsuit against the retailer, claiming that it violated the MMPA by automatically including a damage waiver fee in its tool rental agreement that she signed when she rented a garden tiller.

She also claimed the tool rental contract did not make clear that the damage waiver fee was optional and the damage waiver was of no value -- allegedly unfair practices in violation of the MMPA.

Home Depot filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court sustained. Chochorowski appealed.

After an opinion by the state Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court granted transfer.

The court, in its 20-page opinion, said the rental contract was "clearly optional" and provided a "benefit of value" to Chochorowski.

"Home Depot offered Ms. Chochorowski the benefit of the damage waiver in its rental agreement. Though Ms. Chochorowski elected the damage waiver's benefit by initialing the agreement's special terms and conditions and signing the agreement, the agreement itself made clear that she had the option to decline the waiver," Judge Patricia Breckenridge wrote for the court.

"Because Ms. Chochorowski was free to elect or decline the damage waiver, the waiver is not a negative option under the MMPA.

"Additionally, the damage waiver's plain language confers a real benefit on a customer who elects the waiver by relieving the customer of liability for accidental damage to the rented tool, so it does not violate the act or regulations enacted pursuant thereto."

Chief Justice Mary R. Russell and judges Zel M. Fischer, Laura Denvir Stith and Richard B. Teitelman concurred.

Judges George W. Draper III and Paul C. Wilson did not participate.

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