A $ 31,000 auto repair bill? Garage owner missed opportunity to fight lawsuit of customer who says he was scammed, Pennsylvania court judges

A state appeals court refused to give a garage owner in central Pennsylvania a chance to overturn a $ 134,000 judgment filed against him for allegedly rip-off an elderly man for an auto repair.

Cecil H. Neff III of J&S General Auto Repair faces this bill after failing to respond to a lawsuit filed by a customer who claimed he was wrongly billed $ 31,500 for unnecessary repairs on his Toyota 9 year old Camry.

In refusing to reopen the case, the Superior Court judges agreed with a Lancaster County judge that Neff had failed to meet the strict and swift legal deadlines to challenge the complaint filed by Dale Longenecker of Millersville.

Longenecker, who was 79 at the time, claimed Neff falsely informed him that his 2011 Camry’s engine and transmission needed to be replaced at a cost of $ 31,502 when Longenecker brought the car to Willow’s garage. Street for inspection in January 2020.

“Longenecker paid that amount in eight checks to secure the release of his car,” Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote in the Superior Court opinion. “He claims that Neff never made these major repairs on his vehicle and that the costs exceeded the then average price of a brand new Toyota Camry.”

Neff received notice of Longenecker’s trial in July 2020, but did not respond, Pellegrini noted. He said a default judgment was filed a month later. Longenecker demanded not only reimbursement for what he claimed was the bogus repair bill, but also over $ 100,000 in damages and attorney fees.

Finally, in September 2020, Neff filed a motion to reopen the case so that he could belatedly challenge Longenecker’s claims. Neff appealed to Superior Court after County Judge Leonard G. Brown III dismissed the claim.

Like Brown, Pellegrini did not accept Neff’s apology for being late.

“Neff says he has had difficulty retaining a lawyer due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pellegrini wrote.

He cited Neff’s claim that he consulted at least 10 lawyers about the case and possible bankruptcy before finding a lawyer to represent him.

By law, Neff had 10 days to challenge Longenecker’s default judgment, Pellegrini noted. Neff waited a month to do so, the state judge said.

He agreed with Brown’s conclusion that “within four weeks

between the notification of the registration of the default judgment and the filing of the request for opening was not swift.

Neff could at least have started challenging Longenecker’s complaint without a lawyer, Pellegrini noted.

“While the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to his difficulty in finding representation, that does not explain why he took no action himself,” the state judge wrote.

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Sylvia F. Hernandez