The plaintiff Hanlon damaged his car in an accident and had it towed to New England Body Works, a repair shop. The repair shop prominently posted its service and storage rates. By the time the plaintiff’s insurer, Commonwealth, declared the car “totaled,” it had accrued several thousand dollars in storage and service charges. New England Body Works asserted its statutory lien over the vehicle and refused to release it to Commonwealth until Commonwealth paid the charges in full. Hanlon sued Commonwealth when it deducted those charges from the insurance proceeds, and New England Body Works was joined as a third-party defendant. The district court held that New England Body Works violated Mass. Gen. L. c. 93A by “overcharging,” despite evidence that the charges were similar to prices for similar services in neighboring businesses. The court determined its own level of “appropriate” charges and awarded treble damages and attorneys fees. The court also found that the owner’s legitimate use of statutory garage keeper’s lien was “extortion,” and an abuse of an uneven balance of power between the garage and consumers or their insurers.
Vigoritio appealed, and NELF filed an amicus brief in support. NELF argued that New England Body Works’ legitimate exercise of statutory rights could not violate c. 93A absent special unconscionable circumstances, not present here. Furthermore, NELF argued, c. 93A does not regulate market prices, and public policy favors a market solution to any imbalances in power between garage keepers and their customers, putting more responsibility on consumers to make fiscally appropriate choices. In February the Appellate Division issued an opinion agreeing with NELF that Commonwealth failed to provide sufficient evidence that the free-market, arm’s-length contract storage rate was excessive. Nevertheless, the Appellate Division agreed with Commonwealth that Vigorito’s insistence on the statutory bond and replevin method to contest charges could be considered a violation of Chapter 93A and allowed treble damages on Vigorito’s other alleged overcharges unrelated to the contract storage rate.