TABLE OF CONTENTS
John J. Woodcock III Lemon Law Records.
Center for Public Policy and Social Research
John J. Woodcock III Lemon Law Records.
1982 - 1992.
John J. Woodcock III, a Connecticut State Representative, was the proponent of the first "Lemon Law" enacted in the United States. Governor William A. O'Neill signed the bill (PA 82-287) into law on June 4, 1982. An Act Concerning Automobile Warranties provided "for a statutory warranty of two years or twenty-four thousand miles, whichever is less, on new cars sold in this state and . . . require[d] the replacement of vehicles under warranty when repeated attempts to repair them are unsuccessful." (Connecticut General Assembly. Legislative Record Index, Final Edition, Regular Session, February 1982 . . .). The so-called Lemon Law II passed in May 1984 establishing an "independent arbitration procedure within the Department of Consumer Protection." (Connecticut General Assembly. Legislative Record Index, Final Edition, Regular Session, February 1984, . . .). The full text and history of these laws can be found in General Statutes of Connecticut, Title 42, Chapter 743b.
President Ronald Reagan's policy of deregulation left consumers subject to fraud and other abuses by manufacturers. A federal law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, and Uniform Commercial Codes provided some protection for the consumer, but the way in which these laws were written meant the consumer usually ended up filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer. Seeking redress under either statute led to "frustration, delays, expense and uncertainty." (Kegley and Hiller, 1986, p. 88). Hence the need for a more consumer-friendly procedure.
In 1980, California attempted to pass a lemon law but the automobile dealers and manufacturers thwarted the bill's passage. John J. Woodcock III, a relatively new member of the state legislature initiated the similar legislation in Connecticut based on cases he handled in his private law practice. He noticed an increase in cases concerning poorly made vehicles. He studied case law and noticed that consumers had no legal recourse for their grievances. With a copy of the proposed California legislation in hand, he went to work building support among his colleagues.
Connecticut's consumers can thank enactment of their law not only to the efforts of Representative Woodcock but also to the experiences of Dan Brochu of New London. In 1980 Brochu "paid $6500 for an Oldsmobile Omega that, he said 'turned out to be a classic lemon.'" Water pooled inside, the electrical system failed, the paint peeled and the manual transmission slipped. The car was in the dealer's shop for repairs 135 days over an 18-month period. (Consumer Reports, September 1982.) When Brochu took his protest to the state capitol, another dissatisfied owner, Thomas F. Ziemba accompanied him. Ziemba flew his Cessna over the building trailing a banner that read, "My '82 Chevy is one reason Conn. needs a lemon law." (Newsweek, May 31, 1982, p.50)
Connecticut's law initially had five provisions. First, manufacturers and dealers of new cars had to repair defects covered by written warranties if the defects were reported within one year of the delivery of the vehicle or before the expiration of the warranty. Second, if the repairs were unsuccessful after four attempts, the manufacturer was required to replace the vehicle or refund the purchase price. If the manufacturer established an "informal dispute settlement mechanism" according to Federal Trade Commission regulations, the consumer was required to use arbitration before s/he was eligible for refund or replacement according to the third provision. The fourth provision held that manufacturers were not liable if the defect did not impair the use, value of safety of the vehicle, or if the defect was the result of the consumer abusing, neglecting or modifying the vehicle. (Kegley and Hiller, 1986, pp. 96-97). Other state's lemon laws are modeled after Connecticut's although the length of the warranty period and the type of vehicle covered may differ.
Additional information about the Lemon Law can be found in the records of Governor William A. O'Neill, Record Group 5 at the Connecticut State Library. Constituent correspondence and other materials are located in Sub-series 34, Consumer Protection, in folders 7, 11, 16, 17, 20, 22, 29 and 34. For a good synopsis of the Lemon Law "movement", refer to "'Emerging' Lemon Car Laws," Mary B. Kegley and Janine S. Hiller, American Business Law Journal, v. 24, no. 1 (Spring 1986).
This collection primarily documents John J. Woodcock's introduction, implementation and improvement of Connecticut legislation created to protect consumers from poorly made automobiles. The records also document the impact of Connecticut's first in the nation law upon other states seeking similar redress for their citizens. The collection is divided into six Series-passage of Lemon Laws, Lemon Laws in other states, Federal attempts at pre-emption, court cases and legal challenges, publicity including scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and video and audio tapes, and elections and campaigns.
Woodcock's records concerning the passage of the original and revised versions of the Lemon Law are arranged in chronological order in the first Series. These records include constituent and legislative correspondence, notices to consumer advocacy organizations and trial lawyer associations, information on lemon law cases, drafts and amendments of various versions of the Lemon Law bill, transcripts of House debates and hearings, and research reports from the Office of Legislative Research, primarily written by Ruth Stockton. Incoming correspondence is arranged chronologically and then alphabetically. Outgoing correspondence is organized alphabetically by addressee.
Because bills can be introduced in one legislative session, it can often take several sessions to "fine tune" the regulations, etc. For that reason, information about different bills can be found in more than one year. The file titles are not exclusive, although every attempt was made to retain Woodcock's folder headings. He frequently filed the same document in more than one place depending on his need for it at the time. As a result, not all duplicates have been removed.
In the records from 1982, there are examples of lobbying correspondence in which Woodcock sought support for the bill from consumer groups and fellow legislators. Woodcock sent thank you letters to those who attended the April 13, 1982 CONPIRG rally on the Capitol grounds, those who shared their problems with a lemon automobile, and to those who attended the public hearing about the Lemon Law. Files from 1982 also include records of the automobile industry's opposition to the bill.
In 1983, Woodcock proposed another "lemon law" concerning used cars. Records of his efforts include drafts and copies of the proposed bill, Woodcock's statements during debates, a transcript of the House debate, statements read at the March 21, 1983 hearing about the bill, and letters in support of or against the Used Car Bill of Rights legislation. It was in 1983 that the first successful application of the Lemon Law resulted in the delivery of a new car to dissatisfied owners, the Sobelewskis.
The bulk of the correspondence and Office of Legislative Research reports regard perceived problems of implementing the arbitration procedure with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) as arbitrator. Under the Lemon Law, each automobile manufacturer was required to establish an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was to fully comply with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations. The Better Business Bureau was accused of being influenced by carmaker General Motors, with whom it had a national contract. Contracts with other automakers were equally suspect. There are copies of letters between the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) clarifying and seeking information on arbitration contracts between the BBB and automobile manufacturers. The automakers provided Woodcock with letters and brochures about their arbitration mechanisms. The Connecticut Attorney General issued a report on the BBB's compliance with the FTC regulations concerning arbitration, and a task force he established reported on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Woodcock also received Office of Legislative Research memos on the Better Business Bureau.
Woodcock's other correspondence for 1983 includes consumer complaints, requests from officials in other states about the Lemon Law Woodcock's responses to stories about the law in newspapers and magazines, and his proposals for articles, stories and programs for various media.
A revised Lemon Law was passed in 1984. The initial negotiations were about revisions, mostly concerning the arbitration procedure, started in 1983. Woodcock kept notes of meetings he had with other lawyers, with Mary Heslin, Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, and with the Department of Motor vehicles in exploring new arbitration options. Additional background information for the revised legislation includes copies of laws pertinent to the revisions, additional findings of the Attorney General on the Better Business Bureau, drafts of the bill, Office of Legislative Research reports, and a copy of the Department of Consumer Protection legislative agenda. The revised law would name the Department of Consumer Protection as the chief arbitrator. As part of the revisions to the original Lemon Law, the Department of Consumer Protection projected Lemon Law II costs and developed a training program for arbitrators. Woodcock's volume of lemon complaints grew exponentially in 1984 as evidenced by letters and notes on telephone calls and follow-up conversations.
Implementing the Lemon Law provisions consumed most of Woodcock's time in 1985. The Department of Motor Vehicles had been included in the arbitration procedure, primarily making sure auto dealers were in compliance with regulations concerning consumer education. Problems with automobile manufacturers continued to plague the Lemon Law. Chrysler and General Motors were uncooperative about the process of certifying arbitrators, an issue in which the Attorney General got involved. The office conducted extensive research on the topic of arbitration and sent those reports to Woodcock. The records from 1985 and 1986 include reports on Department of Consumer Protection arbitration cases, statistics about numbers and types of hearings the Department held, and many letters and memoranda outlining difficulties the Department was having implementing the arbitration procedure. Woodcock accused the Department of being uncooperative in implementing arbitration. Similar records exist for 1987-1991on the revised Lemon Law, the Department of Consumer Protection and on a new problem, recycling lemon automobiles to unwary consumers.
Woodcock was not focused on only the one issue of new car lemon laws. In 1985 his interests extended to the passage of a used car lemon law, and a law against odometer tampering. The research and negotiations for each of these bills are included in the records for 1985 and 1986. It was in 1986 that Woodcock made his first acquaintance with Philip Nowicki, an expert on lemon laws, the man who "wrote the book" on the issue. Their correspondence and Nowicki's reports frequently appear in later years.
Woodcock collected Office of Legislative Research report and copies of lemon laws from other states and from Canada that have been organized in Series 2. In addition, Woodcock testified before the Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ontario legislatures during their deliberations about enacting their own lemon law. Copies of that testimony reside in this Series. Researchers will also find a court decision in the case of Chrysler Corp. v. Texas Motor Vehicle Commission, and the Council of State Governments' suggested lemon law bill.
Once the federal government realized that the lemon law was a permanent piece of legislation, the Federal Trade Commission and the automakers tried to supercede state laws with less stringent federal legislation, a process called pre-emption. The records in Series 3 document that attempt. Among the "miscellaneous" FTC documents are draft reports and memoranda from working groups of a negotiating conference, Office of Legislative Research reports on dispute settlement procedures, a press kit from Ontario concerning their motor vehicle arbitration plan, and dispute settlement rules from other consumer product manufacturers. The FTC established a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee to develop federal legislation, and minutes of those meetings and background information on federal arbitration laws are also found among these materials. Woodcock served on the FTC Advisory Committee, so his files contain agendas, drafts, correspondence, summary notes of work group meetings, FTC reports and Woodcock's notes on their meetings. He also collected notices and minutes of meetings of the National Committee of State Legislatures that issued a report against the FTC's preemptive law.
Court cases and other legal challenges are arranged chronologically in Series 4. The first case is Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association v. O'Neill, argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court; Woodcock was a party to this case. Documents include briefs, stipulations and decisions and correspondence, press coverage, Office of Legislative research reports, and drafts of briefs, etc. Woodcock collected materials from this court challenge and these consist of correspondence, court calendars, exhibits for the trial, pleadings, joint stipulations and motions, appeals and motions.
Prior to and perhaps in anticipation of the above case, the attorney general's office issued two decisions In the Matter of Ford Motor Company and In the Matter of Chrysler Corp. Both decisions concerned the arbitration process and the automobile companies' challenge of the Lemon Law' constitutionality.
Between 1983 and 1987, Woodcock gave numerous presentations across the country describing the Lemon Law. For each presentation, Woodcock retained invitations, background information on the laws and the conference or meeting, publicity in newspapers, programs of the conferences, drafts of his speeches, and some proceedings. Woodcock visited the Connecticut Bar Association, a Massachusetts legislative committee, a New York State Senate committee, a Pennsylvania State committee, and conferences in Maryland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Tulsa, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Reno and Toronto, Canada. He also participated in a conference called "Car Wars" held in Northampton, Massachusetts. Series 5 contains these records.
The final series consists of publicity materials, namely press releases, newspaper and magazine stories, audiotapes of radio interviews, videotapes of television interviews or news stories, and photographs. Some of the interviews which Woodcock or his friends recorded were conducted by Paula Lyon of Boston's Channel 5, Tom Brokaw of NBC's Today Show, ABC's 20-20 and Good Morning America, Eric Severeid of CBS Nightly News, and Dan Rather of CBS News. Interviews appeared in such publications as New York Times, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, the Kiplinger Newsletter, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Detroit Free Press, Ohio Tribune, Boston Globe, Toronto Globe and Mail, Consumer Reports, and Consumer's Digest, national radio programs including National Public Radio, and Canadian Broadcast Corporation, and local radio hosts. The audio recordings also include a tape of the Lemon Law Public hearing on March 11, 1982 and several of Woodcock's press conferences.
Newsprint and documents on thermo fax-type paper have been copied onto permanent bond paper and the originals destroyed. Three scrapbooks, made from original news stories attached to "magnetic" pages were copied onto permanent bond paper. Some pages were copied at a reduction of 95 or 96%. An intern in Woodcock's office created the scrapbooks. The restricted items consist of original signatures by Erma Bombeck and the signature of Al Gore Jr.