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Sub-prime lender sued over ignition interlock

A Rosedale woman has filed suit against a sub-prime automobile lender that she alleges installed an ignition interrupt device on her car over her objections, then activated it the same day even though she was up-to-date on her payments.

Patricia Sprye claims Ace Motor Acceptance Corp. remotely disabled her 2008 Pontiac G6 less than an hour after it had returned the car to her this summer.

Her attorney said the lawsuit was the first of its kind in Maryland over the use of ignition interlocks by sub-prime automobils lenders.

“We think they are dehumanizing,” said Joseph S. Mack, the deputy director at Civil Justice Inc., the Baltimore-based nonprofit representing Sprye. “It’s another way technology can be used to make our lives miserable.”

In her lawsuit, Sprye says she made her May and June payments on June 19, bringing the account current, but Ace Motor repossessed the Pontiac a few days later.

In order to retrieve the car on July 2, Sprye alleges, Ace Motor said she had to let the company install the ignition interrupt device. She was told it would “help protect your vehicle [from] theft and may qualify you for a discount on your comprehensive insurance,” according to the complaint.

Sprye “strenuously objected” to the installation but ultimately agreed because she needed the car to get to work, the lawsuit says. She consented under protest, however, writing “upon litigation” under her signature, according to the complaint, filed Thursday in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The ignition interrupt device also includes a GPS monitoring system, according to the lawsuit. The devices only prevent cars from starting and will not shut down a car already in motion.

More than two million of the devices have been installed on cars nationwide, according to a recent New York Times report that examined their growing use by sub-prime auto lenders.

The website for one manufacturer, Colorado-based PassTime, says the devices “facilitate higher rates of return on financing based upon improved customer payment performance.” PassTime’s device can beep when the car starts to remind the borrower a payment is soon due. The device can also make a noises corresponding to the number of days left until the borrower will be late with a payment and the car will not start.

Mack said any benefits touted about the device are misleading.

“The clear purpose of the devices is to monitor the [borrower’s] movements and easily repossess the vehicle,” the lawyer said.

Consumer rights lawyer Peter A. Holland also criticized the “instantaneous repossession” allowed by the devices.

“There is a real danger posed by these devices,” said Holland, of The Holland Law Firm P.C. in Annapolis, who also sits on Civil Justice’s board but is not involved in Sprye’s case. “They are prone to malfunction and are subject to human error and abuse, with no tangible benefit to consumers.”

Sprye’s car was disabled in the right lane of Eastern Avenue in Baltimore when she went to use an ATM, according to the complaint. Her disabled car interfered with rush hour traffic in an area with parking restrictions, the complaint says.

Sprye spent “several hours” on the phone with both Ace Motor and the device manufacturer, with each saying the other was responsible for restarting the car, according to the complaint.

She ultimately had to pay a mechanic to get the car driving again, the lawsuit states.

Sprye had purchased the car in March 2012 from A-1 Auto Sales Inc. in Rosedale, agreeing to pay interest of 24 percent.

A-1 Auto then sold the contract to North Carolina-based Ace Motor, according to the complaint. The lawsuit also accuses Ace Motor of previously “mishandling” timely payments and demanding emergency contact information from Sprye, which the company used to tell her family members she was not making payments, according to the complaint.

John Troxell, vice president and chief operating officer of Ace Motor, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the company has not yet been served with the complaint.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for negligence, conversion and violations of the state’s consumer debt collection and consumer protection acts.

The case is Patricia Sprye v. Ace Motor Acceptance Corp., Baltimore City Circuit Court #24C14007478.


About Danny Jacobs

Danny Jacobs is the legal editor at The Daily Record. He previously covered trial courts at the state and local levels and served as web editor.