FORT WAYNE – While Allen Circuit Court Judge Tom Felts dismissed a lawsuit between two local car dealers with a stroke of a pen, recently passed legislation killed the court case weeks before.
The case, filed last September by DeHaven Chevrolet, was an attempt to stop a plan by General Motors Co. to endorse Kelley Chevrolet’s relocation from East State Boulevard to the intersection of Lima Road and Interstate 69.
Under an Indiana law enacted in 2001, dealerships were generally prohibited from moving to within six miles of another existing dealership of the same brand. If a dealership wanted to do so, existing dealerships of the same brand could file a legal challenge and ask a judge to weigh in.
When it heard of Kelley’s plans, DeHaven officials did just that, asking Felts to review the matter.
While DeHaven’s Summit City Chevrolet and Kelley’s current locations are only 4.1 miles apart – because they were there before the 2001 law – the new Kelley dealership would be easier to get to for potential customers, and DeHaven officials felt the move could harm their business.
There were other locations within the six-mile radius that DeHaven would have been more comfortable with, said Tim Manges, the attorney for DeHaven.
It was about this particular location, Manges said.
But during this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers led by Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, changed the law. The new law shrinks the cushion from six miles to four, in a move that effectively ended DeHaven’s lawsuit.
On Friday, DeHaven asked Felts to dismiss the lawsuit. Monday, Felts granted the request.
The new law doesn’t take effect until January, but DeHaven couldn’t justify continuing with the lawsuit given the costs, Manges said.
It was a legislated termination of the lawsuit, he said, adding that it would have been too expensive to go all the way through the case and then challenge the new law on the grounds that it was designed to benefit only one specific party.
Vincent Heiny, an attorney for Kelley Chevrolet, said the company is glad the lawsuit is over so that it can focus on the relocation.
The lawsuit was a distraction for all parties, Heiny said.
A message left for the attorney representing General Motors was not returned.