Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co.

350 F.2d 445 (D.C. Cir. 1965)


Walker-Thomas (P) operated a retail furniture store in the District of Columbia. Each appellant in the case purchased a number of retail household items from P for which payment was to be made in installments. The terms of the purchase order were contained in a printed form contract, which set forth the value of the purchased item and purported to lease the item to the appellant for a stipulated monthly payment. The contract provided that title to the furniture would remain in P until all monthly payments had been made, at which time appellant could take title. In event of default, P could repossess the item. Another provision in the contracts operated to keep a balance due on every item purchased until the balance due on all items, whenever purchased, was liquidated. Thus, the debt incurred at the time of purchase of each item was secured by the right to repossess all the items previously purchased by the same party, and each new item became subject to a security interest arising out of the previous dealings. Thorne (D1) purchased some furniture from P for $391.10 in 1962. Shortly thereafter he defaulted on his payments and P sought to replevy all the items purchased since the first transaction in 1958. Williams (D) purchased a stereo set valued at $514.95, and she too defaulted and P sought to replevy all items purchased since 1957. P sold D her last purchase, a $514.95 stereo, with full knowledge that D had to support herself and seven children on a government stipend of $218 a month. When P made her last purchase, she only owed $164 on a balance of $1,400. The trial court granted a judgment for P in both cases, and the court of appeals affirmed. Ds appealed. In its findings, the trial court questioned P’s conduct and from the facts of the sales held that P’s conduct raises serious questions of sharp practices and irresponsible business dealings but found no legal basis under the law to declare the contracts illegal as contrary to public policy.