A chancellor has ruled that Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls must pay nearly $10,000 plus partial attorney fees to a former county deputy in a lawsuit related to Rawls' business, Cleveland Performance Center.
Former deputy Steven McCullough claimed in his lawsuit that Rawls took his money to build a high-performance engine for his collectible car, then didn't do the work properly, damaged the vehicle and attempted to place a lien on it when McCullough refused to pay him.
Chancellor Jerri Stewart, in a ruling released Tuesday, said Rawls "engaged in an unfair or deceptive act or practice" under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and caused a loss of value for the car's owner.
McCullough's attorney, Ginger Wilson Buchanan, declined to comment on the case Tuesday. Rawls' attorney, Andrew B. Morgan, said he had not yet had a chance to confer with his client on the ruling.
The suit has been an issue in ongoing clashes between Rawls and Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson.
Rawls leveled multiple, serious allegations of misconduct against Watson that triggered an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Watson and his supporters have suggested Rawls was motivated by malice because the sheriff refused to fire McCullough over the issue. Rawls has denied any connection between the business dispute and his accusations of misconduct against Watson.
McCullough's lawsuit claimed he contracted with Rawls in 2012 to build a 630 horsepower engine for his 1967 Camaro Super Sport at a cost of $11,400 for the engine and transmission plus $1,800 for installation and additional parts. The suit states he had paid $11,900 by April 2013, and discovered Rawls overcharged him and put used parts on the car. When tested later, the engine didn't generate that level of horsepower and didn't run right, the ruling states.
Bryant's ruling states Rawls' position — "that he never promised 630 hp, there was no contract, and there was no set price for building and installing the engine" — is "contrary to the proof in this case."
It also states Rawls had no right to hold the car under an artisan's lien when McCullough disputed payment, and it cost more than $3,900 to repair damage to the car's custom paint job incurred at Rawls' shop.
"Judging the credibility of the parties, the court will note Defendant produced no documents related to this project. He kept no receipt books, even though he knew for years this case was involved in a lawsuit. ... His testimony has been impeached," Bryant wrote.
Ordinarily, she wrote, a person with complaints about a product or service must provide a chance to make it right.
In this case, she wrote, "The court holds that Defendant's refusal to recognized the engine did not perform as contracted, along with the fact he did not carry insurance to cover damage caused to a vehicle while it was at his shop, and the fact that it was damaged while there, were reasonable reason to excuse [McCullough] from giving [Rawls] an opportunity to cure any defects. It is reasonable for the injured party to refuse to risk further injury" by seeking repairs.
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