In addition to being a professional wrestler, actor, rapper and reality television host, John Cena is also a defendant in . It alleges that he “flipped” his $460,000 2017 Ford GT, which was expressly disallowed by the contract he entered when he bought the 647 horsepower supercar. Ford has said it will only build a limited number of the cars and it was swamped with people willing to shell out the almost-half million dollar price tag to get one.
Faced with a problem most car companies only dream of, Ford decided to get picky with who it sold the cars to. There was an application process which appears only a bit less intimidating than trying to gain admission to Harvard. Ford even asked applicants to explain prior relationships with Ford products and to furnish links to “videos and photographs to support their applications and to show why they would be good Ford GT owners.” While some of that sounds silly, someone who wants an exclusive supercar and has the means to buy one will jump through hoops to get it.
Another hoop Ford put in the process was an agreement that the buyer would hang on to the car for at least 24 months before selling it. Presumably, this was to keep people from buying one and then simply reselling it for a profit, something which seems likely to happen without such a restriction. Resold GTs would end up in homes which Ford had not vetted.
And according to Ford, that’s what Cena did. Ford’s lawsuit, filed in Federal Court in Michigan, claims that Cena only owned the GT for a couple of weeks before he flipped it. Now, Ford does not mention in the pleadings if they know what he sold it for but they presume he did it for profit. Ford claims it reached out to Cena and tried to resolve the issue amicably but litigation ensued.
From a lawyer’s perspective, there are some interesting things in the suit. The first Count is the most obvious: Breach of Contract. Pretty straight forward. Ford says the Cena violated the GT's contract by selling it so soon after purchase. Generally speaking, parties can enter into contracts so long as the subject matter is not illegal. If the facts alleged by Ford are true, a court would look at Cena and say, “If you didn’t like the terms of the contract, you shouldn’t have signed it.” The issue here though, is damages. How much has Ford been hurt by the breach? Kind of hard to say but Michigan law tends to be quite conservative in breach of contract cases. You can’t just allege you’ve been harmed and have a court award you a million dollars and a ham sandwich. You’d better be able to “blackboard” the elements and amounts of your damages to recover.
Which is why Ford attorneys have included a few other Counts in their suit. It has alleged that Cena committed Fraud, Misrepresentation, and a few other non-contractual claims, and that Cena was unjustly enriched by his early sale of the vehicle. Why include these if the Contract claim is so clear cut? Because the damages might not be. What if Cena flipped the car for the same price he paid for it? What if the person who bought the car is a better “brand ambassador” than Cena was?
Many of these things are arguable, and when attorneys paid by the hour get involved in arguments, there is no limit to where these things can go. Ford has claimed damages for “loss of brand value, ambassador activity, and customer goodwill.” These nebulous-sounding claims are more likely to be recovered–if they can be–under the non-contract claims.
Interestingly, Ford has not sought to undo the sale from Cena to his buyer. I am not saying they could do that, but I have seen contracts which gave the seller such a right. Why didn’t Ford include that language in its contracts? Or better, why didn’t the GT sales contract claim a provision for liquidated damages? That would be a paragraph spelling out exactly how much would be owed to Ford if the buyer flipped the car too soon. Those kinds of provisions are commonplace in many contracts.
How much do you want to bet that future GT sales contracts will include an “anti-Cena” section, with a liquidated damages clause?
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.