The Virginia Automobile Dealers Association has a full plate of legal issues these days.
The Richmond-based trade and lobbying group on Jan. 20 filed a formal appeal aimed at reversing a decision made by the commissioner of the Virginia DMV that helped clear a path for electric carmaker Tesla to potentially open a local dealership on West Broad Street.
The filing, made in Richmond Circuit Court against DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb and Tesla Motors Inc., included a 60-page petition and more than 800 pages of supporting documents.
Holcomb ruled in November that Tesla is eligible to operate a corporate-owned dealership in Richmond and could take the next step to get its license to do so. That decision gave some clarity to a nearly year-long fight between Tesla and VADA, which hinged on a Virginia law that prevents car manufacturers from operating their own dealerships, unless it can be proven that no other licensed dealers would be willing and able to run such a dealership independently “in a manner consistent with the public interest.”
Holcomb’s decision also went against the recommendation of a hearing officer who oversaw a series of public debates between the two sides.
VADA argues that its appeal of the commissioner’s decision would “protect the very basis of administrative decision-making in the Commonwealth.”
It claims Tesla lobbied the governor and DMV commissioner directly and that the commissioner erred in his decision according to current laws governing franchised auto dealers.
VADA says the DMV commissioner “bent into a pretzel” in response to Tesla lobbying and “ignored procedural safeguards in the headlong dash to fulfill the Tesla lobbyist’s gleeful report of his support.”
VADA also argues that a new Tesla dealership in Richmond would violate a previous settlement reached between the parties that allowed the carmaker to open a storefront in Northern Virginia. That agreement included a provision by which Tesla could not expand in the state for 30 months.
The group claims that a second Tesla dealership in the state is not in the best interest of the public.
“(Tesla) plays fast and loose with the law, and the public interest demands that it not have another location at which it can continually flout the law,” the filing said.
A Richmond Circuit Court judge will ultimately decide how and whether the case should move forward.
A Tesla spokesman said the company in the meantime will continue to prep its dealership, which will take shape in a 30,000-square-foot former furniture building 9850 W. Broad St.
A few days prior, in a separate case in Richmond Circuit Court, VADA and CEO Don Hall were sued by former VADA employee and current Hanover County Supervisor Sean Davis, who claims he was wrongfully fired from the organization and was misled by Hall into thinking he would be heir apparent to take over leadership of VADA.
Davis, who was employed as director of dealer operations at VADA from May 2014 until his termination on Dec. 1 of last year, seeks $2.35 million in damages and alleges counts of fraud, breach of contract, wrongful discharge and defamation.
Davis claims he left a higher-paying job as a Realtor for a $125,000 salary at the VADA, on the alleged representations that he would succeed Hall as president and CEO after three years with the organization.
In often lurid detail, Davis alleges “The VADA office work environment under Hall was a hostile, predatory, misogynistic, sexist, immoral and unprofessional, and wholly unpredictable.”
He claims he was fired in retaliation for making complaints about Hall to VADA’s human resources department “and his unwillingness to support and promote Hall’s” behavior.
In an interview last week Hall, who has been with VADA for 29 years, said he was shocked by Davis’ allegations.
“On a personal level, I was shocked that he would stoop to this level,” said Hall, adding that he’s the father of two daughters and has granddaughters. “There is nothing in this claim that is remotely true. These are outrageous claims.”
As to the allegations of sexism and the like, Hall said “we’ve never had that culture. I do not subscribe to that culture.”
“I would not have the long-term employees I do if I did have that culture,” he said, adding that VADA’s head of legal affairs, who is female, has been with the group for 19 years.
Hall said Davis left VADA because he did not fit into the organization’s culture.
“I suggested to him that he ought to look for other opportunities,” Hall said. “I literally said to him when I gave him his severance package, ‘I love you like a little brother, but it did not work out. I want to help you, but you can’t stay here.”
Hall, 60, also said he has no intention of retiring and that Davis’ claims of a promise of succession are unfounded, adding that VADA’s board of directors ultimately makes the decision of who acts as CEO.
“I’m not retiring anytime soon,” Hall said. “I don’t have the authority to anoint anyone to take my job, period.”
Among the suit’s allegations is a passage alleging Hall’s feelings about the Tesla debate, claiming Hall, “would become upset with what he perceived as Governor McAuliffe’s support of Tesla.
“Hall would often state that the governor’s support was purely political in nature.”
Hall, who like Davis is a veteran of the Marine Corps, said he and his attorney, Charles Sims of O’Hagan Meyer, will respond to the suit.
“I am outraged that people can make these kinds of claims. I look forward to going to court,” Hall said. “We’ll see which marine honors the code we take in the Marine Corps.”
Davis, in an interview Monday, stood by his allegations.
“There is little doubt about the culture that’s existed there,” Davis said of VADA.
He said VADA made attempts to settle the matter, “but they failed to take the right and honorable path.”
Davis also is fighting an ongoing lawsuit against Style Weekly, its owner, Norfolk-based Landmark Media Enterprises and reporter Peter Galuszka in Hanover County Circuit Court. That case was filed in April 2016 alleging defamation related to an article in Style about Davis’ interactions with the Hanover County schools.
Davis is represented in both lawsuits by attorney Steven Biss.