Gregory Coccaro Jr., owner of North State Custom in Bedford Hills, N.Y., recently filed an $11.5 million lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz USA and Celebrity Auto of Westchester alleging that the dealership demanded kickbacks and other concessions in exchange for renewing the shop’s Mercedes-Benz collision repair certification.
Now the Mercedes-Benz dealership is suing Coccaro.
Celebrity Auto of Westchester – doing business as Mercedes-Benz of Goldens Bridge – has filed a countersuit against North State Custom, alleging defamation, abuse of process “and other claims arising out of the false statements” that the body shop made against the dealership in Coccaro’s lawsuit, according to Celebrity Auto attorney Marc Gross.
The countersuit also asks a New York state court to dismiss Coccaro’s “frivolous” lawsuit.
“Celebrity’s court papers attach proof of its New York state repair shop license, and it asserts strongly that it has at all times acted in accordance with New York state Law,” Gross said in a news release.
In Coccaro’s 73-page complaint, North State owners Coccaro Jr. and Frank Masella allege that following a routine re-certification audit by Mercedes-Benz – in which North State received a favorable review – Celebrity Auto told the shop that unless North State allowed Celebrity to hold itself out as the repairer of its customers’ vehicles, agreed to allow Celebrity to set the manner and price of repairs and paid a set percentage of its labor costs to Celebrity as a “kickback,” Celebrity would withhold its sponsorship of North State in the Mercedes-Benz USA Certified Collision Program.
According to Coccaro’s lawsuit, the dealership’s demands constitute serious violations of New York State’s repair regulations, which require that only a licensed collision repair facility may negotiate a repair price with an insurance company and only a licensed collision repair facility may sign the state-mandated certification of repair, which validates the repair for the consumer.
“Not only is Celebrity a licensed, fully authorized repair shop, North State and Coccaro acted in reckless disregard for the truth when they made their false allegations, and they grossly failed to conduct even the most minimal due diligence,” Gross countered. “All they had to do was check New York’s DMV website and they would have seen for themselves that Celebrity is fully licensed.”
According to Celebrity’s court papers, North State and Coccaro failed to check their facts before making outrageous and damaging claims against Celebrity’s business, before filing their suit and before giving interviews in which they repeatedly stated that Celebrity engaged in unlawful activity.
“We intend to hold North State and Coccaro accountable to the fullest extent under the law,” said Gross. “Suing a business and seeking to harm its reputation and recklessly utilizing false facts is not something that should go unpunished.”