Articles Posted in Consumer Law

by
Hilliard owned a controlling interest in companies that owned radio stations. In 2003, the companies entered into a loan agreement with Wells Fargo, borrowing $18.9 million, secured by assets that exceeded $50 million. The loan was continuously in default after March 31, 2004. Although the agreement was amended several times, Wells Fargo never foreclosed. Hilliard sold his ranch and was attempting to sell radio stations when, without notice to Hilliard, Wells Fargo sold the loan to Atalaya. Atalay filed suit and was awarded judgments that resulted in Atalaya’s purchase of Hilliard’s companies in bankruptcies. Hilliard, now 78 years old, alleged that Wells Fargo took or assisted in taking his property for wrongful use, with intent to defraud, or by undue influence, violating Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.30(a)(1)(2), a provision of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. The court dismissed, finding that Hilliard lacked standing. The court of appeals affirmed. Hilliard’s circular argument—that the duty breached by Wells Fargo was owed to him personally, and not just as a shareholder, because he is an elder and elder abuse is by definition a personal claim—ignores the fact that his claim does not originate in circumstances independent of his status as a shareholder in the companies. View "Hilliard v. Harbour" on Justia Law

by
In consolidated class actions, plaintiffs claimed the brokers who represented them in the sale of their homes and a group of companies that provided services in connection with those sales violated their fiduciary duties by failing to disclose alleged kickbacks paid by the service providers to the brokers in connection with the sales. Defendants filed motions to compel arbitration on the basis of three separate agreements, at least one of which was executed by each plaintiff. The trial court found the arbitration clauses in two of the agreements inapplicable, but compelled the signatories of the third agreement to arbitrate with their brokers. Invoking the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the court also required the signatories of the third agreement to arbitrate their claims against the service providers, who were not parties to the arbitration agreements. The court of appeals reversed with respect to the two arbitration clauses the lower court found inapplicable. Each of the plaintiffs executed one or the other of these two agreements. The court dismissed the cross-appeal of the plaintiffs who were required to arbitrate because an order compelling arbitration is not appealable. View "Laymon v. J. Rockcliff, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Fred, age 86, and his 79-year-old wife, Martha, filed suit under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. In the 1990s, before the defendants were involved, the couple purchased life insurance policies, which were held by a revocable living trust for their children. The Trust was self-sustaining, with no need for additional cash for ongoing premium costs. In 2013, Fred was suffering from cognitive decline; Martha had Alzheimer’s disease. Defendants allegedly carried out a scheme that involved arranging the surrender of one policy and the replacement of the other with a policy providing limited coverage, at massively increased cost. The premiums for the new coverage were $800,000, forcing the couple to feed cash into the Trust. Defendants argued that the Children’s Trust owned the policies, that the money was paid voluntarily for the benefit of their children, and that the Trust does not have an Elder Abuse Act claim “because [it] is not 65 years old.” The court of appeals reversed dismissal. Regardless of what specific damages may be available to the couple, as distinguished from the Trust, it can be fairly inferred that the couple suffered some damages unique to themselves. The defendants “knew or should have known” of the “likely” harm their scheme would have on the couple. View "Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Insurance Agency" on Justia Law

by
Overstock, an online retailer, compared the price at which it offered an item to an advertised reference price. Until 2007, it showed a “List Price” for the product, with the number stricken through; it then showed the price at which Overstock was offering the product. Overstock eventually changed the “List Price” label to “Compare.” A commercial from 2013 claimed: “We compare prices so you don’t have to." Overstock’s policies allowed the list price to be set by finding the highest price for which an item was sold in the marketplace. Overstock did not determine whether other Internet retailers had made any substantial sales at the comparison price. After the state began investigating potential claims against Overstock, the parties entered into an agreement tolling the statute of limitations as of March 2010. The trial court found Overstock had engaged in unfair business practices (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200) and false advertising (section 17500), granted injunctive relief, and imposed $6,828,000 in civil penalties. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court properly applied the four-year limitations period of section 17208 and that there was sufficient evidence that Overstock made false and misleading statements, violating laws against unfair business practices and false advertising. View "People v. Overstock.Com, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the Bank, alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., and California's unfair competition law (UCL), Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200 et seq., fraudulent omission/concealment, and injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The trial court applied the doctrines of res judicata (claim preclusion) and collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) based on plaintiff's prior unsuccessful lawsuit against the Bank for breach of contract. The court concluded that the Bank's demurrer was properly sustained without leave to amend where the TILA claim was not subject to claim preclusion or issue preclusion, but was time-barred; plaintiff adequately alleged injury in fact and had standing to pursue a UCL claim, but the UCL claim was time-barred; the fraudulent omission/concealment claim was likewise time-barred; plaintiff's request for injunctive relief necessarily failed as well; and the Bank's demurrer was properly sustained without leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Ivanoff v. Bank of America" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law

by
Lauron had two Chase credit cards, one ending in 5285 and one ending in 5274. The Cardmember Agreement for 5274 stated that: “THE TERMS AND ENFORCEMENT OF THIS AGREEMENT AND YOUR ACCOUNT SHALL BE GOVERNED AND INTERPRETED IN ACCORDANCE WITH FEDERAL LAW AND, TO THE EXTENT STATE LAW APPLIES, THE LAW OF DELAWARE, WITHOUT REGARD TO CONFLICT-OF-LAW PRINCIPLES. THE LAW OF DELAWARE, WHERE WE AND YOUR ACCOUNT ARE LOCATED, WILL APPLY NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE OR USE THE ACCOUNT.” Chase sold both accounts to PCC for collection. PCC filed suit. Lauron cross-complained, alleging violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (15 U.S.C. 1692) and California’s Rosenthal Act by attempting to collect a time-barred debt. The court granted Lauron summary judgment, determining that Delaware’s three-year state of limitations applied and that the limitations period had expired before PCC filed suit, so that PCC was attempting to collect a time-barred debt in violation of the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act. The court of appeal reversed because, with respect to 5285 Lauron had not established when PCC’s claims accrued nor that the Cardmember Agreement applied. With respect to 5274, the court correctly applied Delaware law, but did not establish when the claims accrued. View "Professional Collection Consultants v. Lauron" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Contracts

by
Plaintiffs filed a class action against Banana Republic, a clothing retailer, alleging that signs in its store windows advertising a 40 percent off sale were false or misleading because they did not disclose that the discount applied only to certain items. Plaintiffs cited the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200), the False Advertising Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17500), and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civ. Code, 1750) and produced evidence that, in reliance on the advertising, they were lured to shop at certain stores and selected items for purchase. As the items were being rung up, plaintiffs were told for the first time that the discount did not apply to their chosen merchandise. Having waited in line and out of embarrassment, they bought some (but not all) of the items, without the discount. The trial court granted Banana Republic summary judgment, concluding that plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue that they suffered injury in fact. The court of appeal reversed. Plaintiffs raised a triable issue whether they lost “money or property sufficient to qualify as injury in fact, i.e., economic injury,” and whether “that economic injury was the result of, i.e., caused by, the unfair business practice or false advertising.” View "Veera v. Banana Republic, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Real parties in interest, Kevin Hicks et al., filed an action against petitioner Elliott Homes, Inc. (Elliott), the builder of their homes, seeking damages for construction defects. Elliott moved to stay the litigation until real parties in interest complied with the prelitigation procedure set forth in “SB 800” or “Right to Repair Act” (Act), Civil Code sections 895 through 945.5. Real parties in interest opposed the motion, arguing that the prelitigation procedure did not apply because they had not alleged a statutory violation of the Act. The trial court denied Elliott’s motion for a stay, and Elliott petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate compelling the trial court to vacate its order, and enter a new order granting the motion for a stay. The Court issued an alternative writ of mandate and stayed the proceedings in the trial court. Elliott contended the trial court erred in concluding that real parties in interest did not need to comply with the prelitigation procedure set forth in the Act prior to filing the underlying action and in denying the motion to stay. The Court of Appeal granted the petition. View "Elliott Homes, Inc. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
Condon purchased a car. Believing the dealership knowingly failed to disclose prior damage, Condon sued. The contract required arbitration of disputes. An arbitration award would be final, unless “the arbitrator’s award for a party is $0 or against a party is in excess of $100,000, or includes an award of injunctive relief.” In such case, “that party may request a new arbitration under the rules of the arbitration organization by a three-arbitrator panel. Condon maintained the provision was unconscionable because of the possibility of a second arbitration, which he claimed favored the dealer. The trial court ordered arbitration. The arbitrator, ADR, found for Condon, ordered him reimbursed, and excused Condon from making further payments. The defendants did not oppose Condon’s motion for costs and fees. ADR awarded $180,175.34. Defendants requested ADR to proceed to new arbitration. ADR concluded it lacked authority to resolve the parties’ disagreement over whether new arbitration was proper. Condon returned to court, which confirmed the award and denied defendants’ request for a second arbitration, reasoning that the forum lacked separate “appellate” rules and could not conduct a second arbitration. The court of appeal reversed. ADR did not refuse to conduct a second arbitration because of the lack of appellate rules, but solely because Condon objected. View "Condon v. Daland Nissan, Inc." on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of the purchase of a used 2007 BMW vehicle by plaintiff-appellant Michael Tun from defendant-respondent Plus West LA Corporation, dba CA Beemers (CA Beemers). Defendant-appellant Wells Fargo Dealer Services, Inc., an incorporated division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (collectively Wells Fargo), subsequently accepted assignment of Tun's retail installment sales contract (RISC) under an agreement with CA Beemers and/or defendant and respondent West LA Corporation, dba California Beemers (California Beemers) (sometimes collectively dealer). Tun listed 11 causes of action in a third amended complaint, all based primarily on his contention that dealer knowingly and intentionally failed to disclose that the vehicle had suffered "frame/unibody damage" from a prior collision, which damage Tun further alleged "existed at the time it was sold" to him and which "substantially decreased the value of the vehicle." Tun alleged he first learned the vehicle had been in a prior collision when he took it to a mechanic near his home, after he experienced problems while driving the vehicle. After a multi-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the dealer, finding dealer had not committed fraud, breached its contract with Tun or otherwise engaged in conduct that violated the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. The jury also found that Wells Fargo was not derivatively liable as holder of the RISC. Following the verdicts, the trial court granted Tun's new trial motion only as to Wells Fargo, despite the fact Wells Fargo was only liable to the extent, if at all, dealer was liable. In granting the motion, the trial court determined it had erred in ruling pretrial that Tun could not comment to the jury regarding Wells Fargo's tender under section 2983.4—a statute awarding a party prevailing under the Automobile Sales Financing Act (hereafter ASFA) reasonable attorney fees and costs—of the amount Tun had paid under the RISC ($15,700). Wells Fargo appealed, arguing that the court had correctly ruled in limine that Tun could not comment on Wells Fargo's tender under section 2983.4 because that tender could not be treated as a judicial admission of liability; that the tender was irrelevant to the issues decided by the jury, which focused on the conduct of dealer in connection with the sale of the vehicle; that, even assuming error, Tun could not establish prejudice; and that the new trial order was improper because there were no issues left to try, inasmuch as Wells Fargo's liability, if any, was derivative of dealer's, and dealer was exonerated. After review, the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court erred in granting Tun a new trial against Wells Fargo because the Court concluded the court's pretrial ruling precluding comment on the Wells Fargo tender was not legal error. The Court rejected Tun's cross-appeal. View "Tun v. Wells Fargo Dealer Services" on Justia Law