Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Spikener purchased a car under a credit sales contract; the seller did not inform Spikener that the car had been in a major collision. Before Spikener learned about the collision, the contract was assigned to Ally. The Contract complied with the Holder Rule, 16 CFR 433.2, which requires consumer credit contracts to include a notice: “ANY HOLDER OF THIS CONSUMER CREDIT CONTRACT IS SUBJECT TO ALL CLAIMS AND DEFENSES WHICH THE DEBTOR COULD ASSERT AGAINST THE SELLER OF GOODS OR SERVICES OBTAINED PURSUANT HERETO OR WITH THE PROCEEDS HEREOF. RECOVERY HEREUNDER BY THE DEBTOR SHALL NOT EXCEED AMOUNTS PAID BY THE DEBTOR HEREUNDER.” Plaintiff sued Ally under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA).Ally agreed to rescind the contract and refund the amount Spikener had paid: $3,500. Spikener unsuccessfully sought $13,000 in attorney fees under CLRA’s fee-shifting provision. The court cited “Lafferty,” which held a debtor cannot recover damages and attorney fees for a Holder Rule claim that exceed the amount the debtor paid under the contract. The FTC construes the Holder Rule in the same manner. In response to Lafferty, Civil Code 1459.5, was enacted, providing that the Holder Rule’s limitation on recovery does not apply to attorney fees.The court of appeal affirmed. The FTC’s construction of the Rule is entitled to deference; to the extent section 1459.5 authorizes recovery of attorney fees on a Holder Rule claim even if that results in a total recovery greater than the amount the plaintiff paid under the contract, it conflicts with, and is preempted by, the Holder Rule. View "Spikener v. Ally Financial, Inc." on Justia Law

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The San Francisco District Attorney sued HomeAdvisor, alleging it violated California’s False Advertising Law, Business and Professions Code section 17500, and the Unfair Competition Law section 17200, claiming that many of HomeAdvisor’s advertisements “are false and misleading because they are likely to deceive consumers into believing that all service professionals hired through HomeAdvisor who come into their homes have passed criminal background checks." The only person who actually undergoes a background check is the owner/principal of an independently-owned business.The court of appeal affirmed a preliminary injunction that prohibited HomeAdvisor from broadcasting certain advertisements, but, excepting advertisements HomeAdvisor discontinued, permitted HomeAdvisor to continue broadcasting them for specified lengths of time if accompanied by a disclaimer. The court rejected arguments that the order was vague, indefinite, overbroad, and unconstitutional. The government may ban forms of communication more likely to deceive the public than to inform it.” By providing several specific examples of permissible and impermissible advertising, the preliminary injunction order is sufficiently definite for HomeAdvisor to determine what it “may and may not do” pending a trial on the merits of the claims. The enjoined advertisements and descriptions are inherently likely to deceive because they exploit the ambiguity of the term “pro.” View "Gascon v. HomeAdvisor, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants CashCall, Inc. and LoanMe, Inc. (collectively “the lenders”), accessed thousands of credit reports and mailed loan offers to the consumers. Plaintiff Alexis Sosa was among those consumers. Sosa sued the lenders for accessing her credit report. During discovery, Sosa asked the lenders: of the consumers who were mailed offers, how many were actually given loans? The trial court found Sosa’s interrogatory to be irrelevant and granted the lenders’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal disagreed: Sosa's interrogatory was relevant to the lenders' intent. "the trial court’s rulings dealt a 'one-two punch' to [Sosa's] lawsuit: the court first prohibited Sosa from obtaining relevant evidence; then the court dismissed her case, in part, for lack of relevant evidence. Thus, we reverse the court’s granting of the lenders’ motion for summary judgment." View "Sosa v. CashCall, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mikhaeilpoor sued BMW and an auto dealership, asserting claims under the Song-Beverly Act (Civ. Code, 1790) stemming from her lease of a 2013 BMW. Mikhaeilpoor alleged that the defendants: failed to promptly replace her car or make restitution; failed to commence repairs aimed at conforming the car to its warranty; failed to make available adequate service and repair facilities; and breached express and implied warranties. A jury awarded $17,902.54 in compensatory damages and $17,902.54 in civil penalties. Mikhaeilpoor sought attorney fees of $344,639 under section 1794(d): $226,426, plus a 0.5 multiplier enhancement and $5,000 for the fee resolution process. Her motion was opposed as vastly overstating the work performed with excessive hourly rates and an unwarranted adjustment.The judge “went through all the bills” and was “aghast” that counsel sought $343,000 in fees for “a very simple case.” The court did not consider whether Mikhaeilpoor should have accepted a Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer, but calculated 225 hours at a $350 hourly rate and found that $95,900 was the reasonable amount of attorney fees. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court was in the best position to evaluate the professional services rendered before it; its decision is supported by substantial evidence. View "Mikhaeilpoor v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Reynolds purchased a Ford truck. Over the next six years, Reynolds had the truck repaired 15 times but it continued to malfunction. Ford denied Reynolds’s request that it buy back or replace the truck under the Song-Beverly Act. Reynolds filed suit, raising several claims, including one under the Song-Beverly Act. The parties settled for $277,500.00. Ford agreed to “pay [Reynolds’s ] attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses pursuant to Civil Code section 1794(d) in an amount determined by the Court ... to have been reasonably incurred by [Reynolds].” Reynolds sought fees of $308,696.25. Reynolds had retained counsel on a contingency fee basis.The court conducted a lodestar analysis and awarded $201,891--compensation for 457.85 hours at reasonable hourly rates ($225-500/hour), plus a lodestar multiplier of 1.2, “reasonable and appropriate" to the objectives of the Act. The court ruled Reynolds had no obligation to disclose the terms of the retainer agreement: “Many statutory fee-award provisions begin with the lodestar method but are governed by the specific statutory requirement that the final fee award be ‘reasonable’ in nature. No such requirement is found in the Song-Beverly Act. The fee award must be based on the court’s calculation of the ‘actual time expended ... determined by the court to have been reasonabl[y] incurred. ... The court does not have the discretion to consider whether plaintiff’s attorney received additional compensation by ... a separate retaine[r] agreement.The court of appeal affirmed. Ford's concern that it is improper for a court to disregard a potential contingency fee award in determining the statutory fee under section 1794 is a question “more appropriately directed to the Legislature.” View "Reynolds v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In January 2017, plaintiffs Lori Dougherty and Julie Lee's 89-year-old father passed away while living in Somerford Place, an elder residential care facility owned and operated by defendants Roseville Heritage Partners, Somerford Place, LLC, Five Star Quality Care, Inc., and Five Star Quality Care-Somerford, LLC. In July 2017, plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging elder abuse and wrongful death based upon the reckless and negligent care their father received while residing in defendants’ facility. Defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion to compel arbitration and stay the action, contending the arbitration agreement did not contain any unconscionable or unlawful provisions. Alternatively, defendants argued the court abused its discretion by invalidating the agreement as a whole, rather than severing the offending provisions. The Court of Appeal found the arbitration agreement at issue here was "buried within the packet at pages 43 through 45," and "[b]ased on the adhesiveness of the agreement, and the oppression and surprise present," the Court concluded the trial court properly found the Agreement was imposed on a “take it or leave it” basis and evinced a high degree of procedural unconscionability. Under the sliding scale approach, only a low level of substantive unconscionability was required to render the arbitration agreement unenforceable. Likewise, the Court concurred that the arbitration agreement was substantively unconscionable, "particularly given the accompanying evidence of procedural unconscionability." The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's declination to sever the offending provisions of the agreement, rather than invalidate the entire agreement. View "Dougherty v. Roseville Heritage Partners" on Justia Law

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Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product.The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Dan Kaplan, James Baker, Janice Fistolera, Fernando Palacios, and Hamid Aliabadi appealed two judgments dismissing two coordinated actions against defendant Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Fidelity): Fistolera v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Joaquin County, No. 39-2012-00286479-CU-BT-STK) (Fistolera Action) and Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Diego County, No. 37-2008-00087962-CU-BT-CTL) (Kaplan Action). The trial court dismissed the actions after determining the plaintiffs failed to timely prosecute each case. With respect to the Fistolera Action, a putative class action, the trial court concluded that the Fistolera Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within the five-year mandatory period specified in Code of Civil Procedure section 583.310. As to the Kaplan Action, a certified class action, the trial court concluded that the Kaplan Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within three years of the issuance of the remittitur in a prior appeal in that action (Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty (December 17, 2013, D062531, D062747) [nonpub. opn.] (Kaplan I)), as required by section 583.320. On appeal, plaintiffs claimed the trial court erred in dismissing each action. On the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, the Court of Appeal concluded that, in calculating the five- year and three-year mandatory dismissal periods, the trial court erred in failing to exclude 135 days immediately following the assignment of a coordination motion judge to rule on a petition to coordinate the Fistolera Action and the Kaplan Action. Furthermore, the Court determined this error required reversal of the dismissal of the Fistolera Action because, after excluding these 135 days, the five-year period had not expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that action, and the matter was set for trial within the five-year period. However, the Court concluded that this error did not require reversal of the trial court's dismissal of the Kaplan Action. To the Kaplan Action, the Court determined that because, even after excluding 135 days related to the coordination proceedings, the three-year period that the Kaplan Plaintiffs had to bring that action to trial had expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that case. Further, the Court held none of the Kaplan Plaintiffs' arguments for additional tolling of the three-year period had merit. View "Fidelity National Home Warranty Company Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Unfair Competition Law, the false advertising law, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, alleging that the Cuties Juice label for tangerine juice was fraudulent because it was likely to deceive reasonable consumers in its implications.The Court of Appeal held that where, as here, a product label accurately states that the product has "no sugar added," a reasonable consumer is not likely to view that statement as a representation that competing products do have sugar added, which, if untrue, renders the product label at issue deceptive. The court held that the allegations underlying plaintiff's remaining claims were also deficient. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend. View "Shaeffer v. Califia Farms, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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Plaintiff alleges she bought her Richmond home in 1973, refinanced her mortgage in 2005, and unsuccessfully applied for a loan modification in 2015. Plaintiff was not allowed to make payments in the interim and owed $20,000 in arrears. Plaintiff sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief. She was required to make monthly payments to cover her pre-petition mortgage arrears plus her regular monthly mortgage payments. Plaintiff failed to make her regular October 2016 mortgage payment. Defendant sought relief from the automatic bankruptcy stay. The bankruptcy court approved an agreement that she would pay the October and November payments over a period beginning in January 2017. Plaintiff claims defendant violated that agreement, that her attempts to make those payments failed, and that she was unable to contact the defendant’s “single point of contact” for foreclosure avoidance (Civil Code 2923.7) Defendant obtained relief from the bankruptcy stay and would not accept the January 2017 payment. At the time of the bankruptcy sale, plaintiff’s home was worth approximately $550,000; defendant sold the home for $403,000.The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim that she should have been able to avoid foreclosure by tendering the amount in default (Civ. Code 2924c) and that it was unlawful for defendant also to demand payment on amounts subject to a confirmed bankruptcy plan and reversed the dismissal of the section 2923.7 claim but upheld the dismissal of breach of contract, negligence, and elder abuse claims. View "Williams v. 21st Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law