Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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In 2013, plaintiff-respondent Gerardo Medina purchased a used car from defendant-appellant South Coast Car Company, Inc. The sales contract was eventually assigned to Veros Credit, LLC, and plaintiff sued on nine causes of action stemming from that contract. The parties settled the suit on the eve of trial. Relevant to this appeal, defendants also agreed that they would not "dispute [Medina's] underlying entitlement to attorneys' fees based upon the claims brought in the [underlying a]ction"; that Medina "shall be deemed the prevailing party on all causes of action for purposes of the motion" for attorney fees; that defendants "reserve the right to dispute the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees, costs, and prejudgment interest claimed to have been incurred" by Medina; and that defendants "maintain all defenses as to the limitations on the amount of attorneys' fees, costs, and prejudgment interest." On appeal (and despite the Settlement), defendants contend the court erred when it awarded Medina attorney fees, costs and prejudgment interest. Specifically, defendants contended that, although Medina was the prevailing party as provided under the settlement, Veros was not liable to pay any portion of his fees and costs because it was merely the "holder" of the sales contract and thus, its liability was limited to the amounts paid by Medina, or about $8,600, and that Medina, in any event, was not entitled to any such award because he previously had rejected SCCC's offer to rescind the sales contract. The Court of Appeal disagreed with defendants’ contentions, finding the record showed defendants recognized in connection with their summary judgment/adjudication motion that their settlement offer went to the " 'determination of the legal basis' " for an award of attorney fees: it would have made little sense for the parties to enter into the Settlement and not resolve what was and the overarching issue in the case, in light of the parties' extensive litigation of this issue up to the time of the settlement. View "Medina v. South Coast Car Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Gap, alleging that she was misled about the quality and authenticity of Gap and Banana Republic factory store clothing. Plaintiff alleged causes of action under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). The Court of Appeal sustained the Gap's demurrer without leave to amend, holding that the second amended complaint (SAC) failed to state a FAL claim where it alleged no advertising or promotional materials or any other statements disseminated by Gap to consumers that its factory store clothing items were previously for sale in traditional Gap stores or were of a certain quality; the SAC failed to state a claim for violation of the UCL where selling nonidentical brand name clothing in a factory store was not fraudulent, unlawful nor unfair; the SAC failed to state a claim under the CLRA where it alleged no advertising or representation of any kind that Gap made about the characteristics or quality of its factory store merchandise; and the trial court acted within its discretion in denying leave to amend. View "Rubenstein v. The Gap" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law

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In the mid-1990s Martha (now 79) and Fred (now 86) purchased life insurance policies, with $1,000,000 death benefits for a $14,000 annual premium, naming their children as beneficiaries. The policies were held by a revocable trust. The couple put money in the Trust; it was self-sustaining. In 2013, Fred, at the end of his career as a lawyer, was suffering from cognitive decline; Martha had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The defendants provided life insurance advisory services to the couple; they allegedly carried out a scheme that involved arranging the surrender of one policy and the replacement of the other with a policy providing less coverage. Premiums for the new coverage, spread over its term, totaled $800,000; they also paid $100,000 in commissions. The couple and their trustee sued under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, Welfare and Institutions Code 15600. Defendants responded that the Trust has always owned the policies and that the commissions were paid by the Trust so that the only proper plaintiff is the Trust, which does not have a “because [it] is not 65 years old.” The court of appeal reversed dismissal of the claims. Defendants deprived the couple of property indirectly, using the Trust as an instrument of their scheme. View "Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2005, Nicholas and Mary Conroy refinanced their home with a mortgage loan secured by a deed of trust on the property. Five years later, the Conroys stopped making payments and defaulted on their loan. In an effort to avoid foreclosure, the Conroys filed suit against defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., successor by merger to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc.; Fidelity National Title Insurance Company aka Default Resolution Network, LLC; and HSBC Bank USA, N.A. as trustee for Merrill Lynch Mortgage Backed Securities Trust, Series 2007-2 (Wells Fargo). The trial court sustained Wells Fargo’s demurrer without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal. On appeal, the Conroys contended the trial court erroneously dismissed their claims. After review, the Court of Appeal found the Conroys’ operative complaint did not state valid causes of action for intentional or negligent misrepresentation because they did not properly plead actual reliance or damages proximately caused by Wells Fargo. The trial court properly determined the Conroys could not assert a tort claim for negligence arising out of a contract with Well Fargo. For lack of detrimental reliance on any of Wells Fargo’s alleged promises, the Conroys did not set forth a viable cause of action for promissory estoppel even under a liberal construction of the operative complaint. Because Wells Fargo considered and rejected a loan modification for the Conroys before that date, section 2923.6 does not apply to them. The plain language of section 2923.7 requires a borrower to expressly request a single point of contact with the loan servicer. The Conroys’ operative complaint did not allege they ever requested a single point of contact, and the Conroys did not state they could amend their cause of action to allege they actually requested one. The trial court properly dismissed the Conroys’ Unfair Competition Law claim because it was merely derivative of other causes of action that were properly dismissed. View "Conroy v. Wells Fargo Bank" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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