Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Plaintiffs Cheryl Thurston and Luis Licea (collectively Thurston) were California residents who purchased items from defendant Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC (Fairfield), a Georgia limited liability company, through the company's website. Thurston alleged Fairfield’s website was not fully accessible by the blind and the visually impaired, in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The trial court granted Fairfield’s motion to quash service of summons, ruling that California could not obtain personal jurisdiction over Fairfield, because Fairfield did not have sufficient minimum contacts with California. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the evidence showed that Fairfield made some eight to ten percent of its sales to Californians. "Hence, its website is the equivalent of a physical store in California. Moreover, this case arises out of the operation of that website." The trial court therefore could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over Fairfield. View "Thurston v. Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC" on Justia Law

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The underlying lawsuit arose from plaintiffs' claim that Ken's salad dressing labels were deceptive. In June 2017, plaintiffs served Ken's with their prelawsuit notice and demand to remove claims about olive oil from the labels on its salad dressings. In October 2017, a neutral case evaluator concluded that plaintiffs' claims likely had merit and that the False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law claims would likely be certified as a class. In November 2017, Ken's drafted a PowerPoint presentation that described plaintiff's claims, proposed label changes, and thereafter revised its salad dressing labels and finalized the changes in 2018.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order granting plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees. The court held that the trial court did not err by concluding that plaintiffs were "successful parties" where the sequence of events provides a reasonable basis for the trial court's conclusion that plaintiffs' lawsuit was a catalyst motivating Ken's to change the labels on its salad dressings. Furthermore, there was a reasonable basis for the trial court to conclude that injunctive relief was the primary relief sought. The court also held that the lawsuit was meritorious and that plaintiffs reasonably attempted to settle the matter short of litigation. Finally, the court rejected Ken's public policy argument. View "Skinner v. Ken's Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rosas filed a representative action based on alleged participation in illegal internet payday loan practices. Defendant AMG is a wholly-owned tribal corporation of Miami Tribe, a federally recognized Indigenous American tribe. Rosas previously challenged a court order granting AMG's motion to quash service of summons for lack of jurisdiction based on tribal sovereign immunity. On remand, the court granted AMG’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. The court accepted AMG’s argument that the arm-of-the-tribe test should be applied to the current facts relating to its ownership and control rather than the facts that existed when the complaint was filed. The court credited AMG’s new, undisputed evidence concerning significant changes made to AMG’s structure and governance since the prior court ruling—changes that removed the nontribal actors from positions of authority and control and ended its involvement in the business of financial lending.The court of appeal affirmed. The court did not exceed the scope of the remand. When a court determines that a tribal entity is entitled to immunity from suit, the court lacks the authority, absent the tribe’s consent or federal authorization, to bring the tribal entity before the court for any purpose, including for the purpose of sanctioning misconduct. View "In re Internet Lending Cases" on Justia Law

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After encountering problems with their used 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan, plaintiffs Dina C. and Pastor O. Felisilda brought an action against Elk Grove Auto Group, Inc., doing business as Elk Grove Dodge Chrysler Jeep (Elk Grove Dodge) and the manufacturer, FCA US LLC (FCA) for violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Relying on the retail installment sales contract signed by the Felisildas, Elk Grove Dodge moved to compel arbitration. FCA filed a notice of nonopposition to the motion to compel. The trial court ordered the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against both Elk Grove Dodge and FCA. In response, the Felisildas dismissed Elk Grove Dodge. The matter was submitted to arbitration, and the arbitrator found in favor of FCA. The trial court confirmed the arbitrator’s decision. The Felisildas appealed, contending: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to compel them to arbitrate their claim against FCA for lack of notice that the motion to compel included FCA; and (2) the trial court lacked discretion to order the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against FCA because FCA was a nonsignatory to the sales contract. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Felisildas forfeited their claim regarding lack of notice by arguing against FCA’s participation in arbitration. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court correctly determined the Felisildas’ claim against FCA was encompassed by the arbitration provision in the sales contract. View "Felisilda v. FCA US LLC" on Justia 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