Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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This case involved the sale of a certified preowned Mercedes Benz that still had a portion of the new vehicle warranty remaining, and which was accompanied by an additional used vehicle warranty issued by the manufacturer. An uncurable defect manifested after the expiration of the new vehicle warranty, but during the duration of the used vehicle warranty. Mercedes Benz refused to repurchase the vehicle, and the plaintiff sued. A jury found Mercedes Benz liable under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act for breach of both the express warranty and the implied warranty of merchantability, and, pursuant to the stipulation of the parties as to the amount of damage, awarded the same compensatory damages on both causes of action. The court entered judgment on the jury’s special verdict after striking the damages for breach of the implied warranty, presumably to avoid a double recovery. Mercedes Benz appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the jury's verdict on the breach of express warranty claim. "Although the Song-Beverly Act generally binds only distributors and retail sellers in the sale of used goods, we conclude Mercedes Benz stepped into that role by issuing an express warranty on the sale of a used vehicle." Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Kiluk v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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Renovate America, Inc. (Renovate) appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of Rosa Fabian's claims related to the financing and installation of a solar energy system in her home. Fabian filed a complaint against Renovate alleging that solar panels she purchased for her home were improperly installed. Fabian alleged that, in early 2017, Renovate made an unsolicited telephone call to her home about financing the solar panels and "signed" her name on a financial agreement. All communications between Fabian and Renovate's representative occurred telephonically and she was never presented with any documents to sign. Fabian claims she did not sign a financial agreement with Renovate; nevertheless, Renovate incorporated the solar panel payments set forth in the financial agreement into her mortgage loan payments. Fabian thus alleged that Renovate violated: (1) the Consumers Legal Remedies Act; (2) the Unfair Competition Law; and (3) the California Contract Translation Act. Renovate petitioned to compel arbitration of Fabian's claims and stay judicial proceedings pending arbitration, supported by an Assessment Contract (Contract) that Renovate claimed Fabian had signed electronically. Renovate contended the trial court erred in ruling that the company failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Fabian electronically signed the subject contract. The Court of Appeal found that by not providing any specific details about the circumstances surrounding the Contract's execution, Renovate offered little more than a bare statement that Fabian "entered into" the Contract without offering any facts to support that assertion. "This left a critical gap in the evidence supporting Renovate's petition." The Court therefore affirmed denial of the petition to compel arbitration. View "Fabian v. Renovate America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Sara Salcido was in the business of providing immigration services — typically, obtaining visas for her clients that would allow them to stay in the United States legally. Defendant failed to comply with the consumer protection requirements outlined in the Immigration Consultant Act, and was ultimately convicted on one count of misdemeanor unlawfully engaging in the business of an immigration consultant. The State argued, however, that each time defendant took money from a client in exchange for providing immigration services, she was committing theft by false pretenses, because she was not a legally qualified immigration consultant under state law. The trial court agreed; thus, it also convicted her on six counts of grand theft, and two counts of petty theft. It dismissed two additional counts of grand theft as time-barred. Defendant was placed on probation for five years. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held federal law did not preempt the application of the Act to defendant. In the unpublished portion, the Court held one of defendant’s probation conditions had to be stricken. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed as modified. View "California v. Salcido" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the storage company, demanding to be paid for their losses after water damaged their property. In this case, the contract the customers signed specified that the company was not responsible for water damage, and that customers storing property with it did so at their own risk. The contract offered insurance options to the customers, but the customers declined insurance. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the company on the customers' breach of contract claim, holding that one may not contract to accept risk, decide to be self-insured, and then retroactively demand to be paid by the other side after there is a loss. Finally, the court held that the customers forfeited their claim under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. View "Kanovsky v. At Your Door Self Storage" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Contracts
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The Court of Appeal affirmed a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff on his claim against defendant for violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging violation of the CLRA based on misrepresentations made during the sale of a used truck. The court found substantial evidence that plaintiff was a consumer within the meaning of the CLRA, and therefore held that he had standing to sue. Furthermore, defendant cited no case, and the court has found none, that holds the consumer must pay for the goods out of his own pocket rather than through a commercial entity to have standing under the CLRA. View "Kalta v. Fleets 101, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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The Song-Beverly Credit Card Act (Civ. Code 1747) makes it unlawful for merchants to request or require customers to provide “personal identification information” as a condition to accepting a credit card for payment. In 2015, the court of appeal held (Harrold) the Act does not prohibit merchants from requesting such information unless the request is made under circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the information is required to complete the transaction. The trial court decertified a class of plaintiffs who alleged that retailer Williams-Sonoma violated the Act by requesting their zip codes or email addresses because any violation would depend on the circumstances of the specific transaction. Zip codes and emails were requested regardless of the form of payment. If the customer declined, the sales clerk bypassed the request. Employees had discretion not to solicit the information at all and could explain that the information was not required and was only being collected for marketing purposes. Williams-Sonoma neither rewards its employees for collecting the information nor disciplines them if they do not. Williams-Sonoma required each of its California stores to post signs at the cash registers stating that zip codes and email addresses were requested solely for marketing purposes and were not required. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the court correctly applied the Harrold legal standard and its ruling is supported by substantial evidence. View "Williams-Sonoma Song-Beverly Act Cases" on Justia Law

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In 2012, California enacted legislation known as the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, or HBOR, which imposed specific limitations regarding the nonjudicial foreclosure of owner-occupied residential real property. The trial court granted Rosana Bustos’ ex parte application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and order to show cause regarding preliminary injunction, which sought to prevent a trustee’s sale of her home due to several alleged violations of the HBOR related to her submission of a loan modification application. Central to Bustos’ application was a “blatant violation” of the HBOR’s prohibition against dual tracking--when a mortgage servicer continues foreclosure proceedings while reviewing a homeowner’s application for a loan modification. After the trial court denied Bustos’ request for a preliminary injunction and vacated the TRO, it awarded her $4,260 in attorney fees and costs, finding Bustos was a “prevailing borrower” under the HBOR because she obtained injunctive relief in the form of a TRO against her mortgage servicer, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. On appeal, Wells Fargo argued the trial court erred in interpreting Civ. Code section 2924.12 as authorizing an award of attorney fees and costs to a borrower who obtains a TRO enjoining a trustee’s sale of his or her residence. Wells Fargo alternatively contended the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees and costs to Bustos under the circumstances of this case. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Bustos v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Gregory Moore contacted defendant Wells Fargo, N.A. to discuss possible assistance programs while he was unemployed. Wells Fargo recommended the forbearance plan (Plan) under the Home Affordable Unemployment Program (Unemployment Program) outlined in the United States Department of the Treasury’s Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) supplemental directive 10-04, May 11, 2010 (Directive 10-04). Wells Fargo explained the Plan would allow Moore to make reduced monthly payments for a period of time and said there was “no downside” to the Plan -- if Moore qualified for a permanent loan modification at the conclusion of the Plan, the arrears would be added to the modified loan balance and, if Moore did not qualify for a permanent loan modification, he would return to making his normal monthly payments. Moore applied for and was accepted to participate in the Plan. Moore made the Plan payments and later applied for a permanent loan modification. Three days after receiving a denial of his permanent loan modification application, Moore received a letter from Wells Fargo stating he was in default on his loan, demanding immediate payment of his normal mortgage payment and the arrears consisting principally of the difference between his normal mortgage payments and the reduced Plan payments (i.e., a balloon payment), and threatening foreclosure. Moore sued to stop the foreclosure and asserted the following causes of action: (1) declaratory relief; (2) negligence; (3) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) fraud; and (5) violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, the unfair competition law. In pretrial rulings, the trial court, among other things, adjudicated Moore’s declaratory relief cause of action in favor of Wells Fargo’s contractual interpretation permitting it to demand the balloon payment and dismissed Moore’s negligence cause of action in response to Wells Fargo’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. After Moore rested his case at trial, the trial court granted Wells Fargo’s motion for nonsuit as to Moore’s breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing cause of action. The trial court further granted Wells Fargo’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after the jury found Wells Fargo had committed fraud. The trial court also adjudicated the unfair competition law cause of action posttrial, finding in favor of Wells Fargo, and granted Wells Fargo’s motion for costs and attorney fees. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's rulings in favor of Wells Fargo, and the jury's verdict in favor of Moore on the intentional misrepresentation cause of action was reinstated. View "Moore v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law
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Plaintiff-borrowers Thaddeus Potocki and Kelly Davenport sued Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and several other defendants (collectively, “Wells Fargo”) arising out of plaintiffs’ attempts to get a loan modification. The trial court sustained Wells Fargo’s demurrer to the third amended complaint without leave to amend. On appeal, plaintiffs argued: (1) a forbearance agreement obligated Wells Fargo to modify their loan; (2) the trial court erred in finding Wells Fargo owed no duty of care; (3) Wells Fargo’s denial of a loan modification was not sufficiently detailed to satisfy Civil Code section 2923.61; and (4) a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was sufficiently pled. The Court of Appeal determined plaintiffs’ third contention had merit, and reversed judgment of dismissal, vacated the order sustaining the demurrer insofar as it dismissed the claim for a violation of section 2923.6, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Potocki v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Sue Watkins defaulted on a credit card she opened through Citibank. Citibank charged off the debt, eventually selling the account to a third party debt collection agency, Cavalry SPV I, LLC (Cavalry). Cavalry added prejudgment interest from the date of charge-off and attempted to collect the debt through an associated entity, Cavalry Portfolio Services, LLC (CPS). As part of its collection efforts, CPS reported the debt with the additional interest included to several credit reporting agencies. Watkins disputed the debt and did not pay it, Cavalry sued to collect, and Watkins filed a cross-complaint alleging violations of the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other associated statutes governing debt collection practices. The superior court conducted a bench trial, rejected the claims in Watkins's cross-complaint, and entered a judgment in favor of Cavalry in the amount of the original debt, plus attorney fees. After the parties submitted additional briefing regarding the fees, the court awarded approximately one-half of the amount Cavalry requested. On appeal, Watkins argued the superior court erred: (1) by finding her liable for the original debt; (2) denying the claims in her cross-complaint; and (3) awarding Cavalry attorney fees. In their cross-appeal, Cavalry and CPS contended the superior court erred by reducing the attorney fees award. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court correctly determined that Watkins was liable for the original debt, but relied on an inaccurate interpretation of Civil Code. section 3289 (b) to support the accrual of statutory prejudgment interest. The superior court's denial of the counterclaims was nevertheless proper as Cavalry could have accrued such interest pursuant to section 3289 (a). Finally, the Court determined the superior court erred by awarding Cavalry and CPS attorney fees related to the defense of counterclaims. The Court therefore reversed judgment as to the fees and remanded the case to the superior court for further proceedings. View "Cavalry SPV I, LLC v. Watkins" on Justia Law