California has some of the Nation’s strongest legal protections against unfair business practices. While many states only prohibit “illegal” business practices, California’s unfair business practices laws extend much farther – to include any practice that offends public policy, is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous, or substantially injurious to consumers, or where the conduct’s utility is outweighed by the gravity of harm. For example, California’s “Unfair Competition Law,” which is contained in Business and Professions Code §§ 17200 et. seq., prohibits unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business acts or practices. The California Supreme Court has held that this law was designed to protect not only consumers but also competitors, and is couched in intentionally sweeping language “to enable judicial tribunals to deal with the innumerable new schemes which the fertility of man’s invention would contrive.” Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Tel. Co., 20 Cal. 4th 163, 181, 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 548 (1999). Although the law does not allow for damages to be recovered; remedies which may be awarded by a court include restitution (which, in many cases, is the equivalent of what most people would think are damages) and injunctive relief. Similarly, California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), which is contained in California Civil Code §§ 1750 et seq, prohibits businesses from engaging in certain types of unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer. The CLRA provides that any consumer who suffers any damage as a result of the use or employment of a method, act or practice may bring an action against that person to recover actual damages, injunctive relief, restitution of property, punitive damages, and any other relief the court deems proper. Section 1770 of the CLRA lists 23 prohibited “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” The following are some of the more frequently litigated prohibitions:
- Engaging in “bait and switch” tactics
- Claiming that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model, if they are of another.
- Representing that a part, replacement, or repair service is needed when it is not.
- Passing off goods or services as those of another.
- Claiming a false geographical origination of the goods (for example: made in USA when the goods where made in Asia)
- Representing that goods are original or new when they are not.
- Falsely disparaging the goods, services, or business of another
- Advertising furniture without clearly indicating that it is unassembled, if that is the case
- Making false or misleading statements about the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions, and
- Inserting an unconscionable provision into a contract.
Although the CLRA allows injured consumers to seek both injunctive relief and damages, before a damages suit can proceed, the plaintiff must first give the defendant a chance to make things right. This means that at least 30 days before filing suit under the CLRA, the plaintiff must give the potential defendant notice of the alleged violation and demand that he or she “correct, repair, replace or otherwise rectify” the prohibited practices. This pre-lawsuit notice must be in writing and sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, to the place where the transaction occurred, or to the potential defendant’s principal place of business within California (Cal. Civ. Code § 1782(a)(2)).
If you believe that you, a family member or a friend may have been the victim of consumer fraud, call the Helmer Friedman LLP at 310-396-7714 today. Don’t wait – you may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation, but a lawsuit must be filed before the applicable statute of limitations expires.