In Shamsian v. Department of Conservation, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Feb. 7, 2006), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Five) held that the trial court properly declined to hear a UCL "unlawful" prong claim predicated on alleged violations of the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (Pub. Res. Code §§14500 et seq.). After a lengthy discussion of that Act, the Court explained:
It is well-established that a court of equity will abstain from employing the remedies available under the unfair competition law in appropriate cases. .... In this case, the complex statutory arrangement of requirements and incentives involving participants in the beverage container recycling scheme is to be administered and enforced by the [D]epartment [of Conservation] consistent with the Legislature’s goals. For the court at this point to issue restitution and disgorgement orders against the corporate defendants would interfere with the department’s administration of the act and regulation of beverage container recycling and potentially risk throwing the entire complex economic arrangement out of balance. The public’s need for opportunities to recover its cash redemption value funds and to conveniently recycle its beverage containers is not so great as to warrant judicial interference in the administrative scheme designed to address those needs at this point.(Slip op. at 22-23.) The opinion includes a useful string cite that lists most of the leading UCL "economic abstention" decisions. Generally speaking, the "economic abstention" doctrine applies in cases involving matters of complex economic policy that are better addressed by the legislature than the judiciary. See, e.g., Desert Healthcare District v. PacifiCare FHP, Inc., 94 Cal.App.4th 781 (2001). Whether the doctrine applies is typically determined on a very fact-specific, case-by-case basis.