Yesterday, the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division Two) handed down an unpublished opinion, Freeman v. Mattress Gallery, no. E039614. The unpublished opinion warrants comment because of its summary of recent case law construing Prop. 64's "injury in fact" language, which concludes with this paragraph:
[C]ases published since the most recent amendments to Business and Professions Code sections 17204 and 17535 have concluded, either directly or through implication, that in order to have standing under those sections a plaintiff must allege either (1) that money was expended by the plaintiff due to the defendant's acts of unfair competition (Aron, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at pp. 802-803; R & B Auto Center, Inc v. Farmers Group, Inc., supra, 140 Cal.App.4th at p. 360; Monarch Plumbing Co. v. Ranger Ins. Co. (E.D.Cal., Sept. 25, 2006, No. Civ. S-06-1357) 2006 U.S.Dist. Lexis 68850, [p. 20]; Witriol v. LexisNexis Group (N.D.Cal., Feb. 10, 2006, No. C05-02392) 2006 U.S.Dist. Lexis 26670, [pp. 18-19]; Southern Cal. Housing v. Los Feliz Towers Homeow. (C.D.Cal. 2005) 426 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1069; Laster v. T-Mobile USA, Inc. (S.D.Cal. 2005) 407 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1194), (2) that money or property was lost or suffered a diminution in value (Overstock.com, Inc. v. Gradient Analytics, Inc. (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 688, 716 (Overstock.com, Inc.); Huntingdon Life Sciences, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc. (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1228, 1240, 1262), or (3) that plaintiff was denied money to which plaintiff had a cognizable claim (Progressive West Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 263, 269-270, 285, fn. 5; Filiti v. USAA Casualty Ins. Co. (E.D.Cal., June 20, 2007, No. Civ. S-06-2694) 2007 U.S.Dist. Lexis 44691, [p. 6]; Starr-Gordon v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. (E.D.Cal., Nov. 7, 2006, No. Civ. S-03-68) 2006 U.S.Dist. Lexis 83110, [pp.1, 18-19]).
Slip op. at 15-16. What's also very interesting is that the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff's allegation that he suffered "loss of the cost of gasoline and accompanying wear and tear on his vehicle" when he drove to the defendant's store in response to the defendant's "bait and switch" advertisement -- but then didn't buy anything -- constituted "injury in fact" and "loss of money or property." Id. at 16-17. The Court of Appeal reversed the order granting the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the UCL claim without leave to amend. Id. The opinion does not go on to discuss whether the plaintiff in this case would be able to recover restitution. Injunctive relief would likely be available if the defendant was still running the misleading advertisement. The Court of Appeal's affirmance of the order striking the class allegations (id. at 21-25), however, complicates this further.
A lengthy dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority's holding, concluding, in effect, that to qualify as "injury in fact," the monetary loss must also be recoverable as "restitution":
In order to effectuate the statute's purpose, I conclude that a mere loss, monetary or otherwise, is not enough to confer standing. When a court orders restitution, it orders the defendant to give up his gains to the claimant, as opposed to compensating the claimant for his or her loss. To satisfy the section 17204 "injury in fact" standing requirement, regardless of whether the relief sought is court-ordered restitution or an injunction, the loss suffered must be recoverable. Damages are not recoverable under the UCL (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1134, 1148) and they should not be sufficient to confer standing. This requirement, without going so far as to imply a transaction is necessary, prescribes that there be at minimum an interaction between the parties in which not only a loss but a gain results.
Slip op., dissent at 9. I am not aware of any California Court of Appeal opinions that hold this, but there is one federal ruling that does. Walker v. USAA Casualty Ins. Co., 474 F.Supp.2d 1168 (E.D. Cal. 2007). This argument has always seemed to me contrary to the language of Prop. 64.
The Freeman decision also appears to conflict with another case in which the Supreme Court recently granted review, Meyer v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., 150 Cal.App.4th 1136 (2007) (review granted 08/16/07, no. S153846). There, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs could not maintain a CLRA claim against a defendant who merely included an unconscionable provision in its contract, if that provision had not been enforced against them to their detriment. In the unpublished Freeman decision, however, the Court of Appeal said:
The trial court also sustained the demurrer to the CLRA cause of action based upon the failure of the complaint to allege that Freeman suffered any damage as required by Civil Code section 1780, subdivision (a). As indicated above, our Supreme Court has interpreted Civil Code section 1780 to state that in order to have standing to bring an action for violation of the CLRA, all a plaintiff need allege is that the defendant violated a provision of Civil Code section 1770. (Kagan, supra, 35 Cal.3d at p. 593.) The first amended complaint alleges that Defendants violated Civil Code section 1770, subdivision (a)(3), (5), (7), (9), (10), and (13). Hence, for the reasons stated above, the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to establish Freeman's standing to pursue injunctive relief for violation of the CLRA.
Slip op. at 20. This is precisely the opposite of what the Court of Appeal held in Meyer, also citing Kagan. The dissent had this to add on this point:
Although the California Supreme Court in Kagan stated that suffering "any damage" includes the infringement of any legal right as defined by Civil Code section 1770 (Kagan, supra, 35 Cal.3d at p. 593), I would find that there is still room for debate as to what type of damage is sufficient to confer standing. While plaintiffs do not have to allege monetary loss to have standing under the CLRA, they must suffer some damage as a result of defendant's conduct. In other words, despite the fact that a plaintiff has alleged a violation of the CLRA, which, according to Kagan, would be sufficient to confer standing, the fact that he or she did not sustain any tangible loss precludes him or her from bringing claims. Thus, in my opinion, damage requires something more than a mere allegation of an infringement upon a right protected by Civil Code section 1770.
By allowing a plaintiff who alleges unfair business practices to secure standing under the CLRA, we begin down a slippery slope. The California Supreme Court in Kagan seems to have obliterated the meaning of the phrase "suffers any damage as a result of" in the CLRA standing requirements. (Kagan, supra, 35 Cal.3d at pp. 590, 593; Civ. Code, Â§ 1780, subd. (a).) In so doing, our high court has inhibited the judiciary from applying a meaningful limit on the damage and causation requirements of the CLRA. Because alleging a violation, suffering damage, and alleging causation have all been rolled into one requirement (Kagan, supra, 35 Cal.3d at p. 593), courts are left asking, "Is there any limit on the damages that are sufficient to confer standing under the CLRA?" If gas money is sufficient, then why not wear and tear on one's tires? What about loss of time? Why not something as intangible as an alleged violation of Civil Code section 1770? The term "any damage" admittedly sounds limitless. However, if a court is forced to allow a mere allegation of unfair business practices to satisfy the "any damage" standing requirement of the CLRA, the judiciary of this state should brace itself for the imminent flood of litigation. At some point, the maxim of "the law disregards trifles" must be applied to limit the "any damage" requirement of the CLRA. (Harris v. Time, Inc. (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 449, 458 [holding that a suit for damages based on being forced to open junk mail is frivolous litigation and not a sufficient cause of action].)
Slip op., dissent at 11-12, 13.
In sum, this is a very interesting unpublished opinion. Thanks to the blog reader who emailed me to bring it to my attention.