Friedman v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2008 WL 4370005 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2008), is an interesting new federal decision on the CLRA. Here is what the court (Judge A. Howard Matz) had to say about whether a CLRA claim for broad-ranging injunctive relief may proceed without formal class certification:
Plaintiffs ... bring the Fifth Claim for injunctive relief under “in their individual capacity on behalf of the general public,” but they do not seek class certification on this claim. Fourth Am. Compl. ¶ 138. Plaintiffs' claim arises under California Civil Code section 1780, which authorizes a civil action by “[a]ny consumer” for violations of the CLRA. Fourth Am. Compl. ¶ 144. Under this claim, Plaintiffs seek an injunction pertaining to Defendant's allegedly deceptive representations to consumers about its special deals and discounts and the nature of the monthly membership. Defendant contends this claim fails because the CLRA does not permit suits “on behalf of the general public,” so this claim must be construed as a class claim subject to the class action provision in the CLRA, California Civil Code § 1781. Section 1781 states:
Any consumer entitled to bring an action under Section 1780 may, if the unlawful method, act, or practice has caused damage to other consumers similarly situated, bring an action on behalf of himself and such other consumers to recover damages or obtain other relief as provided for in Section 1780.
Cal. Civ.Code § 1780 (emphasis added). Because Plaintiffs did not plead compliance with section 1781, Defendant argues, this claim is legally insufficient.
Defendant cites no authority that would require Plaintiffs' CLRA claim to be construed as a class claim subject to the requirements of section 1781, nor any authority that states that a CLRA claim for injunctive relief cannot be “on behalf of the general public.”Although Proposition 64, as codified at Cal. Civ.Code § 17203, eliminated representative UCL actions unless it met the requirements of a class action, it did not impose the same limitation on the CLRA.
Plaintiffs, in contrast, do cite authority suggesting that it is acceptable to seek such relief on behalf of the general public. In Broughton v. Cigna Healthplans of California, 21 Cal.4th 1066, 1079-80, 90 Cal.Rptr.2d 334, 988 P.2d 67 (Cal.1999), the California Supreme Court indicated that when a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief under the CLRA, he “is functioning as a private attorney general, enjoining future deceptive practices on behalf of the general public.” The Court went on to explain,
the evident purpose of the injunctive relief provision of the CLRA is not to resolve a private dispute but to remedy a public wrong. Whatever the individual motive of the party requesting injunctive relief, the benefits of granting injunctive relief by and large do not accrue to that party, but to the general public in danger of being victimized by the same deceptive practices as the plaintiff suffered.
Id. at 1080, 90 Cal.Rptr.2d 334, 988 P.2d 67. Despite the differing circumstances, Broughton is nonetheless instructive. It suggests there is nothing defective about pleading a claim for injunctive relief under the CLRA “on behalf of the general public.”Plaintiffs' Fifth Claim seeks precisely what the CLRA is designed to do, according to Broughton--an injunction intended to benefit the public at large. Therefore, Plaintiffs state a viable claim in their Fifth Claim for Relief.
Id. at *8-*9. Support for this holding can also be found in Thompson v. 10,000 RV Sales, Inc., 130 Cal.App.4th 950, 980 (2005), in which the Court of Appeal affirmed a broad-ranging CLRA injunction that had been entered without formal class certification, and Cruz v. Pacificare Health Systems, Inc., 30 Cal.4th 303, 312 (2003), in which the Supreme Court strongly suggested that “public injunctions” may be ordered under the CLRA without class certification.