Yesterday, in Aryeh v. Canon Business Solutions, Inc., ___ Cal.4th ___ (Jan. 24, 2013), the Supreme Court held that common-law rules governing claims accrual (including the delayed discovery rule, the doctrine of equitable tolling, fraudulent concealment, the continuing violation doctrine, and the continuous accrual doctrine) apply to UCL claims -- just as they would to any other claim. The unanimous opinion was authored by Justice Werdegar.
In so holding, the Court relied heavily on the UCL's legislative history, which "indicates the Legislature intended the UCL’s limitations period to be subject to the usual judicial rules governing accrual, rather than to special legislatively declared accrual rules." Slip op. at 7. The opinion goes on:
Section 17208 was passed in 1977 as part of an act that consolidated and recodified existing state unfair competition laws without substantive change in the Business and Professions Code. (Stats. 1977, ch. 299, § 1, p. 1203; Assem. Off. of Research, 3d reading analysis of Assem. Bill No. 1280 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) as introduced Mar. 31, 1977, p. 1.) The adoption of an express statute of limitations was not intended to modify but to clarify the presumed applicable limitations period. (Assem. Com. on Judiciary, Bill Digest of Assem. Bill No. 1280 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) p. 1.) On the question of accrual, legislative committee reports are conspicuously silent, and the enrolled bill report expressly confirms the understanding that the subject is to be governed not by statute but by judicial construction: “Questions concerning the point at which the statute of limitations begins will be left to judicial decision.” (Governor’s Off. of Legal Affairs, Enrolled Bill Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 1280 (1977-1978 Reg. Sess.) June 27, 1977, p. 1.) It thus appears the Legislature, by passing a bare-bones limitations statute and delegating to the judiciary the task of defining the point of accrual in particular cases, left courts free to determine whether the circumstances in each case call for application of either the general last element rule of accrual or any of its equitable exceptions.
Slip op. at 7-8 (emphasis added).
The Court also approved much of the reasoning in Broberg v. The Guardian Life Ins. Co., 171 Cal.App.4th 912 (2009) (discussed in this blog post). The opinion reads:
Broberg involved a statute of limitations challenge to a claim of deceptive practices under the UCL. The court reasoned that the underlying nature of the claim, not its form, should control. (See Jefferson v. J. E. French Co. (1960) 54 Cal.2d 717, 718 [“[T]the nature of the right sued upon, not the form of action or the relief demanded, determines the applicability of the statute of limitations.”].) Consequently, that the cause of action was pleaded under the UCL should not preclude application of an equitable exception to the usual accrual rule; just like common law claims challenging fraudulent conduct, a UCL deceptive practices claim should accrue “only when a reasonable person would have discovered the factual basis for a claim.” (Broberg, at pp. 920-921.) Broberg is consistent with both our precedent and the absence of anything in the text or legislative history of the UCL establishing a legislative desire either to categorically limit or categorically guarantee the application of common law accrual exceptions under the UCL.
Broberg also highlights an aspect of the statutory scheme salient for limitations purposes: the UCL is a chameleon. The UCL affords relief from unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent acts; moreover, under the unlawful prong, the UCL “ ‘ “borrows” violations of other laws and treats them as unlawful practices’ that the unfair competition law makes independently actionable.” (Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 163, 180.) Depending upon which prong is invoked, a UCL claim may most closely resemble, in terms of the right asserted, an action for misrepresentation (e.g., Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court (2011) 51 Cal.4th 310), misappropriation (e.g., Glue-Fold, Inc. v. Slautterback Corp. (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 1018), price fixing (e.g., Clayworth v. Pfizer, Inc., supra, 49 Cal.4th 758), interference with prospective economic advantage (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1134), or any of countless other common law and statutory claims. Given the widely varying nature of the right invoked, it makes sense to acknowledge that a UCL claim in some circumstances might support the potential application of one or another exception (e.g., Broberg v. The Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, supra, 171 Cal.App.4th at pp. 920-921), and in others might not (e.g., M&F Fishing, Inc. v. Sea-Pac Ins. Managers, Inc. (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 1509, 1531-1532 [concluding that while in theory delayed discovery might preserve an unfair competition claim, the nature of the particular UCL claim asserted precluded its application]). Accordingly, we conclude the UCL is governed by common law accrual rules to the same extent as any other statute. That a cause of action is labeled a UCL claim is not dispositive; instead, “the nature of the right sued upon” (Jefferson v. J. E. French Co., supra, 54 Cal.2d at p. 718) and the circumstances attending its invocation control the point of accrual. The common law last element accrual rule is the default (see Neel v. Magana, Olney, Levy, Cathcart & Gelfand, supra, 6 Cal.3d at p. 187), while exceptions to that rule apply precisely to the extent the preconditions for their application are met, as would be true under any other statute. We disapprove Snapp & Associates Ins. Services, Inc. v. Robertson, supra, 96 Cal.App.4th 884, and Salenga v. Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America, Inc., supra, 183 Cal.App.4th 986, to the extent they hold otherwise.
 As well, the UCL and its remedies are equitable. (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 1144.) It would be inconsistent to conclude that while equity may drive the availability of remedies under the UCL, equitable exceptions have no place in determining whether a claim for relief has been timely asserted in the first instance.
Slip op. at 10-12 (emphasis added).
The opinion then holds that in this particular case, the complaint adequately pleaded "a recurring unfair act," which was sufficient to support application of the continuous accrual doctrine. Accordingly, the trial court erred in sustaining the defendant's demurrer without leave to amend. Id. at 14-20.
In theory, the Court could have considered only the continuous accrual doctrine, held that it applied to UCL cases (including this case), and left the other doctrines for another day. It did not, perhaps because the rationale for its decision would be identical for all the doctrines. The approach also promotes judicial economy by resolving the split in authority among the lower courts, which revolved around the delayed discovery rule in particular.