Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The Song-Beverly Credit Card Act (Civ. Code 1747) makes it unlawful for merchants to request or require customers to provide “personal identification information” as a condition to accepting a credit card for payment. In 2015, the court of appeal held (Harrold) the Act does not prohibit merchants from requesting such information unless the request is made under circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the information is required to complete the transaction. The trial court decertified a class of plaintiffs who alleged that retailer Williams-Sonoma violated the Act by requesting their zip codes or email addresses because any violation would depend on the circumstances of the specific transaction. Zip codes and emails were requested regardless of the form of payment. If the customer declined, the sales clerk bypassed the request. Employees had discretion not to solicit the information at all and could explain that the information was not required and was only being collected for marketing purposes. Williams-Sonoma neither rewards its employees for collecting the information nor disciplines them if they do not. Williams-Sonoma required each of its California stores to post signs at the cash registers stating that zip codes and email addresses were requested solely for marketing purposes and were not required. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the court correctly applied the Harrold legal standard and its ruling is supported by substantial evidence. View "Williams-Sonoma Song-Beverly Act Cases" on Justia Law

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In 2012, California enacted legislation known as the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, or HBOR, which imposed specific limitations regarding the nonjudicial foreclosure of owner-occupied residential real property. The trial court granted Rosana Bustos’ ex parte application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and order to show cause regarding preliminary injunction, which sought to prevent a trustee’s sale of her home due to several alleged violations of the HBOR related to her submission of a loan modification application. Central to Bustos’ application was a “blatant violation” of the HBOR’s prohibition against dual tracking--when a mortgage servicer continues foreclosure proceedings while reviewing a homeowner’s application for a loan modification. After the trial court denied Bustos’ request for a preliminary injunction and vacated the TRO, it awarded her $4,260 in attorney fees and costs, finding Bustos was a “prevailing borrower” under the HBOR because she obtained injunctive relief in the form of a TRO against her mortgage servicer, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. On appeal, Wells Fargo argued the trial court erred in interpreting Civ. Code section 2924.12 as authorizing an award of attorney fees and costs to a borrower who obtains a TRO enjoining a trustee’s sale of his or her residence. Wells Fargo alternatively contended the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees and costs to Bustos under the circumstances of this case. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Bustos v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Gregory Moore contacted defendant Wells Fargo, N.A. to discuss possible assistance programs while he was unemployed. Wells Fargo recommended the forbearance plan (Plan) under the Home Affordable Unemployment Program (Unemployment Program) outlined in the United States Department of the Treasury’s Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) supplemental directive 10-04, May 11, 2010 (Directive 10-04). Wells Fargo explained the Plan would allow Moore to make reduced monthly payments for a period of time and said there was “no downside” to the Plan -- if Moore qualified for a permanent loan modification at the conclusion of the Plan, the arrears would be added to the modified loan balance and, if Moore did not qualify for a permanent loan modification, he would return to making his normal monthly payments. Moore applied for and was accepted to participate in the Plan. Moore made the Plan payments and later applied for a permanent loan modification. Three days after receiving a denial of his permanent loan modification application, Moore received a letter from Wells Fargo stating he was in default on his loan, demanding immediate payment of his normal mortgage payment and the arrears consisting principally of the difference between his normal mortgage payments and the reduced Plan payments (i.e., a balloon payment), and threatening foreclosure. Moore sued to stop the foreclosure and asserted the following causes of action: (1) declaratory relief; (2) negligence; (3) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) fraud; and (5) violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, the unfair competition law. In pretrial rulings, the trial court, among other things, adjudicated Moore’s declaratory relief cause of action in favor of Wells Fargo’s contractual interpretation permitting it to demand the balloon payment and dismissed Moore’s negligence cause of action in response to Wells Fargo’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. After Moore rested his case at trial, the trial court granted Wells Fargo’s motion for nonsuit as to Moore’s breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing cause of action. The trial court further granted Wells Fargo’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after the jury found Wells Fargo had committed fraud. The trial court also adjudicated the unfair competition law cause of action posttrial, finding in favor of Wells Fargo, and granted Wells Fargo’s motion for costs and attorney fees. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's rulings in favor of Wells Fargo, and the jury's verdict in favor of Moore on the intentional misrepresentation cause of action was reinstated. View "Moore v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-borrowers Thaddeus Potocki and Kelly Davenport sued Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and several other defendants (collectively, “Wells Fargo”) arising out of plaintiffs’ attempts to get a loan modification. The trial court sustained Wells Fargo’s demurrer to the third amended complaint without leave to amend. On appeal, plaintiffs argued: (1) a forbearance agreement obligated Wells Fargo to modify their loan; (2) the trial court erred in finding Wells Fargo owed no duty of care; (3) Wells Fargo’s denial of a loan modification was not sufficiently detailed to satisfy Civil Code section 2923.61; and (4) a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was sufficiently pled. The Court of Appeal determined plaintiffs’ third contention had merit, and reversed judgment of dismissal, vacated the order sustaining the demurrer insofar as it dismissed the claim for a violation of section 2923.6, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Potocki v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Sue Watkins defaulted on a credit card she opened through Citibank. Citibank charged off the debt, eventually selling the account to a third party debt collection agency, Cavalry SPV I, LLC (Cavalry). Cavalry added prejudgment interest from the date of charge-off and attempted to collect the debt through an associated entity, Cavalry Portfolio Services, LLC (CPS). As part of its collection efforts, CPS reported the debt with the additional interest included to several credit reporting agencies. Watkins disputed the debt and did not pay it, Cavalry sued to collect, and Watkins filed a cross-complaint alleging violations of the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other associated statutes governing debt collection practices. The superior court conducted a bench trial, rejected the claims in Watkins's cross-complaint, and entered a judgment in favor of Cavalry in the amount of the original debt, plus attorney fees. After the parties submitted additional briefing regarding the fees, the court awarded approximately one-half of the amount Cavalry requested. On appeal, Watkins argued the superior court erred: (1) by finding her liable for the original debt; (2) denying the claims in her cross-complaint; and (3) awarding Cavalry attorney fees. In their cross-appeal, Cavalry and CPS contended the superior court erred by reducing the attorney fees award. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court correctly determined that Watkins was liable for the original debt, but relied on an inaccurate interpretation of Civil Code. section 3289 (b) to support the accrual of statutory prejudgment interest. The superior court's denial of the counterclaims was nevertheless proper as Cavalry could have accrued such interest pursuant to section 3289 (a). Finally, the Court determined the superior court erred by awarding Cavalry and CPS attorney fees related to the defense of counterclaims. The Court therefore reversed judgment as to the fees and remanded the case to the superior court for further proceedings. View "Cavalry SPV I, LLC v. Watkins" on Justia Law

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Timlick filed a class action complaint, alleging that after defaulting on a loan, Timlick received a collection letter from a third-party debt collector (NES) that did not comply with section 1812.701(b) of the Consumer Collection Notice law because certain statutorily-required language was not in a type-size that was at least the same as used to inform Timlick of the debt, or 12-point type. NES moved for summary judgment on the basis that it cured the alleged violation within the 15-day period prescribed by section 1788.30(d) and sent a letter to Timlick’s attorney, enclosing a revised collection letter. Timlick did not dispute NES’s facts but argued section 1788.30(d) should not apply. The trial court granted NES summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed. A debt collector that violates the minimum type-size requirement for consumer collection letters can utilize the procedure for curing violations under the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but the trial court erred by dismissing the entire putative class action, as this allowed the debt collector to unilaterally “pick off” the named plaintiff and avoid class action litigation. View "Timlick v. National Enterprise Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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In two unrelated transactions, Front Line Motor Cars (Dealer), a used car dealer licensed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), repossessed cars after the buyers failed to obtain financing. Dealer then refused to return the buyers’ down payments. The buyers complained to DMV. DMV instructed Dealer to refund the buyers’ down payments. Dealer refused, asserting its actions were proper under the Rees-Levering Motor Vehicles Sales and Finance Act and that DMV lacked the power to sanction Dealer. DMV then brought a disciplinary action against Dealer. DMV accused Dealer of violating Civil Code sections 2982.5, 2982.7, and 2982.9, which were the only sections of the Act which required a seller to refund a buyer’s down payment upon the buyer’s failure to obtain financing. After an administrative hearing, DMV adopted the administrative law judge’s proposed order that Dealer’s license be conditionally revoked for two years due to Dealer’s violation of the Act. Dealer petitioned the superior court for a writ of administrative mandate, which the superior court denied. On appeal Dealer repeated its earlier arguments. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the unique facts in this case (which revealed Dealer lacked a good faith intent to enter into bona fide credit sales with the buyers), revealed the transactions involved seller-assisted loans subject to section 2982.5 of the Act, which expressly required Dealer to return the buyers’ down payments. View "Front Line Motor Cars v. Webb" on Justia Law

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The Taniguchis obtained a $510,500 home loan, secured by a deed of trust. A 2009 loan modification reduced their monthly payments and deferred until the loan's maturity approximately $116,000 of indebtedness. The modification provided that failure to make modified payments as scheduled would be default so that the modification would be void at the lender’s option. The modification left unchanged the original acceleration clauses and power of sale. The Taniguchis defaulted on the modified loan and were informed that to avoid foreclosure, they would have to pay their four missed payments and associated late charges, foreclosure fees and costs, plus all sums deferred under the modification (about $120,000 in principal, interest and charges). The Taniguchis filed suit. Restoration recorded a notice of trustee’s sale. The Taniguchis obtained a temporary restraining order. The Taniguchis alleged violations of Civil Code section 2924c by demanding excessive amounts to reinstate the loan, unfair competition, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Restoration. The court of appeal vacated in part. When principal comes due because of a default, section 2924c allows a borrower to cure that default and reinstate the loan by paying the default amount plus fees and expenses. Section 2924c gives the Taniguchis the opportunity to cure by paying the missed modified payments and avoid the demand for immediate payment of the deferred amounts. Nothing in the loan modification suggests that the Taniguchis forfeited that opportunity; section 2924c does not indicate that a forfeiture would be enforceable. View "Taniguchi v. Restoration Homes, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the underlying actions, the People asserted claims under Business and Professions Code section 17501 against real parties in interest and alleged that real parties sold products online by means of misleading, deceptive or untrue statements regarding the former prices of those products. The trial court sustained real parties' demurrer without leave to amend on the ground that the statute was void for vagueness as applied to real parties. The Court of Appeal granted the petition for writ of mandate seeking relief from the ruling regarding the section 17501 claims, and held that real parties failed to demonstrate any constitutional defect on demurrer. Regarding real parties' challenge to section 17501 as an unconstitutional regulation of free speech, as a preliminary matter, the court rejected petitioner's contention that the statute targets only false, misleading or deceptive commercial speech; the plain language of the statute restricts protected commercial speech and thus, the statute was subject to the test for constitutional validity set forth in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm'n (1980) 447 U.S. 557, 566; and, because the undeveloped record was inadequate to apply the test, real parties' "free speech" challenge necessarily failed on demurrer. The court also rejected real parties' contention that section 17501 was void for vagueness, and rejected the facial and as-applied challenges. View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Where a business conditions its offer to remedy a violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) on the consumer waiving his or her right to injunctive relief and remedies under other statutes and common law, the offer is not an appropriate correction offer as contemplated by Civil Code section 1782, subdivision (b), and does not bar a lawsuit by the consumer. Neither can the business demand as part of its correction offer that the consumer consent to additional settlement terms unrelated to the compensation necessary to make the consumer whole. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Seidner violated the CLRA, the unfair competition law (UCL), and Civil Code section 1632 (requiring translation of certain contracts), and committed fraud in connection with the company's lease of a vehicle to plaintiff and his wife. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Seidner. The court held that, although Seidner's correction offer was timely, it was not appropriate. The court also held that, to the extent Benson v. Southern California Auto Sales, Inc., (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1198, reached a contrary conclusion, the court disagreed with it. In this case, Seidner did not make an appropriate correction offer, and thus failed to meet its burden of showing a complete defense to plaintiff's claims to support the grant of summary judgment. View "Valdez v. Seidner-Miller, Inc." on Justia Law