Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Reynolds purchased a Ford truck. Over the next six years, Reynolds had the truck repaired 15 times but it continued to malfunction. Ford denied Reynolds’s request that it buy back or replace the truck under the Song-Beverly Act. Reynolds filed suit, raising several claims, including one under the Song-Beverly Act. The parties settled for $277,500.00. Ford agreed to “pay [Reynolds’s ] attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses pursuant to Civil Code section 1794(d) in an amount determined by the Court ... to have been reasonably incurred by [Reynolds].” Reynolds sought fees of $308,696.25. Reynolds had retained counsel on a contingency fee basis. The court conducted a lodestar analysis and awarded $201,891--compensation for 457.85 hours at reasonable hourly rates ($225-500/hour), plus a lodestar multiplier of 1.2, “reasonable and appropriate" to the objectives of the Act. The court ruled Reynolds had no obligation to disclose the terms of the retainer agreement: “Many statutory fee-award provisions begin with the lodestar method but are governed by the specific statutory requirement that the final fee award be ‘reasonable’ in nature. No such requirement is found in the Song-Beverly Act. The fee award must be based on the court’s calculation of the ‘actual time expended ... determined by the court to have been reasonabl[y] incurred. ... The court does not have the discretion to consider whether plaintiff’s attorney received additional compensation by ... a separate retaine[r] agreement. The court of appeal affirmed. Ford's concern that it is improper for a court to disregard a potential contingency fee award in determining the statutory fee under section 1794 is a question “more appropriately directed to the Legislature.” View "Reynolds v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In January 2017, plaintiffs Lori Dougherty and Julie Lee's 89-year-old father passed away while living in Somerford Place, an elder residential care facility owned and operated by defendants Roseville Heritage Partners, Somerford Place, LLC, Five Star Quality Care, Inc., and Five Star Quality Care-Somerford, LLC. In July 2017, plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging elder abuse and wrongful death based upon the reckless and negligent care their father received while residing in defendants’ facility. Defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion to compel arbitration and stay the action, contending the arbitration agreement did not contain any unconscionable or unlawful provisions. Alternatively, defendants argued the court abused its discretion by invalidating the agreement as a whole, rather than severing the offending provisions. The Court of Appeal found the arbitration agreement at issue here was "buried within the packet at pages 43 through 45," and "[b]ased on the adhesiveness of the agreement, and the oppression and surprise present," the Court concluded the trial court properly found the Agreement was imposed on a “take it or leave it” basis and evinced a high degree of procedural unconscionability. Under the sliding scale approach, only a low level of substantive unconscionability was required to render the arbitration agreement unenforceable. Likewise, the Court concurred that the arbitration agreement was substantively unconscionable, "particularly given the accompanying evidence of procedural unconscionability." The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's declination to sever the offending provisions of the agreement, rather than invalidate the entire agreement. View "Dougherty v. Roseville Heritage Partners" on Justia Law

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Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product. The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Dan Kaplan, James Baker, Janice Fistolera, Fernando Palacios, and Hamid Aliabadi appealed two judgments dismissing two coordinated actions against defendant Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Fidelity): Fistolera v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Joaquin County, No. 39-2012-00286479-CU-BT-STK) (Fistolera Action) and Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty Company (Super. Ct. San Diego County, No. 37-2008-00087962-CU-BT-CTL) (Kaplan Action). The trial court dismissed the actions after determining the plaintiffs failed to timely prosecute each case. With respect to the Fistolera Action, a putative class action, the trial court concluded that the Fistolera Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within the five-year mandatory period specified in Code of Civil Procedure section 583.310. As to the Kaplan Action, a certified class action, the trial court concluded that the Kaplan Plaintiffs failed to bring the action to trial within three years of the issuance of the remittitur in a prior appeal in that action (Kaplan v. Fidelity National Home Warranty (December 17, 2013, D062531, D062747) [nonpub. opn.] (Kaplan I)), as required by section 583.320. On appeal, plaintiffs claimed the trial court erred in dismissing each action. On the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, the Court of Appeal concluded that, in calculating the five- year and three-year mandatory dismissal periods, the trial court erred in failing to exclude 135 days immediately following the assignment of a coordination motion judge to rule on a petition to coordinate the Fistolera Action and the Kaplan Action. Furthermore, the Court determined this error required reversal of the dismissal of the Fistolera Action because, after excluding these 135 days, the five-year period had not expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that action, and the matter was set for trial within the five-year period. However, the Court concluded that this error did not require reversal of the trial court's dismissal of the Kaplan Action. To the Kaplan Action, the Court determined that because, even after excluding 135 days related to the coordination proceedings, the three-year period that the Kaplan Plaintiffs had to bring that action to trial had expired as of the time the trial court dismissed that case. Further, the Court held none of the Kaplan Plaintiffs' arguments for additional tolling of the three-year period had merit. View "Fidelity National Home Warranty Company Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Unfair Competition Law, the false advertising law, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, alleging that the Cuties Juice label for tangerine juice was fraudulent because it was likely to deceive reasonable consumers in its implications. The Court of Appeal held that where, as here, a product label accurately states that the product has "no sugar added," a reasonable consumer is not likely to view that statement as a representation that competing products do have sugar added, which, if untrue, renders the product label at issue deceptive. The court held that the allegations underlying plaintiff's remaining claims were also deficient. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend. View "Shaeffer v. Califia Farms, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleges she bought her Richmond home in 1973, refinanced her mortgage in 2005, and unsuccessfully applied for a loan modification in 2015. Plaintiff was not allowed to make payments in the interim and owed $20,000 in arrears. Plaintiff sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief. She was required to make monthly payments to cover her pre-petition mortgage arrears plus her regular monthly mortgage payments. Plaintiff failed to make her regular October 2016 mortgage payment. Defendant sought relief from the automatic bankruptcy stay. The bankruptcy court approved an agreement that she would pay the October and November payments over a period beginning in January 2017. Plaintiff claims defendant violated that agreement, that her attempts to make those payments failed, and that she was unable to contact the defendant’s “single point of contact” for foreclosure avoidance (Civil Code 2923.7) Defendant obtained relief from the bankruptcy stay and would not accept the January 2017 payment. At the time of the bankruptcy sale, plaintiff’s home was worth approximately $550,000; defendant sold the home for $403,000. The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim that she should have been able to avoid foreclosure by tendering the amount in default (Civ. Code 2924c) and that it was unlawful for defendant also to demand payment on amounts subject to a confirmed bankruptcy plan and reversed the dismissal of the section 2923.7 claim but upheld the dismissal of breach of contract, negligence, and elder abuse claims. View "Williams v. 21st Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against MBUSA under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act after the navigation system in the vehicle he leased from MBUSA experienced recurring problems. The jury found that the vehicle had a substantial impairment and that MBUSA failed to repair or replace the vehicle. Plaintiff did not lease the vehicle for his own use, but for his friend, Arjang Fayaz, who was the primary driver. The jury awarded damages solely to Fayaz. Both plaintiff and Fayaz moved for attorney fees as prevailing parties. The trial court granted the motion as to Fayaz only, and limited the award to fees incurred while Fayaz was a party to the case. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the Act provides that successful plaintiffs are entitled to collect attorney fees based on actual time expended, determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred by the buyer in connection with the commencement and prosecution of such action. In this case, plaintiffs successfully proved to a jury that the vehicle was defective in breach of MBUSA's express warranty, MBUSA failed to repair or replace it, and damages resulted from MBUSA's breach. Therefore, the jury award did not support the trial court's holding and the court remanded for a hearing to determine a reasonable fee award. View "Patel v. Mercedes-Benz USA" on Justia Law

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Jeremiah Smith filed a class action complaint against LoanMe, Inc., alleging that LoanMe violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act. Smith alleged that LoanMe violated Penal Code section 632.7 by recording a phone call with Smith without his consent while he was using a cordless telephone, and he claimed that a “beep tone” at the beginning of the call did not constitute sufficient notice that LoanMe was recording the call. In a bifurcated trial about the beep tone issue, the trial court concluded that: (1) the beep tone provided sufficient notice to Smith that the call was being recorded; and (2) Smith implicitly consented to being recorded by remaining on the call. The Court of Appeal concluded section 632.7 prohibited only third party eavesdroppers from intentionally recording telephonic communications involving at least one cellular or cordless telephone. Conversely, section 632.7 did not prohibit the participants in a phone call from intentionally recording it. Consequently, Smith failed to state a claim against LoanMe under section 632.7. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of Smith’s lawsuit. View "Smith v. LoanMe, Inc." on Justia Law

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If the principal secured by a mortgage or deed of trust becomes due because of the borrower’s default in making payments Civil Code 2924c allows the borrower to reinstate the loan and avoid foreclosure by paying the amount in default, plus specified fees and expenses. Under section 2953, the right of reinstatement cannot be waived in any agreement “at the time of or in connection with the making of or renewing of any loan secured by a deed of trust, mortgage or other instrument creating a lien on real property.” The borrowers missed four monthly payments on a mortgage loan that had been modified after an earlier default. The modification deferred amounts due on the original loan and provided that any default would allow the lender to void the modification and enforce the original loan. The borrowers sought to reinstate the modified loan by paying the four missed payments, plus fees and expenses. The lender argued that section 2953 does not apply to the modified loan and that the borrowers may reinstate the original loan by paying the amount of the earlier default on the original loan plus the missed modified payments. The court of appeal ruled in favor of the borrowers. Modification is appropriately viewed as the making or renewal of a loan secured by a deed of trust and is subject to the anti-waiver provisions. Section 2924c gives the borrows the opportunity to cure their precipitating default (the missed modified monthly payments) by making up those missed payments and paying the associated late charges and fees, to avoid the consequences of default on the modified loan. View "Taniguchi v. Restoration Homes LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved the sale of a certified preowned Mercedes Benz that still had a portion of the new vehicle warranty remaining, and which was accompanied by an additional used vehicle warranty issued by the manufacturer. An uncurable defect manifested after the expiration of the new vehicle warranty, but during the duration of the used vehicle warranty. Mercedes Benz refused to repurchase the vehicle, and the plaintiff sued. A jury found Mercedes Benz liable under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act for breach of both the express warranty and the implied warranty of merchantability, and, pursuant to the stipulation of the parties as to the amount of damage, awarded the same compensatory damages on both causes of action. The court entered judgment on the jury’s special verdict after striking the damages for breach of the implied warranty, presumably to avoid a double recovery. Mercedes Benz appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the jury's verdict on the breach of express warranty claim. "Although the Song-Beverly Act generally binds only distributors and retail sellers in the sale of used goods, we conclude Mercedes Benz stepped into that role by issuing an express warranty on the sale of a used vehicle." Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Kiluk v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC" on Justia Law