Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In 2008, California enacted a Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE) as a method for homeowners to finance energy and water conservation improvements. A PACE debt was created by contract and secured by the improved property. But like a tax, the installment payments were billed and paid as a special assessment on the improved property, resulting in a first-priority tax lien in the event of default. The named plaintiffs in these putative class actions were over 65 years old and entered into PACE contracts. The defendants were private companies who either made PACE loans to plaintiffs, were assigned rights to payment, and/or administered PACE programs for municipalities. The gravamen of the complaint in each case was that PACE financing was actually, and should have been treated as, a secured home improvement loan. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by violating consumer protection laws, including Civil Code section 1804.1(j), which prohibited taking a security interest in a senior citizen’s residence to secure a home improvement loan. Generally, a taxpayer could not pursue a court action for a refund of property taxes without first applying to the local board of equalization for a reduction and then filing an administrative claim for a refund. Here, defendants demurred to the complaints on the sole ground that plaintiffs failed to allege they first exhausted administrative remedies. The trial court agreed, sustained the demurrers without leave to amend, and entered a judgment of dismissal in each case. On appeal, plaintiffs primarily contend they were not required to pursue administrative remedies because they have sued only private companies and do not challenge “any aspect of the municipal tax process involved.” The Court of Appeal found that despite their assertions to the contrary, plaintiffs did challenge their property tax assessments. And although they did not sue any government entity, the “consumer protection statutes under which plaintiffs brought their action cannot be employed to avoid the limitations and procedures set out by the Revenue and Taxation Code.” Thus, the Court concluded plaintiffs were required to submit their claims through the administrative appeals process in the first instance. "Their failure to do so requires the judgments to be affirmed." View "Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint against his former employer, Facility Solutions Group, Inc. (FSG), for disability discrimination and related causes of action under the Fair Employment & Housing Act. The same month Plaintiff filed this class action against FSG for Labor Code violations, which also included a claim under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004.   The trial court in this action denied FSG’s motion, finding unconscionability permeated the arbitration agreement because it had a low to moderate level of procedural unconscionability and at least six substantively unconscionable terms, making severance infeasible. On appeal, FSG contends claim and issue preclusion required the trial court in this action to enforce the arbitration agreement.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court agreed with the trial court that the arbitration agreement is permeated with unconscionability, and the court cannot simply sever the offending provisions. Rather, the court would need to rewrite the agreement, creating a new agreement to which the parties never agreed. Moreover, upholding this type of agreement with multiple unconscionable terms would create an incentive for an employer to draft a onesided arbitration agreement in the hope employees would not challenge the unlawful provisions, but if they do, the court would simply modify the agreement to include the bilateral terms the employer should have included in the first place. View "Mills v. Facility Solutions Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff’s complaint alleged Circle K violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by failing to provide him with proper FCRA disclosures when it sought and received his authorization to obtain a consumer report about him in connection with his application for employment, and by actually obtaining the consumer report in reliance on that authorization. Plaintiff appealed from a judgment of dismissal entered in favor of respondent Circle K Stores Inc. (Circle K) and against Plaintiff after the trial court sustained Circle K’s demurrer to Plaintiff’s CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT (complaint) without leave to amend.     The Fifth Appellate affirmed the judgment of dismissal. The court explained that Plaintiff did not allege he did not receive a copy of the consumer report that Circle K obtained. Plaintiff does not allege the consumer report obtained by Circle K contains any defamatory content or other per se injurious content. He does not allege the consumer report contained false or inaccurate information. Similarly, there are no allegations of any exposure to a material risk of future harm, imminent or substantial. Thus, there was no injury to Plaintiff’s protected interest in ensuring fair and accurate credit (or background) reporting. The court also rejected Plaintiff’s claims he suffered “informational injury” sufficient to confer upon him standing to maintain his action. “Informational injury that causes no adverse effects”—e.g., where required information is provided but is provided in the wrong format as in the present case—has been held insufficient to satisfy Article III standing. View "Limon v. Circle K Stores" on Justia Law

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Vigil filed a class action against Muir Medical Group, claiming that it failed to secure patients’ personal information, thereby allowing a former employee to download private medical information belonging to more than 5,000 patients and take it with her when she left her employment with Muir. The class complaint alleges that Muir violated Civil Code sections 56.101 and 56.36(b), of the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA) by negligently releasing class members’ confidential medical information. The trial court denied a motion for class certification, finding as to the CMIA claim that each class member would have to show that the confidential nature of his medical information had been breached by an unauthorized party, as required by the 2014 “Sutter Health” decision and therefore that common issues would not predominate.The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court properly applied the CMIA and exercised its discretion in denying class certification. Under “Sutter Health,” a breach of confidentiality requires an unauthorized person to have “actually viewed” the confidential medical information. The mere ability of an unauthorized party to access information cannot support a claim under sections 56.101(a), and 56.36(b). Each class member’s right to recover depends on facts peculiar to his case. View "Vigil v. Muir Medical Group IPA, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff-appellant David Salazar bought Walmart, Inc.’s “Great Value White Baking Chips” incorrectly thinking they contained white chocolate, he filed this class action against Walmart for false advertising under various consumer protection statutes. The trial court sustained Walmart’s demurrers without leave to amend, finding as a matter of law that no reasonable consumer would believe Walmart’s White Baking Chips contain white chocolate. The thrust of Salazar's claims was that he was reasonably misled to believe the White Baking Chips had real white chocolate because of the product’s label and its placement near products with real chocolate. Salazar also alleged that the results of a survey he conducted show that 90 percent of consumers were deceived by the White Baking Chips’ advertising and incorrectly believed they contained white chocolate. “California courts . . . have recognized that whether a business practice is deceptive will usually be a question of fact not appropriate for decision on demurrer. ... These are matters of fact, subject to proof that can be tested at trial, even if as judges we might be tempted to debate and speculate further about them.” After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal determined that a reasonable consumer could reasonably believe the morsels had white chocolate. As a result, the Court found Salazar plausibly alleged that “‘a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled’” by the chips' advertising. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Salazar v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff-appellant David Salazar bought Target Corporation’s White Baking Morsels incorrectly thinking they contained white chocolate, he filed this class action against Target for false advertising under various consumer protection statutes. Salazar claimed he was reasonably mislead to believe the White Baking Morsels had real white chocolate because of the product’s label, its price tag, and its placement near products with real chocolate. To support his position, Salazar alleged that the results of a survey he conducted showed that 88 percent of consumers were deceived by the White Baking Morsels’ advertising and incorrectly believe they contained white chocolate. He also alleged that Target falsely advertised on its website that the “‘chocolate type’” of White Baking Morsels was “‘white chocolate,’” and placed the product in the “‘Baking Chocolate & Cocoa’” category. Target demurred to all three claims on the ground that no reasonable consumer would believe the White Baking Morsels contained real white chocolate. Target also argued that Salazar lacked standing to assert claims based on Target’s website because he did not view the website and did not rely on its representations. The court sustained Target’s demurrer without leave to amend and entered judgment for Target. “California courts . . . have recognized that whether a business practice is deceptive will usually be a question of fact not appropriate for decision on demurrer. ... These are matters of fact, subject to proof that can be tested at trial, even if as judges we might be tempted to debate and speculate further about them.” After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal determined that a reasonable consumer could reasonably believe the morsels had white chocolate. As a result, the Court found Salazar plausibly alleged that “‘a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled’” by the White Baking Morsels’ advertising. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Salazar v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

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Appellants are patients at medical facilities operated by respondent Centrelake Medical Group. In reliance on Centrelake’s allegedly false representations that it employed reasonable safeguards for patients’ personal identifying information (PII), Appellants entered into contracts with Centrelake. Appellants brought an action against Centrelake on behalf of themselves and a putative class of patients affected by a data breach. The complaint contained causes of action for breach of contract, negligence, and violations of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Centrelake demurred, arguing that Appellants had failed to adequately plead any cognizable injury and that their negligence claim was barred by the economic loss rule. Appellants opposed the demurrer. On appeal, Appellants contend the court erred in sustaining the demurrer with respect to each of their claims and abused its discretion in denying their request for leave to amend.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment with respect to the dismissal of Appellants’ negligence claim without leave to amend, but reverse with respect to Appellants’ UCL and contract claims. The court concluded that Appellants adequately alleged UCL standing and contract damages under their benefit-of-the-bargain theory, and the Appellant who purchased monitoring services, did the same under Appellants’ monitoring-costs theory. However, Appellants have not shown the court erred in dismissing their negligence claim under the economic loss rule; nor have they shown the court abused its discretion in denying their request for leave to amend. View "Moore v. Centrelake Medical Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners are truck drivers previously employed by real party in interest Haralambos Beverage Co. (Haralambos). Petitioners' filed a putative wage and hour class action alleging, among other things, that Haralambos failed to provide meal and rest breaks in violation of Labor Code sections 226.7 and 512 and the Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Order No. 9-2001. Nearly two years later, on December 28, 2018, the FMCSA issued an order concluding that California’s meal and rest break rules are laws “‘on commercial motor vehicle safety,’” are preempted pursuant to title 49 United States Code section 31141 (section 31141).   Thereafter, Haralambos filed a motion to strike the class allegations on federal preemption grounds, which the parties agreed was a request to strike petitioners’ third and fourth causes of action for failure to provide meal and rest breaks. On August 18, 2021, the superior court granted the motion and struck the two causes of action.   The Second Appellate District granted Petitioners’ petition for writ of mandate. The court held that in light of the FMCSA’s authority to determine and communicate what it is preempting, its use of language suggesting prospective application only, and its failure to expressly extend its decision to pending claims, the court concluded the Preemption Decision does not apply to bar claims arising from conduct that occurred prior to the decision, i.e., before December 28, 2018. View "Garcia v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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This putative class action against California and San Diego County officials challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders and related public health directives restricting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, owners of affected restaurants and gyms (Owners), primarily contended the orders were procedurally invalid because they were adopted without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Furthermore, Owners contended that the business restrictions were substantively invalid because they effected a taking without compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rejecting these claims, the superior court sustained demurrers to the third amended complaint without leave to amend and dismissed the action. While the Court of Appeal sympathized with the position some Owners find themselves in and the significant financial losses they alleged, the unambiguous terms of the Emergency Services Act and controlling United States Supreme Court regulatory takings caselaw required that the judgment be affirmed. View "640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Nicole Leshane, Steve Garner, Justin Prasad, Isaac Saldana, and Maurice West sued defendants Tracy VW, Inc. and RJ Gill Ventures, Inc. alleging several Labor Code violations. Plaintiffs brought suit on behalf of themselves as defendants’ former employees, on behalf of others similarly situated, and on behalf of the state pursuant to the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004. After defendants filed a petition to compel arbitration, plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint alleging violations of the Labor Code solely as representatives of the state under the Private Attorneys General Act. Defendants continued to seek arbitration of plaintiffs’ individual claims and dismissal of their class-wide claims pursuant to the arbitration agreements each plaintiff signed. The trial court denied defendants’ petition to compel arbitration finding plaintiffs’ claim under the Private Attorneys General Act was not subject to arbitration citing Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014). Defendants appealed the trial court’s order. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Leshane v. Tracy VW, Inc." on Justia Law