Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Bitner v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation
Plaintiffs-appellants Jennifer Bitner and Evelina Herrera were employed as licensed vocational nurses by defendant-respondent California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They filed a class action suit against CDCR alleging that: (1) while assigned to duties that included one-on-one suicide monitoring, they were subjected to acts of sexual harassment by prison inmates; and (2) CDCR failed to prevent or remedy the situation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Government Code section 12940 et seq. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of CDCR on the ground that it was entitled to statutory immunity under section 844.6, which generally provided that “a public entity is not liable for . . . [a]n injury proximately caused by any prisoner.” Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that, as a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal should interpret section 844.6 to include an exception for claims brought pursuant to FEHA. Plaintiffs also argued that, even if claims under FEHA were not exempt from the immunity granted in section 844.6, the evidence presented on summary judgment did not establish that their injuries were “ ‘proximately caused’ ” by prisoners. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the judgment. View "Bitner v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law
Imperial County Sheriff’s Assn. v. County of Imperial
Plaintiffs, six individuals employed by the County of Imperial, and the three unions representing them (the Imperial County Sheriff’s Association (ICSA), the Imperial County Firefighter’s Association (ICFA), and the Imperial County Probation and Corrections Peace Officers’ Association (PCPOA)), brought a class action lawsuit against the County of Imperial, the Imperial County Employees’ Retirement System, and the System’s Board alleging that the defendants were systematically miscalculating employee pension contributions. After two years of failed mediation, plaintiffs moved for class certification under Code of Civil Procedure section 382. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the conflicting interests of two primary groups of employees, those hired before the effective date of the Public Employee Pension Reform Act and those hired after, precluded the court from certifying a class. The court found that because the employees hired before PEPRA took effect were entitled to an enhanced pension benefit unavailable to those hired after, the two groups’ interests were antagonistic and the community of interest among the proposed class members required for certification could not be met. The trial court also concluded the proposed class representatives had failed to show they could adequately represent the class. On appeal, plaintiffs contended insufficient evidence supported the trial court’s finding that there was an inherent conflict among the class members that precluded class certification and that the court’s legal reasoning on this factor was flawed. The plaintiffs also argued they should have been given an opportunity to show they could adequately represent the interests of the class. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning concerning the community of interest among the proposed class, and agreed with plaintiffs they should be provided an opportunity to demonstrate their adequacy. Accordingly, the order denying class certification was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court with directions to allow the proposed class representatives to file supplemental declarations addressing their adequacy to serve in this role. Thereafter, if the trial court approves of the class representatives, the court was directed to grant plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, including the creation of the subclasses identified by the Court. View "Imperial County Sheriff's Assn. v. County of Imperial" on Justia Law
Allen v. San Diego Convention Center Corp., Inc.
Petitioner-appellant Sharlene Allen was a former employee of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation (SDCCC). After SDCCC terminated Allen, she filed a class action lawsuit against SDCCC alleging various violations of the California Labor Code. The trial court largely sustained SDCCC’s demurrer to the complaint on the grounds that the corporation was exempt from liability as a government entity. The court, however, left intact one claim for untimely payment of final wages under Labor Code sections 201, 202, and 203,1 and derivative claims under the Unfair Competition Law and the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Allen then moved for class certification for her surviving causes of action. The trial court denied the motion based on Allen’s concession that her claim for untimely final payment was not viable because it was derivative of the other claims dismissed at the demurrer stage. Allen appealed the denial of the motion for class certification, which she claimed was the "death knell" of her class claims and thus, the lawsuit. She argued the trial court’s ruling on the demurrer was incorrect because SDCCC did not establish as a matter of law that it was exempt from liability. In response, SDCCC argued Allen’s appeal should have been dismissed as taken from a nonappealable order. Alternatively, SDCCC contended the trial court’s order sustaining its demurrer was correct, and the subsequent denial of class certification should be affirmed. The Court of Appeal rejected SDCCC’s assertion that the order was not appealable. However, the Court agreed that class certification was properly denied by the trial court and affirmed the order. View "Allen v. San Diego Convention Center Corp., Inc." on Justia Law
Beasley v. Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc.
Beasley alleged that, during the proposed class period— January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2016—Tootsie Roll manufactured, distributed, and sold products that contained artificial trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and that trans fats are harmful and cause cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and organ damage. Beasley alleged she purchased Tootsie Roll products containing PHOs during the class period. She sought to represent a class defined as: “All citizens of California who purchased Tootsie Products containing partially hydrogenated oil in California” during the class period. Beasley asserted the use of PHOs was unlawful and unfair under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200 ) and breached the implied warranty of merchantability.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Beasley failed to allege cognizable injury and some of her claims were preempted by federal law (specifically a congressional enactment providing the use of PHOs is not to be deemed violative of food additive standards until June 18, 2018). The claim for breach of warranty is also preempted. Permitting the use of broad state statutory provisions governing “adulterated” foods to impose liability for PHO use before the federally established compliance date would create an obstacle to the achievement of Congress’s evident purpose of confirming the 2018 compliance date. View "Beasley v. Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Class Action, Consumer Law, Personal Injury
Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc.
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
Mills v. Facility Solutions Group
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
Limon v. Circle K Stores
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
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Civil Procedure, Class Action, Consumer Law
Vigil v. Muir Medical Group IPA, Inc.
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
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Civil Procedure, Class Action
Salazar v. Walmart, Inc.
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
Salazar v. Target Corp.
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