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Some Consumer Protection Laws in California

California Civil Code §§ 1750 through 1784: What Is It?

California Civil Code Division 3, Part 4, Title 1.5 is commonly known as the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) and this is a consumer protection law that restricts business actions during trade while providing legal remedies to consumers. Under the CLRA, injured consumers can bring both individual or class action lawsuits against a business that violates the law.

What is prohibited?

According to the CLRA, there are many business practices that are considered to be unlawful during consumer transactions. Some illegal acts include, but are not limited to:

  • Falsely representing the condition of a good by claiming that it is new or original when it has been used; and
  • Falsely advertising a good or service by not intending to sell the product as advertised; and
  • Offering or providing a discount or benefit to a consumer that is contingent upon the occurrence of a future event; and
  • Providing a consumer with misleading information regarding the price reduction of a good or service; and
  • Including an unconscionable provision in a consumer’s contract.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

All businesses that take part in the sale or lease of goods or services must abide by the CLRA. A consumer who has suffered damages due to the unlawful actions of a business has the right to bring suit. In order to file a valid CLRA claim in court, at least 30 days before the commencement of an action a consumer must notify the defendant about the alleged CLRA violation(s) and that a lawsuit might soon be filed.  This is done by providing the defendant with a written letter and providing them with the opportunity to make a cure offer. If the business does not remedy the situation, the consumer can continue to move forward and file a lawsuit pursuant to the CLRA.

To state a cognizable claim, a plaintiff must identify consumer-oriented misconduct, which is deceptive and materially misleading to a reasonable consumer, and which also causes actual damages.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

Injured consumers have the opportunity to obtain an injunction, actual monetary damages (but in no case pursuant to the CLRA is the total award of damages in a class action allowed to be less than $1,000.00), restitution of property, punitive damages, and any other relief per the court’s discretion. The consumer can also collect court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

In individual actions pursuant to the CLRA, it is possible for senior citizens and disabled people to, in the court’s discretion, receive up to $5,000.00 in addition to the remedies outlined above. In a class action pursuant to the CLRA by senior citizens and disabled people, each class member may be awarded that additional award of up to $5,000.00 as well, in the court’s discretion.

If proven by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant has violated paragraph (24) subdivision (a) of the CLRA, then in addition to all other remedies provided by the CLRA, a consumer can receive treble actual damages.

What is the statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations period is a legal provision that sets forth the maximum amount of time that a party has to initiate legal proceedings in regard to a particular claim for relief; generally starting from the date that an alleged unlawful action accrued. The statute of limitations period for filing a claim under the CLRA is three years from the occurrence of the alleged violation.

California Civil Code §§ 1788 through 1788.33: What Is It?

Title 1.6C of California Civil Code Division 3, Part 4 is known as the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“RFDCPA”). The RFDCPA is a California law that specifically regulates debt collection activities and builds upon the provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).

What is prohibited?

The RFDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using unlawful debt collection practices, which includes a wide variety of actions. For example, during the collection process, a debt collector cannot do the following actions which include, but are not limited to:

  • Communicating to a consumer using abusive or profane language; and
  • Threatening to use violence or physical force against an individual; and
  • Placing repeated calls to a consumer’s telephone; and
  • Using written communication that displays information about a consumer’s debt; and
  • Using a false name when communicating with a debtor.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The RFDCPA applies to any entity that engages in debt collection on behalf of themselves or others. Thus, under the RFDCPA, both original creditors and third-party debt collection companies are considered to be debt collectors and must abide by the regulations contained in this law. Consumers in California who are injured by unlawful debt collection practices can bring suit under both the RFDCPA, and the federal FDCPA, as they can recover the damages available under both statutes and not just one of them.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

If a debt collector violates the RFDCPA, they must provide the injured consumer with an amount equal to their actual damages. Additionally, if the court finds that the unlawful action was willfully and knowingly conducted, the debt collector would have to pay the consumer a penalty between $100 and $1,000; it would just need to be shown that they willfully and knowingly engaged in the unlawful acts, not that they willfully and knowingly intended to violate the RFDCPA. The defendant would also have to cover the consumer’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

What is the statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations period is a legal provision that sets forth the maximum amount of time that a party has to initiate legal proceedings in regard to a particular claim for relief; generally starting from the date that an alleged unlawful action accrued. For actions under the RFDCPA, consumers must bring suit within one year of the violation having occurred.

California Business & Professions Code §§ 17200 through 17594: What Is It?

California Business and Professions Code Division 7, Part 2, Section 17200 through 17594 is known as the California Unfair Competition Law (“CUCL”). The CUCL is a state law that protects the interests of consumers during trade or commerce by regulating the actions of businesses that take part in consumer transactions. The CUCL allows the Attorney General, any district attorney or prosecuting attorney, and any injured individual to bring suit against a business that commits an unlawful trade practice.

What is prohibited?

Under the CUCL, businesses are prohibited from engaging in unfair competition. This means that the use of any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent act that is conducted by a business during trade or commerce is considered to be illegal. Additionally, businesses also cannot employ the use of deceptive or misleading advertising.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The CUCL applies to any business that engages in consumer transactions. Any consumer that is injured by a violation of the CUCL and loses money or property as a result of the unlawful action is able to file a lawsuit against an offending business. Under the CUCL, prior to filing an action, a consumer is not required to provide a letter to the potential defendant that would notify them of the potential lawsuit.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

The CUCL allows prevailing consumers to receive injunctive relief and restoration of the damages that were lost as a result of the unlawful business practice (such as, for example, their actual economic damages, and lost money and property whether it is real or personal). Prevailing consumers may also be able to collect punitive damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees.

What is the statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations period is a legal provision that sets forth the maximum amount of time that a party has to initiate legal proceedings in regard to a particular claim for relief; generally starting from the date that an alleged unlawful action accrued. For the CUCL, any action that is brought under this law must occur within four years of the date that the unlawful practice was committed.

California Penal Code § 630, et seq. – What is it?

California Penal Code § 630, et seq. is known as the California Invasion of Privacy Act (“CIPA”). The CIPA is a state law that protects the interests of individuals who have been unlawfully recorded in phone calls. Any injured individual can bring suit against a business that unlawfully records them without the individual’s express permission. California is a “two-party consent” state, which means that both sides of a call had to have consented to a recording of the call, before the act of recording started, for the phone call to have been lawfully recorded.

What is prohibited?

Under the CIPA, businesses are prohibited from using technology to record individuals without the individual’s express consent, which would be illegal wiretapping. Unlawful call recording is a violation of one’s right to privacy. A business is prohibited from recording a consumer or any individual without first letting them know that the call would be recorded and obtaining the person’s express consent to record the call.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The CIPA applies to any business that engages in illegally recording a phone conversation with an individual without first obtaining the person’s express consent and informing them that the call will be recorded. For a call where the individual was speaking on a landline, for the CIPA to be violated there has to be a reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone call, where there was a confidential communication in the phone call.

For phone calls where the individual was speaking on a cell phone, the CIPA imposes strict liability, so the content of the communication does not have to be confidential in nature where there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, and it would not matter if the business did not know that the individual was speaking on their cell phone.

The CIPA applies only to individuals who are within the state of California at the time of the illegal recording of their phone call. If a business makes a call to an individual who is within California at the time that the call occurs or receives a call from a person who is within California at the time that the call occurs, the business has to comply with the requirements of the CIPA either way.

Any person whose rights are violated under the CIPA is able to file a lawsuit against an offending business pursuant to that statute. Class actions are also permitted to be filed under the CIPA against an offending business.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

The CIPA allows prevailing individuals and consumers to receive injunctive relief, up to three times their actual damages, statutory damages of up to $5,000.00 per illegally recorded phone call, and restoration of the damages that were lost as a result of the unlawful business practice (their actual economic damages).

What is the statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations period is a legal provision that sets forth the maximum amount of time that a party has to initiate legal proceedings in regard to a particular claim for relief; generally starting from the date that an alleged unlawful action accrued. For the CIPA, any action that is brought under this law must occur within one year of the date that the unlawful practice was committed. There can be an equitable tolling of the statute of limitations period if the consumer was not aware that their call had been secretly recorded without their permission and express consent.

The statute of limitations period for debt in California:

In California, most debts have a four-year statute of limitations period (the maximum amount of time that a party can have to initiate legal proceedings against a consumer for nonpayment of an alleged debt), but debts that originate from oral contracts have a two-year statute of limitations period. Different types of debt have different statute of limitations periods. In California, the statute of limitations period for auto loan debt is four years, it is four years for credit card debt, it is four years for medical debt, and it is four years for mortgage debt. Once the statute of limitations period expires, a creditor cannot successfully sue a consumer for nonpayment of the debt. If a consumer promises to make a payment on an alleged debt, or makes even a small payment, it could potentially restart the clock on the statute of limitations.

Some of the places that a consumer can look to for help or answers to questions:

The laws and statutes discussed above can change. So, in the state that a consumer resides in, a consumer protection agency, the Office of the Attorney General, and/or a consumer protection attorney who is licensed in a consumer’s respective state can help a consumer in getting help, up to date information and interpretations, and/or with determining the answers to their questions in regard to the aforementioned laws. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can assist as well.