October 26, 2010

Oral argument coming up in important UCL standing case

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in San Francisco on November 3 in an important UCL standing case, Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court (Benson), no. S171845, which presents the following issue: “Does a plaintiff’s allegation that he purchased a product in reliance on the product label’s misrepresentation about a characteristic of the product satisfy the requirement for standing under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, section 17200 et seq.) that the plaintiff allege a loss of money or property, or is such a plaintiff unable to allege the required loss of money or property because he obtained the benefit of his bargain by receiving the product in exchange for the payment?”

The plaintiffs claimed UCL violations based on their purchase of locksets labeled “Made in U.S.A.,” which allegedly contained component parts made in foreign countries. The Court of Appeal (Fourth Dist., Div. Three) held that a demurrer to the complaint should have been sustained because the plaintiffs had failed to adequately allege any actual injury from the alleged misrepresentations about the origin of the locksets: “Real parties do not allege the locksets were defective, or not worth the purchase price they paid, or cost more than similar products without false country of origin labels. Nor have real parties alleged the locksets purchased either were of inferior quality or failed to perform as expected.”

The UCL Practitioner poses an interesting procedural question arising in this matter. Since the cases heard on the Court’s November and December calendars don’t need to be decided for 90 days—i.e., until after Chief Justice George’s term ends on January 2—will the Court expedite the decision of those cases? Or will the Court decide these cases after the presumptive new Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, takes the helm? Our best guess is that Chief Justice George would serve as a justice pro tem on cases heard in 2010 but decided in 2011. Another alternative would be for the Court to push to get the decisions heard in November handed down before the end of the year. But that would be a tall order with respect to cases heard in the December. As the court’s calendar reflects, argument will be held the week of December 6 in Los Angeles, and since the court normally issues opinions on Mondays and Thursdays, the last day we would expect to see a decision issue this year would be December 30.

UPDATE: In this post, The UCL Practitioner provides a blow-by-blow account of the November 3, 2010 oral argument in Kwikset.

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