Cases of Interest

The latest published decisions relevant to consumer protection from the California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal.

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Sellers v. JustAnswer, LLC

Dec. 30, 2021 — Fourth App. Dist. — Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against JustAnswer, alleging it routinely enrolled online consumers like them in automatic renewal membership programs without providing “clear and conspicuous” disclosures and obtaining their “affirmative consent” as mandated by the Automatic Renewal Law. JustAnswer filed a motion to compel arbitration, and the trial court denied it. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the company's arbitration agreement was not sufficiently conspicuous and therefore plaintiffs should not be held to it.

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Bad Boys Bail Bonds Bonding Corp. v. Caldwell

Dec. 29, 2021 — First App. Dist. — The court of appeal held that the requirement under Civil Code section 1799.91 that notice be afforded to cosigners of consumer credit contracts about the risks of guaranteeing such an agreement applies to bail bond premium financing agreements. As such, a person who cosigns a bail bond financing agreement on behalf of an arrestee must be provided with this statutory notice.

Image of person handing over a contract and pen to another individual.

De Leon v. Pinnacle Property Management Services, LLC

Dec. 8, 2021 — Fourth App. Dist. — A property management company appealed the denial of its motion to compel arbitration. The trial court found the arbitration agreement procedurally and substantively unconscionable because the plaintiff was required to sign the arbitration agreement as a precondition to his employment and because of the agreement limited on discovery and shortened the statute of limitations to one year on all claims. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion to compel arbitration. 

Image of document titled "arbitration agreement", a gavel, and a pen lying on a table top.

Gamboa v. Northeast Community Clinic

Nov. 30, 2021 — Second App. Dist. — The plaintiff sued the Northeast Community Clinic (Clinic) for employment related claims. The Clinic moved to compel arbitration under Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.2.1 The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Clinic failed to prove the existence of an arbitration agreement by a preponderance of the evidence after Gamboa produced evidence disputing an agreement.

Sign displaying "Bail Bonds: Open 24 Hours)

Ngu v. City Bail Bonds

Nov. 15, 2021 — Second App. Dist. — Plaintiff Lana Sieu Ngu sued bail agents Mylinh Kha and Ethan Kha, doing business as City Bail Bonds, for restitution under California’s unfair competition law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200, et seq.) based on defendants’ unlawful solicitation of bail in violation of California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 2079. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in plaintiff’s favor, awarding her $38,666 in restitution. On appeal, defendants argued that the trial court erred in finding defendants unlawfully solicited bail from plaintiff and in finding that their conduct caused plaintiff economic injury. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Large sign displaying "Used Cars", against a blue sky

Dept. of Fair Employment & Housing v. M&N Financing Corporation

September 27, 2021 — Second App. Dist. —  The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (the Department) filed a complaint against M&N Financing Corporation (M&N) and Mahmood Nasiry, who operated a business that purchased retail installment sales contracts from used car dealerships. In deciding how much to pay for the contracts, defendants used a formula that considered the gender of the car purchaser and would pay more for a contract with a male purchaser than for a contract with a female purchaser. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Department on the first and second causes of action, but dismissed other causes of action. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in dismissing the fifth cause of action but otherwise affirmed.

baby powder and bottle on its side, with a pink background

Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson

September 21, 2021 — First. App. Dist. — In this products liability action for mesothelioma due allegedly caused by asbestos in Johnson & Johnson baby powder, the court of appeal reversed summary judgment to Johnson & Johnson and held that the not all of the plaintiff's experts should have been excluded.

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Elmassian v. Flores

September 10, 2021 — Los Angeles Appellate Div. — The court held that a tenant may assert the defense to being evicted based upon domestic violence causing a nuisance on rented property even if non-domestic violence grounds are also asserted.

Folder in filing cabinet labeled "life insurance"

McHugh v. Protective Life Insurance Co.

Aug. 30, 2021 — CA Supreme Court — In 2012, the Legislature created certain protections to shield consumers from losing life insurance coverage because of a missed premium payment, which went into effect on January 1, 2013. Soon thereafter, the defendant terminated one of the life insurance policies at issue in this case because the policy owner had failed to make a payment. The Supreme Court concluded that those protections apply to all life insurance policies in force when the two sections went into effect, regardless of when the policies were originally issued.

Person spraying herbicide in a field.

Pilliod v. Monsanto

Aug. 8, 2021 — First App. Dist, Div. 2 — Alberta & Alva Pilliod sued Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup herbicide, because they each developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of spraying the product on their property. After a six-week trial, the jury found for the Pilliods, awarding them billions in compensatory and punitive damages, which the trial court reduced to $87 million. On appeal, Monsanto put forth various theories why the judgment should be reversed. Monsanto also argued that the punitive damages awards should be stricken or further reduced because they were unsupported by evidence and constitutionally excessive. In their cross appeal, the Pilliods argued that the trial court erred in reducing the jury’s awards for compensatory and punitive damages. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. 

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Best v. Ocwen Loan Servicing

May 21, 2021 — 4th App. Dist, Div. 2 — In this case, plaintiff homeowners alleged that defendants attempted to collect a debt secured by their home, despite having no legal right to do so. They further alleged that, in the process, the Bank engaged in unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent debt collection practices. Based on these allegations, they asserted six causes of action, including one under the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act) (Civ. Code, § 1788 et seq.). In the trial court, the Bank demurred in part on the ground that the Rosenthal Act does not apply to conduct in connection with a nonjudicial foreclosure. The Court of Appeal reversed in part, holding that the Rosenthal Act can apply to a nonjudicial foreclosure.

Photo of someone typing on smartphone.

Smith v. LoanMe

April 1, 2021 — CA Supreme Court — Holding that Cal Penal Code 632.7 prohibiting recordings of phone conversations without both parties consent applies to parties as well as third party eavesdroppers. LoanMe recorded plaintiff's conversation with them without informing him or getting consent. 

Stock photo of paper form entitled "insurance policy".

Villanueva v. Fidelity

March 18, 2021 — CA Supreme Court — Holding that if a title insurer charges rates without filing them, a consumer can challenge the charges as unlawful in court.