Published Justice Project Helps Ensure Precedential Victory for Elderly Victim of Home Solar Fraud

March 4, 2024

At the urging of the Center on behalf of nine legal services and consumer advocacy organizations, along with the plaintiffs, the California Court of Appeal has ordered publication of its recent decision in Jones v. Solgen Construction, LLC The previously unpublished decision – which may now be cited – provides guidance to courts and litigants in addressing the growing problem of fraud in door-to-door residential solar panel sales. 

At the heart of the Jones case is a modern twist on an age-old story. A door-to-door solar salesman came to the home of Mary Ann Jones – a low-income, now 83-year-old woman living in Fresno – and pressured her into agreeing to install new solar panels on her roof financed by a $52,000, 25-year loan. (She would be 106 by the time she paid it off.) The salesman gave her less than 40 seconds to review and e-sign the installation and financing contracts on his tablet computer, then sent himself a copy of the contract using the email of his supervisor and showed it to her on his tablet. In other words, she never received her own copy of the documents. When Ms. Jones later sued the solar and financing companies for fraud and deceptive home solicitation practices, the companies tried to force her lawsuit into arbitration. The trial court denied their motions, holding that Ms. Jones could not have “agreed” to the forced arbitration provisions in the contracts because of the deceptive and predatory methods that the salesman used during the transaction. The Court of Appeals then affirmed the trial court’s decision in a thorough, fact-laden opinion.

The Court of Appeal’s decision applies a bedrock principle of contract law: that the parties must mutually consent to form a contract. The door-to-door home solicitation industry has long been recognized as one characterized by “high pressure sales tactics” that takes advantage of individuals transacting in an unusual place for business: inside their homes. Now, these tactics are being used on a rampant basis by sales agents for clean energy improvements. 

The Center, along with Bay Area Legal Aid; East Bay Community Law Center; Elder Law & Advocacy; Legal Assistance for Seniors; Legal Services of Northern California; National Association of Consumer Advocates; National Consumer Law Center; Public Counsel, and Public Law Center, filed a letter explaining to the Court of Appeal why the decision merited publication. The court ultimately agreed.

Publication of the Court’s decision in Jones will help provide guardrails to the residential solar industry and will protect both consumers and honest businesses that have had to compete with deceptive and unscrupulous rivals. 

Congratulations to Ms. Jones and her counsel at Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates on this important victory.