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Unfair Competition Law Cases In California

As explained in Quelimane Co. v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co. (1998) 19 Cal. 4th 26, 42 77 Cal. Rptr. 2d 709, 960 P.2d 513, the unfair competition law "permits 'any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public' (§ 17204) to initiate an action for restitutionary and/or injunctive relief (§ 17203) against a person or business entity who has engaged in 'any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice or unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising or any act prohibited by Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17500 false advertising) . . . .' (§ 17200)".

The coverage of section 17200 "is 'sweeping, embracing " 'anything that can properly be called a business practice and that at the same time is forbidden by law." (Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co. (1999) 20 Cal. 4th 163, 180 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 548, 973 P.2d 527).

The use of the disjunctive in section 17200, "referring to 'any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent' practice," (italics in original) means that "a practice may be deemed unfair even if not specifically proscribed by some other law." ( Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co., supra, 20 Cal. 4th at p. 180)".

"In other words, a practice is prohibited as 'unfair' or 'deceptive' even if not 'unlawful' and vice versa" (Ibid). The unfair competition law has such a broad scope " 'to permit tribunals to enjoin on-going wrongful business conduct in whatever context such activity might occur.

Indeed, . . . section 17200 was intentionally framed in such a broad manner precisely to enable judicial tribunals to deal with the innumerable " 'new schemes which the fertility of man's invention would contrive.' " ( Id. at p. 181).

As stated in State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal. App. 4th 1093 53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 229, "The test of whether a business practice is unfair 'involves an examination of that practice's impact on its alleged victim, balanced against the reasons, justifications and motives of the alleged wrongdoer.

In brief, the court must weigh the utility of the defendant's conduct against the gravity of the harm to the alleged victim . . . . " (At pp. 1103-1104).

Stated otherwise, a business practice is unfair when it " 'offends an established public policy or when the practice is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous or substantially injurious to consumers." ( Id. at p. 1104).

A claim of unfair business practice may be based on a " ' "pattern of behavior" citation, or "a course of conduct." ( Hewlett v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp. (1997) 54 Cal. App. 4th 499, 519 63 Cal. Rptr. 2d 118).

A single instance of such conduct may suffice. ( Podolsky v. First Healthcare Corp. (1996) 50 Cal. App. 4th 632, 647 58 Cal. Rptr. 2d 89).

A pattern of misleading oral representations, made by the defendant's agents, may qualify as an unfair business practice. ( People v. Dollar Rent-A-Car Systems, Inc. (1989) 211 Cal. App. 3d 119, 129 259 Cal. Rptr. 191).

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