California Landmark Cases on the Unfair Competition Law

"The purpose of the unfair competition law (UCL) is to protect both consumers and competitors by promoting fair competition in commercial markets for goods and services. ' " (McKell v. Washington Mutual, Inc. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1457, 1470.) "A UCL action is equitable in nature; damages cannot be recovered. ... Under the UCL, 'prevailing plaintiffs are generally limited to injunctive relief and restitution.' " (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1134, 1144.) The UCL does not proscribe specific acts, but broadly prohibits "any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising ... ." (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200.) "The scope of the UCL is quite broad. Because the statute is framed in the disjunctive, a business practice need only meet one of the three criteria to be considered unfair competition." (McKell v. Washington Mutual, Inc., supra, 142 Cal.App.4th at p. 1471.) " 'Therefore, an act or practice is "unfair competition" under the UCL if it is forbidden by law or, even if not specifically prohibited by law, is deemed an unfair act or practice.' " (Troyk v. Farmers Group, Inc. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 1305, 1335 90 Cal.Rptr.3d 589.) Historically, the UCL authorized any person acting for the interests of the general public to sue for relief notwithstanding any lack of injury or damages. (Troyk v. Farmers Group, Inc., supra, 171 Cal.App.4th at p. 1335.) Business and Professions Code section 17200 (the UCL) defines "unfair competition" to "include any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice . . . ." "By proscribing 'any unlawful' business act or practice , the UCL '"borrows"' rules set out in other laws and makes violations of those rules independently actionable. However, a practice may violate the UCL even if it is not prohibited by another statute. Unfair and fraudulent practices are alternate grounds for relief." (Zhang v. Superior Court (2013) 57 Cal.4th 364, 370; Walker v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1158, 1169-1170.) "While the scope of conduct covered by the UCL is broad, its remedies are limited." (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1134, 1144 (Korea).) Plaintiffs are limited to injunctive relief and restitution. (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17203; Kraus v. Trinity Management Services, Inc. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 116, 129, superseded by statute on a different point as recognized in Arias v. Superior Court (2009) 46 Cal.4th 969, 982-983 "Restitution is the only monetary remedy expressly authorized by section 17203".) An "action under the UCL 'is not an all-purpose substitute for a tort or contract action.' Instead, the act provides an equitable means through which both public prosecutors and private individuals can bring suit to prevent unfair business practices and restore money or property to victims of these practices. . . . The 'overarching legislative concern was to provide a streamlined procedure for the prevention of ongoing or threatened acts of unfair competition.' Because of this objective, the remedies provided are limited. While any member of the public can bring suit under the act to enjoin a business from engaging in unfair competition, it is well established that individuals may not recover damages." (Korea, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 1150.) "In 1992, the Legislature expanded the scope of the unfair competition law to include unfair business acts as well as practices." (Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 163, 195 (conc. & dis. opn. of Kennard, J.).) "This change . . . did not alter the meaning of 'unfair . . . business practice' but merely extended it to include single instances of conduct." (Ibid.) At the November 2, 2004, General Election, the voters approved Proposition 64, which amended the UCL to provide that a private person has standing to bring a UCL action only if he or she "has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of the unfair competition." (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17204; see Troyk v. Farmers Group, Inc., supra, at p. 1335.) "A private plaintiff must make a twofold showing: he or she must demonstrate injury in fact and a loss of money or property caused by unfair competition." (Peterson v. Cellco Partnership (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 1583, 1590 80 Cal.Rptr.3d 316.) "The voters' intent in passing Proposition 64 and enacting the changes to the standing rules in Business and Professions Code section 17204 was unequivocally to narrow the category of persons who could sue businesses under the UCL." (Hall v. Time Inc. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 847, 853.) "In Proposition 64, as stated in the measure's preamble, the voters found and declared that the UCL's broad grant of standing had encouraged 'frivolous unfair competition lawsuits that clog our courts, cost taxpayers' and 'threaten the survival of small businesses ... .' The former law, the voters determined, had been 'misused by some private attorneys who' 'file frivolous lawsuits as a means of generating attorney's fees without creating a corresponding public benefit,' 'file lawsuits where no client has been injured in fact,' 'file lawsuits for clients who have not used the defendant's product or services, viewed the defendant's advertising, or had any other business dealing with the defendant,' and 'file lawsuits on behalf of the general public without any accountability to the public and without adequate court supervision.' 'The intent of California voters in enacting' Proposition 64 was to limit such abuses by 'prohibiting private attorneys from filing lawsuits for unfair competition where they have no client who has been injured in fact' and by providing 'that only the California Attorney General and local public officials be authorized to file and prosecute actions on behalf of the general public' ." (Californians for Disability Rights v. Mervyn's, LLC (2006) 39 Cal.4th 223, 228.) "Proposition 64 also amended Business and Professions Code section 17203, which authorizes courts to enjoin unfair competition, by adding this sentence: 'Any person may pursue representative claims or relief on behalf of others only if the claimant meets the standing requirements of Section 17204 and complies with Section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure, but these limitations do not apply to claims brought under this chapter by the Attorney General, or any district attorney, county counsel, city attorney, or city prosecutor in this state.' " (Hall v. Time Inc., supra, 158 Cal.App.4th at p. 852.)