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California Comparison Pricing

Comparison Pricing Litigation in California

California Comparison Pricing

It has become increasingly common for consumers to bring comparison pricing litigation in California. That’s because the state has some of the strongest consumer protection laws in the country, including laws that regulate unfair competition, false advertising, and deceptive pricing. California’s comparison price law requires retailers to provide accurate pricing information in advertisements, whether the ads appear in print media or online. The law recognizes that consumers should not be tricked into purchasing an item for the regular full price simply because the retailer included a fake sale price in an advertisement or promotion. If this has happened to you, one of the California false advertising lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP can help you.

To learn more about comparison pricing litigation in California, keep reading this blog.

Comparison Pricing Is a Retail Sales Strategy That May Violate California False Advertising Laws

Retailers that do business in California and elsewhere often use comparison pricing, reference pricing, strikethrough pricing, or compare-at pricing to persuade customers to make a purchase. All of these basically mean the same thing: the retail company prominently advertises that the item is “on sale,” and they back up this claim with a visual comparison between the current sale price and the original list price.

Comparison pricing is subject to strict regulations because lawmakers recognize that a lot of retailers go too far with deceptive ads that aren’t entirely honest about the former prices. For example, the reference price mentioned in the advertisement or promotion might be from a very long time ago, or it might be for an item that is not the same as the one currently being sold. Since the California comparison pricing law requires businesses to use actual sales prices that are relevant and timely, these types of former pricing representations with deceptive discounts could expose a retailer to consumer litigation.

California Has Strong Consumer Protection Laws

Under both federal and state consumer protection laws, retailers that do business in California cannot use fictitious price comparisons when advertising products. Consumers should also keep in mind that the comparison pricing laws apply to both in-person sales and online sales.

The jurisdiction where a comparison pricing lawsuit is filed can make all the difference when it comes to the outcome of a case. That’s because certain states have very strong consumer protection laws that hold businesses to extremely high standards for advertising, marketing, and sales practices. California has some of the strongest consumer fraud statutes, including §17501 of California’s Business & Professions Code that directly addresses fraudulent marketing and advertising practices.

Comparison Pricing Lawsuits Filed Against Retail Companies in Los Angeles

Failure to comply with California’s law on comparison pricing could expose retailers to significant liability, including a class action lawsuit filed by consumers who purchased products after viewing the misleading advertisement with deceptive sale pricing. Just some of the major retailers that have been sued under California’s false advertising law in recent years include Amazon, The Gap, Guess, J.Crew, Kate Spade & Company, Neiman Marcus Group, Overstock.com, and Walmart.

In California, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has made a point of going after large retailers that use deceptive pricing in ads to generate sales. The crackdown on false reference pricing prompted the LA City Attorney to bring civil suits against several major department stores that did business in the city, including JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Sears. The retailers were accused of deceptively marketing thousands of items at “sale” prices that did not exist.

California’s False Advertising Law Prohibits Deceptive Prices in Retail Ads

Section 17501 of California’s false advertising law explicitly prohibits advertisements that use a misleading or inaccurate former price.

Actual Prices

The California law stipulates that there must be a legitimate basis for the comparison price cited by the retailer, whether it’s a list price or Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Businesses are not allowed to create false impressions about discounts by referencing prices that never actually existed just to make the ticket price look like a good deal. The retailer must be prepared to provide proof that the item was previously sold for a higher price. But even that might not be enough for the retailer to avoid retail discount pricing litigation. For example, if the former price was only in effect for a short period of time, the retailer might not be legally allowed to mention this price in an advertisement because there will be serious questions about whether the original compare-at price was legitimate.

Three-Month Time Period

The California law places limits on the comparison prices that retail businesses may mention in an advertisement by explicitly barring them from mentioning an item’s former price unless it was the “prevailing market price” within the three months immediately preceding the ad’s publication.

But what happens when the company’s sale lasts longer than 90 days? In situations like this, California’s promotional pricing guidelines call for the company to revise its advertisement or run the risk of violating the strikethrough pricing statute. That’s because the former price listed in the ad will no longer fall within the 90-day window, which means that it’s no longer valid under the law. In other words, a sales ad that was initially legal will become illegal and could serve as the basis for a consumer to file a lawsuit.

Importantly, California does give retailers an opportunity to revise their ads so that they avoid violating the law. The company can either change the former price in the ad once it becomes outdated or they can “clearly, exactly, and conspicuously” note the date when the former price applied so that the advertisement is not misleading.

Define Relevant Terms

In addition to establishing a three-month timeframe for evaluating the appropriateness of the former price being advertised, the California false advertising statute also attempts to define relevant terms for retailers and consumers. For instance, what does the law mean by “prevailing market price”? This matters because the actual price of the item in question will go a long way toward determining whether the former price was legitimate or false.

Here, there are several factors that must be considered. For instance, what was the actual price of the item at other stores in the same geographical area or region? Also, were any sales made at that price? And, if so, how many units sold? Moreover, were there different prices for the item during the three-month period being evaluated? Since a court can consider any or all of these factors in a strikethrough pricing case, it is important for consumers to speak with a qualified California consumer protection attorney before making any final decisions about how to proceed with their case.

Standing to Sue in California Strikethrough Pricing Claims

It is often easier for plaintiffs to establish that they have standing to sue in a comparison pricing claim brought under California’s false advertising law. Of course, the plaintiffs in a California comparison pricing case must establish that they have standing to sue. In the past, this meant that the plaintiff needed to show that they purchased the item and that they did so at a price higher than they otherwise would have paid. Absent this showing, the door was open for defendants to argue that the plaintiff did not suffer any injury or economic harm because they received exactly what they paid for and therefore got “the benefit of the bargain.”

Things became much easier for plaintiffs when the California Supreme Court ruled in Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court that plaintiffs in false advertising cases no longer need to prove that the product they purchased was worth less than the amount paid for it. Now, plaintiffs who bring a comparison pricing claim in California courts merely need to show that they purchased the item because of the deceptive pricing information in the ad; the prevailing market price or MSRP of the item no longer matter.

False Reference Pricing Class Action Lawsuits in California

California false advertising laws regulate companies that do business in the state, including broad protections against sales price misrepresentations. This has led to numerous class action lawsuits being filed on behalf of consumers who have fallen victim to false reference pricing.

It is important for consumers to recognize that they can file a civil suit, or join a consumer class action, even when the retail company does not have a physical brick-and-mortar location in California. As long as the consumer is in California and accessed the business’ website to view the ad or to make a purchase, they may be eligible to bring a Section 17501 claim for false reference pricing.

How Much Money Can Consumers Recover in a California Comparison Pricing Claim?

When a retailer is sued for violating California’s false advertising law, the monetary damages may be substantial. That’s because the statute allows for recovery of actual damages by the plaintiff, as well as the imposition of civil penalties against the defendant. These civil penalties can quickly add up because the defendant can be ordered to pay $2,500 for each violation of the law. Moreover, the court may have the option to impose an additional fine of $2,500 for each violation that injured a senior citizen or a disabled person.

Other California False Advertising Statutes: CCPA and CLRA

One strategy that retail companies might use to get around the California false advertising law is to hide their sales in customer loyalty programs. But this tactic may be a violation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which gives consumers another avenue for filing suit against retailers.

Additional legal claims that may be available in comparison pricing cases include violations of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), especially if the defendant’s conduct involved deceptive language in the advertisement.

Contact the California False Advertising Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP

A lot of retailers use comparison prices in advertisements to encourage consumers to make a purchase while the item is “on sale.” If you bought a retail product because the retailer used deceptive pricing in a store ad or an online ad, you should speak with an experienced Los Angeles consumer protection attorney at Tauler Smith LLP.

Call 310-590-3927 or email us to schedule a free initial consultation.

CLRA Consumer Protection

What Is the Consumers Legal Remedies Act?

CLRA Consumer Protection

California consumer fraud lawyers know that the state has been at the forefront of the consumer rights movement for a long time. In 1970, the California State Legislature passed the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) to safeguard customers against deception by businesses. The CLRA makes it unlawful to engage in unfair or misleading acts when selling goods or services to consumers. The CLRA is often applicable in cases involving false advertising claims and/or consumer fraud. For example, when a company uses a misleading advertisement to persuade someone to purchase a product or service, the misrepresentation may constitute a violation of the statute. The same is true when a deceptive or intentionally confusing ad causes a customer to trigger an automatic renewal policy.

To learn more about the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, keep reading this blog.

What Deceptive Business Practices Does the CLRA Prohibit?

The California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, or CLRA, is a consumer statute that’s codified in Cal. Civil Code §§ 1750. The law allows plaintiffs to bring private civil actions against companies that use “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in a transaction.”

The CLRA explicitly prohibits certain deceptive business practices, including the following acts:

  • Selling counterfeit goods.
  • Misrepresenting the source of a good or service.
  • Lying about a professional affiliation, certification, or endorsement.
  • Lying about the geographic origin of a product.
  • Selling a used or reconditioned item as new.
  • Misrepresenting the quality of a good or service.
  • Making false statements that disparage another business’ products.
  • Advertising items as being available for sale when they won’t be.
  • Advertising furniture as available for sale without disclosing that it is unassembled.
  • Telling a customer that a repair or replacement is necessary when it isn’t.
  • Offering a rebate or discount with hidden conditions.
  • Falsely presenting a salesperson’s authority to negotiate and finalize a transaction.
  • “Robo-calling” individuals who are not already customers.

One of the advantages of the CLRA is that victims of business fraud in California are not limited to filing lawsuits under the statute. This means that a consumer could bring multiple claims citing both the CLRA and other state or federal laws.

What Remedies Are Available to California Consumers in CLRA Cases?

The CLRA gives California consumers a powerful tool to hold businesses accountable for deceptive practices because the statute allows plaintiffs to recover different kinds of damages. The law is often interpreted broadly by courts to provide strong protections against consumer fraud, false advertising, and unfair business practices. When a consumer has been defrauded, they can file a lawsuit in a California Superior Court.

Consumers who bring a claim under the CLRA may pursue several remedies for any harm they suffered, including:

  • Actual monetary damages.
  • Punitive damages.
  • Restitution of property to the plaintiff.
  • An injunction against the defendant.
  • Attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • Any other relief the court deems proper.

Actual Damages & Attorney’s Fees

The first remedy available under the CLRA – actual damages – has a statutory minimum of $1,000 for each deceptive act or practice. The last remedy – “any other relief the court deems proper” – is a catch-all provision that gives courts wide latitude when determining what kind of monetary relief should be available to plaintiffs in CLRA actions.

In addition to getting damages for fraud, a plaintiff filing a claim under the CLRA may also be able to get attorney’s fees from a defendant who is found to have violated the Act. This can make it financially feasible for a plaintiff to bring a CLRA claim – since the defendant would have to pay the legal costs for both sides if they lose the case.

Additional Damages for Senior Citizens & Disabled Persons

A couple of special categories of consumers may be eligible for additional damages: senior citizens and disabled persons. As set forth by the CLRA, a “senior citizen” is defined as anyone over the age of 65. (In California, a senior citizen is usually defined as anyone over the age of 62, with the age threshold being lowered to 55 years old when the person lives in a senior citizen housing development.) California law defines “disabled person” quite broadly to include just about anyone who has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits at least one major life activity. For both seniors and disabled persons, the CLRA allows an award of up to $5,000 in damages to be tacked on by the court.

Proving a CLRA Violation

Although the Consumers Legal Remedies Act gives plaintiffs many options when seeking damages for consumer fraud, there are still ways for defendants to avoid paying maximum compensation. For example, if the defendant did not intentionally violate the CLRA, and they subsequently made a good faith attempt to correct the mistake, then the court might not award damages to the plaintiff. The complexities of the statute are one reason why it’s so important for you to have a knowledgeable California business fraud attorney handling your case.

Who Is Allowed to Bring a Lawsuit Under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act?

Private Civil Actions & Class Actions

The CLRA may serve as the basis for a civil suit in any consumer transaction where goods changed hands or services were provided. Anyone who can show damages having been caused by one of the acts prohibited by the CLRA can file a lawsuit, either individually by the consumer or in a class action involving other consumers who were deceived or defrauded. For class action litigation, the cases must be substantially similar. An experienced California consumer protection lawyer can assist you with a CLRA class action lawsuit and help get your class certified.

Exclusions from the CLRA

Certain types of transactions and business owners are excluded from the Consumers Legal Remedies Act: (1) real estate transactions, and (2) newspapers and other advertisers. Although the CLRA applies to most commercial transactions, the statute cannot be used as the basis for a legal claim when the transaction involved the sale of either a residential property or a commercial property. Additionally, the CLRA cannot be used to bring a lawsuit against the owner of a newspaper, magazine, radio station, or any other advertising medium unless the plaintiff can prove that the business owner knew that the ads were deceptive before disseminating them.

How Long Do You Have to Bring a CLRA Claim?

Three-Year Statute of Limitations

It is important for you to speak with a qualified CLRA attorney as soon as possible because you do not want the statute of limitations to expire before you attempt to bring a claim. The general rule is that a consumer has three (3) years from the date on which the unfair business practice occurred to file a lawsuit under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. If you miss this deadline, you may be barred from bringing a legal action.

Business Owner’s Opportunity to Cure

In addition to making sure you file within the statute of limitations, an experienced attorney can also ensure that you meet any other important deadlines and filing requirements. For example, before the CLRA suit can proceed in court, the consumer must notify the defendant in writing about the alleged violation. This must happen at least 30 days before the lawsuit is filed, and the business owner will then have an opportunity to take appropriate action to fix or otherwise “cure” the harm. (E.g., repairing or replacing a damaged item that was sold to the consumer.)

Contact the California CLRA Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP

Tauler Smith LLP is a Los Angeles law firm that focuses on consumer fraud litigation. Our attorneys are extremely familiar with the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and we have filed both private civil actions and class action lawsuits on behalf of consumers. If you were a victim of business fraud or false advertising in California, we can help you take legal action and get you the financial compensation to which you are entitled. Call or email us to discuss your eligibility to file a CLRA claim.