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BUSINESS & PROFESSIONS CODE

Division 7 General Business Regulations

§ 17204. Actions for injunctions by Attorney General, District Attorney, County Counsel, and City Attorneys

Actions for any relief pursuant to this chapter shall be prosecuted exclusively in a court of competent jurisdiction by the Attorney General or any district attorney or by any county counsel authorized by agreement with the district attorney in actions involving violation of a county ordinance, or any city attorney of a city, or city and county, having a population in excess of 750,000, and, with the consent of the district attorney, by a city prosecutor in any city having a full-time city prosecutor or, with the consent of the district attorney, by a city attorney in any city and county in the name of the people of the State of California upon their own complaint or upon the complaint of any board, officer, person, corporation or association or by any person who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of such unfair competition.


Added Stats 1977 ch 299 § 1. Amended Stats 1991 ch 1195 § 1 (SB 709), ch 1196 § 1 (AB 1755).
Amended Stats 1992 ch 385 § 1 (SB 1911); Stats 1993 ch 926 § 2 (AB 2205). Amendment approved by voters, Prop. 64 § 3, effective November 3, 2004.

ANNOTATIONS

Amendments:

1991 Amendment:
Substituted (1) "by any county counsel authorized by agreement with the district attorney in actions involving violation of a county ordinance, or any city attorney of a city, or city and county," for "any city attorney of a city"; and (2) "having a full-time city prosecutor or, with the consent of the district attorney, by a city attorney in any city and county" for "or city or county having a full-time city prosecutor" after "prosecutor in any city". (As amended Stats 1991 ch 1196, compared to the section as it read prior to 1991. This section was also amended by an earlier chapter, ch 1195. See Gov C § 9605.)

1992 Amendment:
Substituted "any relief" for "injunction" after "Actions for".

1993 Amendment:
Substituted "shall be prosecuted exclusively in a court of competent jurisdiction" for "may be prosecuted".

2004 Amendment:
Substituted "who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of such unfair competition" for "acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public".

Historical Derivations:
Former CC § 3370.1, as added Stats 1972 ch 1084 § 2, amended Stats 1974 ch 746 § 2.

Note:
Proposition 64, effective November 3, 2004, provides:
SEC. 7. In the event that between July 1, 2003, and the effective date of this measure, legislation is enacted that is inconsistent with this measure, said legislation is void and repealed irrespective of the code in which it appears.
SEC. 8. In the event that this measure and another measure or measures relating to unfair competition law shall appear on the same statewide election ballot, the provisions of the other measures shall be deemed to be in conflict with this measure. In the event that this measure shall receive a greater number of affirmative votes, the provisions of this measure shall prevail in their entirety, and the provisions of the other measures relating to unfair competition law shall be null and void.
SEC. 9. If any provision of this act, or part thereof, is for any reason held to be invalid or unconstitutional, the remaining provisions shall not be affected, but shall remain in full force and effect, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable.
Cross References:
Report by State Bar on status of regulatory and disciplinary efforts concerning alleged abuses by actions brought pursuant to § 17204: B & P C § 6086.16
Collateral References:
Witkin Summary (9th ed) Corporations § 45, Equity §§ 93, 95
Cal Jur 3d (Rev) Consumer and Borrower Protection Laws § 66
Law Review Articles:
Private and public remedies for fraudulent business practices in California, 6 Loyola U of LA LR 312
Law Enforcement's Role in Consumer Protection. 14 Santa Clara LR 555
Role of California's Attorney General and district attorneys in protecting the consumer; substantive areas of action. 4 UCD LR 45
Rubin v. Green: Is Unrestricted Judicial Access at the expense of the victim the right choice? 25 UWLA LR 325
Annotations
Use of "family name" by corporation as unfair competition. 72 ALR3d 8

NOTES OF DECISIONS

1. Generally

1.5. Jurisdiction

2. Particular Determinations

1. Generally
Lack of express authorization for a district attorney to prosecute violations of the Mobile Home Parks Act does not preclude prosecution of an action pursuant to applicable Business and Professions Code sections for unfair competition. Specific power to prosecute such violations, moreover, exists under B & P C §§ 17204, 17206, authorizing the district attorney to maintain a civil action for either injunctive relief or civil penalties for acts of unfair competition, and B & P C § 17205, providing that remedies and penalties available in an unfair competition action are similar to remedies and penalties available under state laws, unless otherwise expressly provided. Neither the Mobile Home Parks Act, nor other statutes expressly provide that violations of the act may not be prosecuted as acts of unfair competition. People v McKale (1979) 25 Cal 3d 626, 159 Cal Rptr 811, 602 P2d 731
Any person may bring an action for unfair competition or unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices on behalf of the general public under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, and one need not bring such an action on one's own behalf to have standing to sue. Hernandez v Atlantic Finance Co. (1980, 2nd Dist) 105 Cal App 3d 65, 164 Cal Rptr 279
In an unfair business practice action (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200 et seq.) by the People against a liquor store owner and a tow service operator, the availability of remedies at law for those whose cars were improperly hoisted or towed was irrelevant where the district attorney was acting pursuant to a legislative mandate to seek injunctive relief against unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practices (Bus. & Prac. Code, §§ 17203, 17204). People v James (1981, 4th Dist) 122 Cal App 3d 25, 177 Cal Rptr 110
In an unfair business practice action (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200 et seq.) against a liquor store owner and a tow service operator, the equitable defense of unclean hands was no bar to equitable relief, even though those whose cars were improperly hoisted or towed from the store's lot were illegally parked, where the action was one brought by the People to enjoin unlawful and fraudulent business practices and not by the individuals who were victimized by defendants. In addition, most of those whose cars were towed stated that they did not see the warning signs or that they interpreted the signs to allow them to use the lot as public parking if they patronized the liquor store. People v James (1981, 4th Dist) 122 Cal App 3d 25, 177 Cal Rptr 110
An individual had standing to bring an action under California's unfair competition statutes (UCS) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) to compel a store to display signs, as required by federal law, advising customers that some of its products contained saccharin. The UCS provides that enforcement actions may be brought by certain government officials "or by any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public" (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204). Plaintiff asserted that she brought her UCS suit as a person acting for the interests of the general public. Courts have repeatedly permitted persons who were not personally aggrieved to bring suits for injunctive relief under the UCS on behalf of the general public, in order to enforce other statutes under which such parties otherwise lacked standing. It is not relevant that the underlying statute does not provide for a private cause of action. When an action to enforce another law is brought pursuant to the UCS, the operative statute is the UCS, which allows a private action to redress any unfair competition in violation of that statute. Reese v Payless Drug Stores Northwest, Inc. (1995, 1st Dist) 34 Cal App 4th 19, 40 Cal Rptr 2d 75
Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, a provision of the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200-17209), confers standing to prosecute actions for relief not only on the public officials named therein, but on private individuals, i.e., "any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public." Thus, a private plaintiff who has suffered no injury at all may sue to obtain relief for others. That the Legislature in Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, used the disjunctive when listing the entities empowered to bring "[a]ctions for relief" plainly suggests it meant to designate such entities in the alternative. Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal 4th 553, 71 Cal Rptr 2d 731, 950 P2d 1086
Plaintiff was potentially entitled to disgorgement, if she proved her claims against credit reporting agencies. B & P C § 17204 permits suits by private individuals acting on behalf of the general public. The laws against unfair business practices were drafted in large part to prevent a wrongdoer from retaining the benefits of illegal acts. That purpose would be frustrated if a party were entitled to retain its profits simply because it is difficult to specify the victim. Andrews v Trans Union Corp., Inc. (1998, CD Cal) 7 F Supp 2d 1056
Allegations by prisoners of war that Japanese corporations' failure to reveal their prior exploitation of prisoner labor to present-day customers in California and elsewhere constituted an unfair business practice under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204 were barred by the Treaty of Peace, Sept. 8, 1951, U.S.-Jap., 3 U.S.T. 3169, T.I.A.S. No. 2,490. In re World War II Era Japanese Forced Labor Litig. (2000, ND Cal) 114 F. Supp. 2d 939; 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13984
Corporation met the constitutional requirements for standing to bring a claim for injunctive relief where it brought its unfair competition claim on behalf of itself and the general public, and it alleged that it suffered economic injury, that its injury was caused, at least in part, by defendants' violations of third-party rights, and that enjoining defendants would provide it with redress for its injuries. Perfect 10, Inc. v Cybernet Ventures, Inc. (2001, CD Cal) 167 F. Supp. 2d 1114; 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16224; 60 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1879
Under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204, of the California Unfair Competition Act, an individual can bring an action, even though he or she has suffered no injury in fact and would not have standing to sue in federal court. Mortera v N. Am. Mortg. Co. (2001, ND Cal) 172 F. Supp. 2d 1240; 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16728
Standing to sue under the Unfair Competition Law is expansive; unfair competition actions can be brought by a public prosecutor or by any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public, B & P C § 17204. Korea Supply Co. v Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal 4th 1134, 131 Cal Rptr 2d 29, 63 P3d 937
Because an insured failed to show what would have been gained by taking a cause of action for unfair competition, pursuant to Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204 of the unfair competition law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., and certifying it as a class action under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 382, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification. Kavruck v Blue Cross of California (2003, 2nd Dist) 108 Cal App 4th 773, 134 Cal Rptr 2d 152
Employee that was discriminated against on the basis of age had standing to file an action for injunctive relief under the California Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., because the employee had been personally aggrieved by the actions of an employer. Herr v Nestle U.S.A., Inc. (2003, Cal App 2nd Dist) 2003 Cal App LEXIS 855, 2003 CDOS 5043, 2003 Daily Journal DAR 6362
Action to challenge an insurer's allegedly unfair business practices as a private attorney general where plaintiff suffered no individualized injury because he did not buy policy from the insurer could not be maintained in federal court, because plaintiff lacked U.S. Const. art. III standing even if plaintiff had a viable action in state court. Lee v Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. (2001, CA9 Cal) 260 F.3d 997; 2001 U.S. App. LEXIS 17690; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 6815; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 8343

1.5. Jurisdiction
Reading § 17204 of the Unfair Business Practices Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., and § 17535 of the False Advertising Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17500 et seq., in the context of the statutory scheme of which they are a part, it is clear that the legislature envisioned enforcement of Unfair Competition Law (UCL), claims solely in the courts, the text of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204 closes off the possibility of concurrent jurisdiction in the courts and the public utility commission (PUC), nothing in the False Advertising Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17500 et seq., supports reaching a different result. Greenlining Institute v Public Utilities Com. (2002, 1st Dist) 103 Cal App 4th 1324, 127 Cal Rptr 2d 736
In a consumer fraud case brought against a public utility by district attorneys, the pendency of a related administrative proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not, under PUU § 1759, deprive the superior court of subject matter jurisdiction; where PUU §§ 2101, 2105, Gov C § 26509, and/or B & P C § 17204 authorize court action by a public prosecutor regarding an issue that also falls within the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission district attorneys can prosecute civil actions against public utilities, unless the remedies in the two proceedings are likely to be inconsistent and to undermine the Commission's authority. People ex rel. Orloff v Pacific Bell (2003, Cal) 2003 Cal LEXIS 9459
Rather than enter judgment on a claim brought on behalf of others under B & P C § 17204 against defendant tobacco companies, the court dismissed claim for lack of jurisdiction, since plaintiff smoker had suffered no particularized injury and, thus, failed to satisfy the case or controversy requirement, subject to refiling in state court. Grisham v Philip Morris, Inc. (2003, CD Cal) 2003 US Dist LEXIS 25017

2. Particular Determinations
Under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17536, providing for a civil penalty of $2500 or less for each violation of the false or misleading advertising statute, Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17500, a single false or misleading publication in a newspaper advertisement constitutes a minimum of one violation with as many additional violations as there are persons who read the advertisement or who responded to the advertisement by purchasing the advertised product or service or by making inquiries concerning such product or service. Thus, in an action by a district attorney against a real estate firm seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged dissemination of false and deceptive newspaper advertisements in violation of Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200 and 17500 (the unfair competition statute), the trial court erred in ruling that each appearance of a false advertisement in a single edition of a newspaper constituted only a single violation of § 17500 and of § 17200 for which a maximum penalty of $5,000 could be imposed. In determining the reasonableness of a penalty under § 17536, the court must consider all pertinent factors including the kind of misrepresentations or deceptions, whether they were intentionally made or the result of negligence, the circulation of the newspaper, the nature and extent of the public injury, and the size and wealth of the advertising enterprise. People v Superior Court of Orange County (1979, 4th Dist) 96 Cal App 3d 181, 157 Cal Rptr 628, cert den 446 US 935, 64 L Ed 2d 787, 100 S Ct 2152
A tenant's complaint for damages against a landlord and the managing agent failed to state a cause of action, good against defendants' demurrers, for injunctive relief on the basis of unfair business practices by defendants. The complaint alleged that defendants owned and maintained various residential rental properties and that unsafe and unsanitary conditions similar to those on the subject premises existed on each of the other properties. Plaintiff alleged that defendants had actual and constructive knowledge of such defective conditions, but had failed to correct them within a reasonable time. However, plaintiff was not at the time in possession of any of the properties owned or managed by defendants, and therefore, she had no need of or standing to seek an injunction on her own behalf. Furthermore, she failed to allege that she was suing on the behalf of the general public. Stoiber v Honeychuck (1980, 5th Dist) 101 Cal App 3d 903, 162 Cal Rptr 194
Conduct of a used car dealership and a finance company in jointly arranging for financing the purchase of the used cars that violated the Rees-Levering Act, (Civ. Code, §§ 2981-2990), regulating the sale and financing of automobiles constituted unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practice and was enjoinable. The unfair competition law is not limited to acts which harm business competitors but includes unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading advertising. Although the Rees-Levering Act does not expressly prohibit the use of a seller-assisted personal loan for the full purchase price of an automobile, the court's power to enjoin the conduct was not restricted. Hernandez v Atlantic Finance Co. (1980, 2nd Dist) 105 Cal App 3d 65, 164 Cal Rptr 279
Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200, which provides for an injunction against "unfair competition," is not confined to anticompetitive business practice, but rather is applicable, by its terms, to "any unlawful business practice"; and under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, which includes among those authorized to bring actions for such injunctions "any person acting for the interest of itself, its members or the general public," suit may be brought by any person acting in his own behalf or on behalf of the general public. Thus, two Jewish businessmen and a Jewish civic organization formed to combat prejudice (the latter acting as a private attorney general), who alleged that a "Christian Yellow Pages" publisher's practice of limiting advertisements to those placed by born-again Christians was an unfair business practice causing irreparable injury to members of the general public who were discriminatorily excluded, had standing to bring an action for injunctive relief under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq., either on their own behalf or on behalf of the general public. Pines v Tomson (1984, 2nd Dist) 160 Cal App 3d 370, 206 Cal Rptr 866, 1984-2 CCH Trade Cases P 66308
In a mobilehome park owner's action seeking injunctive relief against unfair competition arising from alleged wrongful attorney solicitation, the trial court did not err in sustaining the demurrer of defendants, a park resident and her attorneys. Plaintiff had received a notice of intent to sue concerning alleged defects in the park from defendant resident, and plaintiff alleged that defendants solicited other residents as potential clients in the suit against plaintiff. Although Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, grants any member of the public standing to seek injunctive relief against unfair competition, the communications between defendants and the other residents were absolutely privileged under the "litigation privilege" of Civ. Code, § 47, subd. (b). The broad policy of free access to the courts embodied in the privilege cannot be frustrated by putting a new label on a complaint. Thus, plaintiff, an adversary against defendant resident who was represented by defendant attorneys, could not avoid the privilege by pleading the statutory action for unfair competition. However, persons not involved in an adversarial relationship with defendants had standing to pursue claims of unfair competition against defendants. Rubin v Green (1993) 4 Cal 4th 1187
In an action by renters against a corporation that provided information on residential renters to landlords, alleging violations of state and federal statutes governing consumer credit reporting and investigative agencies, the trial court erred in sustaining defendant's demurrer without leave to amend with respect to plaintiffs' claim for relief under the Unfair Business Practices Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.). Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, allows actions for relief "by any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public." The California Supreme Court has rejected the argument that the act should be limited to common law unfair competition cases where a business enterprise presented itself or its merchandise to the public in a deceptive manner so as to defraud consumers. Thus, the wrongful acts alleged in the complaint comprised both a violation of the credit reporting statutes and the act. Moreover, sustaining the demurrer was not harmless, even though plaintiffs were able to seek injunctive relief under the consumer credit statutes. In proving an unfair business practice violation, claimants are entitled to introduce evidence not only of practices that affect them individually, but also similar practices involving other members of the public who are not parties to the action. Without the unfair business practices claim, the trial court restricted the scope of the evidence introduced at trial. Cisneros v U.D. Registry, Inc. (1995, 2nd Dist) 39 Cal App 4th 548, 46 Cal Rptr 2d 233
Defendant publishers' motions for summary judgment were granted as to all claims except for the claim that one publisher's prompt-pay sweepstakes was an illegal lottery, in an action on behalf of plaintiff and the general public of California, seeking to enjoin various statements by defendants in their magazine sweepstakes solicitations. Plaintiff claimed sweepstakes solicitations violated state laws prohibiting false and misleading advertising, that the operation of the sweepstakes constituted an unfair business practice, and that they were illegal lotteries. The sweepstakes did not fit within the scope of the lottery statute merely because some customers came to believe they could enhance their chances of receiving further solicitations if they purchased a product. Because eligibility for customer-only sweepstakes did not hinge on the payment of consideration, they were not illegal. However, it could not be determined whether the prompt-pay sweepstakes imposed a new obligation on potential entrants and required contestants to pay something to enter. Haskell v. Time, Inc. (1997, ED Cal) 965 F Supp 1398
Under Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204, which is part of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200-17209), whereby a private plaintiff who has suffered no injury at all may sue to obtain relief for others, the fact that a private corporation could not directly enforce Pen. Code, § 308, prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors, or the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act (STAKE Act) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 22950 et seq.) did not preclude it from seeking relief under the UCL against a supermarket for allegedly selling cigarettes to minors. There is neither an express nor an implied pro tanto repeal of the UCL in the STAKE Act or in Pen. Code, § 308. It was in enacting the UCL itself, and not by virtue of particular predicate statutes, that the Legislature conferred upon private plaintiffs specific power to prosecute unfair competition claims. Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal 4th 553, 71 Cal Rptr 2d 731, 950 P2d 1086
The Legislature did not intend Pen. Code, § 308, prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors, and the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act (STAKE Act) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 22950 et seq.), to comprise a comprehensive and exclusive scheme for combating the sale of tobacco to minors so as to preclude a private corporation from seeking relief under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200-17209) against a supermarket for allegedly selling cigarettes to minors. The fact that the statutes did not provide for private enforcement or expressly reserve UCL remedies did not constitute a pro tanto implied repeal of the provision of the UCL (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204) that confers standing to prosecute actions for relief from unfair or unlawful conduct not only on the public officials named therein, but on private individuals. Since neither Pen. Code, § 308, nor Bus. & Prof. Code, § 22950 et seq., expressly provides otherwise, the remedies or penalties provided by the UCL are cumulative to the remedies or penalties available under those statutes. Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal 4th 553, 71 Cal Rptr 2d 731, 950 P2d 1086
Disabled employee's unfair competition claim seeking disgorgement of employer's insurer's profits from allegedly unfair processing of disability claims, and an injunction to reopen and re-evaluate claims, was not properly a representative action. Marshall v Std. Ins. Co. (2000, CD Cal) 214 F Supp 2d 1062
Fortune 1000 corporations are not the "general public" for purposes of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204. Rosenbluth Internat., Inc. v Superior Court (2002, 2nd Dist) 101 Cal App 4th 1073, 124 Cal Rptr 2d 844
Plaintiff private citizen's claim against defendant, debtor's parent company, alleging prepetition violations of Bus & Prof Code § 17200, would be remanded by the bankruptcy court to the state court; under Cal Bus & Prof Code § 17204, civil actions to enforce the Unfair Business Practices Act, Bus & Prof Code §§ 17200 et seq., could be brought by any person acting for the interests of itself, its members, or the general public, and therefore the § 17200 claims did not belong exclusively to the debtor or its creditors, and could be remanded. California v PG&E Corp. (In re PG&E) (2002, BC ND Cal) 281 BR 1, 2002 Bankr LEXIS 1400
Federal Arbitration Act did not require that a health plan enrollee arbitrate his injunctive claims against health care companies under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 because he was acting as a private attorney general, prosecuting the claims for the general public, namely, the numerous other plan enrollees in California and because the arbitration system was not capable of monitoring public injunctions. Cruz v PacifiCare Health Systems, Inc. (2003) 30 Cal 4th 303, 133 Cal Rptr 2d 58, 66 P3d 1157
In a customer's unfair competition and false advertising suit against a phone company, the customer lacked standing to bring the claims as private attorney general in federal court because the customer failed to plead facts showing that the injuries allegedly suffered by other citizens actually affected the customer and resulted in a cognizable injury to the customer. Vongrabe v Sprint PCS (2004, SD Cal) 2004 US Dist LEXIS 5438
District court erred in concluding that the insured had U.S. Const. art. III standing to pursue injunctive relief under the Unfair Competition Act, where insured had no contractual relationship with the insurers and therefore was not personally threatened by their conduct. Hangarter v Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. (2004, CA9 Cal) 2004 US App LEXIS 12841

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