Friday, November 16, 2007

The cost of gas is the price of standing

Anderson v. Riverside Chrysler Jeep, 2007 WL 3317819 (Cal.App. 4 Dist.)

Anderson sued Riverside under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law. She alleged that she saw an ad in the paper for a specific car and called the dealership, where an employee told her the car was for sale. She drove to the dealership and, though the vehicle was in the service department, she took it for a test drive and indicated she would return to buy it. When she did, she negotiated a final price, though the salesperson told her that the car wasn’t for sale because it hadn’t been through a safety inspection. Four days later, she called the dealership and was told the car had been sold, but the same car was later advertised for sale.

The basic defense here was that Anderson hadn’t suffered injury in fact or lost money or property, required under the UCL (and similar defenses for the CLRA). Injury needs to be concrete, not conjectural, and specific, rather than some harm suffered by the public at large. Anderson alleges that she lost money from losing leisure time and mileage and costs associated with driving to the dealership twice. Leisure time is insufficient, because it’s not money or property. But the loss of the cost of gas and accompanying wear and tear on her old car was a “concrete and actual monetary loss.” In a nod to the price of gas, the court pointed out that other losses held sufficient to confer standing were less than the value of a tank.

However, the CLRA claim failed because Anderson failed to plead facts necessary to show any violation of the code sections that she cited.

An extended dissent challenged the idea that gas and wear & tear could support a claim of injury in fact. Anderson chose to drive to the dealership without any guarantee that she’d buy a car. “When a consumer enters a store in response to an advertisement, irrespective of whether the advertisement is misleading, there is no guarantee that the advertised product will be purchased. The fact that Anderson left defendant's dealership empty handed is not a sufficient reason to translate the costs incurred while responding to an advertisement into actionable injuries.”

The dissent argued that other cases finding standing involved benefits to the defendants, as well as injuries to the plaintiffs, as when a charge for gas was paid directly to the defendant. I’m not sure why standing should be “measured by defendant’s gain and not simply by Anderson’s loss” – it’s certainly a rule for deciding what claims are valid, but that seems to go to whether defendant was unjustly enriched, not whether plaintiff suffered harm, which I thought was the definition of injury. The dissent also argued that, because damages aren’t recoverable under the UCL, they shouldn’t suffice to show injury either – something capable of restitution should be involved. (The majority rejected this argument on the ground that the remedies available in the UCL are in the disjunctive; plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief without seeking restitution). More persuasive, perhaps, is the dissent’s fear that any negligible loss – cellphone minutes used to ask about an advertised product, or shoe tread ground down while walking to a store – will now confer standing, undercutting Proposition 64’s purpose.

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