California’s Unfair Competition Law (Cal. Business and Professions Code Section 17200) allows plaintiffs to challenge business practices that are unfair or fraudulent. ERI has previously filed claims under the law in our suit on behalf of Burmese villagers against Unocal for its knowing benefit from the human rights abuses of its business partner the Burmese military, and our suit on behalf of Amazon Watch, which was forced to expand significant resources to challenge pollution by Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) in the Peruvian Amazon. The law requires that the plaintiff “has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of such unfair competition.”
Corporations, including Oxy, have argued that in order to bring a claim, the plaintiff not only must have lost money, but also that the lost money must be in the defendant’s possession. A few lower courts had accepted that argument. Last Thursday, however, in the Kwikset case, the California Supreme Court rejected that very narrow limit on who may sue under Section 17200. By affirming that the court house door is open to all those who lost money as a result of an unfair business practice, the decision is an important win for consumers, human rights and labor organizations and others concerned with corporate accountability. The decision is described more fully on the UCL Practitioner blog.
In our case, Oxy has already sent a letter to the court acknowledging that Kwikset eliminates one of its arguments against Amazon Watch.