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ANALYSIS BY THE LEGISLATIVE ANALYST
Limits on Private Enforcement of Unfair Business
California's unfair competition law prohibits any person from engaging in any unlawful or fraudulent business act. This law may be enforced in court by the Attorney General, local public prosecutors, or a person acting in the interest of itself, its members, or the public. Examples of this type of lawsuit include cases involving deceptive or misleading advertising or violations of state law intended to protect the public well-being, such as health and safety requirements.
Currently, a person initiating a lawsuit under the unfair competition law is not required to show that he/she suffered injury or lost money or property. Also, the Attorney General and local public prosecutors can bring an unfair competition lawsuit without demonstrating an injury or the loss of money or property of a claimant.
Currently, persons initiating unfair competition lawsuits do not have to meet the requirements for class action lawsuits. Requirements for a class action lawsuit include (1) certification by the court of a group of individuals as a class of persons with a common interest, (2) demonstration that there is a benefit to the parties of the lawsuit and the court from having a single case, and (3) notification of all potential members of the class.
In cases brought by the Attorney General or local public prosecutors, violators of the unfair competition law may be required to pay civil penalties up to $2,500 per violation. Currently, state and local governments may use the revenue from such civil penalties for general purposes.
This measure makes the following changes to the current unfair competition law:
Trial Courts. This measure would have an unknown fiscal impact on state support for local trial courts. This effect would depend primarily on whether the measure increases or decreases the overall level of court workload dedicated to unfair competition cases. If the level of court workload significantly decreases because of the proposed restrictions on unfair competition lawsuits, there could be state savings. Alternatively, this measure could increase court workload, and therefore state costs, to the extent there is an increase in class action lawsuits and their related requirements. The number of cases that would be affected by this measure and the corresponding state costs or savings for support of local trial courts is unknown.
Revenues. This measure requires that certain state civil penalty revenue be diverted from general state purposes to the Attorney General for enforcement of consumer protection laws. To the extent that this diverted revenue is replaced by the General Fund, there would be a state cost. However, there is no provision in the measure requiring such replacement.
The measure requires that local government civil penalty revenue be diverted from general local purposes to local public prosecutors for enforcement of consumer protection laws. To the extent that this diverted revenue is replaced by local general fund monies, there would be a cost to local government. However, there is no provision in the measure requiring the replacement of diverted revenues.
Other Effects on State and Local
The measure could result in other less direct, unknown fiscal effects on the state and localities. For example, this measure could result in increased workload and costs to the Attorney General and local public prosecutors to the extent that they pursue certain unfair competition cases that other persons are precluded from bringing under this measure. These costs would be offset to some unknown extent by civil penalty revenue earmarked by the measure for the enforcement of consumer protection laws.
Also, to the extent the measure reduces business costs associated with unfair competition lawsuits, it may improve firms' profitability and eventually encourage additional economic activity, thereby increasing state and local revenues. Alternatively, there could be increased state and local government costs. This could occur to the extent that future lawsuits that would have been brought under current law by a person on behalf of others involving, for example, violations of health and safety requirements, are not brought by the Attorney General or a public prosecutor. In this instance, to the extent that violations of health and safety requirements are not corrected, government could potentially incur increased costs in health-related programs.
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