By Jeffrey Margulies, Partner-in-Charge at the Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA offices of Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

On April 30, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued its eagerly awaited opinion on the right to jury trials in actions brought under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL)1 and False Advertising Law2 (FAL). The result was perhaps unsurprising—the court reversed an intermediate appellate decision finding that defendants did have a right to jury trial on liability issues but not civil penalties. The court’s rationale and explanation of how California courts approach the right to jury trial in cases involving overlapping equitable and non-equitable claims, however, is dangerously broad. Under the court’s reasoning, litigants arguably have no right to jury trial in a California court in any case where UCL claims are based on the same facts and legal determinations as non-equitable claims. If this result comes to pass, parties’ right to jury trial in a wide range of civil litigation in California will depend on whether they are in state or federal court. 

Background

The case, Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc., et al. v. Superior Court,3 involves a rather ordinary UCL/FAL claim. Four California district attorneys sued a debt-payment service under the UCL and FAL for making allegedly deceptive statements. The complaint sought injunctive relief, civil penalties, and restitution of money wrongfully acquired from California consumers.