LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A California federal judge has ruled that a class action plaintiff can't prove he was misled by price tags at Ross Stores, helping the company to avoid having to settle the lawsuit - if the decision is affirmed on appeal.
The motion to deny class certification and dismiss false advertising prices in Jose Jacobo, et al. v. Ross Stores Inc. by U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald is par for the course, California attorney Daniel Watts, of Galuppo & Blake, told Legal Newsline.
“If this had gone the other way, and the judge had denied the motion for summary judgment and granted the class certification, Ross probably would've settled very quickly afterwards,” he said.
Watts said there was nothing surprising about the ruling, which concerned the California Unfair Competition and False Advertising Law.
Fitzgerald ruled against patrons who claimed “compare at” pricing is a deceitful sales ploy. The plaintiffs are appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“The judge ruled against them because the plaintiffs didn't provide any evidence whatsoever that they had actually relied on the supposedly ‘misleading’ price tags, or that they lost money, or that any other consumers would have been deceived by the price tags,” Watts said.
“All the plaintiffs had to do was say that they would not have bought the merchandise from Ross if Ross hadn't put those price tags on there, and then provide some kind of evidence (other than speculation) that other, reasonable consumers would've also been deceived."
Fitzgerald found that “plaintiffs never relied on Ross’ Comparable Value price tags, and thus lack standing under California law to pursue any claims stemming from Ross’ use of that phrase."
He added that the plaintiffs failed to show any economic harm"
Watts said though it's true that the court was mostly applying California law, federal courts are generally assumed to be more business-friendly than state courts. However, that is still not a reason for plaintiffs pushing such suits to expect a favorable ruling.
“In this case, the plaintiffs didn't have the facts they needed to prove their claims against Ross,” he said.
“They didn't do that, according to the court, so the court dismissed their claims under the Unfair Competition Law's ban on ‘fraudulent’ business practices. The court found, basically, that the plaintiffs didn't do their homework: Plaintiffs spoke to no other potential class members about whether their interpretation [of the price tags' meaning] is shared by anyone besides themselves."
The notion of standing was significant, according to Watts.
“Standing is an important part of a lawsuit, especially in federal court. It was certainly the most important part here,” he said, adding to show standing, a plaintiff needs to prove an actual, personalized injury attributable to the defendant's conduct.
“It's not enough that the defendant did something bad or illegal - what matters is whether the defendant injured the particular plaintiff who's suing. On a motion for summary judgment like this, plaintiffs need to produce real evidence showing they were injured. These plaintiffs didn't do that."