LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - Last week, a California federal judge certified a class action lawsuit alleging retailer J.C. Penney Corp. purposely marked up its original prices to trick shoppers into believing they were getting discounts when the items later were put on sale.


Lead plaintiff Cynthia Spann filed the lawsuit against J.C. Penney in February 2012.


Spann, a Los Angeles County resident, alleges that during the class period -- Nov. 5, 2010 through Jan, 31, 2012 -- the company “advertised false former prices and false price discounts” for its clothing and accessories.


“During at least the past four years, J.C. Penney has misrepresented the existence, nature and amount of price discounts by purporting to offer specific dollar discounts from expressly referenced former retail prices, which are misrepresented as ‘original’ retail prices,” she wrote in her original complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.


“These purported discounts are false, however, because the referenced former retail prices are fabricated and do not represent J.C. Penney’s true ‘original’ retail prices for its private branded and exclusive branded apparel and accessories.


“Furthermore, the advertised ‘original’ prices for J.C. Penney’s private branded and exclusive branded apparel and accessories are not the prevailing market retail prices within three months next immediately preceding the publication and dissemination of the advertised former prices, as required by California law.”


Spann, according to her lawsuit, was deceived into buying more than $200 in merchandise, including a number of shirts and a Liz Claiborne brand purse, from a Brea, Calif., store in March 2011.


J.C. Penney filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, or alternatively strike certain allegations. However, the court denied the company’s motion in a March 17 order.


Judge Fernando Olguin granted Spann’s motion for class certification in an order filed May 18.


Included in the class are: all persons who, while in the state of California and between Nov. 5, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2012 purchased from J.C. Penney one or more private or exclusive branded items of apparel or accessories advertised at a discount of at least 30 percent off of the stated “original” or “regular” price, and who have not received a refund or credit for their purchases.


Excluded from the class is any person who only received a discount of 30 percent or more as a result of using one or more coupons.


Dallas-based trial law firm Stanley Law Group and San Diego-based consumer law firm Emge & Associates have been appointed class counsel.


“District courts in California routinely certify consumer class actions arising from alleged violations of the (Consumers Legal Remedies Act), (False Advertising Law) and (Unfair Competition Law),” Olguin wrote. “This case is one of those routine cases.


“Although only one common question of law or fact is needed, this case presents a number of common questions of law or fact that ‘drive the resolution’ of the claims of the putative class.”


In fact, J.C. Penney should “welcome” class certification, Olguin wrote in his 38-page order.


“By proving that its price-comparison advertising scheme did not generate false price comparisons, defendant can obtain a judgment binding all class members who do not opt out of the class,” he explained. “In short, proof in this case will produce a common answer as to whether defendant’s price-comparison advertising scheme resulted in false price comparisons for its private and exclusive branded items.


“Common proof will advance the litigation by resolving these questions ‘in one stroke’ for all members of the class.”


Spann, on behalf of the class, seeks injunctive relief, restitution and statutory damages.


A spokeswoman for J.C. Penney would not comment on the certification, saying the company does not speak on pending litigation.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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