Unfair Business Practices


Under California and federal law, there are various laws protecting businesses from acts of unfair competition by competitors such as false advertisements, the making of false statements, and anti-competitive behavior such as below-cost sales. This page provides an overview of some of these laws.

At Lesowitz Gebelin LLP, we are well versed in the diverse sources of law on acts of unfair competition and false representations in business. One of our founding partners (Lesowitz) is a Harvard Law School graduate and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. Our other founding partner (Gebelin) is a graduate of the NYU School of Law and a former attorney at the biggest and most prestigious litigation-only law firm, Quinn Emanuel.

Also, we have significant experience on matters involving the internet, technology, trademark infringement, and defamation, as well as general business disputes. This is important as the laws of unfair competition, trade libel, and false advertising overlap with the law covering trademark infringement and defamation. For example, the same federal statute covers false advertising, false statements about competitors, and trademark infringement.

Also broadening our perspective, we have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in cases featuring unfair competition, false advertising, and unfair competition issues.

False Designations of Origin and False Descriptions

Title 15, Section 1125 of the United States Code (part of the federal Lanham Act) bars various acts of false advertising and false statements made in business competition. It also provides the right for those damaged by these acts to sue.

For example, the statute prohibits one from making a “false designation of origin” or any “false or misleading representation of fact” that either (a) “is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person,” or (b) “in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities.”

Note that one who is damaged by such false advertisements or statements of fact may be able to sue even if the statements did not relate to him or her. For example, if there are two sellers of IBM computers who are competitors, Store A and Store B, neither of whom have any affiliation with IBM. If Store B falsely claims to be an official reseller of IBM computers, Store A may be allowed to sue Store B. This is even though Store B did not make any statement whatsoever about Store A.

California law also contains its own set of false advertising statutes, notably the series of statutes beginning at Business and Professions Code Section 17500.

California Unfair Competition Law

California law contains a broad unfair competition law (the “UCL”). The UCL prohibits “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising.” California Business & Professions Code § 17200. Notably, unlike many other states, California allows for anyone who has been injured by an unlawful or unfair act to file a civil lawsuit.

The types of conduct that courts have found the UCL to cover is broad. The bar on “unlawful” conduct has the effect of allowing individuals to sue for violations of a wide variety of statues where they otherwise may not have standing. This may include criminal statutes, immigration statutes, environmental statutes, consumer protection statutes, privacy statutes, and even possibly tax statutes.

The UCL’s bar on “unfair or fraudulent business” acts has led to Courts allowing lawsuits for a wide variety of conduct including sharing consumer information in violation of a privacy policy, unconscionable loan modifications, taking kickbacks, misleading customers, withholding material information from consumers, making misrepresentations to sales’ representatives about reimbursements, placing holds on debit cards greater than the purchase prices, violating conditions in a zoning permit, placing unenforceable terms in form contracts, retaining amounts over what is owed after repossessing a vehicle, refusing to refund customer down payments, the misuse of polygraph tests, and the use of language to confuse customers.

California’s Unfair Practices Act

California’s Unfair Practices Act (Business and Professions Code Sections 17000 to 17101) allows for civil suits for the violation of various unfair, deceptive, fraudulent, and dishonest acts performed to harm competition. The types of conduct prohibited include certain acts of locality discriminations, below cost sales, and secret rebates.

Violations of the Unfair Practices Act may lead to an award of triple the amount of damages sustained in addition to an award of attorneys’ fees.

It should be noted that the California Unfair Practices Act and the UCL are different sets of statutes covering different acts and have different remedies provisions. The reason that this should be noted as that “UCL” and “UPA” are often incorrectly used to refer to both or the other statute. This is especially so with referring to the Unfair Practices Act incorrectly as the “UCL.” Even courts make this mistake.

Contact Us About Your Unfair Business Practices Litigation

Our offices are located at the nexus of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, California. We represent clients throughout California, from Silicon Beach to Silicon Valley, including Santa Monica, Culver City, Torrance, Long Beach, Orange County, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura.

Lesowitz Gebelin LLP’s litigation attorneys can help you If you believe you have to bring or defend claims related to unfair business practices, false advertising, or unfair practices. We invite you to contact us about your business litigation and either submit to us using our online case submission form or by calling us directly at 310-341-3072.

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