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Arias v. Superior Court of San Joaquin County

June 29, 2009

JOSE A. ARIAS, PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, RESPONDENT;
ANGELO DAIRY ET AL., REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



Ct.App. 3 C054185 San Joaquin County Super. Ct. No. CV028612. Court: Superior County: San Joaquin Judge: Carter P. Holly.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennard, J.

(this opinion should precede the companion case, S151615, also filed 6/29/09)

We hold that an employee who, on behalf of himself and other employees, sues an employer under the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) for Labor Code violations must satisfy class action requirements, but that those requirements need not be met when an employee's representative action against an employer is seeking civil penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.).

I.

Jose A. Arias sued his former employer, Angelo Dairy, and others. In the first through sixth causes of action of the First Amended Complaint, plaintiff on behalf of himself alleged violations of the Labor Code, labor regulations, and an Industrial Welfare Commission wage order.

In the seventh through eleventh causes of action of the first amended complaint, plaintiff asserted claims on behalf of himself as well as other current and former employees of defendants. We summarize those causes of action below.

The seventh and eighth causes of action alleged breach of contract and breach of the warranty of habitability on the ground that defendants provided residential units in a defective and dangerous condition.

The ninth cause of action alleged violations of the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.), based on defendants' failures to credit plaintiff for all hours worked, to pay overtime wages, to pay wages when due, to pay wages due upon termination, to provide rest and meal periods, and to obtain written authorization for deducting or offsetting wages.

The tenth cause of action sought enforcement under the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.)*fn1 of penalties provided for in the Labor Code (Lab. Code, §§ 203, 226).

The eleventh cause of action alleged, under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.), that defendants had violated the Labor Code, labor regulations, and an Industrial Welfare Commission wage order by failing to pay all wages due, to provide itemized wage statements, to maintain adequate payroll records, to pay all wages due upon termination, to provide rest and meal periods, to offset proper amounts for employer-provided housing, and to provide necessary tools and equipment.

The trial court granted defendants' motion to strike the seventh through eleventh causes of action (brought on behalf of plaintiff and other employees) on the ground that plaintiff failed to comply with the pleading requirements for class actions. Plaintiff petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate. That court held that the causes of action brought in a representative capacity alleging violations of the unfair competition law, but not the representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, were subject to class action requirements. It issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to issue a new order striking the representative claims alleged in the seventh through tenth causes of action, but not the eleventh cause of action. We granted plaintiff's petition for review.

II.

Plaintiff contends the Court of Appeal erred in holding that to bring representative claims (that is, claims on behalf of others as well as himself) under the unfair competition law, he must comply with class action requirements.*fn2 We disagree.

The unfair competition law prohibits ―any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice . . . .‖ (§ 17200.) Before 2004, any person could assert representative claims under the unfair competition law to obtain restitution or injunctive relief against unfair or unlawful business practices. Such claims did not have to be brought as a class action, and a plaintiff had standing to sue even without having personally suffered any injury. (Former §§ 17203, 17204, added by Stats. 1977, ch. 299, § 1, p. 1202; Kraus v. Trinity Management Services, Inc., supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 126, fn. 10; Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 553, 561; see Corbett v. Superior Court (2002) 101 Cal.App.4th 649, 680-681.)

In 2004, however, the electorate passed Proposition 64, an initiative measure. Proposition 64 amended the unfair competition law to provide that a private plaintiff may bring a representative action under this law only if the plaintiff has ―suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of such unfair competition‖ and ―complies with Section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure . . . .‖*fn3 This statute provides that ―when the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court, one or more may sue or defend for the benefit of all.‖ This court has interpreted Code of Civil Procedure section 382 as authorizing class actions. (Washington Mutual Bank v. Superior Court, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 913; Richmond v. Dart Industries, Inc. (1981) 29 Cal.3d 462, 470; City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1974) 12 Cal.3d 447, 458.)

Plaintiff contends that because Proposition 64's amendment of the unfair competition law requires compliance only with ―[s]section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure‖ (§ 17203, see fn. 3, ante), and because that statute makes no mention of the words ―class action,‖ his representative lawsuit brought under the unfair competition law need not comply with the requirements governing a class action.

At issue is whether, as amended by the voters' passage of Proposition 64, 17203's language stating that to bring a representative action under the unfair competition law a private plaintiff must ―compl[y] with Section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure,‖ imposes a requirement that the action be brought as a class action. To resolve the issue, we examine the statutory language to determine the intent of those who enacted it.

The general principles that govern interpretation of a statute enacted by the Legislature apply also to an initiative measure enacted by the voters. (Robert L. v. Superior Court (2003) 30 Cal.4th 894, 900.) Thus, our primary task here is to ascertain the intent of the electorate (Professional Engineers in California Government v. Kempton (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1016, 1037) so as to effectuate that intent (Nolan v. City of Anaheim (2004) 33 Cal.4th 335, 340).

We look first to the words of the initiative measure, as they generally provide the most reliable indicator of the voters' intent. (Bernard v. Foley (2006) 39 Cal.4th 794, 804; Hsu v. Abbara (1995) 9 Cal.4th 863, 871.) Usually, there is no need to construe a provision's words when they are clear and unambiguous and thus not reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning. (People v. Leal (2004) 33 Cal.4th 999, 1007; People v. Gardeley (1996) 14 Cal.4th 605, 621.) That, according to plaintiff, is true here.

A literal construction of an enactment, however, will not control when such a construction would frustrate the manifest purpose of the enactment as a whole. (People v. Gonzalez (2008) 43 Cal.4th 1118, 1126; Horwich v. Superior Court (1999) 21 Cal.4th 272, 276; Faria v. San Jacinto Unified School Dist. (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1939, 1945.) ―The intent prevails over the letter, and the letter will, if possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act.‖ (Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735.) In determining the purpose of an initiative measure, we consider the analysis and arguments contained in the official election materials submitted to the voters. (E.g., Professional Engineers in California Government v. Kempton, supra,40 Cal.4th at p. 1050; Robert L. v. Superior Court, supra, 30 Cal.4th at p. 901.)

A thorough review of the Voter Information Guide prepared by the Secretary of State for the November 2, 2004, election at which the voters enacted Proposition 64 leaves no doubt that, as discussed below, one purpose of Proposition 64 was to impose class action requirements on private ...


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