Angelucci v. Century Supper Club, S136154.

Citation158 P.3d 718,59 Cal.Rptr.3d 142,41 Cal.4th 160
Decision Date31 May 2007
Docket NumberNo. S136154.,S136154.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
PartiesMarc ANGELUCCI et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CENTURY SUPPER CLUB, Defendant and Respondent.

The Rava Law Firm, Alfred G. Rava, San Diego; Law Offices of Morse Mehrban and Morse Mehrban for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

The Sturdevant Law Firm, James C. Sturdevant and Monique Olivier, San Francisco, for Consumer Attorneys of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Jennifer C. Pizer; Christine P. Sun, Hector P. Villagra; David Blair-Loy; and Tamara Lange for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Harry Crouch for National Coalition of Free Men, Los Angeles Chapter, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Law Offices of Steven L. Martin and Steven L. Martin, Santa Monica, for Defendant and Respondent.

Payne & Fears, Daniel L. Rasmussen, Irvine, and Julie J. Bisceglia for Corinthian Colleges as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

Deborah J. La Fetra and Timothy Sandefur, Sacramento, for Pacific Legal Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

GEORGE, C.J.

We granted review in the present case to determine whether, in order to state a claim under Civil Code section 52, subdivision (a), the relevant remedial provision of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ.Code, § 51 et seq.; also hereinafter sometimes referred to as the Act), plaintiffs must demonstrate that they affirmatively requested nondiscriminatory treatment and were refused.1

As we shall explain, we conclude that the text of the Act does not support defendant's and the Court of Appeal's assertion that, in order to recover under the Act, plaintiffs who are discriminated against when they present themselves at a business establishment and pay the price of admission also must demand equal treatment and be refused. Nor do we believe it would be consistent with the policy of the Act, or with our case law, to read such a requirement into the language of the Act. Accordingly, the judgment rendered by the Court of Appeal is reversed.

I

Plaintiffs Marc Angelucci, Edgar Pacas, Elton Campbell, and Jeff Kent filed a complaint against Century Supper Club (the club) for violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995 (§ 51.6).2 The complaint alleged that plaintiffs patronized the club on several occasions in June and July 2002, and were charged an admission fee higher than that charged to women. Specifically, the complaint alleged that two of the plaintiffs were charged $20 for admission on June 14, 2002, although the admission fee for women was $15, that they again were charged $20 for admission two days later, although women were admitted free, and that the other plaintiffs patronized the club on several occasions and experienced similar treatment. Plaintiffs alleged they were charged higher prices because they are men.3 They sought statutory damages under section 52, subdivision (a) (section 52(a)), the relevant portion of the remedy provision of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the related Gender Tax Repeal Act.

The club moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that plaintiffs could not recover under section 52(a) for violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act or the Gender Tax Repeal Act, because they had not alleged they had asked the club to be charged at the same rate as female patrons.4 Defendant claimed that without having made such requests, plaintiffs could not prevail. The trial court agreed with defendant and entered judgment in its favor.

Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that section 52(a) provides a remedy only to those plaintiffs who request nondiscriminatory treatment and are refused. The appellate court relied principally upon language in this court's decision in Koire v. Metro Car Wash (1985) 40 Cal.3d 24, 219 Cal.Rptr. 133, 707 P.2d 195 (Koire) and characterized that case as "holding that there must be an affirmative assertion of the right to equal treatment ... based on the fact that there cannot be a discrimination or a denial of services unless services are requested. The principle is consistent with longstanding California law ... which holds that a plaintiff cannot sue for discrimination in the abstract, but must actually suffer the discriminatory conduct." The Court of Appeal added that the requirement that the plaintiff demand equal treatment "ensures that the statutes will be used to redress genuine grievances and to punish genuine misconduct, not by those who seek to exploit the law for financial gain," citing Reese v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 1225, 1236, 87 Cal.Rptr.2d 346 (Reese). The Court of Appeal concluded that its analysis would apply equally to plaintiffs' claims under the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Gender Tax Repeal Act, observing that the parties had not separately addressed the Gender Tax Repeal Act.5

We granted plaintiffs' petition for review.

II
A

In an appeal from a motion granting judgment on the pleadings, we accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and review the legal issues de novo. "A motion for judgment on the pleadings, like a general demurrer, tests the allegations of the complaint or cross-complaint, supplemented by any matter of which the trial court takes judicial notice, to determine whether plaintiff or cross-complainant has stated a cause of action. [Citation.] Because the trial court's determination is made as a matter of law, we review the ruling de novo, assuming the truth of all material facts properly pled." (Leko v. Cornerstone Bldg. Inspection Service (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 1109, 1114, 103 Cal.Rptr.2d 858.)

B

In pertinent part, the Act provides that "[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever." (§ 51, subd. (b).)

The Act includes an enforcement provision that authorizes individual actions. Section 52(a) provides that "[w]hoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6 [the Gender Tax Repeal Act], is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages, and any amount that may be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000), and any attorney's fees that may be determined by the court in addition thereto, suffered by any person denied the rights provided in Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6."6

As we have declared in past cases, the Act must be construed liberally in order to carry out its purpose. (Koire, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 28, 219 Cal.Rptr. 133, 707 P.2d 195.) The Act expresses a state and national policy against discrimination on arbitrary grounds. (Burks v. Poppy Construction. Co. (1962) 57 Cal.2d 463, 471, 20 Cal.Rptr. 609, 370 P.2d 313.) Its provisions were intended as an active measure that would create and preserve a nondiscriminatory environment in California business establishments by "banishing" or "eradicating" arbitrary, invidious discrimination by such establishments. (Isbister v. Boys' Club of Santa Cruz, Inc. (1985) 40 Cal.3d 72, 75-76, 219 Cal.Rptr. 150, 707 P.2d 212 (Isbister) [referring to a legislative desire to "`banish such [discriminatory] practices from California's community life'"]; Koire, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 36, 219 Cal.Rptr. 133, 707 P.2d 195 [observing that the purpose expressed by the Act and other enactments is the "eradication" of discrimination based upon sex]; In re Cox (1970) 3 Cal.3d 205, 212, 90 Cal.Rptr. 24, 474 P.2d 992 [speaking of a patent legislative purpose to "interdict" the arbitrary discrimination targeted by the Act].)

The Act stands as a bulwark protecting each person's inherent right to "full and equal" access to "all business establishments." (§ 51, subd. (b); Isbister, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 75, 219 Cal.Rptr. 150, 707 P.2d 212.) The Act, like the common law principles upon which it was partially based, imposes a compulsory duty upon business establishments to serve all persons without arbitrary discrimination. (Marina Point, Ltd. v. Wolfson (1982) 30 Cal.3d 721, 738, 180 Cal.Rptr. 496, 640 P.2d 115; see also Warfield v. Peninsula Golf Country Club (1995) 10 Cal.4th 594, 607-608, 42 Cal.Rptr.2d 50, 896 P.2d 776.) The Act serves as a preventive measure, without which it is recognized that businesses might fall into discriminatory practices. (Isbister, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 75, 219 Cal.Rptr. 150, 707 P.2d 212.).

C

In interpreting a statute, we first consider its words, giving them their ordinary meaning and construing them in a manner consistent with their context and the apparent purpose of the legislation. (Fitch v. Select Products Co. (2005) 36 Cal.4th 812, 818, 31 Cal.Rptr.3d 591, 115 P.3d 1233.)

As can be seen from the statutory language quoted above, the Act does not contain express language requiring that before a legal action may be filed, the victim of the asserted discrimination must have demanded equal treatment and have been refused. Unlike some other remedy statutes, the Act, and specifically section 52(a), does not establish as a condition of instituting a lawsuit that the defendant have been given notice and an opportunity to correct the asserted violation. (Compare § 51.6, subd. (f)(5) [under...

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