People v. McKale

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCLARK; BIRD
Citation159 Cal.Rptr. 811,25 Cal.3d 626
Parties, 602 P.2d 731 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Vernon J. McKALE et al., Defendants and Respondents, Wells Fargo Bank, Defendant and Appellant. L.A. 31042.
Decision Date08 November 1979

Page 811

159 Cal.Rptr. 811
25 Cal.3d 626, 602 P.2d 731
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
Vernon J. McKALE et al., Defendants and Respondents,
Wells Fargo Bank, Defendant and Appellant.
L.A. 31042.
Supreme Court of California.
Nov. 8, 1979.
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing Jan. 3, 1980.

[25 Cal.3d 630]

Page 813

[602 P.2d 733] Byron C. Morton, Dist. Atty. and Robert J. O'Connor, Jr., Deputy Dist. Atty., for plaintiff and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger and George Deukmejian, Attys. Gen., E. Clement Shute, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Herschel T. Elkins and Albert Norman Shelden, Deputy Attys. Gen., as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and appellant.

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, John A. Sturgeon and Ronald P. Kaplan, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant.

Rodney Robertson, Palm Springs, for defendants and respondents.

CLARK, Justice.

People appeal from judgment as to eight causes of action entered in favor of defendants Vernon J. McKale doing business as Skys Haven Mobile Home Park (the park), Loren and Rose Crocker and Wells Fargo Bank, National Association (Wells Fargo). General demurrers were sustained without leave to amend as to 59 causes of action[25 Cal.3d 631] stated in the People's amended complaint for alleged violations of the Mobile Home Parks Act (Health & Saf. Code, § 18200 et seq.) and other statutes. Wells Fargo cross-appeals from order denying attorney fees.

In April 1976 the People, through the office of the District Attorney of Riverside County, commenced this action against the park seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief for claimed violations of the Mobilehome Parks Act and related sections of the Administrative Code pertaining to operation of mobile home parks. The complaint further asserted alleged acts of misconduct additionally constitute unfair competition under Civil Code section 3369 (now Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200-17208.) 1 After the park's demurrers were sustained as to particular causes of action, the People filed an amended complaint asserting 59 causes of action seeking, among other things, imposition of civil penalties (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17206) and permanent injunction (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17204) against the owner of the park (McKale), its managers (the Crockers), and Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo is alleged to have been in possession and control of the park during a portion of the time when asserted violations occurred. While demurrers were sustained and judgment granted as to each of the 59 counts, the People appeal only as to 8 counts alleging unfair competition practices counts 8 through 13, 57 and 59.

The central issue presented is whether the district attorney has power to proceed against defendants for the claimed violations. While he has no express authority to enforce the Mobile Home Parks Act such authority being expressly vested in the Commission on Housing and Community Development he does have standing to sue for acts of unfair competition prescribed by provisions of the Business and Professions Code. Section 17204 expressly empowers a district attorney to prosecute actions for an injunction to halt acts of unfair competition, and section 17206 authorizes a district attorney to prosecute actions for collection of civil penalties assessed for such acts.

Unfair competition is defined to include "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading [25 Cal.3d 632] advertising." (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200.) California courts have consistently interpreted such language broadly. An "unlawful business activity" includes " 'anything that can properly be called a business practice and that at the same time is forbidden by law.' " (Barquis

Page 814

v. Merchants Collection Assn. (1972) 7 Cal.3d 94, 113, 101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 758, 496 P.2d 817, 830.) The Legislature "intended [602 P.2d 734] . . . to permit tribunals to enjoin on-going wrongful business conduct in whatever context such activity might occur." (Id., at p. 111, 101 Cal.Rptr. at p. 757, 496 P.2d at p. 829.)

The eighth, ninth and tenth causes of action allege violations of the Mobile Home Parks Act and related sections of the Administrative Code, asserting such violations constitute acts of unfair competition prohibited by the Business and Professions Code. The violations range from dumping waste water on the premises (Health & Saf. Code, § 18554) to improper burial of underground electrical wiring (Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 25, art. 3, § 5342). Under Barquis such violations constitute unlawful business activities because they are by nature business practices and are forbidden by law.

Defendants contend maintenance of a cause of action in unfair competition for violations of the Mobile Home Parks Act circumvents the specific statutory enforcement scheme provided by the act. The act calls for enforcement by the Department of Housing and Community Development or any city or county which has assumed responsibility under Health and Safety Code section 18300. (Health & Saf. Code, § 18207.) While a district attorney may bring an action to abate a nuisance occurring on property controlled by the act (Health & Saf. Code, § 18402), the People do not purport to prosecute this action pursuant to such authority.

The People contend that even though a specific statutory enforcement scheme exists, a parallel action for unfair competition is proper pursuant to applicable provisions of the Business and Professions Code. We have so held in an analogous situation. (Barquis v. Merchants Collection Assn., supra, 7 Cal.3d 94, 101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817.) The Collection Agency Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6850 et seq.) provides for a regulatory scheme, including an enforcement agency. Admittedly the issue of standing to challenge alleged unlawful practices was not directly raised in that case. However, we held persons not vested with specific authority by the act in that case a class of prejudicially-affected persons could, if properly alleged, bring a cause of action for unfair competition. (Id., at p. 113, 101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817.) In an action[25 Cal.3d 633] in which a similar question of standing Was raised, it was held a savings and loan association could maintain an action for unfair competition in doing business under a particular name even though the Savings and Loan Commissioner had approved the use of such name. (Coast and Southern Fed. S. & L. Assn. v. TransCoast S. & L. Assn. (1971) 16 Cal.App.3d 205, 93 Cal.Rptr. 791.)

In similar situations our courts have arrived at consistent conclusions. The Accountancy Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 5000-5157) established the Board of Accountancy with authority to seek injunctive relief against violators of the act. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 5122.) As with the Mobile Home Parks Act, the district attorney is not expressly authorized to enforce the statute. While the issue has not been directly faced, it appears a concerned district attorney may prosecute an action for unfair competition predicated on violations of the Accountancy Act notwithstanding provisions for a special enforcement agency. (See People v. Hill (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 320, 136 Cal.Rptr. 30.)

In People v. K. Sakai Co. (1976) 56 Cal.App.3d 531, 128 Cal.Rptr. 536, a district attorney filed an action alleging defendants had committed acts of unfair competition by violating Penal Code sections prohibiting sale of whale meat. Even though the Penal Code provides only criminal sanctions, the court held the district attorney could pursue an action in unfair competition for such violations.

We conclude that lack of express authorization for a district attorney to prosecute violations of the Mobile Home Parks Act does not preclude prosecution of an action pursuant to applicable Business and Professions Code sections for unfair competition. Safer v. Superior Court (1975) 15 Cal.3d 230, 124 Cal.Rptr. 174, 540 P.2d 14 is

Page 815

not inconsistent as contended by defendants. While we held a district attorney may prosecute civil actions only when the [602 P.2d 735] Legislature has specifically authorized, specific power exists in the instant case. The district attorney is expressly authorized to maintain a civil action for either injunctive relief or civil penalties...

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248 practice notes
  • Committee On Children's Television, Inc. v. General Foods Corp.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 22, 1983
    ...business conduct in whatever context such activity might occur (id., at p. 111 [101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817]; People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 632 [159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731]; see also Howard, Former Civil Code, Section 3369: A Study in Judicial Interpretation (1979) 30 Hast......
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, No. B096075
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 23, 1996
    ...27 Cal.App.4th 832, 840-841, 33 Cal.Rptr.2d 438); placing unlawful or unenforceable terms in form contracts (People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 634-635, 159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731); asserting a contractual right one does not have (People v. McKale, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 635, 159 C......
  • People v. Fremont Life Ins., No. B139066.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 18, 2002
    ...also has determined that unfair business practices include unconscionable provisions in standardized agreements. (People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 634-637, 159 Cal. Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731 [tenants of mobile home park required to sign documents that include illegal provisions].)4 Fina......
  • Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc., No. S055373
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 23, 1998
    ...to minors, "preempts" all private enforcement of section 308. The Court of Appeal, relying on our decisions in People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731 and Committee on Children's Television, Inc. v. General Foods Corp., supra, 35 Cal.3d 197, 197 Cal.Rptr. 783,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
248 cases
  • Committee On Children's Television, Inc. v. General Foods Corp.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 22, 1983
    ...business conduct in whatever context such activity might occur (id., at p. 111 [101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817]; People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 632 [159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731]; see also Howard, Former Civil Code, Section 3369: A Study in Judicial Interpretation (1979) 30 Hast......
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, No. B096075
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 23, 1996
    ...27 Cal.App.4th 832, 840-841, 33 Cal.Rptr.2d 438); placing unlawful or unenforceable terms in form contracts (People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 634-635, 159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731); asserting a contractual right one does not have (People v. McKale, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 635, 159 C......
  • People v. Fremont Life Ins., No. B139066.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 18, 2002
    ...also has determined that unfair business practices include unconscionable provisions in standardized agreements. (People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 634-637, 159 Cal. Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731 [tenants of mobile home park required to sign documents that include illegal provisions].)4 Fina......
  • Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc., No. S055373
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 23, 1998
    ...to minors, "preempts" all private enforcement of section 308. The Court of Appeal, relying on our decisions in People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731 and Committee on Children's Television, Inc. v. General Foods Corp., supra, 35 Cal.3d 197, 197 Cal.Rptr. 783,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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