July 18, 2012 Articles

Ninth Circuit Reshapes California Consumer-Protection Law

In a stark departure from prior case law, Mazza side-stepped controlling California substantive law and substituted its own understanding of federal policy.

By Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Jonathan D. Selbin, Jahan C. Sagafi, and Jason L. Lichtman

On January 12, 2012, a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit issued an unusual opinion that modifies decades of California consumer-protection law and could reshape the relationship between federal courts and the states. Mazza v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 666 F.3d 581 (9th Cir. 2012), reh’g denied, Mar. 16, 2012. The importance and complexity of this issue is emphasized by the dozens of opinions citing Mazza in the short time since it was issued, many of which approach the case from starkly different angles. See Kowalsky v. Hewlett-Packard Co., No. 5:10-cv-02176, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34597, at *20–21 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 14, 2012) (following Mazza); Bruno v. Eckhart Corp., No. 11-0173, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30873, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2012) (rejecting Mazza on grounds similar to those articulated in this article); see also Keegan v. Am. Honda Motor Co, Inc., No. 10-9508, slip op. at 55–57 (C.D. Cal. June 12, 2012) (distinguishing Mazza).

The plaintiffs in Mazza brought claims under California law against American Honda Motor Company, Inc., a corporation both incorporated and headquartered in California. The plaintiffs asserted that Honda had failed to disclose that its allegedly sophisticated braking system did not function in inclement weather—the very situation in which consumers would most need such a system, the plaintiffs asserted.

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