Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fourth District Holds that Doctrine of “Delayed Accrual” Applies to UCL: Salenga v. Mitsubishi Motors Credit of Am.

On April 9, 2010, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the legal principle of “delayed accrual” was applicable to the UCL for purposes of ascertaining the initiation of the four year statute of limitations in Salenga v. Mitsubishi Motors Credit of Am., __ Cal.4th __ (2010). See Slip Opinion, at 9-12. The Court’s decision is significant, as previous decisions have found that statute extending doctrines, such as the discovery rule, are inapplicable to the UCL. Id., at 9 (citing Snapp & Associates Ins. Services, Inc. v. Malcolm Bruce Burlingame Robertson, 96 Cal.App.4th 884, 891(2002)). As explained by the Court, “delayed accrual” is an exception to the general rule that a cause of action accrues as of the time of the wrongful act. Id., at 10. In this manner, “‘rules of delayed accrual are to be distinguished from rules that, despite accrual of the cause of action, toll or suspend the running of the statute.’” Id. Situations where delayed accrual may apply include (1) accrual when damage results, and (2) accrual postponed by performance of a condition precedent. Id.

In Salenga, the issue of delayed accrual arose from a somewhat complicated series of events relating to an auto finance company’s efforts to obtain deficiency judgment against defaulting borrowers. There, the plaintiff, an assignee of an auto finance company, sued defendant, a defaulting borrow, seeking a $10,000 deficiency judgment after defendant had defaulted on her auto loan in 2003 and the vehicle was repossessed. Despite auctioning the borrower's vehicle in 2003, the lender did not attempt to enforce the $10K deficiency until 2007.  Upon being sued in 2008, the defendant filed a UCL class action cross complaint, alleging that the “Notice of Intent to Dispose of Motor Vehicle” used by the creditor in 2003 to initiate the entire process was legally defective under the Rees-Levering Motor Vehicle Sales and Finance Act, and therefore would not, as a matter of law, support a deficiency judgment. The trial court subsequently sustained the cross-defendant’s demurrer based on the cross claim being barred by the UCL’s four year statute of limitations, reasoning that that defendant’s “UCL claims were based on a defective NOI, sent in October 2003, but the cross-complaint was erroneously not filed until August 5, 2008, over four years later.” See id., at 6.

The CAP reversed. As held by the Court, the borrower’s cause of action did not accrue as a matter of law on the date the defective Notice was sent, reasoning that the borrower may be able to plead facts establishing that the date of actual injury was the date on which the creditor undertook efforts to enforce the allegedly inadequate Notice:
We disagree with cross-defendants that the only relevant time period for assessing standing and/or accrual of a statutory cause of action is 2003, when the defective NOI was sent. Rather, Appellant should be allowed to make a greater effort to plead that she did not incur actual injury until the 2007-2008 attempts to enforce the allegedly inadequate NOI were made, through the demand letter and judicial procedures to obtain a deficiency judgment. That would not amount to splitting her cause of action, where the NOI procedure serves two separate statutory purposes: permitting reinstatement, and/or allowing a deficiency judgment, if proper notice was given. (See Miller v. Lakeside Village Condo. Assn. (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 1611, 1622-1623.) This is not a case of a plaintiff resting upon her rights. (Davies, supra, 14 Cal.3d at p. 515.)
Slip Opinion, at 18.

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