United States: Court Limits California Prosecutors' Reach In UCL Cases

Upending the longstanding approach of the most active local prosecutors in the nation, the California Court of Appeal has ruled that local prosecutors (district attorneys, county counsel, and city attorneys) cannot recover monetary relief for violations of California's expansive unfair competition laws (UCL) that occur outside of their territorial jurisdictions. Abbott Laboratories v. Superior Court, No. D072577 (4th App. Dist. May 31, 2018).

Abbott holds that a local prosecutor's authority to seek monetary relief under the UCL is limited to the geographic boundaries of his or her territory because, unlike the California Attorney General who is the "chief law officer" of the state,1 local prosecutors do not have plenary powers with respect to civil actions. This is significant because section 17204 of the Business and Professions Code provides that public enforcement UCL actions may be initiated by local prosecutors "in the name of the people of the State of California upon their own complaint," and many local prosecutors have sought to obtain monetary relief for statewide violations on that basis.

The Facts in Abbott

In Abbott, the Orange County District Attorney brought a UCL action "in the name of the people of the State of California" against several pharmaceutical companies for their alleged efforts to prevent the launch of a generic version of Niaspan, a cholesterol medication. The Orange County District Attorney alleged that this conduct caused purchasers throughout California to overpay for the drug, and sought an injunction, restitution, and civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, for violations that occurred across the state.

The pharmaceutical companies moved to strike from the complaint all claims for monetary relief based on violations that occurred outside of Orange County. They argued that, under People v. Hy-Lond Enterprises, Inc.,2 the Orange County District Attorney did not have the power to seek relief for violations outside of Orange County, and that under the California Constitution, the Attorney General is the only prosecutor with such power. The Orange County District Attorney argued that Hy-Lond did not apply because the issue there was whether a stipulated judgment, between a local prosecutor (made with the approval of the state agency that regulates the conduct at issue) and a defendant, binds other prosecutors and the California Attorney General. The District Attorney noted that Hy-Lond did not address the power of a local prosecutor to seek statewide relief or the power granted to local prosecutors to seek relief "in the name of the people of the State of California," under section 17204 of the Business and Professions Code. The trial court agreed with the Orange County District Attorney and denied the motion to strike.

The Court of Appeal's Ruling

The court of appeal issued a writ vacating the trial court's order. The court held that while the UCL granted standing to local prosecutors to bring claims "in the name of the people of the State of California," it "cannot reasonably or constitutionally be interpreted as conferring statewide authority or jurisdiction to recover such monetary remedies beyond the county the district attorney serves, or restricting the Attorney General's constitutional power to obtain relief on behalf of the entire state.3 Any contrary interpretation would allow a district attorney to keep for his or her own county's treasury all of the monetary relief obtained for statewide violations, and "would bind the state under principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel, and prevent the Attorney General and other district attorneys from seeking further relief for violations occurring in their own communities.4

The court noted, however, that a local prosecutor could increase his or her territorial reach by entering "into agreements with the Attorney General or sister district attorneys.5 That way the local prosecutor could, in the event of an agreement with an Attorney General, seek monetary recovery for statewide violations or, in the event of an agreement with other prosecutors, seek monetary relief for the territories covered by all of the agreeing prosecutors.

Significantly, the court of appeal did not address what constitutes a "violation" for the purpose of assessing civil penalties or provide guidance on how to determine where the violation occurred for the purpose of determining whether a local prosecutor has the power to seek monetary relief.6 The Court also did not address the question of "[w]hether the UCL empowers a district attorney to obtain statewide injunctive relief," which was not raised in the case.7


Abbott should lower the stakes (and recoveries) in UCL enforcement actions brought by local prosecutors because fewer violations should, in theory, occur within the territory of the local prosecutor. In addition, the decision may chill local prosecutors' appetites to file such claims given that recoveries may be more limited.

On the other hand, defendants in UCL enforcement actions may also be less willing to resolve such actions (absent co-prosecution agreements with the Attorney General)8 since a settlement would not absolve the defendant of statewide liability and would leave it open to copycat actions from other prosecutors who believe violations also occurred in their territories. This in turn could lead to litigation concerning "where" a violation occurred, particularly in light of Abbott's silence on that issue.


1 Cal. Const., art. 3, § 13.

2 93 Cal. App. 3d 734 (1979) (holding that stipulated judgment between a district attorney and a defendant does not bind the Attorney General or other district attorneys that did not participate in the action).

3 Abbott, No. D072577, at 29.

4 Id. at 29-30.

5 Id. at 37.

6 Id. at 33 n.15.

7 Id. at 33 n.14.

8 In order to avoid splitting recovery with private counsel, the Attorney General may be unwilling to enter into co-prosecution agreements where local prosecutors have co-counseled with private contingency lawyers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions