What is “Injury”? In Kwikset, California Supreme Court Defines “Injury in Fact”

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The California Supreme Court recently elaborated on the meaning of “injury in fact” in Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court, No. S171845, 2011 Cal. LEXIS 532 (Cal. Jan. 27, 2011). The full opinion is available here.

Kwikset arose from the defendant’s sale of portable locks labeled “Made in U.S.A.,” and the plaintiffs’ subsequent lawsuit alleging unfair competition and false advertising because the Kwikset locks contained some foreign-made components. Kwikset at *3. The trial court overruled the defendant’s demurrer, but the Court of Appeal directed the trial court to sustain the demurrer and enter a judgment dismissing the action because “while [the plaintiffs’] ‘patriotic desire to buy fully American-made products was frustrated,’ that injury was insufficient to satisfy the standing requirements of [Bus. & Prof. Code] sections 17204 and 17535.’ ” Id. at *11. The Supreme Court reversed, in a majority opinion by Justice Werdegar.

In Kwikset, the Supreme Court held that standing under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 17200 et seq., extends only to “[a] ‘person who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property’ as a result of unfair competition.” Id. at *13 (citing Bus. & Prof. Code § 17204 [emphasis added]). But because “a party who has lost money or property generally has suffered injury in fact,” Id. at *16, Kwikset is chiefly devoted to determining those circumstances that constitute “lost money or property,” as satisfaction of that requirement will invariably satisfy the less onerous “injury in fact” requirement. See Id. at *16.

Kwikset thus implies that pecuniary or property loss is also different from “injury” and that actual damages are something more than the mere “identifiable trifle” that is “injury in fact.” “[I]njury in fact is ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized . . . and (b) “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical,’ ” ’. ” Id. at *18, (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). Per Kwikset, therefore, the UCL’s “injury” requirement is satisfied by the allegation of some “identifiable trifle.” Id.

Kwikset affirms California’s long-standing embrace of the “injury” definition set forth in Black’s Law Dictionary: Under California law, injury is the “invasion of a legal right or entitlement,” and nothing more.