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False Advertising

Consumer Protection

Although most false advertising claims brought against advertisers are by competitors, consumers can also file such claims. No hard-and-fast rules exist for all consumer-initiated cases; courts deal with claims brought by consumers on more of a case-by-case basis than they do with claims brought by competitors. The issues surrounding consumer rights were discussed during the drafting of the 1988 Trademark Law Revision Act, but were not resolved.

In cases where consumers have sued, they have most often been held to the same standards as competitors: they need to show that they have a reasonable interest in order to be protected. This standard was demonstrated by the CLASS ACTION lawsuit of Maguire v. Sandy Mac, 138F.R.D. 444 (D.N.J. 1991). In that case, the class included both resellers, who had purchased a ham product from the defendant, and consumers, who had ultimately bought the ham products. The lawsuit claimed that the defendant sold ham products falsely represented as meeting U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE standards. The court ruled for the plaintiffs, saying that "the plaintiff and the proposed class, the consumers, have a reasonable interest in being protected from criminal misrepresentations."

Another way consumers are protected is by state laws on deceptive trade practices. Some state laws define these practices as showing goods or services with the intention of not actually selling them as advertised. In Affrunti v. Village Ford Sales, 232 Ill. App. 3d 704, 597 N.E.2d 1242 (3rd. Dist. Ct. App. 1992), a consumer filed a lawsuit against an automobile dealership that sold him a car for more money than it was actually advertised for. Ronald Affrunti went to Village Ford Sales, a used-car lot, and looked at a blue 1986 Celebrity with 29,000 miles on the odometer. The car did not have a sticker price, so he asked the salesman, Fred Galaraza, for a price. Galaraza answered that he would have to check in his office. After showing Affrunti several other used cars, and without going to his office, Galaraza quoted a price of $8,600 for the Celebrity. Affrunti and Galaraza settled on a final price of $8,524, which included a trade-in and a discount for a front-end alignment. Upon returning home, Affrunti came across an advertisement by Village Ford Sales for a 1986 blue Celebrity with 29,999 miles on the odometer for $6,995. Affrunti called the dealership. Galaraza checked and said, "By God, it's the same!" Affrunti asked to redo the deal based on the advertised price. Galaraza put him on hold. When Galaraza came back on the line, he said the car in the ad had been sent to auction, and they could not redo the deal because it was not the same car.

At trial, the sales manager testified that prices listed in advertisements are not necessarily the listed cars' actual prices; dealers can sell the cars for higher prices. After hearing the evidence, the judge ruled that the dealer had an obligation to inform the plaintiff of the advertised price of the car, and awarded Affrunti the difference between the purchase price and the advertised price, which amounted to $1,529. On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that "the defendant's failure to disclose the advertised sale price constituted deceptive conduct under the CONSUMER FRAUD Act." The appellate court also added attorneys' fees to Affrunti's award, bringing the total up to $1,937.50.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Ex proprio motu (ex mero motu) to FileFalse Advertising - Proof Requirement, Development Of Regulations, Types Of False Advertising, Trademark Infringement, Parody, Remedies For False Advertising