The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act ("the Act) provides New Jersey consumers with some of the strongest consumer protections in the nation. The Act was first enacted in 1960 at the dawn of the advertising age and in direct "response to widespread complaints about selling practices which victimized consumers." Fenwick v. Kay American Jeep, Inc., 72 N.J. 372, 376 (1977). The New Jersey legislature passed the Act in order “to address rampant consumer complaints about fraudulent practices in the marketplace and to deter such conduct by merchants.” Thiedemann v. Mercedes-Benz USA, L.L.C ., 183 N.J. 234, 245, 872 A.2d 783 (2005) (citing Furst v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc., 182 N.J. 1, 11, 860 A.2d 435 (2004)); see Cox, supra, 138 N.J. at 21, 647 A.2d 454 (citing Senate Committee, Statement to the Senate Bill No. 199 (1960)). The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act has been amended repeatedly over the years and the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that "[t]he history of the [CFA] is one of constant expansion of consumer protection." Gennari v. Weichert Co. Realtors, 148 N.J. 582, 604, 691 A.2d 350 (1997). In 1971, the protections provided by the Act were significantly expanded when the legislature decided to amend the Act to include a private right of action. Bosland v. Warnock Dodge, Inc., 197 N.J. 543, 547 (2009). The New Jersey Supreme Court has stated that “it is clear that the intention [of the 1971 amendment] was to greatly expand protections for New Jersey consumers and to “give New Jersey one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the nation.” Bosland v. Warnock Dodge, Inc., 197 N.J. 543, 547 (2009) (quoting Governor’s Press Release for Assembly Bill No. 2402 (Apr. 19, 1971).
The Act applies to all "unlawful practices" committed by any "person" (individual or corporation) in connection with that person's "sale" or "advertisment" of "merchandise" or real estate. The term "unlawful practice" has been defined as any unconscionable commercial practices, deception, misrepresentation, false statements and promises, and/or omissions. New Jersey courts have repeatedly held that the Act should be construed broadly in order to achieve the underlying objectives of the act--to protect New Jersey consumers. In addition, the Act provides that a defendant who violates the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is also responsible to pay for the plaintiff's attorney's fees. In order to help as many people as possible, we generally only select cases that we believe: (1) are clear violations of the Act; (2) have a high chance of succeeding on the merits, and (3) would be a benefit to numerous New Jersey consumers through the certification of a potential class action suit.
Consumer Class Action Lawsuits
It is unfortunate but even with the broad interpretation and constant expansion of the New Jersey Fraud Act, there are still wide-spread abuses and fraud perpetrated against New Jersey consumers. One of the most common tactics used by large corporations involves the use of fraud, deception, and blatantly false statements in connection with the sale of common consumer products such as health and beauty products, cosmetics, food products, nutritional supplements, etc. These types of products are typically inexpensive (sometimes as low as a few dollars) and the companies that sell these products are well aware that even if there are false and misleading claims made in connection with the product, there is often little recourse for the consumer. Most individuals are not going to go to the time, expense, and effort to hire an attorney to file a lawsuit over a product that only cost a few dollars. Therefore, this enables these corporations to continue to sell these deceptive products with little to no threat of being held accountable. Some companies take the extra step to offer consumers a "money back guarantee" for those consumers who are willing to spent the time and aggravation of jumping through whatever hoops are required by the company to obtain their refund. Of course, this also enables the company to continue to sell their fraudulent products to other unsuspecting consumers.
This is just the reason why New Jersey courts have repeatedly held that consumer fraud claims are "particularly appropriate" for class action certification. See Delgozzo v. Kenny, 266 N.J. Super. 169, 180 (App. Div. 1993); W. Morris Pediatrics v. Schein, 385 N.J. Super. 581, 593 (Law Div. 2004); Fink v. Ricoh Corp., 365 N.J. Super. 520, 536 (Law Div. 2003). As the New Jersey Supreme Court has explained:
One frequest characteristic of a consumer class action is that the individual claims
involve too small an amount to warrant recourse to litigation. Thus, the wrongs
would go without redress, and the manufacturer may continue with impunity to
place defective products on the market. . . . A consequence of a certification of a
class action is the equalization of the ability of the parties to prepare and pay for
the advocacy of their rights.
In re Cadillac V8-6-4 Class Action, 93 N.J. 412, 435 (1983)
So if you have suffered a financial loss--large or small--as a result of the unlawful practices of an individual or corporation as set forth above, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act may very well provide a practical means to obtain justice.
The Role of the Class Representative
The "class representative" serves a vitally important role in the consumer class action process and in bringing justice to New Jersey consumers. The class representative must be an individual consumer who has purchased the product at issue during the class period. This individual must be a typical consumer and reflective of the potential broader class of aggrieved consumers. The class representative, just as it sounds, is charged with representing the interests of the other potential members of the class and ensuring that any resolution that is reached is fair and acceptable to all of the members of the class. In many instances, the class representative is awarded by the court for taking on this burden on behalf of other New Jersey consumers. Therfore, a perfect class representative is a New Jersey consumer who is passionate about justice and who cares about other members of their community.