California’s “Unfair Competition” Law
(Business & Professions Code 17200 – 17209)

California’s “Unfair Competition” Law — (Business & Professions Code 17200 – 17209)

Business & Professions Code 17200 – 17209 is California’s “unfair competition” law, as explained by a personal injury lawyer. Personal injury attorney Neil Shouse explains that California’s “unfair competition” law prohibits businesses from engaging in false advertising, and other anti-competitive business practices. If an individual or a competing business has been damaged by another company’s unfair business practices, they can bring a lawsuit under the “unfair competition” law. A business violates this law in any of three ways. First, when it sells the same products at different prices, in different locations, within the state of California. Secondly, when a business sells a product below-cost in an attempt to bankrupt the competition. And finally, when a business performs a bait-and-switch advertisement, that is when they attempt to lure consumers into their store with a cheap price on a particular product, but in reality they only have higher-priced options available. In order for a lawsuit to have a legitimate claim against a business for unfair competition, a plaintiff must have actually lost money or property because of the alleged unfair practices. This means that consumer watchdog groups, and governmental agencies cannot sue for unfair competition. If a plaintiff is successful in their unfair competition lawsuit, there are a number of actions that the judge can take to remedy the damages. The judge may actually award money or property to the plaintiff. They might even order an injunction, or equitable relief against the defendant, in order to put a halt to the unfair business practices. In addition, there are various governmental agencies and entities which may bring action against a business in violation of 17200 – 17209 BPC. Possible penalties include a civil penalty up to $2,500 for each violation, and even prosecution as a criminal. More info at

California's “unfair competition” law prohibits false advertising and other anti-competitive practices. Lawsuits can be brought by either consumers or by businesses that have been damaged by a competitor's unfair actions.

Common examples of unfair competition in California include, among many others:

  • Selling products or services at different prices in different geographic locations within California (“locality discrimination”);1
  • Selling a product or service below cost in order to destroy competition;2
  • Offering secret rebates to some customers but not others;3 or
  • "Bait-and-switch" advertising.4

To help you better understand California's law on unfair competition, our California personal injury lawyers discuss, below:

Consumers who have been damaged by unfair business practices may also wish to read our article on California's “Consumers Legal Remedies Act” (“CLRA”).

big man in suit squishing little man in suit in between his thumb and forefinger

1. What is “unfair competition”?

California Business and Professions Code 17200 defines “unfair competition” as:

  • Any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice, or
  • False, deceptive or misleading advertising.5

A business practice is “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent” if it is forbidden by law or is against public policy. Almost any violation of law can serve as the basis for an unfair competition claim if:

  • It harms consumers, or
  • It gives a business an unfair advantage over its competitors.

Examples of deceptive business practices include (but are not limited to):

  • “Robocalling” or “spoofing” a phone number in violation of FCC regulations; 
  • Pretending to be affiliated with or endorsed by a better-known brand; or
  • Luring consumers into a store by advertising a cheap price and then having only higher-priced options available (“bait-and-switch”).

2. Who can sue for unfair competition in California?

To sue for unfair competition in California, someone must actually have lost money or property as the result of the false advertising or unlawful practices. Consumer watchdog groups and governmental organizations and lack standing to sue.6

In the case of unlawful practices, the plaintiff must usually also be able to establish that the defendant intended to destroy competition.7 Note that it is not necessary to prove this in cases of false or deceptive advertising.

Consumers damaged by unlawful practices who cannot prove intent to destroy competition may, nevertheless, be able to sue under California's “Consumers Legal Remedies Act” (“CLRA”).8

An experienced California business torts litigator can advise you of your options.

hands of judge banging gavel

3. What are the remedies for unfair competition?

Remedies for unfair competition in California can include:

  • Recovery of the plaintiff's actual economic damages; and/or
  • Injunctive or equitable relief to prohibit the unfair practices.9

Note that punitive damages are not available in unfair competition cases. As a result, many unfair competition cases are brought as California class actions.

Additionally, a District Attorney or other government official acting on behalf of the public may be able to bring an action against the person responsible for the wrongful practices for:

  • A civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each individual violation;10 and
  • Criminal prosecution for violating California's criminal false advertising laws.11

4. What is the statute of limitations for unfair competition in California?

Lawsuits for unfair competition in California must be commenced within four years. The limitations period begins to run on the earlier of:

  • Discovery of the unfair act, or
  • When, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, the wrongful act should have been discovered.12

Injured by unfair competition in California? Call us…

If you or your business was harmed by unfair competition, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM or complete the form on this page to discuss your case with an experienced California personal injury lawyer.

Legal references:

  1. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3300. Locality Discrimination.
  2. CACI 3301. Below Cost Sales.
  3. CACI 3320. Secret Rebates.
  4. California Business and Professions Code 17500.
  5. Same. See also Makreas v. First National Bank of N. Cal. (N.D. Cal. 2012) 856 F. Supp. 2d 1097.
  6. They may, however, have standing to sue under another law, such as false designation of origin under the Lanham Act.
  7. See, e.g., CACI 3300, endnote 1.
  8. California Civil Code sections 1750-1784.
  9. Business and Professions Code 17203

  10. Business and Professions Code 17206.
  11. Business and Professions Code 17500, endnote 4.
  12. Business and Professions Code 17208.

Free attorney consultations...

The attorneys at Shouse Law Group bring more than 100 years collective experience fighting for individuals. We're ready to fight for you. Call us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 855-LAW-FIRM for a free case evaluation.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370