We have for review a trial order certifying a class action against Porsche Cars North America, Inc. ("Distributor"). In analyzing whether common issues will predominate over individual issues, the trial court used an outdated definition of unfair trade practices. When the updated definition is used, common issues will not predominate. We accordingly reverse and remand.
Distributor is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Porsche A.G. ("Porsche"). Porsche is the German company that designs and manufactures Porsche vehicles for worldwide distribution. Distributor, the exclusive importer and distributor of Porsche cars in the United States, purchases vehicles and parts from Porsche and sells them to authorized dealerships in the United States for subsequent sale to consumers. Distributor does not sell directly to consumers.
B. High Intensity Discharge Headlights.
This case focuses on Porsche's High Intensity Discharge Headlights ("Headlights"). The Headlights are an upscale amenity in the luxury car market. The intense blue-white light given by the Headlights is closer to natural daylight than the yellowish light of regular headlights. The Headlights provide better nighttime visibility than older types of headlights. Since model year 2000, the Headlights have been offered as standard or optional equipment across the Porsche vehicle line. The Headlights were mounted on modules that were slid into a plastic tray in the fender and clamped in place. This mounting made the Headlights relatively less expensive to install and repair. At the same time, however, it made them easier to steal. A knowledgeable thief could pry the Headlights out of the vehicle in a few moments by forcing a large screwdriver or pry bar under the lights, bending the clamp, and breaking either the head lamp unit or baseplate. This process would also damage the fender, sometimes extensively.
C. Crime Wave of Headlight Thefts.
Distributor became aware in late 2003 or early 2004 that the Headlights were increasingly becoming the target of theft. Distributor reported this problem to Porsche: "According to a Jan. 12, 2004 article in the Miami Herald, theft of Porsche and Nissan headlights is becoming a major problem. Over 60 thefts have occurred in one Miami suburb over the last year." After exploring various solutions, Porsche determined that design changes would not eliminate the problem of theft and would make the vehicles more expensive to purchase and repair. No changes were made to the Headlights.
The City of Coral Gables experienced a tide of headlight thefts from vehicles of all makes and models that rose in 2002, crested in 2004, and ebbed in 2006. Although headlights were stolen from all makes and models of cars, the rate of headlight thefts from Porsche vehicles was disproportionately higher than the rates of thefts from other cars. We summarize pertinent details provided in a larger chart submitted into evidence as follows:
City of Coral Gables Vehicle Headlight Thefts May 31, 2002 — May 15, 2010 Yearly Comparison 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Total
Porsche 18 59 60 47 27 5 4 6 0 226 All Vehicles 22 87 141 117 81 11 9 14 1 483
The Coral Gables Police Department formed a task force that undertook efforts to eliminate headlight theft. Arrests were made and the incidence of headlight thefts from all cars began to steadily and significantly decline. Since 2007, reported headlight thefts have become increasingly rare in Coral Gables. No evidence indicated that the rate of theft in Coral Gables projected across the State; to the contrary, some evidence indicated the problem was regional and centered mainly in South Florida.
D. The Class Representatives.
Class representatives, Peter Diamond, Irma Matos, Richard Sharp, and Luis Alayo-Riera, are all residents of Miami-Dade County, Florida, who purchased replacement headlights after the Headlights in their vehicles were stolen. Some class representatives knew about the problem of thefts when they leased or purchased their vehicle, others did not. Irma Matos, for example, had no knowledge regarding the special characteristics of the Headlights and no idea that the Headlights were targeted for theft until after three different sets of Headlights were stolen. Exasperated after the three incidents of stolen Headlights, she terminated her lease early and traded her vehicle for a BMW.
Luis Alayo-Riera, on the other hand, was a more sophisticated and knowledgeable buyer. A self-described "Porsche fanatic" and "car enthusiast," he was attracted by the characteristics of the Headlights. From both discussions with friends and articles he read, he learned about the problem of the thefts in South Florida. Nevertheless, he intentionally leased a Porsche equipped with the Headlights. Later, when thieves twice stole his Headlights, he consciously chose to have the same type of Headlights reinstalled. After the second incident, however, he began taking extra security measures, including parking his car next to the security guard post in the office parking lot where the thefts had occurred. The thefts stopped. He subsequently purchased the vehicle with the Headlights. When he finally sold the vehicle, he admitted the car suffered no diminished value due to the Headlights. To the contrary, he maintained the Headlights enhanced the sale price of the car.
E. The Legal Theory.
In their claim for a class action, the class representatives assert unfair trade practices and unjust enrichment claims. They allege Distributor acted unfairly by profiting from distributing a product highly susceptible to theft without taking remedial steps. Specifically, Distributor failed to "notify owners of the flaw and potential risk of theft so they could take their own precautions," to "offer replacement lights at reduced costs," and to "work with law enforcement agencies to assist in the prevention of the theft of their headlights."
The unjust enrichment claim states that plaintiffs conferred a benefit on Distributor by purchasing replacement Headlights which were ultimately supplied by Distributor, and that it would be inequitable to allow Distributor to profit from customer losses caused by a design flaw of which Distributor was fully aware yet failed to remedy.
F. The Classes Certified.
Plaintiffs sought certification of a class consisting of:
Following a hearing on the motion, the trial court granted the motion and certified the class described above to pursue the FDUTPA violation claim. The trial court also certified two subclasses to pursue the unjust enrichment claims defined as:
Distributor appeals that order.
I. Determining Class Certification: Will the Proof of the Class Representatives' Case Necessarily Prove the Case of the Absent Class Members?
The threshold requirements for class certification are well known: a class will be certified based upon a showing of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.220(a). In addition to meeting these threshold requirements, the class must fall within one of the three different types of class actions established in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220(b).
The focus of a class certification hearing is not on whether the class representatives will prevail at trial. Sosa v. Safeway Premium Fin. Co., 73 So.3d 91, 105 (Fla.2011). Instead, the focus is on "whether a litigant's claim is suited for class certification" and whether the proposed class provides "a superior method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy." Id. at 105-06. "However, if consequential to its consideration of whether to certify a class, a trial court may consider evidence on the merits of the case as it applies to the class certification requirements." Id. at 105.
The trial court certified the present case as a rule 1.220(b)(3) class action. In a(b)(3) class action, not all issues of fact and law are common, but common issues
73 So.3d at 112 (internal citation omitted). The Court added that the class representative's case must not merely raise a common question, but that proof of the class representative's case must also "answer the question." Id. at 111.
II. The Trial Court Used an Outdated Definition of Unfair Trade Practice.
FDUTPA declares unlawful "[u]nfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce." § 501.204(1), Fla. Stat. The term "unfair" is not defined in FDUTPA. Here, the trial judge defined unfair trade practice as one that "offends established policy" and "is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous or substantially injurious to customers." This definition derives from a 1964 Federal Trade Commission policy statement. See Unfair or Deceptive Advertising and Labeling of Cigarettes in Relation to the Health Hazards of Smoking, Statement of Basis and Purpose, 29 Fed. Reg. 8324, 8355 (July 2, 1964) ("1964 Policy Statement").
In 1980, however, the Federal Trade Commission updated its definition of unfair trade practice. "The Commission's  Policy Statement was basically a refinement of an earlier three-part standard of unfairness it had set out in 1964." Am. Fin. Servs. Ass'n v. F.T.C., 767 F.2d 957, 971 (D.C.Cir.1985). The new definition established a three-pronged test for "unfairness," which requires that the injury to the consumer:
FTC Policy Statement on Unfairness (Dec. 17, 1980) ("1980 Policy Statement"), appended to Int'l Harvester Co., 104 F.T.C. 949, 1070 (1984); also available at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc-policy-statement-on-unfairness (last visited on June 4, 2014). An excerpt of the 1980 Policy Statement is appended to this opinion.
We must decide whether Florida law adopts the definition of unfairness contained in the 1980 Policy Statement. We hold that it does. The Legislature provided that violations of FDUTPA include violations of "[t]he standards of unfairness and deception set forth and interpreted by
The reference to "standards of unfairness" "as of July 1, 2013" is the product of a long legislative history in which the Florida Legislature amended FDUTPA in 1983, 2001, 2006, and 2013, for the specific purpose of adding to Florida Law interpretations by the Federal Trade Commission or federal courts that occurred since the last statutory amendment.
In light of this history, the 1980 Policy Statement is clearly one of the "standards of unfairness" interpreted by the Federal Trade Commission and federal courts. See, e.g., In re Orkin Exterminating Co., 108 F.T.C. 263 (1986), aff'd, 849 F.2d 1354 (11th Cir.1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1041, 109 S.Ct. 865, 102 L.Ed.2d 989 (1989) (discussing and applying the 1980 Policy Statement's definition of unfair trade practice). By operation of law, therefore, it was incorporated into Florida law in the 1983 amendments to FDUTPA and re-adopted by the subsequent amendments. See amendments to § 501.203(3)(b), note 5, supra.
In nearby statutory sections, the Legislature reiterated that FDUTPA should be interpreted in line with federal law. For example, section 501.204(2) provides:
FDUTPA's reference to section 45(a)(1) of the United States Code is no coincidence. Section 45(a)(1) is the federal law upon which FDUTPA was modeled. Its language is virtually identical to section 501.204(1), Florida Statutes, which is the keystone provision of FDUTPA. Section 45(a)(1) provides: "Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful." 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(1). The 1980 Policy Statement obviously constitutes an interpretation by the Federal Trade Commission of the term "unfair" as it is used in section 45(a)(1) and is therefore entitled to "due consideration and great weight" when construing FDUTPA.
These legislative directives are consistent with FDUTPA's express purpose — "[t]o make state consumer protection and enforcement consistent with established policies of federal law relating to consumer protection." § 501.202(3), Fla. Stat. Thus, FDUTPA expressly states that Florida is to be guided by and follow the interpretations of unfair trade practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act made by the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts.
In 1994, Congress codified the 1980 Policy Statement into federal statutory law. Federal Trade Commission Act Amendments of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-312, § 9, 108 Stat. 1691 (codified as amended at 15 U.S.C. § 45(n) (1994)) ("The Commission shall have no authority under this section or section 57a of this title to declare unlawful an act or practice on the grounds that
Nor is this analysis altered by the fact that Florida courts, including this court, have continued to cite in passing to the definition of unfairness found in the 1964 Policy Statement. See, e.g., PNR, Inc. v. Beacon Prop. Mgmt., Inc., 842 So.2d 773, 777 (Fla.2003); Suris v. Gilmore Liquidating, Inc., 651 So.2d 1282, 1283 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995); Cummings v. Warren Henry Motors, Inc., 648 So.2d 1230, 1233 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995); Urling v. Helms Exterminators, Inc., 468 So.2d 451, 453 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985). The references to the Federal Trade Commission's 1964 definition of unfairness in these cases are not rejections of the 1980 definition. To the contrary, because they relied on the Federal Trade Commission's 1964 Policy Statement, these cases confirm that Florida looks to Federal Trade Commission interpretations of the term "unfair trade practice." The issue of whether the updated 1980 definition became part of Florida law was simply not before those courts.
In the present case, however, we are squarely faced with the issue of whether Florida has adopted the 1980 Federal Trade Commission definition of unfair trade practice. Following the clear and unambiguous directive of sections 501.203(3)(b), 501.204(2), and 501.202(3), Florida Statutes, we hold the 1980 Policy Statement's definition of unfair trade practice should be used when interpreting FDUTPA.
III. Using the Correct Definition of Unfair Trade Practice, Common Issues of Law and Fact Will Not Predominate.
The trial court adopted the premise that Distributor's actions can be found to be an unfair trade practice regardless of whether class members knew and could have avoided the risk of the Headlight thefts. From this premise, it reasoned "an individual class member's pre-purchase knowledge of the potential risk of theft is not relevant to the Plaintiff's FDUTPA claim." It then concluded common issues will predominate because either Distributor's "actions will be unfair to all class members or they will not be unfair to any of them." Because we disagree with the premise, we disagree with the conclusion.
The individual class member's knowledge of the risk of Headlight theft bears on whether Distributor's practice was unfair because it impacts whether the consumer could reasonably avoid the risk. Given the nature of the claim in this case — that the Headlights functioned properly as headlights but were too attractive and susceptible to theft — an individual class member's knowledge of the risk of theft goes to the heart of his or her claim.
To prove an unfair trade practice, the class must prove that the injury caused by the allegedly unfair trade practice could not have been reasonably avoided by the consumers. See 1980 Policy Statement, supra. The idea behind the reasonably
This is not to say that individual knowledge must always be considered to determine whether a trade practice was unfair. The individual consumer's knowledge may not be a relevant factor where, for example, the legal theory of the claim posits that "consumers do not have a free and informed choice that would have enabled them to avoid the unfair practice." F.T.C. v. Neovi, Inc., 598 F.Supp.2d 1104, 1115 (S.D.Cal.2008) (quotation and citation omitted). This scenario would arise where the claim is based on allegations of "some form of seller behavior that unreasonably creates or takes advantage of an obstacle to the free exercise of consumer decisionmaking." F.T.C. v. Direct Mktg. Concepts, Inc., 569 F.Supp.2d 285, 299-300 (D.Mass. 2008) (quotation and citation omitted).
Like the decision to purchase a luxury car, the decision to equip a car with a high-end amenity naturally involves an individual consumer's consideration of whether and how to mitigate the risk of theft. A jury might well find that a consumer who knew the Headlights were targeted by thieves had avenues available to reasonably avoid the risk. This is particularly true where, as here, the problem of theft was greater in some geographic locations than others. If the consumer lived in a high crime area, he or she could have chosen models with the older style of headlights, taken efforts to park in only safe areas, installed alarm systems extending to the mounting module, or, if these options were not acceptable, decline to purchase or lease a Porsche with the Headlights. Given the theory of this case, the knowledge of some class members that the Headlights were prone to theft cannot be ignored.
When the individual knowledge and experience of the consumer is an important element of the cause of action and its defense, there can be no class-wide proof that injury was not reasonably avoidable. This point is illustrated by In re Motions to Certify Classes Against Court Reporting Firms for Charges Relating to Word Indices, 715 F.Supp.2d 1265, 1277 (S.D.Fla.2010), aff'd sub nom. Webber v. Esquire Deposition Services, LLC, 439 Fed.Appx. 849 (11th Cir.2011).
In Court Reporting, plaintiffs brought FDUTPA and unjust enrichment claims on behalf of a proposed class of consumers of court reporting services. Id. at 1268. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants — certain firms providing legal transcripts — engaged in unfair acts by charging the same per-page price for index pages as transcribed pages. Id.
The court denied the motion for class certification because the plaintiffs would be unable to establish on a class-wide basis that alleged injury was not "reasonably avoidable":
Id. at 1277-78. The district court concluded that the class claim failed on the predominance element of class certification under FDUTPA. Id. at 1268.
In the present case, the class representatives similarly are unable to show that the injury was not "reasonably avoidable" on a class-wide basis. The owners who knew and accepted the risk of theft stand in a different legal posture regarding alleged failure to provide notice than owners who did not know. Contrast relatively sophisticated and knowledgeable class members like Alayo-Riera with less knowledgeable and experienced owners like Matos. It would obviously be unfair to class members like Matos to have their claims resolved based upon the facts of class members like Alayo-Riera.
This difference is fatal to the class action. Where the class members present such conflicting factual patterns that could lead to divergent and conflicting legal results, their claims cannot be resolved on a class-wide basis. Instead, to resolve the issue, there would need to be a series of mini-trials to ascertain each absent members' knowledge of these matters.
IV. The Common Issues will not Predominate as to the Unjust Enrichment Claims.
The unjust enrichment claim also fails to satisfy the requirement that common issues predominate over individual issues. The elements of a claim for unjust enrichment are: (1) plaintiff conferred a benefit on the defendant; (2) defendant voluntarily accepts and retains the benefit conferred; and (3) the circumstances are such that it would be inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without paying the value thereof to the plaintiff. Fito v. Attorneys' Title Ins. Fund, Inc., 83 So.3d 755, 758 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).
"A claim for unjust enrichment... requires examination of the particular circumstances of an individual case as well as the expectations of the parties to determine whether an inequity would result or whether their reasonable expectations were met." Kunzelmann v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2013 WL 139913 (S.D.Fla. Jan. 10, 2013) (citations omitted). "In short, common questions will rarely, if ever, predominate an unjust enrichment claim, the resolution of which turns on individualized facts." Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009).
Here, the determination of unjust enrichment will turn on individual facts. A court would be hard pressed to conclude that Distributor was unjustly enriched when class members with the sophistication and knowledge of Alayo-Riera continued to seek out the Headlights even when they knew of the thefts. The result might well be different for other members of the class. Because the questions raised by the unjust enrichment claim will not necessarily have common answers, that claim also fails the predominance element required for class certification.
Reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Excerpts from Federal Trade Commission Policy Statement on Unfairness:
FTC Policy Statement on Unfairness (Dec. 17, 1980), appended to Int'l Harvester Co., 104 F.T.C. 949, 1070 (1984) (internal references omitted; first alteration added); also available at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc-policy-statement-on-unfairness (last visited on June 4, 2014).
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551, 180 L.Ed.2d 374 (2011) (citation omitted).