What Consumers Does Washington Law Protect?

September 1, 2015

The nature and scope of consumer protection statutes vary by state. Depending upon the circumstances of a given case, a plaintiff may find one state’s statute to be preferable to that of another and may therefore seek to file suit in a state other than the one in which he or she resides. In Washington, however, the ability of out-of-state plaintiffs to file claims under Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) may soon be limited.

In Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc.[1], a Texas resident brought a putative class action against the Seattle Service Bureau (a debt-collection agency whose principal place of business is in Washington) and State Farm Insurance Co. (whose principal place of business is in Illinois) in the Federal District Court for Western District of Washington. The complaint alleged that Seattle Service Bureau, acting as the agent for State Farm, had violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) by seeking to collect on unliquidated subrogation claims.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the CPA does not apply extraterritorially. The court noted that the Ninth Circuit has described this issue as an open question and, accordingly, certified the issue to the Washington Supreme Court. Specifically, the district court certified the following questions:

1) Does the CPA create a cause of action for a plaintiff residing outside of Washington to sue a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts?

2) Does the CPA create a cause of action for a plaintiff residing outside of Washington to sue a non-Washington defendant for allegedly deceptive acts?

If the Washington Supreme Court answers either of these questions in the negative, non-Washington plaintiffs will be limited in their ability to forum-shop for consumer-protection causes of action. The answers also have potentially significant implications for plaintiffs seeking to certify consumer-protection class actions on behalf of nationwide classes.

These issues are fully briefed and set for hearing before the Washington Supreme Court on October 20, 2015.

–Caitlin Hawks

[1] 2015 WL 1000426, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 6, 2015).

Caitlin Hawks