Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary defines consumer law as “federal and state laws established to protect retail purchasers of goods and services from inferior, adulterated, hazardous, and deceptively advertised products, and deceptive or fraudulent sales practices; these laws cover everything from food to cosmetics, from banking to fair housing.” These types of laws are specifically set in place to protect the consumer. Suppose you decide to visit a brand new local market in your neighborhood. While waiting at the butcher counter to weigh and price some delicious steaks you just bought for dinner, you notice that the steaks weigh way more than you thought and the overall price is outrageously high. When you get home, you decide to weigh the steaks on your own scale and notice that the weight of the steaks is sufficiently less than what was shown at the market. Upon speaking to your neighbor about this, you realize that the same thing happens to her every time she shops at the market. It’s quite possible that the new market is engaging in a deceptive trade practice by tampering with it’s measuring devices. Consumer laws are set in place to protect consumers against unfair or deceptive trade practices in this situation.
So, say you have a legal issue that may fall under the umbrella of consumer protection law. Where do you begin to search for such laws? You can actually begin your research at home by locating federal and state statutes and regulations. In the U.S. Code, you can find the Federal statutes and in CA Legislative Information, you can find all of California’s statutes. In the statutes, you won’t necessarily find “consumer protection law” under one title or section. Rather, you might want to look in areas such as “commerce and trade”, “public health and welfare”, “banks and banking”, “business and professions”, “insurance”, “health and safety”, “civil”, “contracts”, “food and agriculture”, and “motor vehicle sales” just to name a few to find some kind of statute regarding your specific legal issue.
You can also look up caselaw to find relevant cases to support your claim. Refer back to our “Legal Research from Home series #2: Locating caselaw from home” for help on researching caselaw from home.
There is also a treasure trove of websites that can help you better understand and find more information regarding issues with consumer protection laws. Some of these include:
*Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
Consumer advocates information,
Commission and staff reports,
*Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Homepage
*Better Business Bureau: Homepage
*National Association of Consumer Advocates: Homepage
*National Consumer Law Center – Brochures: Homepage
*Consumer Federation of California: Homepage
*Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Homepage
*California Attorney General (Consumers page): Homepage
And lastly, there are many print resources available that provide a starting point to help you locate relevant case law and statutes. Some of these include:
*Available at RCLL
Written by: Michael Van Aken, Library Assistant