A point of contention in the debate over California's Proposition 37 is whether consumers will be able to sue for damages if the measure were to pass. The No on 37 campaign has made the potential for "shakedown lawsuits" a major part of their argument
. Newspaper editorial boards have echoed this concern, with one paper even
suggesting that the enforcement provisions make Proposition 37 the worst proposition ever.
On the other side, the Yes on 37 campaign insists that these concerns are without merit. The campaign says on its website
that "any penalties from a violation go only to the state, not the plaintiff or lawyer." If this were true, then I would agree with the campaign that the proposition didn't provide any incentives for consumers to sue.
Of course, the text of the proposition is freely available
, so in principle anybody should be able to read the text and figure out whether consumers could sue for damages. It turns out it's a bit more complicated because the proposition says that violations "may be prosecuted under Title 1.5 (commencing with section 1750) of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code."
The Civil Code is also freely available, but I decided to put reading that off for later. My procrastination paid off when Karl Haro von Mogel, @kjhvm, posted a comment
at the Biofortified blog explaining his reading of the law and linking to the relevant sections of the code, which "states right away that the consumer who brings the action is entitled to damages, including punitive damages."
Though Karl emphasized that he was not a lawyer, I found his explanation persuasive and decided to share it on Twitter.