On May 22, 2008, the California Court of Appeal narrowed the scope of claims available under California’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971, California Civil Code § 1747.08, ruling that the statute is subject to the one-year statute of limitations of Code of Civil Procedure section 340 and does not apply to merchandise returns.

California Civil Code § 1747.08 prohibits a retailer that accepts credit cards from, among other things, requesting, or requiring as a condition to accepting the credit card as payment in full or in part for goods or services, the cardholder to provide personal identification information, which the retailer writes, causes to be written, or otherwise records upon the credit card transaction form or otherwise. Subdivision (e) of the statute provides that “[a]ny person who violates this section shall be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250) for the first violation and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent violation, to be assessed and collected in a civil action brought by the person paying with a credit card, by the Attorney General, or by the district attorney or city attorney of the county or city in which the violation occurred.”

The TJX Companies, Inc., T.J. Maxx of CA, LLC, Marshalls of CA, LLC, Marshalls of MA, Inc., and Marmaxx (collectively, TJX) sought a writ of mandate compelling the trial court to grant their motion to strike portions of the complaint that defined the class as users of credit cards “within the last three . . . years.” The court found that the penalty imposed in subdivision (e) of the statute, using the language “shall be subject to” is mandatory and therefore is “[a]n action upon a statute for a penalty” subject to the one-year statute of limitation of California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.

The court also held that the plain language of section 1747.08 does not apply to returned merchandise and directed the court to vacate its order overruling TJX’s demurrer to the complaint. Among other things, the court noted that “there are substantial opportunities for fraud” in connection with merchandise returns and “it behooves the merchant to identify the person who returns merchandise, which subsequent examination may disclose to have been used, damaged, or even stolen.”