CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Month: June, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Another Pro-Arbitration Decision, Upholding a Class Waiver

American Express?

American Express? (Photo credit: the justified sinner)

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12-133, 570 U.S. __ (June 20, 2013).  The Court considered  whether a contractual waiver of class arbitration is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) when the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.  The Court held that it was.

“Respondents argue that requiring them to litigate their claims individually—as they contracted to do—would contravene the policies of the antitrust laws. But the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim.”  Slip Op. at 4.

You can read more here.

By CHARLES JUNG

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“Good, Bad, or Ugly”: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Interpretation of Contract as Providing for Class Arbitration

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (soundtrack)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed an arbitrator’s interpretation of an arbitration clause to permit class proceedings.  Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, 569 U.S. __ (June 10, 2013).  The question presented was whether an arbitrator, who found that the parties’ contract provided for class arbitration, “exceeded [his] powers” under §10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq.  Delivering the opinion of the Court and citing Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662, 684 (2010), Justice Kagan concluded that the arbitrator’s decision survives the limited judicial review §10(a)(4) allows.

The arbitration clause at issue provided as follows:

No civil action concerning any dispute arising under this Agreement shall be instituted before any court, and all such disputes shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration in New Jersey, pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association with one arbitrator.

Slip Op. at 2.

The state court granted Oxford’s motion to compel arbitration, and the parties agreed that the arbitrator should decide whether their contract authorized class arbitration.  Id.  The arbitrator determined that it did. Id.  Oxford filed a motion in federal court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision on the ground that he had exceeded his powers under §10(a)(4), but the District Court denied the motion, and the Third Circuit affirmed.  Id.

While the arbitration proceeded, the Supreme Court Court held in Stolt-Nielsen that “a party may not be compelled under the FAA to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.” 559 U. S. at 684. The parties in Stolt-Nielsen had stipulated that they had never reached an agreement on class arbitration.

The Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC distinguished Stolt-Nielsen: Read the rest of this entry »

Sixth District Reverses Arbitration Order as to PAGA Claims

Exception!

Exception! (Photo credit: shaymus22)

In a putative class action, the Sixth District held that an arbitration agreement cannot be enforced against PAGA claims.   Brown v. Superior Court (Morgan Tire & Auto, LLC), No. H037271, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (6th Dist. June 4, 2013).

The question presented in this case is whether the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16) (FAA) permits arbitration agreements to override the statutory right to bring representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.) We conclude that the FAA does not demand enforcement of such an agreement. A plaintiff suing for PAGA civil penalties is suing as a proxy for the State. A PAGA claim is necessarily a representative action intended to advance a predominately public purpose. When applied to the PAGA, a private agreement purporting to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right. AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 131 S.Ct. 1740 (Concepcion) does not require otherwise.

Slip Op. at 1-2.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Arbitration Clause on Back of Pre-Printed Auto Purchase Contract Is Unconscionable

Mini Maint Page 1

Mini Maint Page 1 (Photo credit: Flyinace2000)

Yesterday, in Vargas v. SAI Monrovia B, Inc., No. B237257, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (2d Dist. June 4, 2013), a putative class action, the Second District revisited its holding in Sanchez v. Valencia Holding Co., LLC, 201 Cal.App.4th 74 (2012), review granted March 21, 2012, S199119.  In Sanchez the court held that a “Retail Installment Sale Contract” used to purchase an automobile is unconscionable and unenforceable.  In Vargas, the court again concluded that the identical sale contract does not require the arbitration of disputes between a purchaser and a car dealer because it is permeated by unconscionability.

The arbitration provision, entitled, “ARBITRATION CLAUSE,” was on the back at the bottom of the page, outlined by a black box; the arbitration provision was the last provision in the Sale Contract concerning the purchase of the vehicle; a provision related to the assignment of the contract appeared below it. The buyers’ final signatures appeared near the bottom of the front side. The only signature line on the back was at the very bottom of the page; it required the seller’s signature to assign the contract to a third party.

Slip Op. at 3.

The court found that the arbitration provision satisfies the two elements of procedural unconscionability: oppression and surprise. Read the rest of this entry »