CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Category: Arbitration

California Court of Appeal Cites Death Knell Doctrine to Assert Jurisdiction Over Appeal of Order Granting Arbitration

Ring His Death Knell - NARA - 534312

Ring His Death Knell – NARA – 534312 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, in a proposed wage and hour class action, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule:

Read the rest of this entry »

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California’s First District Invalidates Auto Dealer’s Arbitration Agreement Due to Lack of Mutuality

English: The Earl Warren Building and Courthou...

English: The Earl Warren Building and Courthouse at Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco, California. This building is home to the Supreme Court of California and the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on August 31, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The California Court of Appeal struck down an arbitration agreement by a car dealer defendant in a putative class action, rejecting an argument that an unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality in an arbitration contract violates Concepcion. Natalini v. Import Motor, Inc., 213 Cal. App. 4th 587 (1st Dist., mod. February 5, 2013).

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion,  563 U.S. –––– , 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), appellant car dealer argued that an “unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality or bilaterality in an arbitration provision is ‘an example of applying a generally applicable contract defense in a manner which disfavors arbitration.'”  The First District declined to read Concepcion so broadly, and noted that:

Recent California and federal district court decisions addressing arbitration provisions very similar to that in the present case and in the identical car purchase context have not read  Concepcion so broadly.  (See  Trompeter v. Ally Financial, Inc. (N.D.Cal., June 1, 2012, No. C–12–00392 CW) 2012 WL 1980894 [p. *8] [nonpub. opn.]  ( Trompeter );   Smith v. Americredit Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.Cal., Mar. 12, 2012, No. 09cv1076 DMS (BLM)) 2012 WL 834784 [pp. *2–*4] ( Smith );   Lau v. Mercedes–Benz USA, LLC (N.D.Cal., Jan. 31, 2012, No. CV 11–1940 MEJ) 2012 WL 370557 [pp. *6–*7] ( Lau );  see also  Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 771, 804, fn. 18, 137 Cal.Rptr.3d 773.)    Read the rest of this entry »

Ninth Circuit Holds that FAA Under Concepcion Broadly Preempts State Law Invalidating Class-Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a published opinion today, held that the Federal Arbitration Act broadly preempts state law invalidating class-action waivers in arbitration agreements, even where the waivers would preclude effective vindication of statutory rights.  The opinion can be found here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/03/16/09-35563.pdf.

More on this later.

By CHARLES JUNG

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U.S. Supreme Court Applies Concepcion to Strike Down West Virginia Arbitration Rule

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In a per curiam opinion today applying the rule in Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court  reversed and remanded orders of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which held unenforceable all predispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims alleging personal injury or wrongful death against  nursing homes.  Marmet Health Care Center, Inc., et al. v.  Clayton Brown, et al., Case Nos. 11–391 and 11–394, 565 U. S. ____ (Feb. 21, 2012).

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the “Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, by misreading and disregarding the precedents of this Court interpreting the FAA, did not follow controlling federal law implementing that basic principle.”  Id.  “When this Court has fulfilled its duty to interpret federal law, a state court may not contradict or fail to implement the rule so established.”

Background

In each of three negligence suits, a family member of a patient requiring extensive nursing care had signed an agreement with a nursing home on behalf of the patient.  Id. The agreements included arbitration clauses requiring the parties to arbitrate all disputes, other than claims to collect late payments owed by the patient.  Id. In each of the three cases, a family member of a patient who had died sued the nursing home in state court, alleging that negligence caused injuries or harm resulting in death. Id.

In a decision concerning all three cases, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that “as a matter of public policy under West Virginia law, an arbitration clause in a nursing home admission agreement adopted prior to an occurrence of negligence that results in a personal injury or wrongful death, shall not be enforced to compel arbitration of a dispute concerning the negligence.”  Id.

The state court considered whether the state public policy was pre-empted by the FAA: Read the rest of this entry »

Broad “Any Disputes” Language in Arbitration Agreement Insufficient to Manifest Clear and Unmistakable Intent to Delegate Threshold Arbitrability Determination to Arbitrators

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Editorial note:  The author of California Class Action Law appeared for respondent Ajamian in the opinion summarized below, Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P., et al.  

In an opinion certified for publication, the First District Court of Appeal held that a broadly worded arbitration agreement that stated that “[a]ny disputes, differences or controversies arising under” a contract shall be settled by a panel of arbitrators was insufficient to establish “clear and unmistakable” evidence of an intent to delegate issues of enforceability or arbitrability to the arbitration panel.  Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P., et al., No. A131025 (1st Dist., Div. 5 Feb. 6, 2012) (available at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A131025.PDF).

Although the arbitration provision was broadly worded and indicated that arbitration might be conducted under the rules of an arbitration service that gives arbitrators the power to decide the validity of arbitration agreements, it did not provide clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intended to delegate authority to the arbitrator, rather than to the court, to decide the threshold issue of whether the arbitration provision itself was unconscionable.

Id.

Background

Plaintiff Ajamian filed a complaint against Defendants CantorCO2e and Margolis, asserting claims under the California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Labor Code, and other theories.  Id.  Defendants filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of a written employment agreement or, alternatively, an employee handbook.  Id.

The arbitration provision of the employment agreement read: Read the rest of this entry »

In a Wage Class Action, Defendants Waived Right to Arbitrate After Engaging in Extensive Discovery and Filing 2 Motions to Compel

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In an unpublished decision, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration in a wage and hour class action, where defendants conducted voluminous discovery and filed and fully litigating two motions to compel further responses to discovery, a motion for sanctions and a motion for a protective order.    Partridge, et al. v. Hott Wings, Inc., et al., No. A130266, 2012 WL 470458 (Feb. 14, 2012).

Discussion

The Court found that Defendants’ delay in filing their petition to compel arbitration “connotes an intent not to arbitrate”.  Id. Defendants conducted substantial discovery:

Between March 2010 and the October 2010 hearing on defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, defendants engaged in voluminous written discovery to which plaintiffs responded.   In addition, defendants deposed numerous plaintiffs and third party witnesses.   Although plaintiffs had begun deposing witnesses, they had not yet obtained basic documents from defendants through discovery.   The discovery focused on the liability of individual defendants and the franchise defendants that employ plaintiffs.   As a result of defendants’ discovery requests, plaintiffs provided information regarding plaintiffs’ estimated damages, which defendants were responsible for which violations, and the liability of the individual as well as the franchise defendants.   A reasonable inference is that the information gained from defendants’ discovery goes to significant issues in plaintiffs’ case.

Id.

In addition, the Court found that Defendants “substantially invoked the litigation machinery” by: Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Argument in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a Case Which Many Predict Will End Consumer Class Actions

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010). This is a critical case, in which the Court may effectively end most court-based consumer class actions.

Second District Compels Arbitration of Individual Claims in a Class Action Where Arbitration Agreement Contained an Unenforceable Class Arbitration Waiver

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The Second District compelled a class action plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claims in Maiorano v. Professional Community Management, Inc., No. B220127, 2010 WL 3786721 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Defendant, Professional Community Management, Inc., appealed from an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of a putative class action filed by plaintiff, Ray A. Maiorano.  Id. *1.  The Second District held that “based solely on the parties’ agreement, we conclude they cannot be compelled to arbitrate on a class basis”, but it directed the trial court to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s individual claims. Id. The court reasoned that the “presence of a provision limiting arbitration to individual rather than joined or representative claims did not present a basis upon which the trial court could conclude the present arbitration agreement was permeated by an unlawful purpose.”  Id. *4.

Background

Plaintiff brought a class action complaint alleging violations of statutory meal and rest breaks, wage reporting and overtime requirements, and unlawful and unfair business practices.  Id. *2.  Plaintiff also asserted a cause of action for penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004–Labor Code sections 2698 and 2699.  Id. Defendant filed a petition to compel arbitration. The trial court denied defendant’s petition, ruling that: Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Denies Motion to Compel Arbitration Where Plaintiffs Sought Only Injunctive Relief Under Unfair Competition Law

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion to compel arbitration where plaintiffs sought only injunctive relief under the California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”).  Cardenas v. Americredit Financial Services Inc., No. C 09-04978 SBA, 2010 WL 3619851 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2010).

Plaintiffs allege that Defendant AmeriCredit Financial Services, Inc. (“AmeriCredit”), failed to provide Mr. Cardenas with proper notice of his rights in connection with the financing of his car, ostensibly in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), California Business and Professions Code § 17200.  Id. *1.  After plaintiff defaulted on his payments, AmeriCredit repossessed Cardenas’ vehicle. Id. *3. The vehicle was subsequently sold and on thereafter, AmeriCredit informed Cardenas that his car had been sold for $12,000, but that he still owed them a deficiency balance of $12,733.85 (i.e., the amount owed on his loan less the amount recovered from the sale of the car). Id. Mr. Cardenas paid only part of the deficiency balance, and AmeriCredit later reported Cardenas’ deficiency to credit bureaus. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Denies Motion to Compel Class Arbitration, But Grants Stay Pending Outcome of Supreme Court’s Decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion

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The United States District Court for the Central District of California denied a class action defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, but granted its motion to stay.  Lopez v. American Express Bank, FSB, No. CV 09-07335 SJO (MANx), 2010 WL 3637755 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2010).

Plaintiffs sued Defendants American Express Bank, FSB, and American Express Centurion Bank’s (collectively, “Defendants”) alleging causes of action relating to the terms and conditions of credit cards. Id. *1.  Defendants moved to compel arbitration.  Id. The Court denied, finding that the class action waiver contained in the Agreement between the parties was unconscionable under California law, and therefore, the Plaintiffs could not be compelled to arbitrate. Id. Defendants brought the present motion to reconsider.

The Court determined that the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, — U.S. —-, 130 S. Ct. 3322, — L. Ed. 2d —-, 2010 WL 303962 (May 24, 2010) constitutes a material difference in fact and law, potential change in controlling law, and justifiable reason to reconsider its prior. Id. *3.

The specific question that the Supreme Court will resolve is: Read the rest of this entry »