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Archive for the ‘California State Courts’ Category

California Appeals Court Says Clause Construction Award is not Final Award Subject to Confirmation or Vacatur

August 29th, 2018 Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Clause Construction Award, Confirmation of Awards No Comments »

Introduction

Clause Construction Award 1

Clause Construction Award 1

We have discussed (here) what constitutes a final award under the Federal Arbitration Act, an issue that is important for a host of reasons, but is particularly so to any business faced with an adverse clause construction award. A clause construction award is an interim or partial final arbitration ruling that determines the threshold issue of whether the parties consented to class arbitration.

 

But not all arbitrations – even class arbitrations – are governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), and even when they are, parties may agree to procedural rules that are different from those of the FAA. See Preston v. Ferrer, 128 S.Ct. 978, 987-89 (2008); Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ.,  489 U.S. 468, 478-79 (1989). In Maplebear, Inc. v. Busick, ___ Cal. App.5th ___, slip op. (Cal. App., 1st Dist. August 21, 2018) (certified for publication), the parties agreed that  “the arbitration would be conducted by JAMS under its rules and procedures; the arbitrator would apply California substantive law; the arbitrator had no ‘power or authority to commit errors of law or legal reasoning’; and ‘[a]ny action to review the arbitration award for legal error or to have it confirmed, corrected or vacated’ would be decided under California law by ‘a California state court of competent jurisdiction.’” Slip op. at 2.

At issue in Maplebear was whether the California courts had jurisdiction to vacate a partial final Clause Construction Award, which concluded that the parties had consented to class arbitration. The California Appeals Court said “no,” which means that—unless the California Supreme Court (or the U.S. Supreme Court) hears an appeal and says otherwise—the parties have to endure through an entire class arbitration procedure before there is any judicial review of the Clause Construction Award. (Whether or not review by the California Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court is even possible given the procedural posture of this case is outside the scope of this post.)

 

An Unfair Burden on the Clause Construction Award Challenger?

Clause Construction Award 2

Clause Construction Award 2

Consider the burden the decision imposes on the class-arbitration opponent. According to the majority opinion in Concepcion, then fairly current American Arbitration Association statistics showed that: (a) “[a]s of September 2009, the AAA had opened 283 class arbitrations[;]” (b) “[o]f those, 121 remained active, and 162 had been settled, withdrawn, or dismissed[;]” (c) “[n]ot a single one, however, had resulted in a final award on the merits[;]” and (d) “[f]or those cases that were no longer active, the median time from filing to settlement, withdrawal, or dismissal—not judgment on the merits—was 583 days, and the mean was 630 days.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1751 (2011).

Clause Construction Award 4

Clause Construction Award 4

While we have not researched whether more recent statistics tell a different story, it seems quite likely that the Court’s decision on finality means that the class arbitration opponent will have to spend an awful lot of time and money before the issue of class arbitration consent is reviewed by a court, assuming it is ever reviewed.

 

Continue Reading »

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Another Class Arbitration Case: Can the Federal Arbitration Act Spare DIRECTV an Extended Stay in Class-Arbitration-Waiver Purgatory?

March 31st, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Contract Interpretation, FAA Preemption of State Law, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Another Class Arbitration Case: Can the Federal Arbitration Act Spare DIRECTV an Extended Stay in Class-Arbitration-Waiver Purgatory?

On March 23, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, No. 14-462. If decided on its merits, the case will be by our count the fifth U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning class arbitration decided on its merits during the period 2010 forward.

yay-1341284-digitalImburgia is a decision by the California Court of Appeals, Second District, Division One of which the California Supreme Court denied review. Like many other Federal Arbitration Act cases, it presents some interesting vertical conflict of law questions, but the California Court of Appeals does not appear to have resolved them in the way the U.S. Supreme Court presumably intended them to be resolved under the Volt and Mastrobuono lines of cases. 

The case centers  on a class-action waiver non-severability provision included in a consumer contract DIRECTV entered into in 2007, about four years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Concepcion that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California’s Discover Bank rule. The Discover Bank rule provides that class action waivers are unenforceable in litigation or arbitration proceedings. See, generally, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1753 (2011).

yay-3535433-digitalBefore Concepcion not only did the California state courts hold that the Federal Arbitration Act did not preempt the Discover Bank rule, but so did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Thus, at the time, the risk companies like DIRECTV and others with consumer class arbitration exposure had was that applicable state law would not only ban class arbitration waivers, but applicable federal law would permit that to happen.

So companies like DIRECTV and others built into their arbitration agreements a fail-safe mechanism under which the entire arbitration agreement would be rendered uneneforceable if state law rendered the class arbitration waiver unenforceable. In other words, the companies understandably viewed class action litigation to be a more favorable alternative than class arbitration if forced to choose between the two. Continue Reading »

AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion: What Would Cousin Vinny Have to Say About The Ninth Circuit’s Interpretation of the Equal Footing Principle?

December 10th, 2010 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion: What Would Cousin Vinny Have to Say About The Ninth Circuit’s Interpretation of the Equal Footing Principle?

One of my favorite scenes from the movie My Cousin Vinny (1992) is Vincent Laguardia Gambini’s (a/k/a “Vinny’s”) opening statement in the criminal trial of his cousin and cousin’s friend, both of whom were arrested and mistakenly charged for murder and robbery while driving through Alabama.  Vinny (played by Joe Pesci) — a native New Yorker who is as out of place in a rural Alabama courtroom as I suppose anyone could be — dozes off during the prosecution’s opening statement only to be jarred awake by his cousin — who is facing the death penalty — so that he can deliver an opening statement.  He saunters over to the jury, and says, gesturing at the prosecutor, “Everything that guy just said is bull$#!+.  Thank you.”  Then he returns to the defense table.  (Watch the scene here, which begins approximately three minutes and 33 seconds into the clip.)     Continue Reading »

Some Initial Thoughts on the SCOTUS AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion Oral Argument

November 16th, 2010 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Some Initial Thoughts on the SCOTUS AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion Oral Argument

As many readers know, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893 (blogged here, here, here and here).  You can find the transcript of the argument, here, and the audio, here

After reviewing the oral argument transcript a number of times, and listening to the audio, we still believe it more likely than not that AT&T Mobility will prevail.  We’ll develop that thought further in upcoming installments of our Disputing guest post, “AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion:  Can Discover Bank Withstand Stolt-Nielsen Scrutiny?” (Part I, here).

There have been a number of differing opinions post argument on how the Court will likely rule.  Some believe the argument foreshadows victory for the Concepcions.  Others are not so certain, and still others believe that AT&T Mobility may emerge the victor.  Like all such opinions, they are are really nothing more than educated guesswork, and should be taken with a grain of salt. 

We don’t suggest our take on things is anything more, but we share it for what it is worth.  We think the oral argument was basically a toss-up, and that it mainly confirmed what we already knew or surmised:  That this is a very difficult case, and that the eight Justices who asked questions appear to be split along ideological lines.  We expected no less in light of the 5-3 and 5-4 split decisions in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559  U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010); and  Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2772 (2010). 

The key point on which the argument shed no meaningful light is what Associate Justice Clarence Thomas makes of this case.  Justice Thomas joined the Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center majority opinions, but those cases, unlike this one, did not concern the preemptive scope of the Federal Arbitration Act

Preemption is controversial, and its importance extends far beyond the AT&T Mobility case.    Particularly controversial — and very supportive of AT&T Mobility’s position — is the doctrine of “implied preemption,” also known as “conflict” or “obstacle” preemption. In Federal Arbitration Act cases this doctrine tells us that  state laws or policies that undermine “the goals and policies of the FAA” are preempted by the Act.  Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 477-78 (1990).

But Justice Thomas believes that the implied preemption doctrine is unconstitutional.  See Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1187, 1205 (2009) (Thomas, J. concurring) (“implied pre-emption doctrines that wander far from the statutory text are inconsistent with the Constitution.  .  .  .”).  He also believes that Congress intended the Federal Arbitration Act to be a procedural statute that applies only in federal court.  See, e.g., Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995) (Thomas, J., dissenting); Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 US 440 (2006) (Thomas, J., dissenting) (“[I]n state-court proceedings, the FAA cannot be the basis for displacing a state law that prohibits enforcement of an arbitration clause contained in a contract that is unenforceable under state law.”). 

He thus believes that state courts can apply state arbitration law as they see fit, irrespective of whether the result would be different had the case been brought in federal court.  While AT&T Mobility — like Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center — was brought in federal court, and everybody concedes that the Federal Arbitration Act applies, Justice Thomas remains a strong proponent of federalism.  

Justice Thomas’ deference to state law is problematic for AT&T Mobility.  Perhaps AT&T Mobility’s best argument is that the Federal Arbitration Act impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule for the reasons set forth in Stolt-Nielsen.   Apparently concluding that the Justices in the Stolt-Nielsen majority — including Justice Thomas —  are the ones most likely to support AT&T Mobility’s position, AT&T Mobility deliberately downplayed the implied preemption issue, although it made clear that it believes the Federal Arbitration Act both expressly and impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule. 

That was a wise strategy given Justice Thomas’ rejection of implied preemption.  Its wisdom was borne out by what transpired at the argument:  of the eight Justices that asked questions, the four more liberal ones (Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia M. Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt the Discover Bank rule, while the four more conservative ones (Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Associate Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Samuel J. Alito, Jr.) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts Discover Bank.      

That means Justice Thomas is likely to hold the deciding vote, but where he’ll ultimately cast it, nobody knows (at least outside the Supreme Court).  We believe there are equally plausible reasons why he might vote  for or against preemption.  

We’ll explore all of this and more in our Disputing guest post.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for our next Forum article on AT&T Mobility, which will focus on the highlights of the oral argument and tie them into the express and implied preemption issues that this critically important case presents.    

What to Make of the Second Circuit Voiding a Class Action Waiver Under California’s Discover Bank Rule?

July 23rd, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on What to Make of the Second Circuit Voiding a Class Action Waiver Under California’s Discover Bank Rule?

After deciding Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds, Inc. and Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, the United States Supreme Court left federal arbitration law at a crossroads.  In both cases the Court adhered quite faithfully to its prior Federal Arbitration Act jurisprudence, under which it enforces arbitration agreements according to their terms, without regard to other considerations.  In Rent-A-Center the Court implicitly reaffirmed that these pro-enforcement rules apply equally to contracts of adhesion. 

We will find out whether the Court intends to continue down the same path when it decides AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion next term, a case that raises the question whether California’s Discover Bank  unconscionability rule is pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act.  That rule deems unconscionable under California law class-action or class-arbitration waivers where:  (a) “the waiver is found in a consumer contract of adhesion in a setting in which the disputes between the contracting parties predictably involve small amounts of damages”; and (b) “it is alleged that the party with the superior bargaining power has carried out a scheme to deliberately cheat large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money.  .  .  .”  Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal. 4th 148, 162-63 (2005) (citing Cal. Civ. Code § 1668). 

The Discover Bank rule is grounded in a California-law principle – embodied in Cal. Civ. Code § 1668 – that “contracts which have for their object, directly or indirectly, to exempt anyone from responsibility for his own fraud.  .  .  are against the policy of the law.”   See Cal. Civ. Code § 1668.  If a company is allegedly engaging in fraudulent acts designed to cheat numerous consumers out of small amounts of money, a class action or class arbitration waiver may, if enforced, effectively act as an exculpatory provision that insulates the company from the consequences of its small scale, but widespread fraud, because the individual, allegedly defrauded consumers have little incentive to pursue separate actions or arbitrations to recoup trivial amounts of damages.  See Discover Bank, 36 Cal. 4th at 162-63.  Any contract that had that effect – whether it is a class action waiver in an arbitration clause, an exculpatory agreement or a contract that simply forbids class actions  — would be unconscionable under the rule.  

In Fensterstock v. Education Finance Partners, No. 09-1562-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. July 12, 2010), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit suggested one path that the United States Supreme Court might take on Discover Bank preemption.  In an interesting opinion, Senior Circuit Judge Amalya Lyle Kearse, joined by Circuit Judges José A. Cabranes and Chester J. Straub, held that the Discover Bank rule was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.  According to the Second Circuit, California’s  Discover Bank rule “’places arbitration agreements on the exact same footing as contracts that bar class action litigation outside the context of arbitration,’” and for that reason the rule is not preempted by the Act.  Slip op. at 16-17 (quoting Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Serv., Inc., 498 F.3d 976, 990 (9th Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original)). 

On first blush the Second Circuit’s decision seems reasonable.  But there are some important issues lurking beneath the surface that the Supreme Court will need to address when it decides AT&T MobilityContinue Reading »

Burlage Update: On Rehearing California Court of Appeal Affirms Trial Court Decision Vacating Award

October 24th, 2009 California State Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Procedural Misconduct 1 Comment »

On October 15, 2009 we discussed the controversy about the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District’s decision in Burlage v. Superior Court of Ventura Cty., ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, slip op. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Aug. 31, 2009), opinion following rehearing  ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, slip op. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. October 20, 2009)  (A copy of the August 31, 2009 opinion is here, and a copy of our post is here.)  We are happy to report that on October 20, 2009 the Court issued its opinion following rehearing, which affirms the trial court’s decision vacating the award.  (A copy of the opinion following rehearing is here.)

The opinion following rehearing is substantially the same as the August 31, 2009 opinion, save for a few additional paragraph the majority added to respond further to Perren, J.’s dissenting opinion.  Perren, J.’s dissent was reissued without material change. 

The additional paragraphs the majority added to address the dissenting opinion are set forth for our readers’ convenience below:

We disagree with the dissent’s suggestion that the arbitrator considered the lot-line adjustment evidence in the in limine motion.  In the context of the case, we agree with the discerning comments of our colleagues in Gonzales v. Interinsurance Exchange (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 58, 63:  “One cannot ‘consider’ what one has refused to ‘hear.’  Legally speaking the admission of evidence is to hear it, and the weighing of it is to give it consideration.”

The situation here is different than that in Hall v. Superior Court, supra, 18 Cal.App.4th 427.  In Hall, a party wished to reopen the arbitration hearing with additional evidence.  After hearing the party’s offer of proof, the arbitrator announced that his decision would be the same even with the proffered evidence.  The appellate court concluded the arbitrator did not prevent the losing party from fairly presenting his defense.  (Id. at p. 439.)  The trial court’s ruling to vacate the arbitration award was reversed, however, because “[w]here . . . a party complains of excluded material evidence, the reviewing court should generally focus first on prejudice, not materiality.  To find substantial prejudice the court must accept, for purposes of analysis, the arbitrator’s legal theory and conclude that the arbitrator might well have made a different award had the evidence been allowed.”  (Ibid.)  Unlike Hall, the trial court here found on substantial evidence that “[t]he Arbitrator’s refusal to admit these subsequent circumstances directly affected the issue of damages, thereby substantially prejudicing  Defendant’s [Spencer’s] ability to dispute the amount of damage suffered by Plaintiffs [the Burlages].”

It may be argued that to avoid the imposition of section 1286.2, arbitrators will simply admit evidence to insulate their decisions from review.  We do not subscribe to this cynical view.  It is through judicial review that the law is shaped and developed.  Arbitrators do not subvert this process because a court might vacate an award.  Arbitrators base their decisions on a careful analysis of the law and facts.  They, like the arbitrator here, are professionals who conduct themselves according to the canons of ethics and the high degree of integrity their profession demands.

Slip op. at 6-7 (opinion following rehearing).

We shall keep readers apprised of any further developments as and when they occur.

The Burlage Controversy: Did the Court Usurp Arbitral Power or did the Arbitrator Prejudice the Defendant by Excluding Evidence Material to the Controversy?

October 15th, 2009 Awards, California State Courts, Procedural Misconduct 3 Comments »

 Introduction

Section 10(a)(3) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards “where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct.  .  . in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy, or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced.”  California’s arbitration statute says courts “shall” vacate an award where a party’s rights “were substantially prejudiced . . . by the refusal of the arbitrators to hear evidence material to the controversy . . . .”  Cal. Civ. Code § 1286.2(a)(5) (here). 

On August 31, 2009 the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District decided Burlage v. Superior Court of Ventura Cty., ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, slip op. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Aug. 31, 2009), petition for rehearing granted.  (A copy of the opinion is here.)  At the time we viewed Burlage as an excellent and relatively easy to understand example of how courts should – and do – deal with those relatively rare situations where a party is prejudiced by an arbitrator refusing to hear evidence material to the controversy, whether under the Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(3) or a state law equivalent like California Civil Code Section 1286.2(a)(5).  While we still believe that the court correctly affirmed the trial court decision vacating the arbitration award, the decision has proved to be more controversial than we initially suspected it would be.   Continue Reading »

The AAA Commercial Rules and the Pig in a Poke: Gilbert Street Developers, LLC v. La Quinta Homes, LLC

June 24th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, California State Courts, Grounds for Vacatur 3 Comments »

Introduction

Under the Federal Arbitration Act and federal labor law, arbitrators can decide arbitrability questions subject only to deferential review, provided the parties “clearly and unmistakably” delegate that power to them.  California’s state arbitration law follows this familiar federal rule. 

On June 11, 2009 the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 3, held that the parties to an arbitration agreement did not “clearly and unmistakably” agree to arbitrate arbitrability by incorporating the Commercial Rules of the American Arbitration Association into their contract, because at the time the parties agreed to arbitrate, the rules were silent on whether arbitrators could decide arbitrability questions.  See Gilbert Street Developers, LLC v. La Quinta Homes, LLC, ___ Cal. Rptr.3d ___, slip op (Cal. App. 4th Dist. June 11, 2009) (certified for publication) (copy available here).  The Court so held even though the parties agreed that the arbitration would be “conducted in accordance with the Rules of the American Arbitration Association existing at the date [of the arbitration].  .  .  . ,” and by the date of the arbitration the rules had been amended to provide expressly that the arbitrators had the authority to determine their own jurisdiction.  See slip op. at 2-3.  The Court also held that the operation of a “buyout” clause in the parties’ agreement did not fall within the scope of the parties’ arbitration clause because it involved discretionary matters, which were expressly excluded from arbitration.  See slip op. at 15-16.  Continue Reading »

The $4.1 Billion Arbitration Award: Update

June 19th, 2009 Awards, California State Courts Comments Off on The $4.1 Billion Arbitration Award: Update

On June 14 we reported on the $4.1 billion arbitration award recently confirmed by a California state court, and provided our readers with some links to other articles on the subject.  (Post available here.)   Since that time we have been told that the defendants did not cross-move to vacate or otherwise respond to the motion to confirm, at least in any meaningful fashion.  We have not verified that assertion, but if true, there would not appear to be any meaningful ground for an appeal.    Continue Reading »

A Case to Watch Carefully: The $4.1 Billion Arbitration Award

June 14th, 2009 Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, California State Courts, Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group 1 Comment »

Arbitration fans following the blogosphere — or participating in LinkedIn’s Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group (here) — have no doubt heard about the $4.1 billion arbitration award recently confirmed by a California state court.   Check out the coverage in Victoria Pynchon’s Settle It Now Negotiation Blog, here and here, and Victoria VanBuren’s Disputing blog, here.  These posts feature a news article, related links and copies of the judgment and arbitration award.   One of Victoria Pynchon’s posts includes a very amusing video clip from Cabaret, featuring Liza Minelli!

The award arose out of an employment dispute between Paul Chester, the former chief operating officer of  iFreedom Communications, Inc., and iFreedom and its founder, Timothy Ringgenberg.  Mr. Chester claimed, and JAMS arbitrator William F. McDonald, a retired judge, agreed, that iFreedom did not receive commissions, back wages and other benefits due him under his employment agreement, and that he was fired without cause after he confronted his employer about this.  The compensatory component of the award is roughly $1 billion, which Arbitrator McDonald trebled based on iFreedom’s alleged bad faith.  The award is quite lengthy (27 pages), and provides a detailed breakdown of the various claims and corresponding damages.  The award states that the damages are ” appropriate to punish and make an example of defendants.”  (Query whether “making an example of Defendants” is a proper subject of private arbitration. ) Continue Reading »