Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

by
The Supreme Court accepted certified questions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in this arbitration dispute, holding that direct benefits estoppel cannot be invoked in a garnishment action to bind the judgment creditor to the terms of the contract because applying the doctrine in this context would contravene Arizona's statutory garnishment scheme.Specifically, the Court answered that in a garnishment action by a judgment creditor against the judgment debtor's insurer claiming that coverage is owed under an insurance policy where the judgment creditor is not proceeding on an assignment of rights, the insurer cannot invoke the doctrine of direct benefits estoppel to bind the judgment creditor to the terms of the insurance contract. View "Benson v. Casa De Capri Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Magnolia, a managed care organization that contracted with the State to provide Medicaid services, applied what it saw as a statutory five percent reduction in Medicaid rates to Mississippi’s fourteen regional mental health providers. The regional providers responded by filing a complaint against Magnolia in which they sought injunctive relief and monetary damages. On February 18, 2020, Magnolia Health Plan, Inc., and Cenpatico Behavioral Health, LLC (collectively, “Magnolia”), filed a timely notice of appeal after a circuit court denied Magnolia’s motion to compel arbitration, and granted a preliminary injunction against it in favor of Defendants, Mississippi’s fourteen regional health commissions. The notice of appeal included both orders. As to the first, the order denying Magnolia’s motion to compel arbitration, at oral argument before the Mississippi Supreme Court panel, Magnolia abandoned the issue. As to the second, the order granting Magnolia’s request for a permanent injunction, the order was not a final, appealable judgment. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction for further review. View "Magnolia Health Plan, Inc. et al. v. Mississippi's Community Mental Health Commissions, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that Curtis Olson failed to show the requisite "minimal merit" on a critical element of his breach of contract claim and thus could not defeat Jane Doe's anti-SLAPP motion.Doe and Olson each owned units in the same condominium building. Doe brought a civil harassment restraining order against Olson, and as a result of court-ordered mediation, the parties agreed if they encountered each other in a public or common place "not to disparage one another." Doe later filed a civil lawsuit against Olson seeking damages. Olson cross-complained for breach of contract and specific performance, and Doe moved to strike Olson's cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal's judgment insofar as it reversed the trial court's order granting Doe's special motion to strike the breach of contract clause of action with respect to statements in Doe's civil complaint, holding that Doe had no obligation under the contract to refrain from making disparaging statements in litigation, and therefore, Olson could not defeat Doe's anti-SLAPP motion. View "Olson v. Doe" on Justia Law

by
Ngo purchased a BMW. The dealership financed Ngo’s purchase; the purchase agreement contained an arbitration clause. As a result of alleged defects with the car, Ngo sued BMW, the manufacturer, which was not a signatory to the purchase agreement. BMW moved to compel arbitration. The district court granted the motion, finding BMW to be a third-party beneficiary.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Under California law, a nonsignatory is a third-party beneficiary only to a contract made expressly for its benefit. Any benefit that BMW might receive from the clause was peripheral and indirect because it was predicated on the decisions of others to arbitrate. The purchase agreement was drafted with the primary "motivating purpose" of securing benefits for the contracting parties; third parties were not the purposeful beneficiaries of that undertaking. Nothing in the contract evinced any intention that the arbitration clause should apply to BMW. The parties easily could have indicated that the contract was intended to benefit BMW but did not do so. The court declined to apply equitable estoppel to compel arbitration. Ngo did not allege any “concerted misconduct.” BMW was mistaken that, under the Song-Beverley and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Acts, Ngo’s claims were inextricably intertwined with the terms of the purchase agreement. View "Ngo v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the client company's motion to compel arbitration. In this case, a pipeline inspection firm hired inspectors, and their employment agreement contained an arbitration provision. After the firm sent the inspectors to work for the client company, the inspectors filed suit against the client company under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The court agreed with the district court that the client company could not enforce the arbitration agreement between the inspectors and their firm. The court explained that, where, as here, the parties dispute whether an enforceable arbitration agreement exists between them, it takes a court to decide. Applying Texas contract law and equitable doctrines to this case, the court concluded that the client company cannot enforce the arbitration agreement. View "Newman v. Plains All American Pipeline, LP" on Justia Law

by
Bird and other blind vendors filed a formal complaint with Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) seeking arbitration, prospective relief, and attorney’s fees as a consequence of OCB’s alleged mishandling of vending contracts and representation of blind vendors’ interests. The arbitration panel denied relief. The district court held that sovereign immunity did not apply to an arbitration panel’s decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA), which creates a cooperative federal-state program that gives preference to blind applicants for vending licenses at federal facilities, 20 U.S.C. 107, and that the Eleventh Amendment did not protect OCB from liability for damages. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Neither the RSA nor the parties’ operating agreements unequivocally waived a state’s sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages, attorney’s fees, or costs. Citing the Supreme Court’s 2011 "Sossamon" decision, the court rejected a “constructive waiver” argument, reasoning that a waiver of sovereign immunity must be explicit. An agreement to arbitrate all disputes simply did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages. The operating agreements incorporated the text of the RSA and contained no express waiver of immunity from money damages. Because no provision of the RSA or the operating agreements provided for attorney’s fees, Bird was not entitled to attorney’s fees. View "Bird v. Oregon Commission for the Blind" on Justia Law

by
JustAnswer LLC (JustAnswer) appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration. Tina Sellers and Erin O’Grady (together, Plaintiffs) used the JustAnswer website to submit a single question to an “expert” for what they believed would be a one-time fee of $5, but JustAnswer automatically enrolled them in a costlier monthly membership. After discovering additional charges to their credit cards, Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against JustAnswer, alleging it routinely enrolled online consumers like them in automatic renewal membership programs without providing “clear and conspicuous” disclosures and obtaining their “affirmative consent” as mandated by the California Automatic Renewal Law. Seeking to avoid the class action litigation, JustAnswer filed a petition to compel individual arbitration, claiming Plaintiffs agreed to their “Terms of Service,” which included a class action waiver and a binding arbitration clause, when they entered their payment information on the website and clicked a button that read, “Start my trial.” In a case of first impression under California law, the Court of Appeal considered whether, and under what circumstances, a “sign-in wrap” agreement was valid and enforceable. The Court concluded the notices on the “Start my trial” screens of the JustAnswer website were not sufficiently conspicuous to bind Plaintiffs, because they were less conspicuous than the statutory notice requirements, and they were not sufficiently conspicuous under other criteria courts have considered in determining whether a hyperlinked notice to terms of services was sufficient to put a user on inquiry notice of an arbitration agreement. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s order denying JustAnswer’s petition to compel arbitration. View "Sellers v. JustAnswer LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission d/b/a U.S. Space & Rocket Center ("ASSEC") filed suit against Space Race, LLC ("Space Race"), seeking to avoid an arbitration award entered in favor of Space Race and against ASSEC by an arbitration panel in New York. In July 2016, Space Race agreed to produce an animated series for ASSEC aimed at promoting the interest of children in space exploration and science. The series was to be created and released to the public over a three-year period. In exchange, ASSEC agreed to compensate Space Race with funds ASSEC would receive from a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA"), which had contracted with ASSEC to provide funding for the series. The compensation was to be paid to Space Race annually as the series episodes were created during the three-year contract term. The parties' agreement provided that it "shall be governed" by Alabama law. Space Race produced the series before the contract term expired, but ASSEC failed to pay the amount owed for the last year of the series. Space Race claimed that ASSEC still owed Space Race approximately $1.3 million when the contract term expired. The parties' agreement contained an arbitration provision. In December 2017, after being notified by ASSEC that it would no longer make payments to Space Race because the grant from NASA had been terminated, Space Race commenced arbitration proceedings against ASSEC in New York. Space Race moved to dismiss ASSEC's Alabama action, asserting that a New York court had already entered a final judgment confirming the arbitration award. The Alabama trial court denied Space Race's motion to dismiss, and Space Race petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss ASSEC's action. Because the New York judgment confirming the arbitration award against ASSEC was entitled to full faith and credit and res judicata effect, the Supreme Court granted Space Race's mandamus petition. The trial court was directed to vacate its order denying Space Race's motion to dismiss and to enter an order granting that motion. View "Ex parte Space Race, LLC." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing a putative class action complaint and granting defendant's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff contends that the arbitration agreement upon which DHIM relies was not properly formed.The panel agreed with its sister circuits and held that parties cannot delegate issues of formation to the arbitrator. In this case, where plaintiff challenged the very existence of an agreement to arbitrate, the district court was required to address his challenge and determine whether an agreement existed. If no agreement to arbitrate was formed, then there is no basis upon which to compel arbitration. The panel also concluded that the mutual arbitration agreement, as drafted, describes and governs a relationship between plaintiff and D.R. Horton that does not exist, and thus does not constitute a properly formed agreement to arbitrate. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Ahlstrom v. DHI Mortgage Co." on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal concluded that the arbitration clause between a job applicant and her prospective employer does not apply to disputes between the applicant and her former employers based on the existence of a business relationship between the prospective employer and the applicant's past employers. Therefore, the arbitration agreement between plaintiff and Expert Staffing West does not apply to disputes arising between her and her former employers. In this case, the court agreed with the trial court that the arbitration agreement between plaintiff and Expert Staffing West did not apply to plaintiff's claims against Essential Seasons and Cool-Pak. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Garcia v. Expert Staffing West" on Justia Law