Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
Cisco Systems, Inc. hired “John Doe” in September 2015 to work as an engineer. Doe was required to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of his employment. Under the agreement, Cisco and Doe had to arbitrate “all disputes or claims arising from or relating to” Doe’s employment, including claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. Several years after signing the agreement, Doe filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging Cisco discriminated against him because of ancestry or race. He reported that two supervisors denied him opportunities and disparaged him because, under the traditional caste system of India, he was from the lowest caste and they are from the highest. Doe also accused Cisco of retaliating when he complained about being treated unfavorably because of his caste. The Department notified Cisco of Doe’s complaint, investigated it, and decided it had merit. Attempts at informal resolution were unsuccessful. The Department then filed a lawsuit against Cisco and the two supervisors. The Department alleged five causes of action alleging multiple violations of FEHA, and sought a permanent injunction preventing Cisco from committing further violations, and mandatory injunctive relief requiring Cisco to institute policies to prevent employment discrimination. The complaint also requested an order that Cisco compensate Doe for past and future economic losses. Cisco moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement Doe signed. The trial court denied the motion. On appeal, Cisco argued the Department was bound by the terms of Doe’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the Department acts independently when it exercises the power to sue for FEHA violations. “As an independent party, the Department cannot be compelled to arbitrate under an agreement it has not entered.” View "Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing v. Cisco Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs sued Defendants asserting causes of action for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. Defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the Retainer Agreement and the trial court granted the motion. The arbitration hearing proceeded and the arbitrator found that Defendants were liable to Plaintiffs for their failure to protect Plaintiffs’ control over the business or to disclose to Plaintiffs such lack of control. However, the arbitrator found that this conduct did not harm Plaintiffs because they could not show that the contingency fee paid to the firm was caused by Defendants’ failings.Plaintiffs moved the trial court to vacate the Award. They again argued that the Retainer Agreement, including its arbitration clause, was illegal and unenforceable because Defendant was unlicensed to practice law when he performed services for Plaintiffs pursuant to that agreement. The trial court denied the motion and confirmed the arbitration award.The Second Appellate District affirmed the ruling finding that there was no error. The court wrote that Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Court (1998) 17 Cal.4th 119 (Birbrower) dictates that the unlicensed attorney’s illegal practice of law pursuant to the retainer agreement does not render the entire retainer agreement illegal. Moncharsh v. Heily & Blase (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1, 30 (Moncharsh) holds that an arbitration provision is severable from an agreement that is not entirely illegal (unless the arbitration provision itself is illegal). There is no claim here of any illegality in the retainer agreement’s arbitration provision. View "Brawerman v. Loeb & Loeb LLP" on Justia Law

by
The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the State of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hires ("Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart challenged the trial court’s order, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, they were bound by its arbitration provision to the extent they seek injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff sued her former employer, Wood Ranch USA, Inc. (Wood Ranch) for compensatory and punitive damages on nine different causes of action. Wood Ranch moved to compel arbitration. The trial court granted the motion and stayed the pending court proceedings. Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the trial court’s prior order compelling arbitration. Invoking sections 1281.97 and 1281.99, Plaintiff argued that Wood Ranch’s late payment of its share of the initiation fees constituted a material breach of the arbitration agreement.   The trial court granted the motion, and the Second Appellate District affirmed the court’s order vacating its earlier order compelling arbitration between the parties in this case. The appeal presents a question of first impression: Are these provisions preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)? The court held that they are not because the procedures they prescribe further—rather than frustrate—the objectives of the FAA to honor the parties’ intent to arbitrate and to preserve arbitration as a speedy and effective alternative forum for resolving disputes.   The court explained that Sections 1281.97 and 1281.99 undeniably single out arbitration insofar as they define procedures that apply only to arbitrated disputes. But that they are arbitration-specific is not sufficient to warrant preemption by the FAA. Further, these sections in this case do not interfere with the FAA’s first goal of honoring the parties’ intent. Moreover, applying these sections, in this case, does not interfere with the FAA’s second goal of safeguarding arbitration as an expedited and cost-efficient vehicle for resolving disputes. View "Gallo v. Wood Ranch USA, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review in this case centered on whether California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1281.4 authorized the trial court to stay a plaintiff’s action on the basis of a pending arbitration to which the plaintiff was not a party. Ann Leenay brought an action against her former employer, Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC (Lowe’s), under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). The trial court granted a petition to coordinate her action with a number of other PAGA actions against Lowe’s. Lowe’s then moved to stay the coordinated actions under section 1281.4. Lowe’s based the motion on over 50 arbitration proceedings against it, but Leenay and the other plaintiffs in the coordinated actions were not parties in any of those arbitration proceedings. The trial court granted the motion to stay, and Leenay filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the order. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred by granting the motion to stay. "[S]ection 1281.4 applies only when a court has ordered parties to arbitration, the arbitrable issue arises in the pending court action, and the parties in the arbitration are also parties to the court action. Under those circumstances, the court must stay the action (or enter a stay with respect to the arbitrable issue, if the issue is severable)." Those circumstances did not exist in this case. The Court therefore granted Leenay’s writ petition. View "Leenay v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff worked as a driver for California Transit. After California Transit terminated his employment, Evenskaas filed this wage and hour class action against California Transit; its owner, and the company that administered California Transit’s payroll, Personnel Staffing Group, LLC (collectively, the California Transit defendants).   Because Plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement, in which he agreed to arbitrate all claims arising from his employment and waived his right to seek class-wide relief, the California Transit defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion. The California Transit defendants appealed, contending the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement.   The Second Appellate District reversed the order denying Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration is reversed. The court directed the trial court to enter a new order granting the motion and dismissing Plaintiff’s class claims. The court explained that because the paratransit services California Transit hired Plaintiff to provide involve interstate commerce for purposes of the FAA, the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement and preempts the Gentry rule that certain class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are unenforceable. View "Evenskaas v. California Transit, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff sued her employer, Life Insurance Company of North America, and several related individuals (collectively, Employer) for discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination. In response, Employer moved to compel arbitration based on a 2014 arbitration agreement. However, Employer did not present a copy of the agreement. Instead, Employer presented an auto-generated acknowledgment indicating Plaintiff read and consented to the terms of the agreement.The trial court denied Employer's motion to compel arbitration, finding that Employer did not establish an agreement to arbitrate and, even if an agreement existed, it was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable.The Second Appellate District affirmed. The trial court had the authority to review the "gateway" issue of arbitrability because Plaintiff claimed to have never seen or agreed to the arbitration agreement. Further, the fact that Employer's system created an auto-generated acknowledgment that Plaintiff consented to the agreement did not overcome Plaintiff's claim that she was not presented with the agreement and never would have agreed to it. View "Trinity v. Life Ins. Co. of North America" on Justia Law

by
The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the People of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hired (called "Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart appealed, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, it was bound by its arbitration provision to the extent the State sought injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

by
A cryogenic storage tank, manufactured by Chart and used by PFC, a San Francisco fertility clinic, to store patients’ reproductive material, experienced a failure. A putative class action was filed in federal court against four defendants. Claims against Chart proceeded in federal court; claims against other defendants proceeded in arbitration. Claimants not involved in the federal litigation filed subsequently-coordinated suits in California state courts against the four defendants. Arbitration was compelled for about 260 claims against PFC but not the other defendants. After 18 months of negotiations and discovery, three defendants reached an agreement to resolve the claims against them in all proceedings. The trial court entered a good faith settlement determination, dismissing with prejudice “[a]ll existing cross-complaints” for equitable indemnity or contribution against the settling defendants.Chart, the non-settling defendant, unsuccessfully challenged the good faith settlement determination in a mandamus proceeding, then filed an appeal. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal, noting a split among the divisions. When one tortfeasor defendant intends to settle a case before it is resolved against all defendants, the tortfeasor may petition the court for a determination that the settlement was made in good faith. (Code Civ. Proc. 877.6.) so that the other defendants are barred from obtaining contribution or indemnification from the settling tortfeasor based on the parties’ comparative negligence or fault. The court’s good faith determination is reviewable only by a timely petition for writ of mandate. View "Pacific Fertility Cases" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff was a floor supervisor at the Defendant hotel and casino. In 2015, Defendant required all employees to sign a new arbitration policy as a condition of employment. Plaintiff signed the new policy. The following year, Defendant fired Plaintiff after Plaintiff accepted counterfeit $100 bills during his shift. In 2019, Plaintiff obtained a right-to-sue letter from DFEH and brought causes of action under wrongful termination, age discrimination, retaliation and harassment.In 2020, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's claim, but failed to move to compel arbitration. However, on December 23, 2020, 13 months after Plaintiff filed his lawsuit, Defendant moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied Defendant's motion, finding that the 13-month wait prejudiced Plaintiff and that Defendant had waived its right to compel arbitration.The Second Appellate District reversed, finding Plaintiff's allegations of prejudice were insufficient. Waiver does not occur merely by participating in litigation; the case must reach the point of judicial litigation before a court will find a party waived the right to compel arbitration. The court also rejected Plaintiff's claim that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. View "Quach v. Cal. Commerce Club" on Justia Law