Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Casandra Murrey, a single, 46-year-old female, worked for General Electric Company (GE) as a product sales specialist for ultrasound equipment. The complaint alleged GE hired Murrey in early 2018 and she was a “top performer.” In 2019, GE hired Joseph Gorczyca, III. In January 2020, he became Murrey’s direct supervisor, and he engaged in continuous sexual harassment in the workplace with Murrey and others. She alleged GE “never properly completed an immediate [n]or appropriate investigation or took any . . . corrective action. Instead, [GE] later informed [her] that Gorczyca was ‘no longer with the company.’” Thereafter, GE “commenced an illegal pattern of retaliatory behavior against Murrey because [she] engage[ed] in protective activity” that included “denying appropriate support for [her] sales position” and refusing to promote her. Eight months after Murrey filed the complaint, GE moved to compel arbitration. GE sent all new hires a “welcome e-mail” to the new hire’s personal e-mail address that contained a link to GE’s electronic onboarding system/portal. Each document was assigned a separate task and the new hire signed employment-related agreements using his or her electronic signature. Based on this process and GE’s other security measures, GE’s lead HR specialist Michelle Thayer concluded Murrey’s electronic signature on an Acknowledgment was made by Murrey that Murrey assented to an included arbitration in the onboarding materials. The trial court granted the motion to compel arbitration, concluding:(1) GE met its burden of showing the arbitration agreement covered Murrey’s claims; (2) all of Murrey’s causes of action arose out of or were connected with her employment; and (3) Murrey met her burden showing procedural unconscionability because it was a contract of adhesion; but (5) Murrey failed to show a sufficient degree of substantive unconscionability to render the agreement unenforceable. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the arbitration agreement in this case contained a high degree of procedural unconscionability. "When we consider the procedural and substantively unconscionable provisions together, they indicate a concerted effort to impose on an employee a forum with distinct advantages for the employer." The Court issued a writ of mandate on the trial court to vacate the order compelling arbitration, and to enter a new order denying the motion. View "Murrey v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and appellant, a contractor, prevailed in an arbitration against its client, the Defendant and Respondent. After finding that Plaintiff was not duly licensed because its responsible managing employee (RME) did not meet the criteria required by law, the trial court granted Defendant's petition to vacate the arbitration award on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded her powers.Plaintiff made two main arguments on appeal. It first contends the trial court misapplied the burden of proof regarding whether Plaintiff was a duly licensed contractor. The Second Appellate District rejected this argument, finding that the trial court correctly determined that Plaintiff had the burden of proof on this issue.Plaintiff also argued the trial court erroneously denied it an evidentiary hearing. In the trial court, however, Plaintiff did not seek an evidentiary hearing. It instead argued that such a hearing was not authorized by law. Therefore, the Second Appellate District held that Plaintiff forfeited the issue on appeal. View "Vascos Excavation Group LLC v. Gold" on Justia Law

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Employer Howard Center appealed a trial court order that confirmed an arbitration award in favor of grievant Daniel Peyser and AFSCME Local 1674. In May 2019, employer expressed concern over grievant’s billing practices, specifically, his submission of billing paperwork in May for services provided in April. Employer told grievant that it was considering disciplining him for “dishonesty and unethical action” concerning the backdated bills. Grievant brought two billing notes from patient records to show that other employees engaged in the same billing practices. Employer did not reprimand grievant for the billing practices. In August 2019, however, employer informed grievant that he breached employer’s confidentiality policy by sharing the billing notes with his union representative at the June meeting. Employer issued a written reprimand to grievant. The reprimand stated that sharing client records without redacting confidential information violated protocols and state and federal regulations, and that grievant knew or should have known of these standards. Employer also explained that it was required to report the breach to state and federal authorities and to those individuals whose records were disclosed. Grievant filed a grievance under the terms of his collective-bargaining agreement, arguing in part that employer lacked just cause to discipline him. In an October 2020 decision, the arbitrator sustained the grievance. Employer then filed an action in the civil division seeking to modify or vacate the arbitrator’s award, arguing in relevant part that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law in sustaining the grievance. Employer asked the Vermont Supreme Court to adopt “manifest disregard” of the law as a basis for setting aside the arbitration award and to conclude that the arbitrator violated that standard here. The Supreme Court did not decide whether to adopt the manifest-disregard standard because, assuming arguendo it applied, employer failed to show that its requirements were satisfied. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Howard Center v. AFSCME Local 1674, et al." on Justia Law

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Smarter Tools Inc. (“STI”) appeals the district court’s judgment denying STI’s petition to vacate an arbitral award and granting Chongqing SENCI Import & Export Trade Co., Ltd.’s and Chongqing AM Pride Power & Machinery Co. Ltd.’s (collectively, “SENCI”) cross-petition to confirm that award. The district court agreed with STI that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by failing to provide a reasoned award as requested by the parties. The district court remanded to allow the arbitrator to issue a reasoned award. On remand, the arbitrator issued a final amended award, which STI again challenged in district court on the grounds that the award was not reasoned and that it reflected a manifest disregard of the law, and which SENCI again cross-petitioned to confirm. The district court denied STI’s petition to vacate the award and granted SENCI’s cross-petition to confirm the award.   STI’s primary argument on appeal is that the district court erred in remanding for the arbitrator to issue a reasoned award, in contravention of the doctrine of functus officio and the Federal Arbitration Act. Absent a finding of ambiguity, or a minor clerical error, STI argues, once the district court determined that the arbitrator exceeded its authority by failing to issue a  reasoned award, the only remedy available was vacatur.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the original award was found not to provide the reasoned award the parties bargained for; in its amended award, the arbitrator clarified the original award by including a rationale for rejecting STI’s counterclaims; and this clarification is consistent with the parties’ intent that the arbitrator issue a reasoned award. View "Smarter Tools Inc. v. Chongqing Senci Import & Export Trade Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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A Bolivian arbitration tribunal awarded $36 million in damages to Compania de Inversiones Mercantiles S.A. (“CIMSA”) against Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua S.A.B. de C.V. (“GCC”). GCC fought the award in the Bolivian courts, losing before a chamber of Bolivia’s highest constitutional court in 2016. In 2019, CIMSA obtained an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado confirming the award. In 2020, GCC convinced a different chamber of Bolivia’s highest constitutional court to invalidate its prior decision, and a Bolivian trial judge subsequently annulled the award. GCC then moved the U.S. district court to vacate the confirmation order. The district court: (1) denied GCC’s motion; and (2) ordered GCC to turn over assets located in Mexico to satisfy the award. GCC brought separate appeals from these two rulings. GCC argued that the district court erred by refusing to vacate the Confirmation Judgment, contending the 2020 Bolivian court orders annulling the Damages Award required vacatur. The Tenth Circuit found when a court has been asked to vacate an order confirming an arbitral award that has later been annulled, it may balance against comity considerations (1) whether the annulment is repugnant to U.S. public policy or (2) whether giving effect to the annulment would undermine U.S. public policy. "Although the district court here may have found the 2020 Bolivian orders were not repugnant, it did not legally err by considering whether giving effect to those orders through vacatur of its Confirmation Judgment would offend U.S. public policy." Because the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to vacate its Confirmation Judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Compania De Inversiones v. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Desert Regional Medical Center, Inc. (DRMC) appealed trial court orders denying DRMC’s first amended petitions to compel nurses Leah Miller, Lynn Fontana, and Renita Romero (Respondents) to arbitrate their labor claims alleging rest and meal break violations by DRMC. DRMC contended the trial court erred by denying its petitions to compel arbitration and failing to stay Respondents’ individual claims until after completion of arbitration of a separate proceeding initiated by Respondents’ union (the California Nurses Association) on behalf of all nurses employed by DRMC in California. DRMC argued the trial court erred in denying DRMC’s petitions to compel arbitration based on a finding DRMC waived the right to arbitrate. DRMC argued the issue of waiver had to be determined by the arbitrator, not the trial court, and, even if the court has jurisdiction to decide waiver, there was insufficient evidence to support its finding of waiver. DRMC further contended Respondents were estopped from arguing waiver because Respondents’ Union was responsible for DRMC’s delay in petitioning to compel arbitration and agreed, in a separate proceeding, to arbitrate the Union’s group grievance. After review, the Court of Appeal rejected DRMC’s contentions and affirmed the order denying DRMC’s amended petitions to compel arbitration and request for a stay. View "Desert Regional Medical Center, Inc. v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Appellant, his law firm, and Amberson Natural Resources (“ANR”) (collectively “Amberson”) moved for rehearing by the Fifth Circuit. Though successful in convincing a majority of the panel that it has authority to consider the argument that a claim was not arbitrable, Amberson then lost on the merits of that argument. Amberson alleged that the Fifth Circuit erred in three ways: (1) it should not have considered the arbitrator’s fact findings in deciding the validity of the state court’s compelling of arbitration; (2) the state court record does not support that all the claims were intertwined; and (3) the appellees’ state court pleadings do not support the court’s finding of alter ego.   The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing. The court explained that Amberson cites no Texas caselaw that the evidence to support the validity of interlocutory orders reviewed on appeal after a final judgment must come only from the part of the record that existed when the orders were entered. Moreover, Amberson’s briefing, though, did not meaningfully dispute the accuracy of the arbitrator’s fact-findings. The arbitrator’s opinion contained the best summary of the facts. Absent any argument that the findings were erroneous, acceptance of the summary was proper and undue deference was not given to the arbitrator as to fact-findings. View "In the Matter of: Jon Amberson" on Justia Law

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Valley Hospital admitted Ann as a resident to recover from hip surgery. Weeks later, Valley discharged Ann to an assisted living facility, where she died five days later. This suit alleges that Ann, unable due to dementia to communicate her needs, lost 40 pounds and became severely dehydrated at Valley, resulting in acute renal failure and that Valley, billing Medicare until her eligibility expired, "dumped" her at a non-medical facility, "misrepresenting to the family and facility that [Ann] was stable and healthy enough” for the transfer.Valley submitted an arbitration agreement that John had signed on Ann’s behalf. The agreement stated that residents were not required to sign as a condition of admission. The court sent the suit to arbitration. The plaintiffs paid their portion of the arbitration filing fee. Valley did not timely pay the balance. More than 30 days after the deadline, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.98, the plaintiffs moved to vacate the stay of litigation and to withdraw from arbitration. Valley paid its fees that day. The court of appeal affirmed an order permitting the resumption of litigation. The statute provides that a business pursuing arbitration under a pre-dispute arbitration agreement is in material breach of that agreement—thereby waiving its right to arbitrate—if it fails to timely pay its share of arbitration fees; it does not require an arbitrator’s determination of default and it is not limited to only to mandatory pre-dispute agreements. View "Williams v. West Coast Hospitals, Inc." on Justia Law

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HyreCar is an intermediary between people who own vehicles and people who would like to drive for services such as Uber and GrubHub. Before leasing a car, HyreCar sends an applicant’s information, including a photograph, to Mitek, which provides identity-verification services. Johnson, a HyreCar driver, brought a putative class action, alleging Mitek used that information without the consent required by the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act. Mitek asked the district court to send the case to arbitration, citing an Arbitration Agreement in Johnson’s contract with HyreCar, applicable to drivers, HyreCar, and “any subsidiaries, affiliates, agents, employees, predecessors in interest, successors, and assigns, as well as all authorized or unauthorized users or beneficiaries of services or goods provided under the Agreement.The district court concluded that suppliers such as Mitek were not covered. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Mitek’s claim that it is a “beneficiary of services or goods provided under the Agreement.” The “services or goods provided under the Agreement” are vehicles. Mitek cannot be classified as a “user” of HyreCar’s services or goods. Mitek has its own contract with HyreCar, but does not have a contract with any HyreCar driver. The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 2 does not change the result. The court noted that claims under the Illinois Act cannot be litigated in federal court unless the plaintiff can show concrete harm. Johnson seeks only statutory damages. Johnson’s claim must be remanded to state court. View "Johnson v. Mitek Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Communications Unlimited Contracting Services, Inc. ("CUI") appealed a circuit court judgment that granted Steve Clanton's motion for a remand for clarification of arbitration award issued by Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. ("JAMS"). Because the awards of money damages for each party were clearly stated and unambiguous in amount and scope, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in remanding the arbitration award to JAMS for clarification. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Communications Unlimited Contracting Services, Inc. v. Clanton." on Justia Law