Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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When a toxic disaster hits, claimants could seek relief in the form of assistance from the New Jersey Spill Fund by following promulgated claims procedures. In order to resolve disputes over denied Fund monies quickly and fairly, the Fund uses arbitrators and flexible procedures to allow claimants the opportunity to demonstrate that the denial constituted arbitrary and capricious action. Petitioner, US Masters Residential Property (USA) Fund, submitted a claim for Spill Fund monies for its multi-lot property located in Bayonne that was affected by storm floodwaters, which allegedly carried petroleum-based toxins. Neighboring properties also affected by the storm’s toxin-laden floodwaters were afforded Spill Fund relief. Following some back and forth with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), petitioner’s claim was denied. After petitioner filed an appeal, two years elapsed between the request for arbitration and the commencement of the arbitration proceeding. The results of the arbitration ended in favor of the Spill Fund, and payment remained denied. The New Jersey Supreme Court expressed "concerns" about the arbitration. "Although we are mindful of the deferential standard of review, flaws in the substantive reasoning of the arbitration decision as well as procedural fairness considerations undermine confidence in the outcome of this arbitration enough to persuade us, in the interest of fairness, to require that a new arbitration be conducted. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this claim for a new proceeding." View "US Masters Residential Property (USA) Fund v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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At issue were claims of fraudulent sales practices by two car dealerships that allegedly induced consumers to enter into agreements for the purchase of cars. The question presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review was whether plaintiffs could avoid being compelled to arbitrate those claims. Plaintiffs challenged the formation and validity of their sales agreements on the bases that the dealerships’ fraudulent practices and misrepresentations induced them to sign the transactional documents and that the agreements were invalid due to violations of statutory consumer fraud requirements. As part of the overall set of documents, plaintiffs signed arbitration agreements. Those agreements contained straightforward and conspicuous language that broadly delegated arbitrability issues. Each trial court determined the arbitration agreements to be enforceable and entered orders compelling plaintiffs to litigate their various claims challenging the overall validity of the sales contracts in the arbitral forum. The Appellate Division reversed those orders. The Supreme Court reversed: “the trial courts’ resolution of these matters was correct and consistent with clear rulings from the United States Supreme Court that bind state and federal courts on how challenges such as plaintiffs’ should proceed. Those rulings do not permit threshold issues about overall contract validity to be resolved by the courts when the arbitration agreement itself is not specifically challenged. Here, plaintiffs attack the sales contracts in their entirety, not the language or clarity of the agreements to arbitrate or the broad delegation clauses contained in those signed arbitration agreements.” View "Goffe v. Foulke Management Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amanda Kernahan purchased a “home service agreement” from defendants Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, Inc., and Choice Home Warranty. When she became dissatisfied, she filed a complaint in Superior Court seeking statutory and common law relief. Plaintiff claimed that the agreement misrepresented its length of coverage and that the deceptively labelled “MEDIATION” section of the agreement failed to inform her that she was waiving her right to a jury trial and would be deterred from seeking the additional remedies of treble damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice in favor of arbitration, citing the "mediation" provision. The trial court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the arbitration provision was unenforceable. The court found the provision both ambiguous and noncompliant with Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430 (2014), “in either its form or its function.” The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for reconsideration, rejecting defendants’ argument that language stating that all claims will be resolved “exclusively” by arbitration would or should have adequately informed plaintiff that she is waiving her right to proceed in court, as opposed to use of other available dispute resolution processes. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s refusal to dismiss the complaint, and the New Jersey Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Kernahan v. Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, Inc." on Justia Law

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In November 2008, following the collapse of the housing market, the New Jersey Supreme Court implemented a statewide Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program to address the economic crisis that left many facing the loss of their homes. After defaulting on her home loan with plaintiff GMAC Mortgage, LLC, defendant TamiLynn Willoughby entered into the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The mediation process led to an agreement between GMAC and Willoughby that gave Willoughby a path to save her home through a permanent modification of the loan. The agreement, executed in 2010, set forth the required down payment and monthly payments, the unpaid principal balance, the amount in arrears, and the length and interest rate of the loan. Willoughby complied with that agreement, paying the down payment and each monthly installment for one year. Then, GMAC began sending Willoughby proposals differing from the 2010 agreement, which GMAC claimed was provisional. Willoughby moved to enforce the 2010 settlement agreement, but instead the chancery court ordered additional mediation sessions. Willoughby never accepted in writing any of GMAC s proposals to modify the original agreement. Protracted litigation ensued. Willoughby's efforts to enforce the 2010 settlement agreement proved fruitless, and GMAC s foreclosure action ended with a Sheriff's sale of Willoughby's home. Willoughby was denied relief by the chancery court, which held that the 2010 mediation agreement was provisional and not enforceable as a final settlement agreement. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, concluding Willoughby and GMAC entered into an enforceable settlement agreement through the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The case was remanded to the chancery court to consider an appropriate remedy. View "GMAC Mortgage, LLC v. TamiLynn Willoughby" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Emelia Jackson and Tahisha Roach purchased used cars from BM Motoring, LLC, and Federal Auto Brokers, Inc., doing business as BM Motor Cars (collectively, BM). As part of the transaction, each plaintiff signed an identical DRA, which required resolution of disputes through an arbitration in accordance with the rules of the AAA before a retired judge or an attorney. Two months later, Jackson filed a demand for arbitration against BM with the AAA, asserting a claim under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) for treble damages and other relief based on overcharges and misrepresentations by BM. Despite repeated requests by the AAA, BM did not advance the filing fees that the DRA obligated it to pay, or otherwise respond to the claim. The AAA dismissed Jackson’s arbitration claim for non-payment of fees. Six months after her vehicle purchase, Roach filed a complaint in the Superior Court against BM, and similarly, received no response from BM in response to the arbitration demand. Plaintiffs then filed this action against defendants, who moved to dismiss the complaint in favor of arbitration. Defendants contended that they did not contemplate using the AAA as the forum for arbitration, and consistently had not arbitrated customer disputes before the AAA, because of the excessive filing and administrative fees that the AAA charged. In opposition to the motion, plaintiffs asserted that defendants materially breached the DRA by failing to advance filing and arbitration fees, and waived their right to arbitration. Defendants contended that they neither breached the DRA nor waived arbitration because the AAA was not the appropriate arbitral forum. The trial court found that the parties intended to resolve disputes by arbitration. The court ordered the parties to attempt to reinstate plaintiffs’ claims with the AAA; if the AAA refused to administer the claim, plaintiffs could reinstate their complaint. The AAA reinstated the arbitration, and the court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, finding that there was a sufficient factual dispute as to the proper forum for arbitration that defendants conduct did not constitute a material breach of the DRA, nor did they voluntarily and intentionally waive their right to enforce the DRA. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, finding defendants’ non-payment of filing and arbitration fees amounted to a material breach of the DRA. Defendants were therefore precluded from enforcing the arbitration provision, and the case proceeded in the courts. View "Roach v. BM Motoring, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Glenn Ciripompa was a tenured high school math teacher in the Bound Brook School District. Defendant's behavior came under the scrutiny of the Bound Brook Board of Education (Board) after the Board received copies of student Twitter posts alleging "Mr. C" was electronically transmitting nude photographs. An investigation uncovered defendant's pervasive misuse of his District-issued laptop and iPad, as well as evidence of inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, often in the presence of students. The results of the investigation spurred the Board to seek defendant's termination from his tenured position and served as the substantive allegations of the two-count tenure complaint against defendant. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority by applying the standard for proving a hostile-work-environment, sexual-harassment claim in a law against discrimination (LAD) case to a claim of unbecoming conduct in the teacher disciplinary hearing. After review, the Supreme Court found that the arbitrator impermissibly converted the second charge of unbecoming conduct into one of sexual harassment. The arbitrator's review was not consonant with the matter submitted; rather, he imperfectly executed his powers as well as exceeded his authority by failing to decide whether Count II stated a successful claim of unbecoming conduct in support of termination. The arbitrator's award was therefore ruled invalid. View "Bound Brook Bd. of Edu. v. Ciripompa" on Justia Law

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In May 2013, plaintiffs Annemarie Morgan and Tiffany Dever filed suit against defendants Sanford Brown Institute, its parent company, Career Education Corporation, and Sanford Brown's chief executive officer, admission and financial aid officers, and clinical director. Sanford Brown was a private, for-profit educational institution with a campus in Trevose, Pennsylvania, that offered medical-related training programs. In the complaint, plaintiffs claimed that defendants misrepresented the value of the school's ultrasound technician program and the quality of its instructors, instructed students on outdated equipment and with inadequate teaching materials, provided insufficient career-service counseling, and conveyed inaccurate information about Sanford Brown's accreditation status. The complaint further alleged that Sanford Brown employed high-pressure and deceptive business tactics that resulted in plaintiffs financing their education with high-interest loans, passing up the study of ultrasound at a reputable college, and losing career advancement opportunities. The Sanford Brown enrollment agreement included payment terms for tuition and fees, disclaimers, and an arbitration provision. Without answering the complaint, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. The Appellate Division found the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed an arbitrator would determine issues of arbitrability and that plaintiffs failed to specifically attack the delegation clause. The panel therefore determined that arbitrability [was] for the arbitrator to decide. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division and trial court did not have the benefit of "Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp.," (219 N.J. 430, 436 (2014), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2804, 192 L. Ed.2d 847 (2015)) at the time they rendered their decisions. The New Jersey Court held in "Atalese" that an arbitration provision in a consumer contract that fails to explain in some minimal way that arbitration is a substitute for a consumer s right to pursue relief in a court of law was unenforceable. This case was therefore remanded for further proceedings in light of Atalese. View "Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute" on Justia Law