Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Plaintiff, a Russian citizen who resides in Russia, filed a civil RICO suit against Defendant Russian citizen who resides in California, and eleven other defendants. After securing a foreign arbitration award against Defendant. Plaintiff obtained a judgment from a United States district court confirming the award and giving Plaintiff the rights to execute that judgment in California and to pursue discovery. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants engaged in illegal activity, in violation of RICO, to thwart the execution of that California judgment.   Consistent with the Second and Third Circuits, but disagreeing with the Seventh Circuit’s residency-based test for domestic injuries involving intangible property, the court held that the alleged injuries to a judgment obtained by Plaintiff from a United States district court in California were domestic injuries to property such that Plaintiff had statutory standing under RICO. The court concluded that, for purposes of standing under RICO, the California judgment existed as property in California because the rights that it provided to Plaintiff existed only in California. In addition, much of the conduct underlying the alleged injury occurred in or was targeted at California. View "VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to federal defendants in a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) action brought by Inter-Cooperative Exchange (“ICE”), a cooperative of fishers who harvest and deliver crab off the coast of Alaska, seeking the government’s communications concerning the government’s decision not to factor Alaska’s minimum wage increase into the arbitration system that sets the price of crab.   The North Pacific Fishery Management Council manages fisheries off the coast of Alaska. In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) implemented a program recommended by the Council to allocate crab resources among harvesters, processors, and coastal communities. Alaska increased the minimum wage, which raised the question of whether costs should be considered under the arbitration system. The Council reviewed the matter at a 2017 meeting where an Assistant Regional Administrator of NMFS and a voting member of the Council, introduced an unsuccessful motion to include costs for consideration in the arbitration system.   The court held that on the facts here, the three search terms were not reasonably calculated to uncover all documents relevant to ICE’s request. ICE contended that the government’s choice of search terms was unduly narrow and not reasonably calculated to uncover all documents relevant to its FOIA request. The court held that the government’s choice of search terms was overly narrow. View "INTER-COOPERATIVE EXCHANGE V. USDOC" on Justia Law

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The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs used the defendants’ websites but did not see a notice stating, “I understand and agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes mandatory arbitration.” When a dispute arose, defendants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that plaintiffs’ use of the website signified their agreement to the mandatory arbitration provision found in the hyperlinked terms.The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating through the websites. As a result, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate their dispute, as required under the Federal Arbitration Act. The panel explained that the courts have routinely enforced “clickwrap” agreements, which present users with specified contractual terms on a pop-up screen requiring users to check a box explicitly stating “I agree” to proceed. However, courts are more reluctant to enforce browsewrap agreements, which provides notice only after users click a hyperlink.Finally, the panel held that the district court properly exercised its discretion in denying the defendants’ motion for reconsideration based on deposition testimony taken two months prior to the district court’s ruling on the motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating the website. Thus, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate. The court affirmed the district court’s order denying the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration. View "DANIEL BERMAN V. FREEDOM FINANCIAL NETWORK LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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In a putative class action by Domino’s drivers, asserting violations of various California labor laws, the district court denied a motion to compel arbitration based on its finding that the drivers were a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” and were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), notwithstanding their contracts with Domino’s, which provided claims between the parties be submitted to arbitration under the FAA. The exemption applies if the class of workers is engaged in a “single, unbroken stream of interstate commerce” that renders interstate commerce a “central part” of their job description.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Domino’s argument that the drivers who delivered goods to individual Domino’s franchisees in California were not engaged in interstate commerce because the franchisees, all located in California, placed orders with the supply center in the state, and the goods delivered were not in the same form in which they arrived at the supply center. Domino’s was directly involved in the procurement and delivery of interstate goods, was involved in the process from the beginning to the ultimate delivery of the goods, and its business included not just the selling of goods, but also the delivery of those goods. The transportation of interstate goods on the final leg of their journey by the Domino’s drivers satisfied the requirements of the residual clause. View "Carmona v. Domino's Pizza, LLC" on Justia Law

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Elkhorn is a farm labor contractor for a California-based vegetable grower. As part of Elkhorn’s orientation for incoming employees, Martinez-Gonzalez signed employment paperwork that included arbitration agreements. The district court held that the arbitration agreements resulted from undue influence and economic duress and were invalid and unenforceable.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for determination of whether Martinez-Gonzalez’s allegation of federal and state labor and wage law violations fell within the scope of the arbitration agreements. Under California law, the doctrine of economic duress did not render the arbitration agreements unenforceable because Elkhorn did not commit a wrongful act and reasonable alternatives were available to Martinez-Gonzalez. Martinez-Gonzalez made the journey from Mexico to California, where he was dependent on Elkhorn housing and had already started work but, while “not ideal,” those circumstances did not constitute a “wrongful act” under California law. No one at Elkhorn told Martinez-Gonzalez that refusing to sign the agreements was a cause for termination. It was clearly erroneous for the district court to conclude that MartinezGonzalez lacked a reasonable alternative. The timing and place of the orientation did not show that Martinez-Gonzalez’s will was overborne; the lack of time to consult with attorneys or read the agreements did not improperly induce his signatures. Elkhorn’s representatives’ instructions to sign the agreements quickly were not insistent demands. View "Martinez-Gonzalez v. Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs obtained short-term, high-interest loans from lenders owned by the Tribes. The standard loan contracts contained an agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising under the contract and a delegation provision requiring an arbitrator—not a court—to decide “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of [the loan] agreement or [arbitration agreement].” The contracts stated that they were governed by tribal law and that an arbitrator must apply tribal law. Plaintiffs filed class-action RICO complaints against the Tribal Lenders. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that the arbitration agreement as a whole in each contract was unenforceable because it prospectively waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue federal statutory claims by requiring arbitrators to apply tribal law.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Rather than asking first whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable as a whole, the court must consider first the enforceability of the delegation provision specifically. The delegation provision was enforceable because it did not preclude plaintiffs from arguing to an arbitrator that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the prospective-waiver doctrine. The general enforceability issue must, therefore, be decided by an arbitrator. The choice-of-law provisions were not to the contrary because they did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing their prospective-waiver enforcement challenge in arbitration. View "Brice v. Plain Green, LLC" on Justia Law