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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Class Waiver in Arbitration Agreement

In Arbitration, Class Waiver on June 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm
American Express Co. shipping receipt, New Yor...

American Express Co. shipping receipt, New York City to St. Louis, MO (August 6, 1853) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a five-to-three decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12-133, 570 U.S. __ (June 20, 2013).  At issue was whether a contractual waiver of class arbitration is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) when the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.  The Court held that it was.

“Respondents argue that requiring them to litigate their claims individually—as they contracted to do—would contravene the policies of the antitrust laws. But the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim.”  Slip Op. at 4.

Nor does congressional approval of Rule 23 establish an entitlement to class proceedings for the vindication of statutory rights. . . . One might respond, perhaps, that federal law secures a nonwaivable opportunity to vindicate federal policies by satisfying the procedural strictures of Rule 23 or invoking some other informal class mechanism in arbitration. But we have already rejected that proposition in AT&T Mobility, 563 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9).

Slip Op. at 5.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, also rejected the argument that “Enforcing the waiver of class arbitration bars effective vindication, respondents contend, because they have no economic incentive to pursue their antitrust claims individually in arbitration.”  Id.

[T]he fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy. See 681 F. 3d, at 147 (Jacobs, C. J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc).  The class-action waiver merely limits arbitration to the two contracting parties. It no more eliminates those parties’ right to pursue their statutory remedy than did federal law before its adoption of the class action for legal relief in 1938, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C., p. 864 (1938 ed., Supp V); 7A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1752, p. 18 (3d ed.2005). Or, to put it differently, the individual suit that was considered adequate to assure “effective vindication”of a federal right before adoption of class-action procedures did not suddenly become “ineffective vindication” upon their adoption.

Id. at 7.

By CHARLES JUNG

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Arbitrator’s Finding of Agreement to Class Arbitration

In Arbitrability, Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration on June 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm
U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a ruling today with implications for wage & hour class actions, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed an arbitrator’s interpretation of an arbitration clause to permit class proceedings.  Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, 569 U.S. __ (June 10, 2013).  The Court considered whether an arbitrator, who found that the parties’ contract provided for class arbitration, “exceeded [his] powers” under §10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq.  Delivering the unanimous opinion of the Court and citing Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662, 684 (2010), Justice Kagan concluded that the arbitrator’s decision survives the limited judicial review §10(a)(4) allows.  Slip Op. at 1-2.

The Court decided that Oxford must live with its choice of arbitral forum and the arbitrator’s construction of the contract, “however good, bad, or ugly”:

So long as the arbitrator was “arguably construing” the contract—which this one was—a court may not correct his mistakes under §10(a)(4). Eastern Associated Coal, 531 U. S., at 62 (internal quotation marks omitted). The potential for those mistakes is the price of agreeing to arbitration. As we have held before, we hold again: “It is the arbitrator’s construction [of the contract] which was bargained for; and so far as the arbitrator’s decision concerns construction of the contract, the courts have no business overruling him because their interpretation of the contract is different from his.” Enterprise Wheel, 363 U. S. at 599. The arbitrator’s construction holds, however good, bad, or ugly.

Id. at 8 (emphasis supplied).

In sum, Oxford chose arbitration, and it must now live with that choice. Oxford agreed with Sutter that an arbitrator should determine what their contract meant, including whether its terms approved class arbitration. The arbitrator did what the parties requested: He provided an interpretation of the contract resolving that disputed issue. His interpretation went against Oxford, maybe mistakenly so. But still, Oxford does not get to rerun the matter in a court. Under §10(a)(4), the question for a judge is not whether the arbitrator construed the parties’contract correctly, but whether he construed it at all.Because he did, and therefore did not “exceed his powers,”we cannot give Oxford the relief it wants. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Id. at 8-9.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Sixth District Holds Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable as Applied to PAGA Claims

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, PAGA on June 5, 2013 at 5:23 pm
you are the only exception

you are the only exception (Photo credit: heatherknitz)

In a preview of a question currently before the California Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation of Los Angeles, the Sixth District held that “When applied to the PAGA, a private agreement purporting to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right.”  Brown v. Superior Court (Morgan Tire & Auto, LLC), No. H037271, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (6th Dist. June 4, 2013).

The question presented in this case is whether the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16) (FAA) permits arbitration agreements to override the statutory right to bring representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.) We conclude that the FAA does not demand enforcement of such an agreement. A plaintiff suing for PAGA civil penalties is suing as a proxy for the State. A PAGA claim is necessarily a representative action intended to advance a predominately public purpose. When applied to the PAGA, a private agreement purporting to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right. AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 131 S.Ct. 1740 (Concepcion) does not require otherwise.

Slip Op. at 1-2.

Judges & Attorneys

Associate Justice Eugene M. Premo delivered the opinion for the court, with Presiding Justice Conrad L. Rushing and Associate Justice Franklin D. Elia concurring.

Appeal from Santa Clara County Superior Court, Judge Peter H. Kirwan.

Counsel for Petitioners, Milton Brown and Lee Moncada: Initiative Legal Group, Melissa Grant, Glenn A. Danas, Katherine W. Kehr.

Counsel for Real Parties in Interest, Morgan Tire & Auto: Klatte, Budensiek & Young-Agriesti, E.W. Klatte, III, Summer Young Agriesti;  Heikaus Weaver,  Christopher Michael HeikausWeaver

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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