calwages.com

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

First District Approves of Arbitration Agreement, Despite Presence of Class Waiver and Arbitration of Public Claims

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, Concepcion, Public Claims on March 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm
Car Sales USA

Car Sales USA (Photo credit: emilio labrador)

Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District reversed a trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration.  See Vasquez v. Greene Motors, Inc., et al., Case No. A134829, __ Cal.App.4th __ (1st Dist. Mar. 27, 2013).  The arbitration agreement related to the purchase of a used car on credit from defendants, but the opinion has implications for wage & hour class actions because the agreement contained a class waiver and the requirement to arbitration “public” claims.  Id. at 25-26.

The court found only minimal procedural unconscionability, but an absence of significant substantive unconsionability.  The arbitration clause was printed on the reverse side of a form contract, but the buyer was alerted to the presence of the clause.  The Court described the clause as follows:

The reverse side, also dense with text, contains a number of provisions in separate boxes, many dealing with typical ―boilerplate legal matters, such as warranties, applicable law, and buyer and seller remedies. None of the provisions on the back page requires a buyer‘s signature. Toward the bottom of the page is the arbitration clause. The entire text of the clause is outlined in a black border. In all capital letters and bold type at the top is written, ―ARBITRATION CLAUSE [¶] PLEASE REVIEW— IMPORTANT—AFFECTS YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS. Immediately below, three numbered provisions, also in all capital letters, inform the buyer either party may request arbitration, this would prevent a court or class-wide proceeding, and it might limit discovery. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Class Certification, Rejecting Damages Model

In 23(b)(3) Class, Certification, Class Actions, Class vs. Merits Discovery, Damages, Damages Experts, Experts, Use of Experts to Show Class Damages on March 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm
Comcast Cables

Comcast Cables (Photo credit: dmuth)

In a class action ruling that may impact employers’ attacks on wage & hour class certification motions, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5 to 4 ruling today reversing certification of a proposed antitrust class action.  See Comcast Corp., et al. v. Behrend, et al., No. 11-864, 569 U.S. ___ (Mar. 27, 2013).  Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, concluded that the class was improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(3) because plaintiff’s damages model fell short of establishing that damages can be measured classwide.  The District Court and Third Circuit approved certification of a class of more than 2 million current and former Comcast subscribers who sought damages for alleged violations of the federal antitrust laws.

At the trial court level, plaintiffs proposed four theories of antitrust impact, only one of which–the “overbuilder” theory–the trial court accepted.  To establish damages, plaintiffs relied solely on the testimony of Dr. James McClave, who designed a regression model comparing actual cable prices in one area with hypothetical prices that would have prevailed but for defendant’s allegedly anticompetitive practices.  Dr. McClave acknowledged that the model did not isolate damages resulting from any one theory of antitrust impact.  Id. at 4.

The Supreme Court held that the class was improperly certified.

By refusing to entertain arguments against respondents’ damages model that bore on the propriety of class certification, simply because those arguments would also be pertinent to the merits determination, the Court of Appeals ran afoul of our precedents requiring precisely that inquiry. And it is clear that, under the proper standard for evaluating certification, respondents’ model falls far short of establishing that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis. Without presenting another methodology, respondents cannot show Rule 23(b)(3) predominance: Questions of individual damage  calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.

The Court reasoned that the “model failed to measure damages resulting from the particular antitrust injury on which petitioners’ liability in this action is premised.”  Id. at 8.  Justice Scalia emphasized that “it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, . . . Such an analysis will frequently entail overlap with the merits of the plaintiff ’s underlying claim.” Id. at 6 (internal quotations omitted).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Press Quotes About Analysis of Second District’s Compton Case

In Arbitration on March 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm
California Supreme Court

California Supreme Court (Photo credit: Jamison Wieser)

Law360 published an article today quoting the blog author’s analysis of the Compton v. Superior Court case.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013):

“In both cases, the First and Second districts applied Armendariz and invalidated arbitration agreements for lack of mutuality,” said Charles Jung, a Nassiri & Jung LLP attorney. “At least as far as California courts are concerned, Armendariz is alive and well, and it appears that this is going to continue to be the case until the California Supreme Court overrules it.”

In light of the latest ruling, plaintiffs and their attorneys looking to defeat mandatory arbitration agreements will keep an eagle eye out for any type of one-sidedness, according to Jung.

“The Compton ruling creates an avenue for employees to argue that mandatory agreements are unlawfully one-sided and that under Armendariz, they should be stricken,” he said. “For employers, it suggests the way to make arbitration agreements enforceable is by making them simple and even-handed. Employers can’t have their cake and eat it too.”

“The California Supreme Court really has its work cut out for it,” Jung said. “The challenge for the California Supreme Court is to try to preserve what it can of California’s public policy, yet not fall afoul of and directly contradict or simply ignore the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a very tricky position for the court to be in.”

Second District Reverses Arbitration Order in Wage & Hour Case, Citing Lack of Bilaterality

In Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration, Concepcion on March 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm
BgKahuna squeezes his way inside. Abandoned an...

BgKahuna squeezes his way inside. Abandoned and decaying Ambassador Apartments in Gary, Indiana (Photo credit: slworking2)

Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who filed a putative wage & hour class action complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court.  She was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule.

Concepcion did not discuss the modicum of bilaterality standard adopted by Armendariz, which is not a class action case. And Concepcion did not overrule Armendariz. We both agree with and are therefore bound to follow our Supreme Court and apply Armendariz to this case. (Truly Nolen of America v. Superior Court, supra, 208 Cal.App.4th at p. 507.) Accordingly, we conclude that Concepcion does not apply to invalidate Armendariz’s modicum of bilaterality rule, at least in this context.

Justices and Judge

Justice Laurence D. Rubin wrote the opinion for the Court, with Justice Madeleine I. Flier concurring.  Presiding Justice  Tricia A. Bigelow dissented.  Judge Michael Johnson, Los Angeles Superior Court.

Attorneys

R. Rex Parris Law Firm, R. Rex Parris, Alexander R. Wheeler, Kitty Szeto and John M. Bickford; Lawyers for Justice and Edwin Aiwazian, for Petitioner.

Jackson Lewis, Thomas G. Mackey and Brian D. Fahy for Real Parties in Interest.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

U.S. Supreme Court Rules a Putative Class Action Plaintiff May Not Stipulate Around CAFA Amount in Controversy

In Breaking News, CAFA, Class Actions on March 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm
U.S. Supreme Court building.

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

In a ruling today with substantial implications for wage & hour class actions, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that a putative class representative’s stipulation that he and the class would seek less than $5 million in damages does not defeat federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).  Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles, No. 11-1450, 586 U.S. __ (Mar. 19, 2013).

The question presented concerned a class-action plaintiff who stipulates, prior to certification of the class, that he, and the class he seeks to represent, will not seek damages that exceed $5 million in total. Does that stipulation remove the case from CAFA’s scope?

Justice Breyer writing for the Court concluded no, reasoning that stipulations must be binding, and a “plaintiff who files a proposed class action cannot legally bind members of the proposed class before the class is certified.”

 We do not agree that CAFA forbids the federal court to consider, for purposes of determining the amount in controversy, the very real possibility that a nonbinding, amount-limiting, stipulation may not survive the class certification process. This potential outcome does not result in the creation of a new case not now before the federal court. To hold otherwise would, for CAFA jurisdictional purposes, treat a nonbinding stipulation as if it were binding, exalt form over substance, and run directly counter to CAFA’s primary objective: ensuring “Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance.” §2(b)(2), 119 Stat. 5. It would also have the effect of allowing the subdivision of a $100 million action into 21 just-below-$5-million state-court actions simply by including nonbinding stipulations; such an outcome would squarely conflict with the statute’s objective.

The Court concluded that “the stipulation at issue here can tie Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Enhanced by Zemanta

First District Invalidates Arbitration Agreement Citing Lack of Mutuality

In Arbitration on March 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm
"Mrs. F.S. Bliven in auto". Photo sh...

“Mrs. F.S. Bliven in auto”. Photo shows wife and daughter of Frank S. Bliven in a 1907 Franklin Model D roadster. Frank Bliven was a Washington, D.C. Franklin auto dealer. Discussion of this photo on Shorpy.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The California Court of Appeal struck down an arbitration agreement by a defendant in a putative class action, rejecting an argument that an unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality in an arbitration contract violates Concepcion. Natalini v. Import Motor, Inc., 213 Cal. App. 4th 587 (1st Dist., mod. February 5, 2013).

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion,  563 U.S. –––– , 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), appellant car dealer argued that an “unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality or bilaterality in an arbitration provision is ‘an example of applying a generally applicable contract defense in a manner which disfavors arbitration.'”  The First District declined to read Concepcion so broadly, and noted that:

Recent California and federal district court decisions addressing arbitration provisions very similar to that in the present case and in the identical car purchase context have not read  Concepcion so broadly.  (See  Trompeter v. Ally Financial, Inc. (N.D.Cal., June 1, 2012, No. C–12–00392 CW) 2012 WL 1980894 [p. *8] [nonpub. opn.]  ( Trompeter );   Smith v. Americredit Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.Cal., Mar. 12, 2012, No. 09cv1076 DMS (BLM)) 2012 WL 834784 [pp. *2–*4] ( Smith );   Lau v. Mercedes–Benz USA, LLC (N.D.Cal., Jan. 31, 2012, No. CV 11–1940 MEJ) 2012 WL 370557 [pp. *6–*7] ( Lau );  see also  Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 771, 804, fn. 18, 137 Cal.Rptr.3d 773.)   Read the rest of this entry »