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Ninth Circuit Avoids Broad Ruling, Leaving Question of Viability of Broughton-Cruz to Another Day

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, Concepcion, Public Claims on April 12, 2013 at 11:09 am
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ninth Circuit’s en banc ruling yesterday in Kilgore v.Keybank, N.A. (you can read more here) was a decidedly restrained opinion.  The court could certainly have held, as many expected, that the Broughton-Cruz public injunction exception to the general rule that the “FAA requires state courts to honor arbitration agreements” does not stand in light of Concepcion, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s reaction to state courts taking a narrow read of Concepcion.

But while some reports justifiably see Kilgore as a narrow victory for the plaintiff’s bar, the Ninth Circuit arguably took a narrow read of the public injunction exception.  The court held that the claim for injunctive relief fell outside Broughton-Cruz because the “requested prohibitions against reporting defaults on the Note and seeking enforcement of the Note plainly would benefit only the approximately 120 putative class members.”  Slip op. at 17 (emphasis supplied).

In Kilgore, defendant withdrew from the private school loan business, and accordingly the court concluded that the “injunctive relief sought thus, for all practical purposes, relates only to past harms suffered by the members of the limited putative class.”

The central premise of Broughton-Cruz is that “the judicial forum has significant institutional advantages over arbitration in administering a public injunctive remedy, which as a consequence will likely lead to the diminution or frustration of the public benefit if the remedy is entrusted to arbitrators.” Broughton, 988 P.2d at 78. That concern is absent here, where Defendants’ alleged statutory violations have, by Plaintiffs’ own admission, already ceased, where the class affected by the alleged practices is small, and where there is no real prospective benefit to the public at large from the relief sought.

This suggests an argument for defendants in class action cases where there is a mandatory arbitration agreement: where the company has stopped an alleged unlawful practice, and the proposed private attorney general action affects only the class members, then a defendant might argue that the Broughton-Cruz rule does not apply.  It’s worth noting that 120 putative class members is not an unusually small class in an employment case, and if the Ninth Circuit sees a class of that size as only a “limited putative class”, then it might arguably see many wage and hour cases as affecting only a limited portion of the public.

If this is a victory for the plaintiff’s bar, it is indeed a very narrow one.  And it highlights the importance of the California Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Iskanian.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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  1. […] quoting the blog author’s analysis of the Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc ruling in Kilgore v. KeyBank, N.A.  Kilgore v. Keybank, N.A., No. 09-16703, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013) (en […]

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