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California Supreme Court Prohibits Waiver of PAGA Representative Claims

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, PAGA on June 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This morning, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, No. S204032, __ Cal.4th __ (Jun. 23, 2014).

The Court held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Concepcion abrogated Gentry v. Superior Court, 42 Cal. 4th 443 (2007).  The Court decided that class action waivers are enforceable.  But it also held that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.  Id. at *2.

[W]e conclude that the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a means of private dispute resolution does not preclude our Legislature from deputizing employees to prosecute Labor Code violations on the state’s behalf. Therefore, the FAA does not preempt a state law that prohibits waiver of PAGA representative actions in an employment contract.

Id. 

Facts

Plaintiff Iskanian worked as a driver for CLS.  Id. He signed an arbitration agreement providing that “any and all claims” arising out of his employment were to be submitted to binding arbitration.  Id.  The arbitration agreement also contained a class and representative waiver that said:

[E]xcept as otherwise required under applicable law, (1) EMPLOYEE and COMPANY expressly intend and agree that class action and representative action procedures shall not be asserted, nor will they apply, in any arbitration pursuant to this Policy/Agreement; (2) EMPLOYEE and COMPANY agree that each will not assert class action or representative action claims against the other in arbitration or otherwise; and (3) each of EMPLOYEE and COMPANY shall only submit their own, individual claims in arbitration and will not seek to represent the interests of any other person.

Id. at *2-3.  After briefing on the motion to compel arbitration, the California Supreme Court decided the Gentry case, holding that a class action waiver may be unenforceable in some circumstances.  Id. at *5.  In April 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. __ (2011), invalidating the California Supreme Court’s decision in Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal. 4th 148 (2005), which had restricted consumer class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

Holdings

 The Court held that Gentry was preempted by the FAA under the rule in Concepcion.  Iskanian, supra, __ Cal. 4th at *7.

It is thus incorrect to say that the infirmity of Discover Bank was that it did not require a case-specific showing that the class waiver was exculpatory.  Concepcion holds that even if a class waiver is exculpatory in a particular case, it is nonetheless preempted by the FAA.  Under the logic of Concepcion, the FAA preempts Gentry’s rule against employment class waivers.

The Court also distinguished its recent holding in Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno (2013) 57 Cal.4th 1109 (Sonic II), which “established an unconscionability rule that considers whether arbitration is an effective dispute resolution mechanism for wage claimants without regard to any advantage inherent to a procedural device (a Berman hearing) that interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration.”

By contrast, the Gentry rule considers whether individual arbitration is an effective dispute resolution mechanism for employees by direct comparison to the advantages of a procedural device (a class action) that interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration.  Gentry, unlike Sonic II, cannot be squared with Concepcion.

Iskanian, supra, __ Cal. 4th at *10.

PAGA

The Court carved out an exception for PAGA claims:

In sum, the FAA aims to promote arbitration of claims belonging to the private parties to an arbitration agreement.  It does not aim to promote arbitration of claims belonging to a government agency, and that is no less true when such a claim is brought by a statutorily designated proxy for the agency as when the claim is brought by the agency itself.  The fundamental character of the claim as a public enforcement action is the same in both instances.  We conclude that California‘s public policy prohibiting waiver of PAGA claims, whose sole purpose is to vindicate the Labor and Workforce Development Agency‘s interest in enforcing the Labor Code, does not interfere with the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a forum for private dispute resolution.

Id. at *43.

Attorneys

Glenn A. Danas of Capstone Law argued for Plaintiff and Appellant.

David F. Faustman of Fox Rothschild argued for Defendant and Respondent.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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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

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

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

Ninth Circuit Avoids Broad Ruling in Kilgore v. KeyBank

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, Concepcion, Public Claims, Unfair Competition Law on April 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm
Wright brothers flying over the Kohn plantatio...

Wright brothers flying over the Kohn plantation in Montgomery, Alabama, where they set up a flying school. Maxwell Air Force Base was later built on the site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ninth Circuit took a narrow approach in a ruling which had been expected to  have implications for wage & hour class actions.  The en banc court today compelled arbitration in Kilgore v. Keybank, National Association, but declined to issue a broad holding vitiating the Broughton-Cruz rule.  Kilgore v. Keybank, National Association, No. 09-16703, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013) (en banc).  The appeal involved a putative class action by former students of a failed flight-training school who seek broad injunctive relief against the bank that originated their student loans among others.  The en banc court held that the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable under California law and reversed and remanded with instructions to compel arbitration.

The court concluded that the injunctive relief claim at issue fell outside Broughton-Cruz’s “narrow exception to the rule that the FAA requires state courts to honor arbitration agreements.”

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.

You can read more about today’s ruling here.

Attorneys Read the rest of this entry »

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 »