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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

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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

First District Dismisses Appeal of Trial Court Order That Did Not Compel Arbitration of PAGA Claims

In Arbitration, Class Actions, Class-wide Arbitration, Concepcion, PAGA on February 16, 2012 at 6:57 am
Macy's at Westfield Horton Plaza in San Diego,...

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The Court of Appeal for the First District granted plaintiff’s motion to dismiss an appeal, where the employer appellant sought review of a trial court order that did not compel an employee to arbitrate her PAGA claims.  Reyes v. Macy’s, Inc., No. A133411, 202 Cal.App.4th 1119 (1st Dist. Dec. 21, 2011).  The court held that the portion of the trial court’s order that failed to compel employee to arbitrate her class claims and PAGA claims was not immediately appealable; and plaintiff’s PAGA claim was not an individual claim and thus was not within the scope of arbitration request.  Id. (holding that the order granting Defendant’s own motion to compel arbitration of the individual claims “is not appealable, and the remainder of the order denying the motion to dismiss representative [PAGA] claims is not a final judgment and, therefore, also is not appealable . . . .”).

Background

Plaintiff and respondent Reyes brought action against her employer Macy’s, alleging numerous class action labor code violations and a cause of action under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”), as well as individual claims for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  Id.

In the trial court, Macy’s filed a “motion to compel arbitration on an individual basis, dismiss class allegations, and stay civil action,” asking the court to enforce the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, compel the plaintiff to arbitrate individual claims, dismiss class/representative claims and, if the motion were granted, stay the proceedings until arbitration is completed.  Id.  San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Walter Woolard held that:

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Second District Compels Arbitration of Individual’s Overtime Claims Even Where Arbitration Agreement Included Unenforceable Class Arbitration Waiver

In Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration on October 4, 2010 at 8:55 am
Settlement by Arbitration (383/2 BC)
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The Second District compelled a class action plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claims in Maiorano v. Professional Community Management, Inc., No. B220127, 2010 WL 3786721 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Defendant, Professional Community Management, Inc., appealed from an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of a putative class action filed by plaintiff, Ray A. Maiorano.  Id. *1.  The Second District held that “based solely on the parties’ agreement, we conclude they cannot be compelled to arbitrate on a class basis”, but it directed the trial court to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s individual claims. Id. The court reasoned that the “presence of a provision limiting arbitration to individual rather than joined or representative claims did not present a basis upon which the trial court could conclude the present arbitration agreement was permeated by an unlawful purpose.”  Id. *4.

Background

Plaintiff brought a class action complaint alleging violations of statutory meal and rest breaks, wage reporting and overtime requirements, and unlawful and unfair business practices.  Id. *2.  Plaintiff also asserted a cause of action for penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004–Labor Code sections 2698 and 2699.  Id. Defendant filed a petition to compel arbitration. The trial court denied defendant’s petition, ruling that: Read the rest of this entry »

Eastern District Finds Class-Wide Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

In Arbitration, Class-wide Arbitration on September 27, 2010 at 5:20 am
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United States District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected defendant’s argument that Stolt-Nielson preempted Gentry, and the court held that a class-wide arbitration agreement was unenforceable as against an unpaid wage and overtime plaintiff.  Mathias v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civ. No. S-10-1476 LKK/KJM, 2010 WL 3715059 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Ryan Mathias (“Mathias” or “plaintiff”) was employed by Rent-A-Center, Inc. (“RAC” or “defendant”) as an Assistant Manager, a position that was classified as a non-exempt or hourly position. Id. *1. As a condition of employment, plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement (“Agreement”), which Agreement contained a class action waiver and excluded arbitration private attorney general actions.  Id. Plaintiff filed a class action alleging eight claims arising from his employment with defendant, including claims for unpaid wages and overtime, unpaid rest and meal period premiums, and penalties arising from non-compliant wage statements under the California Labor Code and California Business and Professions Code. Id. Read the rest of this entry »