Arbitration

Posted On: June 24, 2013 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–American Express v. Italian Colors: United States Supreme Court Reverses Second Circuit Refusal To Enforce Class Action Waiver Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)

Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compels Enforcement of Class Action Waiver in Contract Even if Cost of Pursuing Federal Claim will be Prohibitively Expensive to Arbitrate U.S. Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs – a group of merchants who accept American Express cards – filed a putative class action against American Express alleging of the Sherman Act and seeking treble damages under the Clayton Act; the class action complaint alleged that American Express violated federal antitrust laws by “us[ing] its monopoly power in the market for charge cards to force merchants to accept credit cards at rates approximately 30% higher than the fees for competing credit cards.” American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, __ U.S. __, __ S.Ct. __, 2013 WL 3064410, *1-2 (June 20, 2013). Plaintiffs’ contract with American Express “contains a clause that requires all disputes between the parties to be resolved by arbitration” and further provides that “[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” Id., at *1 (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 667 F. 3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2012)). Accordingly, American Express moved under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to compel arbitration of Plaintiffs’ individual claims, id., at *2. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal of their class action complaint, submitting an expert witness declaration that estimated the cost of proving Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims could “exceed $1 million,” while the maximum recovery for any individual plaintiff would be less than $40,000. Id. The district court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument, granted the motion to compel arbitration of the individual claims and dismissed the class action complaint. Id. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that because pursuit of Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims would be prohibitively expensive if pursued individually, the class action waiver was unenforceable. Id. (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 554 F. 3d 300, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2009)). The Supreme Court reversed.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–American Express v. Italian Colors: United States Supreme Court Reverses Second Circuit Refusal To Enforce Class Action Waiver Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)" »

Posted On: November 28, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–KPMG v. Cocchi: Supreme Court Reiterates Requirement That State Courts Follow Concepcion And Enforce Arbitration Agreements Under The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)

State Courts Erred in Denying Defense Motion to Compel Arbitration Under FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) because They Failed to Consider Whether Any Claims were Subject to Arbitration

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Florida state court against various defendants, including KPMG LLP, for damages suffered as a result of investments made with Bernard Madoff; the class action named the investment funds, the entity that managed the funds, and KPMG as auditor. KPMG LLP v. Cocchi, 565 U.S. ___ (November 7, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. With respect to KPMG, the class action alleged negligent misrepresentation, professional malpractice, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). Id., at 2. KPMG moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) on the grounds that the audit services agreement between it and the funds’ management company contained an arbitration clause. Id. The trial court denied the motion, and the state appellate court affirmed on the ground that “‘[n]one of the plaintiffs…expressly assented in any fashion to [the audit services agreement] or the arbitration provision.’” Id., at 2-3 (citation omitted). However, the state courts apparently found it sufficient to conclude that neither the FDUTPA claim nor the negligent misrepresentation claim were subject to arbitration, without analyzing whether the professional malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty claim were subject to arbitration. Id., at 3. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

Despite its April 27, 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011), some state courts have continued to find “creative” ways to avoid its mandate. “The Federal Arbitration Act reflects an ‘emphatic federal policy in favor of arbitral dispute resolution.’” KPMG, at 3 (citations omitted, italics added). “Agreements to arbitrate that fall within the scope and coverage of the [FAA]…must be enforced in state and federal courts.” Id., at 1 (italics added). Thus, “State courts…‘have a prominent role to play as enforcers of agreements to arbitrate.’” Id. (citation omitted). And because the FAA “has been interpreted to require that if a dispute presents multiple claims, some arbitrable and some not, the former must be sent to arbitration even if this will lead to piecemeal litigation,” id. (citation omitted), “[a] court may not issue a blanket refusal to compel arbitration merely on the grounds that some of the claims could be resolved by the court without arbitration,” id. (citation omitted).

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–KPMG v. Cocchi: Supreme Court Reiterates Requirement That State Courts Follow Concepcion And Enforce Arbitration Agreements Under The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) " »

Posted On: October 6, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility: Federal Court Grants Motion To Compel Arbitration Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Following Concepcion

Supreme Court Decision in Concepcion Compelled Granting AT&T’s Motion to Compel Arbitration of Individual Claims because FAA Preempts California Laws Barring Class Action Arbitration Waivers

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against cellular telephone service provider, AT&T Mobility, alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and breach of contract. Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 4381748 (N.D.Cal. September 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff renewed his cell service with AT&T based on the company’s representations that it had the “fewest dropped calls.” Id., at 2. Because he alleges that this representation was false, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. AT&T moved to compel arbitration and to dismiss the class claims on the grounds that the service contract included an arbitration clause with a class action waiver. Id. In April 2008, the district court denied AT&T’s motion finding the class action waiver unconscionable under Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). Id., at 2-3. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to have his lawsuit certified as a class action; the district court delayed ruling on the motion pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011). Id., at 1. Based on Concepcion, the federal court denied plaintiff’s motion and ordered his claims to be arbitrated on an individual basis. Id., at 1-2.

After providing a general discussion of the FAA and Concepcion, the district court noted Concepcion’s holding that “California’s Discover Bank rule is preempted by the FAA.” Kaltwasser, at 5 (quoting Concepcion, at 1753). Plaintiff, however, argued that Concepcion did not require reconsideration of the district court’s prior order denying AT&T’ s motion to compel arbitration because (1) “Concepcion left intact a vindication-of-rights doctrine under federal common law” permitting him to avoid arbitration “if he can show that the costs involved in proving his claims exceed the damages he can potentially recover”; (2) “Concepcion did not affect public policy principles of contract law” which hold that “‘a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement’”; and (3) AT&T waived its right to arbitration. Id., at 5-6. The district court disagreed.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility: Federal Court Grants Motion To Compel Arbitration Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Following Concepcion" »

Posted On: April 28, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Class Action Defense Cases–AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: U.S. Supreme Court Reverses California’s Discover Bank Rule And Holds Class Action Waivers Valid And Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements

Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements are Valid under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and California’s Discover Bank Rule, Which Found Such Waivers Unenforceable as Unconscionable Under State Law, is Preempted by the FAA Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California federal court against AT&T Mobility, with whom they had cellular telephone service, alleging “false advertising and fraud by charging sales tax on phones it advertised as free.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, ___ U.S. ___ (April 27, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2-3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs purchased cellular telephone service from AT&T based on an advertisement for “free phones” because, even though they were not charged for the telephones, “they were charged $30.22 in sales tax based on the phones’ retail value.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration, id., at 3. The cellular telephone service contract required arbitration of disputes between the parties and included a class action waiver, providing that claims must be brought in a “individual capacity, and not as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class or representative proceeding.” Id., at 1. Plaintiffs opposed arbitration on the grounds that the class action waiver was unconscionable under California law. Id., at 3. Despite viewing the arbitration agreement “favorably,” the district court denied AT&T’s motion to compel arbitration because the class action waiver rendered the arbitration clause unconscionable under California law based on Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). Id. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that “the Discover Bank rule was not preempted by the FAA because that rule was simply a ‘refinement of the unconscionability analysis applicable to contracts generally in California.’” Id., at 3-4 (citing Laster v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 584 F.3d 849, 857 (9th Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

The service agreement was consumer-friendly: It provided that a customer could initiate a dispute by filling out a one-page form available online, and if not resolved to the customer’s satisfaction within 30 days, the customer could initiate arbitration by filling out another form available online. If a customer commenced arbitration proceedings, the arbitration would be held “in the county in which the customer is billed” and AT&T was required to “pay all costs for nonfrivolous claims.” AT&T Mobility, at 2. (The customer could also elect to proceed in small claims court. Id.) Moreover, if the amount in dispute was less than $10,000, then the customer could elect whether the arbitration should be conducted “in person, by telephone, or based only on submissions.” Id. Additionally, “the arbitrator may award any form of individual relief, including injunctions and presumably punitive damages.” Id. AT&T was prohibited from seeking reimbursement of its attorney fees, and “in the event that a customer receives an arbitration award greater than AT&T’s last written settlement offer,” then the service agreement “requires AT&T to pay a $7,500 minimum recovery and twice the amount of the claimant’s attorney’s fees.” Id. (footnote omitted). Yet despite what appears to have been every effort to craft an arbitration clause favorable to its customer, albeit prohibiting class actions, the lower courts found the arbitration clause unconscionable and unenforceable under the Discover Bank rule. The Supreme Court reversed.

Continue reading "Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Class Action Defense Cases–AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: U.S. Supreme Court Reverses California’s Discover Bank Rule And Holds Class Action Waivers Valid And Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements" »

Posted On: July 7, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Puleo v. Chase Bank: Third Circuit Court Affirms District Court Order Compelling Arbitration Of Individual Claims Based On Class Action Waiver In Arbitration Clause

Unconscionability Challenge to Class Action Waiver in Cardmember Agreement Governing Credit Card was Properly Determined by District Court, not Arbitrator, so District Court did not Err in Granting Bank’s Motion in Putative Class Action to Compel Plaintiffs to Arbitrate Individual Claims Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Chase Bank alleging that the Bank improperly increased the interest rates on their credit card account balances, and that it did so retroactively. Puleo v. Chase Bank USA, N.A., ___ F.3d ___ (3d Cir. May 10, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1, 4]. The class action was filed in Pennsylvania state court, but removed to federal court on grounds on diversity. Id., at 6-7. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, the Bank retroactively increased the interest rate on one plaintiff’s account from 4.99% to 29.99%, and on another plaintiff’s account from 14.74% to 25.99%. Id., at 4. Defense attorneys argued that the terms of the Cardmember Agreements permitted the challenged interest rate increases, and that the interest rate increases did not violate state or federal laws. Id. However, the propriety of the increases is not relevant to the appeal. Rather, the appeal focused on the arbitration clause in the Cardmember Agreement, which prohibits class actions. Id., at 3. Plaintiffs filed the putative class action in state court, and Chase removed the action to federal court and moved the district court to compel plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims on an individual basis because of the class action waiver in the Cardmember Agreement, id. Plaintiffs countered that the class action waiver was unconscionable, and that the question of its enforceability should be decided by the arbitrator instead of the court. Id. The district court disagreed, “concluding, first, that [plaintiffs’] challenge to the enforceability of the class action waiver was a question of arbitrability for the court to decide, and, second, that the entirety of the Arbitration Agreement was enforceable.” Id. On appeal, plaintiffs argued only that the district court erred in ruling on the issue of the unconscionability of the class action waiver, id. In a 6-4 decision, the Third Circuit concluded that the district court properly determined the enforceability of the class action arbitration wavier and affirmed. Id.

The Cardmember Agreement required credit card account customers to arbitrate any disputes with Chase on an individual basis. Puleo, at 5-6 (see NOTE, below). “Despite the express ban on class actions, [plaintiffs] initially brought this case as a putative class action in Pennsylvania state court on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated Chase credit card holders in Pennsylvania.” Id., at 6 (footnote omitted). As noted above, defense attorneys removed the putative class action to federal court, and the district court granted a defense motion to compel plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims on an individual basis, upholding the enforceability of the class action waiver. Id., at 7-8. The Third Circuit began its analysis by noting that “Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act (‘FAA’) ‘to reverse the longstanding judicial hostility to arbitration agreements . . . and to place arbitration agreements upon the same footing as other contracts.’” Id., at 9 (citations omitted). And with respect to the specific issue presented by the appeal, the Circuit Court noted that Supreme Court authority holds that “[t]he question whether the parties have submitted a particular dispute to arbitration, i.e., the question of arbitrability, is an issue for judicial determination unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise.” Id., at 9-10 (citation omitted).

Continue reading "Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Puleo v. Chase Bank: Third Circuit Court Affirms District Court Order Compelling Arbitration Of Individual Claims Based On Class Action Waiver In Arbitration Clause" »

Posted On: May 10, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Arbitration Defense Cases–Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds: Supreme Court Holds Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Requires Agreement To Arbitrate Claims Brought As Class Action

Party to Arbitration Clause Governed b y FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) may not be Compelled to Arbitrate Class Action Claims where Arbitration Clause is Silent on Class Action Arbitration Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiff AnimalFeeds is a company that “supplies raw ingredients, such as fish oil, to animal-feed producers around the world”; “AnimalFeeds ships its goods pursuant to a standard contract known in the maritime trade as a charter party.” Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., ___ U.S. ___ (April 27, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defendants are various “shipping companies that serve a large share of the world market for parcel tankers—seagoing vessels with compartments that are separately chartered to customers wishing to ship liquids in small quantities.” Id. The charterers – like plaintiff – “typically select the particular charter party that governs their shipments”-- not the shipowners. Id., at 2. And the contracts here at issue contained an arbitration clause that was silent as to the availability of class action relief in any arbitration, id. After a Department of Justice criminal investigation uncovered an illegal price-fixing conspiracy among the defendants, plaintiff filed a class action complaint in federal district court alleging antitrust violations. Id., at 2-3. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation eventually consolidated the class action with similar class action lawsuits brought by other charterers. Id., at 3. The parties agreed that plaintiff must arbitrate the antitrust dispute, and plaintiff served defendants with a demand for class action arbitration in New York. Id. Defendants argued that class action relief was unavailable under the arbitration clause because “[a]ll the parties agree that when a contract is silent on an issue there’s been no agreement that has been reached on that issue”; the parties agreed to submit the question of class arbitration to a panel of three arbitrators. Id., at 3-4. The arbitrators disagreed and concluded that class action relief could be had under the arbitration clause. Id., at 4. Defendants moved the district court to vacate the arbitrators’ award; the district court agreed with defendants that the arbitrators’ decision constituted a “manifest disregard” of federal maritime law and accordingly vacated the award. Id., at 4-5. The Second Circuit reversed on the ground that “because [defendants] had cited no authority applying a federal maritime rule of custom and usage against class arbitration, the arbitrators’ decision was not in manifest disregard of federal maritime law.” Id., at 5. The Supreme Court granted certiorari “to decide whether imposing class arbitration on parties whose arbitration clauses are ‘silent’ on that issue is consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq.” Id., at 1. The High Court reversed.

Continue reading "Class Action Arbitration Defense Cases–Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds: Supreme Court Holds Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Requires Agreement To Arbitrate Claims Brought As Class Action" »

Posted On: March 30, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Jones v. DirecTV: Georgia Federal Court Denies Motion To Compel Arbitration Holding Class Action Waiver In Arbitration Clause Rendered It Unconscionable

Class Action Challenging Monthly Fees Imposed by Satellite TV Provider not Subject to Arbitration on Individual Basis because Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Provision was Unenforceable Georgia Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in a Georgia federal court against his satellite television provider, DirecTV, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and seeking an accounting as well as injunctive and declaratory; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that DirecTV “collect[ed] excessive ‘tax’ charges and improperly billed lease fees” in connection with the satellite television service, and sought to prohibit it from collecting or billing customers “for taxes in excess of those actually due and owing.” Jones v. DirecTV, Inc., 667 F.Supp.2d 1379, 1380-81 (N.D.Ga. 2009). As part of the service, plaintiff signed a written customer agreement; “DIRECTV mails any amendments to the terms of the initial customer agreement with subsequent billing statements when necessary.” Id., at 1380. Plaintiff signed up for service with DirecTV in 2002, and received a copy of the customer agreement, which “stated that customers should immediately cancel their service should they choose to reject the terms of the agreement and that use of the DIRECTV service without rejection constitutes acceptance.” Id. In May 2007, plaintiff received an amended agreement (the April 2007 agreement) containing an arbitration clause with a class action waiver provision. Id. The arbitration provision provided that “if the class action waiver provision is unenforceable, then the entire arbitration clause is also unenforceable.” Id., at 1381. In May 2007, plaintiff obtained two DirecTV receivers, signing an “equipment lease addendum” that “expressly incorporated the April 2007 agreement, specifically the agreement’s arbitration provisions.” Id., at 1380. Defense attorneys moved the district court to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s individual claims in light of the class action waiver in the agreement’s arbitration clause. Id., at 1380-81. The federal court denied the motion.

The district court recognized that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) “dictates that binding arbitration clauses in written agreements are enforceable in federal court.” Jones, at 3181 (citation omitted). But it also noted that “such a clause may be invalidated under any applicable state law that governs contracts generally, including ‘fraud, duress, or unconscionability.’” Id. The court concluded that, under Georgia law, the class action waiver in the arbitration clause was unconscionable. Id., at 1381-82. Plaintiff (and the other class members) stood to recover but “a very small amount” – the class action challenged monthly lease fees of $4.99 and sales taxes of $0.80. Id., at 1382. Moreover, “the arbitration provision leaves the determination of whether to award fees for attorneys and expert witnesses to the chosen arbitrator,” making it unlikely that an individual would choose to pursue arbitration. Id. The district court concluded, therefore, that “the remedies available to the plaintiff and members of the proposed class are effectively foreclosed.” Id. Accordingly, the class action waiver was unenforceable, rendering the entire arbitration clause unenforceable (as provided by the agreement). Id. The district court therefore denied the motion to compel arbitration. Id.

Download PDF file of Jones v. DirecTV

Posted On: February 16, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Arbitration Cases–Omstead v. Dell: Ninth Circuit Court Reinstates Class Action Complaint And Reverses District Court Order Compelling Arbitration Of Class Action Claims On Individual Basis

District Court Erred in Compelling Arbitration on Individual Basis of Class Action Claims because Texas Choice of Law Provision was Unenforceable and Class Action Waiver in Mandatory Arbitration Clause was Unenforceable under California law Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Dell alleging product liability claims involving laptop computers; specifically, the class action complaint asserted various California state law claims “predicated on the allegation that Dell designed, manufactured, and sold defective notebook computers.” Omstead v. Dell, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. February 5, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 2101, 2104-05]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs had purchased notebook computers through Dell’s website, id., at 2105. As part of those purchases, “plaintiffs were required to accept a written agreement titled ‘U.S. Terms and Conditions of Sale’” (the “Agreement”). Id. In pertinent part, the Agreement stated that Texas law governed any dispute among the parties, and that any dispute between the customer and Dell “shall be resolved exclusively and finally by binding arbitration” and that the parties waived any right “to join or consolidate claims by or against other customers, or arbitrate any claim as a representative or class action,” id., at 2105-06. Defense attorneys moved to stay the class action and to compel arbitration of the plaintiffs’ individual claims based on an arbitration clause (which contained the class action waiver) in the Agreement. Id., at 2105, 2106. The district court granted the defense motion, id., at 2106. Plaintiffs, however, refused to comply with the arbitration order, so the district court dismissed the lawsuit based on plaintiffs’ failure to prosecute. Id., at 2105, 2106. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal and the district court’s order compelling arbitration. Id., at 2105. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Reviewing the district court order for an abuse of discretion, the Ninth Circuit first held that plaintiffs’ action should not have been dismissed for failure to prosecute the lawsuit. See Omstead, at 2107 et seq. Plaintiffs did not cause unreasonable delay of the lower court proceedings, id., at 2107-08, and they advised Dell and the district court of their interest in prosecuting the lawsuit as a class action and of their belief that the order compelling arbitration “was fatal to their action” and therefore requested “the district court to enter an order that would permit appellate review of the arbitration issue,” id., at 2108. In essence, the Circuit Court agreed with plaintiffs that the arbitration order placed them in an untenable position – prosecute the claims individually (which plaintiffs insisted that they lacked the financial means to do), or permit the court to dismiss the lawsuit and then pursue an appeal. Id., at 2108-09. The Ninth Circuit therefore exercised its discretion to treat the district court’s order of dismissal under Rule 41(b) as a voluntary dismissal with prejudice under Rule 41(a)(2), and turned to the merits of whether the class action claims should have been ordered to arbitration. Id., at 2109.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Arbitration Cases–Omstead v. Dell: Ninth Circuit Court Reinstates Class Action Complaint And Reverses District Court Order Compelling Arbitration Of Class Action Claims On Individual Basis" »

Posted On: February 2, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Pendergast v. Sprint: Eleventh Circuit Certifies To Florida Supreme Court Questions Concerning Validity And Enforceability Of Class Action Waiver In Cellular Service Provider’s Mandatory Arbitration Clause

In Class Action Against Sprint Challenging Wireless Telephone Roaming Charges, Whether District Court Erred in Granting Defense Motion to Compel Arbitration of Plaintiff’s Individual Claims Pursuant to Mandatory Arbitration Clause with Class Action Waiver Warranted Certification to Florida Supreme Court because of Uncertainty in Intermediate Appellate Court Opinions Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Florida federal court against Sprint Solutions and Sprint Spectrum for violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) and for breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Sprint “charg[ed] improper roaming fees for calls placed within Sprint's coverage areas.” Pendergast v. Sprint Nextel Corp., 592 F.3d 1119, 2010 WL 6745, *1, *11 (11th Cir. 2010). The class action complaint improper prayed for monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, and estimated plaintiff’s individual damages to be $20.00. Id. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s claims on an individual basis, seeking to enforce a mandatory arbitration clause and class action waiver in the Terms and Conditions of plaintiff’s service agreement. Id. The district court granted Sprint’s motion, concluding that under Florida law the arbitration clause and class action waiver were valid, and ordered plaintiff to pursue arbitration of his individual claim, id. Plaintiff appealed; he did not contest the arbitration clause itself but, rather, challenged the class action waiver as procedurally and substantively unconscionable. Id. Further, “because Plaintiff's contract provides the arbitration and class action waiver clauses are not severable, Plaintiff claims the arbitration clause fails because the class action waiver is unenforceable.” Id. The Eleventh Circuit expressed doubt as to the correct application of state law in this case because of a conflict among decisions in the Florida intermediate appellate courts. Accordingly, the Circuit Court, at page *22, certified the following questions to the Florida Supreme Court:

(1) Must Florida courts evaluate both procedural and substantive unconscionability simultaneously in a balancing or sliding scale approach, or may courts consider either procedural or substantive unconscionability independently and conclude their analysis if either one is lacking?

(2) Is the class action waiver provision in Plaintiff's contract with Sprint procedurally unconscionable under Florida law?

(3) Is the class action waiver provision in Plaintiff's contract with Sprint substantively unconscionable under Florida law?

(4) Is the class action waiver provision in Plaintiff's contract with Sprint void under Florida law for any other reason?

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–Pendergast v. Sprint: Eleventh Circuit Certifies To Florida Supreme Court Questions Concerning Validity And Enforceability Of Class Action Waiver In Cellular Service Provider’s Mandatory Arbitration Clause" »

Posted On: December 10, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Carr v. Gateway: Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Denial Of Motion To Compel Arbitration Of Consumer Class Action Claims Because Required Forum Unavailable To Arbitrate Dispute

Illinois Appellate Court Holds Motion to Compel Arbitration of Individual Claims in Class Action Complaint Alleging Violations of Various Consumer Protection Laws, based on Arbitration Clause Containing Class Action Waiver, Properly Denied because Agreement Required Disputes be Heard by National Arbitration Forum which no Longer Conducted Consumer Arbitrations

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Illinois state court against Gateway, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and others alleging inter alia violations of various California and Illinois consumer protection statutes; specifically, the class action complaint challenged defendants’ marketing of computers equipped with Intel’s Pentium 4 processor. Carr v. Gateway, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Ill.App. November 24, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1.] According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendants “have engaged in conduct which is likely to mislead, and has misled, the public through the suppression and concealment from the public of the material fact that there is no benefit to consumers in choosing the Pentium 4 over the Pentium III and that the Pentium 4 is less powerful and slower than the Pentium III and/or the AMD Athlon processors.” Id., at 1-2. The class action also alleged that defendants “made or disseminated misleading statements regarding the power and speed of the Pentium 4.” Id., at 2. Counts IV, V and VI of the class action complaint alleged violations of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and of Illinois’ Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (the Act); these claims were ultimately severed from the class action complaint and they are the claims at issue in this opinion. Id. Defense attorneys moved the circuit court to dismiss the class action complaint, or to stay the class action and compel plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claim based on an arbitration clause that contained a class action waiver. Id., at 1, 2-3. After holding an evidentiary hearing, id., at 3-4, the court denied the motion on the grounds that arbitration clause “was not a part of the sales contract that was entered into by the parties” and, in any event, would be unenforceable as unconscionable, id., at 4. The Illinois Supreme Court then issued its opinion in Barbara's Sales, Inc. v. Intel Corp., 227 Ill.2d 45 (2007), see id., at 4-5. (This Blog’s article discussing that opinion may be found here.) The circuit court reaffirmed its order, and Gateway appealed. The appellate court affirmed.

The appellate court began its analysis by observing that the lower court denied Gateway’s motion to compel “primarily on its finding that the Agreement was not a part of the contract for the purchase of the Gateway computer.” Carr, at 6. If the arbitration clause was part of the contract, it called for any disputes to be “resolved exclusively and finally by arbitration administered by the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) and conducted under its rules,” id. However, during the pendency of the appeal, “the NAF has ceased administering consumer arbitrations.” Id. Noting that it could “affirm the circuit court's order on any basis in the record,” the appellate court analyzed” the impact the unavailability of the NAF has upon the validity of the arbitration provision.” Id. Gateway argued that section 5 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provides a “method” exists for selecting “an alternative arbitration forum” under its contract with consumers, id., at 6-7. The appellate court rejected this claim, finding that “the specific designation of the NAF as the exclusive arbitration forum is an integral part of the arbitration clause in the Agreement.” Id., at 7. Because NAF was no longer available to resolve consumer disputes under the Agreement, and because the FAA “cannot be used to reform the arbitration provision,” the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s order denying Gateway’s motion to compel arbitration. Id., at 8.

Download PDF file of Carr v. Gateway

Posted On: December 2, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

AT&T Class Action Defense Cases–Laster v. AT&T Mobility: Ninth Circuit Affirms District Court Order Denying Motion To Compel Arbitration Of Class Action Claims On Individual Basis Holding Class Action Waiver Unconscionable

Class Action Challenging Advertisement of “Free” Phones may Proceed as Putative Class Action Despite Arbitration Clause Containing Class Action Waiver because under California Law Class Action Waiver Rendered Arbitration Clause Unconscionable Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against AT&T Mobility challenging its “offer of a ‘free’ phone to anyone who signs up for its service” because AT&T “charges the new subscriber sales tax on the retail value of each ‘free’ phone.” Laster v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 584 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 14387, 14390.] Defense attorneys moved to compel plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims individually, rather than as part of a class action, pursuant to an arbitration clause that requires arbitration of disputes and prohibits class actions. Id., at 14390. Plaintiffs argued that because federal jurisdiction was predicated on diversity, California law governed the district court’s interpretation of the arbitration clause and, under California law, “both the arbitration clause and the class action waiver [were] unconscionable, hence, unenforceable.” Id. The district court denied AT&T’s motion based on the Ninth Circuit opinion in Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Services, Inc., 498 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2007). Id., at 14390-91. On appeal, defense attorneys argued that the arbitration clause was distinguishable from the one at issue in Shroyer because “this arbitration clause provides for a ‘premium’ payment of $7,500…if the arbitrator awards the customer an amount greater than [AT&T’s] last written settlement offer,” id., at 14391. Defense attorneys also argued that “the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts California’s unconscionability law.” Id. The Ninth Circuit found the provision for a premium payment did not sufficiently distinguish the case from Shroyer and that the FAA does not preempt California law; accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court order.

Plaintiffs executed a Wireless Service Agreement with AT&T and received free cell phones by agreeing to a 2-year contract. Laster, at 14391. However, AT&T charged plaintiffs $30 in sales tax for the phones, calculated by using the full retail value of the phones. Id., at 14391-92. As noted above, the Agreement contained an arbitration clause that required arbitration of disputes and barred class actions. Id., at 14392. Plaintiffs filed suit in California federal court alleging that AT&T’s advertisement for a free phone was fraudulent; AT&T thereafter amended the Agreement to include the “premium payment clause” and, later still, moved to compel plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims on an individual basis, not as a class action, based on the revised arbitration clause. Id. The district court denied the motion, holding that the class action waiver in the arbitration clause rendered it unconscionable under California law and that the FAA did not preempt California law regarding unconscionability. Id.

Continue reading "AT&T Class Action Defense Cases–Laster v. AT&T Mobility: Ninth Circuit Affirms District Court Order Denying Motion To Compel Arbitration Of Class Action Claims On Individual Basis Holding Class Action Waiver Unconscionable" »

Posted On: November 5, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Trombley v. Bank of America: Rhode Island Federal Court Grants Plaintiffs Additional Time To Conduct Discovery Concerning Unconscionability Of Class Action Waiver In Arbitration Clause

Plaintiffs in Class Action Challenging Late Fees Imposed on Credit Card Accounts and Contesting Enforceability of Arbitration Clause that Includes a Class Action Waiver were Entitled to Conduct Limited Discovery to Support Claim that Class Action Waiver was Unconscionable Rhode Island Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Bank of America alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and breach of credit card agreements based on the late fees charged by the Bank on credit card accounts; the class action complaint also sought a declaration that the arbitration clause in the credit card agreements, which included a class action waiver, was unenforceable. Trombley v. Bank of America Corp., 636 F.Supp.2d 151, 152 (D.R.I. 2009). The Bank argued that the credit card agreements “include an enforceable arbitration provision, which provides that Delaware law is the governing authority, precludes class actions, and designates the National Arbitration Forum (‘NAF’) for arbitration proceedings.” Id., at 153. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration of the class action’s claims on an individual basis based on the class action waiver in the arbitration clause; plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that the class action waiver was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. Id., at 152. Plaintiffs also sought additional time to respond to the Bank’s motion, in order to conduct discovery concerning the unconscionability of the class action waiver. Id., at 153. The Bank opposed plaintiffs’ request for additional time, asserting that the motion to compel arbitration presented issues that were “largely legal questions and that the information necessary to support the plaintiffs’ arguments is available to them without discovery.” Id. The district court granted plaintiffs additional time to conduct discovery and, accordingly, postponed ruling on the motion to compel arbitration.

Preliminarily, the district court observed that the arbitration clause contains an express exception which provides that any challenge to the class action waiver is to be decided by the court rather than by an arbitrator. Trombley, at 152-53. The federal court also noted that it was plaintiffs’ burden to establish that the arbitration clause was unconscionable, and that plaintiffs’ request for additional time was for purposes of conducting “limited discovery” concerning the Bank’s assertion that the class action claims “are subject to arbitration.” Id., at 153. Specifically, plaintiffs argued “that they need[ed] discovery to challenge the class action waiver in the arbitration provision with factual support that the waiver is unconscionable because it operates as a bar to the claims raised in this case.” Id., at 154. The district court agreed that plaintiffs were entitled to conduct discovery relevant to the issue of whether, because of the small amounts involved in any individual claim “has resulted in few or no individual claims being brought against [the Bank],” id. And with respect to the question of unconscionability, the district court held that plaintiffs were entitled to “limited discovery to address the procedures used by [the Bank] to sign up credit card members and the substantive issues of the costs and the alleged institutional bias of the NAF,” id. Accordingly, the federal court granted plaintiffs 60 days for the purpose of conducting “discovery limited to the enforceability of the class action waiver provision and the procedural and substantive unconscionability of the arbitration provision.” Id.

Download PDF file of Trombley v. Bank of America

Posted On: October 26, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Cicle v. Chase: Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial Of Bank Motion To Compel Arbitration Of Plaintiff's Class Action Claims On Individual Basis Holding Class Action Waiver Enforceable

District Court Erred in Refusing Motion to Stay Class Action Against Bank and Compel Arbitration of Individual Claim based on Arbitration Clause with Class Action Waiver because Class Action Waiver, and Cost-Sharing Provision, of Arbitration Clause did not Render Provision Unconscionable Eighth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Missouri state court against Chase Bank alleging that it had imposed penalties on credit card holders and that it had violated Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA); in essence, the class action complaint alleged that Chase improperly increased the interest rate charged on credit card balances. Cicle v. Chase Bank USA, 583 F.3d 549, 2009 WL 3172157, *1 (8th Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff’s credit card with Chase initially “carried a 7.99% annual percentage rate (APR) on unpaid balances,” but then “increased dramatically, to 25.99%.” Id. When asked about the increase, the Bank responded that “a credit agency had reported her as past due on an unrelated loan or account, so Chase increased the APR from the 7.99% ‘Preferred Customer Pricing’ rate.” Id. Defense attorneys removed for the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) and on the ground of federal question jurisdiction under the National Bank Act (NBA). Id. The Bank then asked the district court to stay the class action to compel plaintiff to arbitrate her individual claim pursuant to the terms of the arbitration clause in her Cardmember Agreement, which included a class action waiver. Id. The district court denied the defense motion, concluding that the class action waiver and the provisions for cost-sharing were unconscionable under Missouri law, id., at *3. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the class action waiver was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable.

The Cardmember Agreement contained an arbitration clause, governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), that required arbitration on an individual basis of any dispute with the bank; specifically, the arbitration clause contained a class action waiver, prohibiting the cardmember from bringing “a class action or other representative action” and precluding the cardmember from being “part of any class action or other representative action.” Cicle, at *1-*2. The arbitration was to be binding, and covered “any claim, dispute or controversy by either you or us against the other, or against the employees, parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, beneficiaries, agents or assigns of the other, arising from or relating in any way to the Cardmember Agreement, any prior Cardmember Agreement, your credit card Account or the advertising, application or approval of your Account (‘Claim’).” Id., at *2. The arbitration clause provided an exception for small claims court matters, id. With respect to costs, the arbitration clause provided that the Bank would pay for the filing fee (up to $500) and, “if there is a hearing, we will pay any fees of the arbitrator and arbitration administrator for the first two days of that hearing.” Id. The agreement provided that all other fees would be “allocated in keeping with the rules of the arbitration administrator and applicable law,” and that each side otherwise would be responsible for their own attorney fees and costs, regardless of whether they prevailed, unless the arbitrator orders otherwise based on “any applicable law.” Id. Reviewing the district court’s decision de novo, see id., at *3, the Eighth Circuit reversed its refusal to enforce the arbitration clause.

Continue reading "Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Cicle v. Chase: Eighth Circuit Reverses Denial Of Bank Motion To Compel Arbitration Of Plaintiff's Class Action Claims On Individual Basis Holding Class Action Waiver Enforceable" »

Posted On: June 16, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Olvera v. El Pollo Loco: California Court Affirms Denial Of Motion To Compel Individual Arbitration Of Labor Law Class Action Holding Class Action Arbitration Waiver Unenforceable

Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Clause Unconscionable thereby Warranting Denial of Motion to Compel Plaintiff to Arbitrate Individual Claims rather than Pursue Labor Law Class Action Complaint California State Court Holds

Plaintiff, the general manager of an El Pollo Loco restaurant, filed a putative class action against El Pollo Loco alleging violations of California’s labor code; the class action complaint alleged inter alia that defendant misclassified its general managers as exempt when they “spent the majority of their time performing nonmanagerial tasks” and that it wrongfully denied its general managers overtime compensation and meal breaks. Olvera v. El Pollo Loco, Inc., 173 Cal.App.4th 447, 451 (Cal.App. 2009). As part of his employment, plaintiff received written materials that, in part, required that all work-related disputes be resolved through binding arbitration, governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Id., 449-50. Class action litigation was prohibited, but the parties were permitted “to conduct discovery and bring motions in an arbitration as provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” id., at 450. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration of the class action complaint as to plaintiff’s individual claims only, id., at 451. Plaintiff opposed the motion to compel arbitration, arguing that the arbitration clause was unconscionable; defense attorneys argued that the clause was not unconscionable because employees were not required to sign the acknowledgement form by which they were bound to the arbitration clause. Id., at 452. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that the clause was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. Id., at 453. Under California law, an order denying a motion t compel arbitration is an appealable order. Cal. Code Civ. Proc., § 1294. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

After summarizing the relevant law regarding arbitration agreements, see Olvera, at 453-54, the appellate court turned first to the issue of procedural unconscionability. The Court of Appeal explained at page 454, “Procedural unconscionability focuses on oppression or unfair surprise, while substantive unconscionability focuses on overly harsh or one-sided terms.” (Citations omitted.) California courts view these two factors on a sliding scale: “The more procedural unconscionability is present, the less substantive unconscionability is required to justify a determination that a contract or clause is unenforceable. Conversely, the less procedural unconscionability is present, the more substantive unconscionability is required to justify such a determination.” Id., at 454 (citations omitted). The appellate court found that the arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable because of (1) the unequal bargaining power between the employees and the employer, which “makes it likely that the employees felt at least some pressure to sign the acknowledgment and agree to the new dispute resolution policy” even if the company insists that they were not required to do so, and (2) agreement to the dispute resolution procedure was “not an informed decision” because the description of the dispute resolution policy “was totally inaccurate.” Id., at 455-56.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–Olvera v. El Pollo Loco: California Court Affirms Denial Of Motion To Compel Individual Arbitration Of Labor Law Class Action Holding Class Action Arbitration Waiver Unenforceable" »

Posted On: April 2, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Vaden v. Discover Bank: Supreme Court Reverses District Court Order Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compelling Arbitration Of Class Action Counterclaims On Individual Basis

FAA does not Enlarge Federal Court Jurisdiction but Simply Permits District Court to Entertain Petition to Compel Arbitration where Jurisdiction Exists but for Arbitration Clause, and while District Courts may “Look Through” Pleadings to Decide Petition under FAA Section 4, Counterclaims are not Removable if Complaint is not Subject to Federal Court Jurisdiction Supreme Court Holds

Discover Card filed a “garden-variety, state-law-based contract action” against a cardholder in Maryland state court to collect $10,610.74, plus interest and attorney fees; the cardholder agreement provided for arbitration of “any claim or dispute” between Discover and the cardholder, and included a class action waiver in that it prohibited “any claims as a representative or member of a class.” Vaden v. Discover Bank, 129 S.Ct. 1262, 1268-69 and n.2 (2009). The cardholder answered and filed a putative class action counterclaim that also asserted only state law claims, id., at 1268. According to the allegations underlying the class action counterclaim, “Discover's demands for finance charges, interest, and late fees violated Maryland's credit laws.” Id. Neither Discover nor the cardholder invoked the arbitration clause in the cardholder agreement. Id., at 1268-69. In response to the class action counterclaim, Discover petitioned the federal court for an order compelling arbitration under § 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), id., at 1269 (9 U.S.C. § 4). Though the class action claims were brought under state law, Discover argued that the counterclaims were governed by § 27(a) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA), which “prescribes the interest rates state-chartered, federally insured banks like Discover can charge, ‘notwithstanding any State constitution or statute which is hereby preempted.’” Id. Discover’s argument was that the cardholder’s state law claims were preempted by the FDIA and, accordingly, the federal court had jurisdiction to rule on Discover’s petition under the FAA. Id. The district court granted Discover’s petition and ordered arbitration of the cardholder’s individual claims. Id. The cardholder appealed: the Fourth Circuit questioned whether the district court had federal question jurisdiction over Discover’s FAA petition; the Circuit Court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to “‘look through’ the § 4 petition to the substantive controversy between the parties” and to make “an express determination whether that controversy presented ‘a properly invoked federal question.’” Id. (citations omitted). On remand, the cardholder conceded that his state law claims were completely preempted by the FDIA because Discover was a federally insured bank; based on this concession, the district court held it had federal-question jurisdiction and again granted the petition compelling arbitration. Id. This time, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Id. The Supreme Court reversed.

Under Section 4 of the FAA, a district court may consider a petition to compel arbitration “if the court would have jurisdiction, ‘save for [the arbitration] agreement,’ over ‘a suit arising out of the controversy between the parties.’” Vaden, at 1267-68. The petition for certiorari presented the Supreme Court with two questions “concerning a district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over a § 4 petition”: First, “Should a district court, if asked to compel arbitration pursuant to § 4, ‘look through’ the petition and grant the requested relief if the court would have federal-question jurisdiction over the underlying controversy?” And second, “[I]f the answer to that question is yes, may a district court exercise jurisdiction over a § 4 petition when the petitioner's complaint rests on state law but an actual or potential counterclaim rests on federal law?” Id., at 1268. The High Court summarized its holding at page 1268 as follows, “A federal court may ‘look through’ a § 4 petition and order arbitration if, ‘save for [the arbitration] agreement,’ the court would have jurisdiction over ‘the [substantive] controversy between the parties.’” But the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit’s decision because it had “misidentified the dimensions of ‘the controversy between the parties’ by ignoring that the lawsuit originated with “Discover's claim for the balance due on Vaden's account” – “Given that entirely state-based plea and the established rule that federal-court jurisdiction cannot be invoked on the basis of a defense or counterclaim, the whole ‘controversy between the parties’ does not qualify for federal-court adjudication.” Id. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed.

Continue reading "Arbitration Class Action Defense Cases–Vaden v. Discover Bank: Supreme Court Reverses District Court Order Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compelling Arbitration Of Class Action Counterclaims On Individual Basis" »

Posted On: March 30, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Sanchez v. Western Pizza: California State Court Affirms Trial Court Order Denying Defense Motion To Dismiss Class Action Complaint And Compel Arbitration Holding Class Action Waiver And Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

Trial Court Order Denying Defense Motion to Dismiss Labor Law Class Action and Compel Arbitration of Individual Claim based on Class Action Waiver in Unsigned Arbitration Agreement Proper because Class Action Waiver Unenforceable as Contrary to Public Policy California State Court Holds

Plaintiff, a delivery driver for a Domino’s Pizza owned by Western Pizza, filed a putative class action Western Pizza alleging labor law violations; the class action complaint asserted inter alia that defendant failed to reimburse its drivers for business expenses, and failed to pay minimum wage or provide itemized wage statements. Sanchez v. Western Pizza Enterprises, Inc., 172 Cal.App.4th 154 (Cal.App. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 2, 5]. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action and compel arbitration, id., at 6. The parties were subject to an undated arbitration agreement that contained a class action waiver provision, id., at 3-4; the arbitration agreement was “not a mandatory condition of employment,” but it was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), id., at 3. Further, though Western Pizza would pay all arbitration fees, “Except as otherwise required by law, each party shall bear its own attorney fees and costs.” Id. The arbitration agreement further provided that the arbitrator “shall be responsible for resolving any disputes over the interpretation or application of this Arbitration Agreement.” Id. With respect to the class action waiver, the agreement provided, “[T]he Arbitrator shall not consolidate or combine the resolution of any claim or dispute between the two Parties to this ADR Agreement with the resolution of any claim by any other party or parties, including but not limited to any employee of the Company. Nor shall the Arbitrator have the authority to certify a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23, analogous state rules, or Arbitrator’s rules pertaining to class arbitration, and the Arbitrator shall not decide claims on behalf of any other party or parties.” Id., at 4. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the class action arbitration waiver was unenforceable and that plaintiff would not agree to arbitration unless the class action waiver was stricken. Id., at 5. Defense counsel countered that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement, including the class action waiver, must be determined by the arbitrator. Id., at 6. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, id., at 6-7. The California Court of Appeal affirmed.

After stating that the FAA does not preempt California law because it does not conflict with California law, see Sanchez, at 7-8, the Court of Appeal concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement, including the class action waiver, was properly determined by the trial court rather than the arbitrator, id., at 8-11. The appellate court then turned to the enforceability of the class action arbitration waiver, and held that it was unenforceable as contrary to public policy. See id., at 11-35. We do not discuss the opinion in detail, as it follows the ground set forth in articles summarizing similar opinions that rely on Gentry v. Superior Court, 42 Cal.4th 443 (Cal. 2007) and Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). At bottom, the appellate court affirmed the trial court order denying the motion to dismiss the class action and compel arbitration. Id., at 36.

Download PDF file of Sanchez v. Western Pizza

Posted On: March 23, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Franco v. Athens Disposal: California State Court Reverses Order In Labor Law Class Action Compelling Plaintiff To Arbitrate Individual Claims Holding Class Action Waiver Unconscionable

In Labor Law Class Action, Trial Court Erred in Granting Defense Petition to Compel Plaintiff to Arbitrate his Claims on an Individual Basis because Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Agreement Signed by Employee was Unconscionable California State Court Holds

Plaintiff, a trash truck driver, filed a putative class action against his former employer, Athens Disposal, alleging labor law violations; the class action complaint asserted that Athens denied its employees meal and rest periods. Franco v. Athens Disposal Co., Inc., 171 Cal.App.4th 1277 (Cal.App. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, Athens failed to pay its employees overtime, and failed to provide meal periods or to pay employees an additional hour of compensation for each workday that they missed a meal period. Id., at 3. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint and to compel arbitration based on the terms of the employment agreement with plaintiff, id., at 2. The employment agreement contained an arbitration clause as well as a provision waiving class action relief or the right to bring an action in “a private attorney general capacity.” Id. Plaintiff countered that the class action waiver was unconscionable, id. The trial court disagreed and granted Athens’ motion to compel plaintiff to proceed with arbitration on an individual basis. Id. The California Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the class action arbitration wavier was unconscionable “given ‘the modest size of the potential individual recovery, the potential for retaliation against members of the class, [and] the fact that absent members of the class may be ill informed about their rights.’” Id. (quoting Gentry v. Superior Court, 42 Cal.4th 443, 463 (Cal. 2007)). The appellate court further held that the arbitration clause was unconscionable in that it sought to prevent plaintiff from serving as a private attorney general, it conflict with California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). Id.

In its petition to compel arbitration and to dismiss the class action, Athens argued that the arbitration agreement was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Franco, at 3-4. Indeed, the employment agreement expressly provided that it was governed by the FAA, and that any arbitration would be conducted under the employment arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Id., at 4. The petition to compel arbitration was simplicity itself: “Under the FAA, arbitration was mandatory.” Id. Plaintiff argued that the class action waiver was invalid under Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005), which defense counsel sought to distinguish. Id., at 4-5. The trial court agreed that Discover Bank did not cover employment cases and granted the motion to compel. Id., at 5. Plaintiff sought reconsideration based on Gentry, which the trial court denied based in part on its conclusion that plaintiff’s meal and rest period claims were not suitable for class action treatment because of the specific inquiries that would be required of the various claims. See id., at 5-7.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–Franco v. Athens Disposal: California State Court Reverses Order In Labor Law Class Action Compelling Plaintiff To Arbitrate Individual Claims Holding Class Action Waiver Unconscionable" »

Posted On: March 2, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Amex Class Action Defense Cases–Homa v. American Express: Third Circuit Reverses Dismissal Of Consumer Fraud Class Action Holding Class Action Arbitration Waiver Unenforceable Under New Jersey Law

District Court Erred in Dismissing Class Action Based on Arbitration Clause in Credit Card Agreement and Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Clause because New Jersey Law rather than Utah Law Applied and, under Facts Underlying Class Action Complaint, New Jersey would not Enforce Class Action Arbitration Waiver Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against American Express and American Express Centurion Bank (collectively “Amex”) alleging violations of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act; the class action complaint asserted that Amex misrepresented the terms of its “Blue Cash” credit card reward program, which allegedly promised customers up to 5% cash back on purchases made with the card. Homa v. American Express Co., ___ F.3d ___, 2009 WL 440912, *1 (3d Cir. February 24, 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action, plaintiff (a New Jersey resident filing the putative class action on behalf of other New Jersey residents) was denied “failed to award him the promised amount of cash back in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.” Id. The credit card underlying the class action claims was subject to a cardholder agreement that required arbitration of any disputes and that included a class action waiver, requiring that any claim “be arbitrated on an individual basis ... [with] no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated [as] a class action.” Id. The Agreement included also a choice-of-law provision that stated Utah law governed any disputes, id. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration of the putative class action claims on individual basis; the defense argued in part that Utah law expressly permits class action arbitration waivers in consumer credit agreements. Id. Plaintiff opposed the motion on the ground New Jersey law would prohibit enforcement of the class action waiver and that application of Utah law to deny class action relief would violate New Jersey’s public policy. Id. The district court treated the motion as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and granted the motion, dismissing the class action complaint with prejudice. Id. Plaintiff appealed and the Third Circuit reversed.

According to the Third Circuit, “This appeal raises important issues under state law. Nevertheless, we must first consider whether the Federal Arbitration Act (‘FAA’), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, precludes this Court from applying state law unconscionability principles to void a class-arbitration waiver. We conclude that it does not.” Homa, at *1 (citing Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 687 (1996)). As part of that analysis, the Circuit Court determined whether Utah law or New Jersey law governed the dispute. Id., at *2-*3. The Court concluded that “the Supreme Court of New Jersey might well find that the application of Utah law allowing class-arbitration waivers in the context of a low-value consumer credit suit violates a fundamental policy of New Jersey.” Id., at *3 (footnote omitted). But the Third Circuit found also that it must first address whether “the FAA and this Court's decision in Gay v. CreditInform, 511 F.3d 369 (3d Cir. 2007), preclude us from applying New Jersey unconscionability principles to a class-arbitration waiver.” Id. Based on its analysis of the FAA, id., at *3-*5, the Circuit Court held that its prior decision in Gay does not preclude the Court from relying on New Jersey law to invalidate the class action arbitration waiver, id., at *5. And the Court further concluded that if New Jersey law governed the dispute then the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss the class action because “the class-arbitration waiver violates fundamental New Jersey public policy as applied to small-sum cases,” id., at *6. So the critical issue was whether Utah law or New Jersey law applied.

Continue reading "Amex Class Action Defense Cases–Homa v. American Express: Third Circuit Reverses Dismissal Of Consumer Fraud Class Action Holding Class Action Arbitration Waiver Unenforceable Under New Jersey Law" »

Posted On: February 4, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Amex Class Action Defense Cases–In re American Express: Second Circuit Reverses District Court Order Enforcing Class Action Waiver And Compelling Individual Arbitration In Antitrust Class Action

As Matter of First Impression, District Court Erred in Antitrust Class Action in Compelling Arbitration Pursuant to Mandatory Arbitration Clause in Commercial Contract and Enforcing Class Action Waiver because Absent Class Action Relief it was Unlikely Merchants would seek Redress for Alleged Wrong Second Circuit Holds

Several class action lawsuits were filed by various merchants against American Express alleging violations of federal antitrust laws in the form of a “tying arrangement” between its charge cards and credit cards; the first of these class actions was filed in August 2003 in the Northern District of California, but in December 2004 the district court granted a motion filed by defense attorneys to transfer the class actions, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to the Southern District of New York, where it was consolidated with several class actions against Amex pending in that district. In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., ___ F.3d ___, 2009 WL 214525, *2, *5-*6 (2d Cir. January 30, 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action, Amex “is the leading issuer of general purpose and corporate charge cards to consumers and businesses in the United States and throughout the world. It is also the leading provider of charge card services to merchants.” Id., at *3. The class action plaintiffs are “(1) California and New York corporations which operate businesses which have contracted with Amex and (2) the National Supermarkets Association, Inc. (‘NSA’), ‘a voluntary membership-based trade association that represents the interests of independently owned supermarkets.’” Id. The Card Acceptance Agreement entered into by the merchants-plaintiffs provided, in pertinent part, that any dispute was subject to a broad and mandatory arbitration clause, which was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and which contained a class action waiver provision. See id., at *3-*5. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration and to enforce the class action waiver provision, id., at *6. The district court granted the motion, finding that the arbitration clause was broad enough to govern the dispute. Id. With respect to whether the matter could proceed as a class action, the district court suggested that enforcement of the class action waiver would not preclude individual merchants from enforcing their rights because the Section 4 of the Clayton Act allows for recovery of treble damages, costs of suit and attorney fees, but deferred the issue of enforceability of the class action waiver to the arbitrator. Id. The Second Circuit reversed.

The Circuit Court explained that it was “consider[ing] here only the narrow question of whether the class action waiver provision contained in the contract between the parties should be enforced,” In re American Express, at *3. The Court began by noting that it “frequently enforces mandatory arbitration clauses contained in commercial contracts,” but that this case presented a case of first impression in the Ninth Circuit as it dealt with the enforceability of a class action waiver in the context of a commercial contract with a mandatory arbitration clause. Id., at *1. And the court summarized the countervailing arguments surrounding the enforceability of class action waivers, see id., at *1-*2. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the class action waiver was unenforceable under the facts of this case “because enforcement of the clause would effectively preclude any action seeking to vindicate the statutory rights asserted by the plaintiffs.” Id., at *2.

Continue reading "Amex Class Action Defense Cases–In re American Express: Second Circuit Reverses District Court Order Enforcing Class Action Waiver And Compelling Individual Arbitration In Antitrust Class Action" »

Posted On: January 22, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

Bookmark and Share

Class Action Defense Cases–Woods v. QC Financial: Missouri State Appellate Court Affirms Trial Court Order Striking Class Action Waiver From Arbitration Clause And Then Compelling Arbitration Of Dispute

Class Action Waiver in Payday Loan Agreement Containing Mandatory Arbitration Clause was Unconscionable and Trial Court did not Err in Severing Class Action Waiver, Compelling Arbitration, and Allowing Arbitrator to Determine Whether Matter should Proceed as Class Action Missouri State Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against QC Financial, a payday lender, from whom plaintiff had borrowed money several times; the class action complaint alleged that defendant violated various Missouri state laws governing payday lenders. Woods v. QC Financial Services, Inc. d/b/a Quik Cash., ___ S.W.2d ___ (Mo.App. December 23, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action and to compel plaintiff to arbitrate the dispute individually; the motion was premised on an arbitration clause with a class action waiver that was contained in the payday loan documents. Id., at 1-2. Each loan agreement contained a mandatory arbitration clause that provided in pertinent part that the borrower is (1) waiving their right to a jury trial, (2) waiving their right to any court proceeding (other than small claims), and (3) waving the right to “SERVE AS A REPRESENTATIVE, AS A PRIVATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, OR IN ANY OTHER REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITY, AND/OR TO PARTICIPATE AS A MEMBER OF A CLASS OF CLAIMANTS, IN ANY LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST US AND/OR RELATED THIRD PARTIES.” Id., at 2. The arbitration clause further provided that “all disputes including any Representative Claims against us…shall be resolved by binding arbitration only on an individual basis with you” and precluded the arbitrator from allowing any dispute to proceed as a class action, id. Plaintiff moved for declaratory judgment, seeking to hold the class action waiver unconscionable; the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion and severed the provisions of the arbitration clause prohibiting class actions. Id. At the same time, the trial court denied the defense motion to compel plaintiff “to participate in individual arbitration,” but granted the defense motion to dismiss in part, in that the matter was ordered to arbitration for the arbitrator to decide whether the litigation could proceed as a class action. Id. Defendant appealed, and the Missouri Court of Appeal affirmed.

Defense attorneys raised several issues on appeal: (1) that plaintiff failed to prove procedural unconscionability; (2) that the arbitration clause was not procedurally unconscionable “because the font size used complies with statute and [plaintiff] signed the contract without any misrepresentations, hurry, or duress from [defendant]”; (3) that the arbitration clause was not substantively unconscionable, in part because the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) “preempts the trial court's holding as Missouri law does not bar class action waivers in all consumer contracts”; (4) that the class action waiver was an “essential “ part of the loan agreement, which does not contain a severance clause, so the trial court erred in severing the class action waiver from the arbitration clause; and (5) that the trial court erred in granting plaintiff’s request for declaratory judgment because it was not properly presented. Woods, at 3-4. The appellate court began by addressing the fifth point, quickly rejecting the defense characterization of the trial court’s action as one of “granting summary judgment,” and holding that the court granted declaratory judgment only to the extent that the mandatory arbitration clause precluded class action relief and only after hearing argument and testimony. Id., at 4-5. The Court of Appeal concluded that there was nothing improper in this aspect of the court’s ruling, id., at 5.

Continue reading "Class Action Defense Cases–Woods v. QC Financial: Missouri State Appellate Court Affirms Trial Court Order Striking Class Action Waiver From Arbitration Clause And Then Compelling Arbitration Of Dispute" »