Articles Posted in Class Action Articles

Published on:

AAA Requires Separate Arbitration Petitions by Employees Subject to Arbitration Clause with Class Action Waiver but JAMS Permits Plaintiff to Unilaterally Join Dozens of Individual Employee Claims in Single Arbitration

JMBM recently litigated a labor law class action where the employees were bound by arbitration clauses with class action waivers. Some of those agreements require arbitration before AAA. Others required arbitration before JAMS.

JMBM obtained a court order requiring “binding individual arbitration” before JAMS. Plaintiff’s counsel responded by filing an arbitration petition on behalf of 20 individuals. Plaintiff’s counsel also filed another arbitration petition with AAA on behalf of 7 individuals. In other words, plaintiff’s counsel sought to proceed with a “group” arbitration rather than “individual.” We objected.

AAA promptly decided that, as a purely procedural matter, it would not compel our client to participate in a group arbitration over its objection. Because we were not willing to stipulate to such a proceeding, it required plaintiff’s counsel to file 7 separate petitions. It took AAA but a few days to make this decision.

JAMS, on the other hand, took more than a month to conclude that, purportedly as a procedural matter, it would compel our client to participate in a group arbitration over its objection. Even more disturbing than its decision was the process utilized by JAMS to resolve the issue and the reasoning behind it.

As a preliminary matter, it is well established that the scope of an arbitration clause is to resolved either by the court or by the arbitrator. Even plaintiff’s counsel admitted this to be the law. Our disagreement with plaintiff’s counsel centered on our belief that it was a decision for the trial court to resolve under the facts of this case, while they argued that it was a matter for the arbitrator to resolve.

Unable to resolve the procedural question without a legal opinion, JAMS unilaterally appointed one of its mediators to rule on the issue. In other words, rather than appoint an arbitrator to address the issue – a decision that would necessitate all of the required disclosures from the arbitrator and that would provide each side with their right to object to the particular arbitrator being appointed – JAMS put the matter in the hands of a panel mediator. No statute or case authority permits such an individual to rule on the scope of an arbitration clause, but nevertheless JAMS followed this procedure.

Continue reading

Published on:

Plaintiff’s Pre-Class Certification Discovery Request for Contact Information of Putative Class Members Properly Limited to Employees who Worked in the Same Store Location as Plaintiff California Court of Appeal Holds

The decision of the California Court of Appeal in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls), No. B259967 (Cal. Ct. App. May 15, 2015) will have California employers breathing a sigh of relief, at least for representative actions involving multiple locations.

In Williams, the California Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District (which includes Los Angeles County) upheld the decision of the trial court denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel the disclosure of the names and contact information for all putative class members in a representative wage and hour action brought under California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”).

Plaintiff Michael Williams alleged in his PAGA action that Marshalls failed to provide its employees with meal and rest breaks, accurate wage statements, reimbursement for business-related expenses, and earned wages as required by California law.

At the outset of the case and prior to Plaintiff sitting for his own deposition, Plaintiff served interrogatories seeking production of the names and contact information for all non-exempt employees of Marshalls. Defendant objected to the requests and Plaintiff moved to compel.

Continue reading

Published on:

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

Published on:

In Considering Class Action Certification Order in Labor Law Class Action, California Supreme Court Holds Rest Periods Not Mandated Prior to Meal Periods, and Employer must Provide Meal Breaks but need not Ensure Employee Takes Meal Breaks

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California state court against their employer, Brinker Restaurant, alleging various labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Brinker failed to provide employees with rest breaks, failed to provide employees with meal breaks, and that Brinker required employees to work “off-the-clock.” Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.4th ___ (April 12, 2012) [Slip Opn., at 1, 4]. With respect to the meal period claim, plaintiffs argued that state law requires employers “to provide a 30-minute meal period at least once every five hours.” Id., at 5. Defense attorneys argued that state law does not so long as it provides one meal period for work shifts exceeding 5 hours and two meal periods for work shifts exceeding 10 hours, then it has complied with state law. Id. Brinker also argued that individual issues predominated so that class action treatment would be inappropriate, id. Specifically, Brinker argued that it was required only to permit its employees to take meal and rest breaks, but it was under no legal obligation to ensure that its employees take such breaks. Id., at 6. Plaintiffs moved the trial court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 5. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, and granted plaintiffs’ motion to certify the lawsuit as a class action. Id., at 7. The Court of Appeal granted Brinker’s petition for writ relief and reversed. The Court of Appeal concluded that common issues did not predominate as a matter of law, and therefore the trial court erred in certifying the claims for class action treatment. Id., at 15. The California Supreme Court granted review and held (1) the trial court properly certified the rest break claim for class action treatment, (2) improperly certified the “off-the-clock” claim, and (3) needed to reconsider the meal period claim. Id., at 1-2. Importantly, with respect to the meal break claim, the Supreme Court held that “an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.” Id., at 2.

The Supreme Court decision in Brinker has been awaited by both sides of the class action bar. Unfortunately, the decision creates as many questions as it solves. For example, with respect to the general rules governing class certification, the Supreme Court recognized that both state and federal decisions hold that consideration of the merits may overlap class certification issues. See Brinker, at 10-12. The Court also held that “[t]o the extent the propriety of certification depends upon disputed threshold legal or factual questions, a court may, and indeed must, resolve them.” Id., at 13. However, in the next breath, the Supreme Court stated that “a court generally should eschew resolution of such issues unless necessary,” id. And relying on its prior decisions, the Court strongly discouraged trial courts from considering the merits of a claim in determining class certification. See id., at 11. But the Court summarized its holding as follows: “if the presence of an element necessary to certification, such as predominance, cannot be determined without resolving a potential legal issue, the trial court must resolve that issue at the certification stage.” Id., at 14. So precisely when trial court consideration of the merits is necessary or prohibited is less clear post-Brinker.

Continue reading

Published on:

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

Published on:

California Attorney Richard Watts Publishes Book Based On His Experience In Representing The “Super-Wealthy”

Richard Watts, a personal friend of the author and a superb lawyer, has published a book based on his 30-year career representing individuals with a net worth in excess of $100 million. The book is entitled, “Fables of Fortune: What Rich People Have That You Don’t Want.”

The author of the Class Action Defense Blog found Rich’s book to be a great read, particularly in its ability to illustrate through real-life examples the proverb that “the grass is always greener.” Rich does a great job weaving in experiences with his own family to show that one need not be super wealthy to experience the joy of true friendship or the treasure of a close-knit family.

For more information about Rich Watts, please visit his website
here.

Published on:

District Court Applied Wrong Legal Criteria in Certifying Gender Discrimination Class Action Requiring Remand for Reconsideration based on Standards Enunciated in Wal-Mart v. Dukes Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Costco Wholesale alleging that it discriminates in its promotional practices based on gender. Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 4336668 (9th Cir. September 16, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 17693, 17697]. The class action complaint was filed after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) dismissed a charge that Costco engaged in gender discrimination in its practice of promoting employees. The class action complaint alleges violations of Title VII, and sought to be brought on behalf “of a Title VII class of all women employed by Costco in the United States denied promotion to [assistant general managers] and/or [general managers] positions.” Id., at 17702-03. The class action “sought class-wide injunctive relief, lost pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.” Id., at 17703. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the lawsuit as a class action based, in part, on the declarations of three experts – a statistician, a labor economist, and a sociologist – who opined that Costco’s female employees were “promoted at a slower rate” and were “underrepresented” in management positions relative to their male peers. Id. Costco opposed class action treatment, based in part on the declarations of 200 employees and the declarations of its own experts. Id. The district court granted class certification, id., at 17703-04. The Ninth Circuit granted Costco’s request for leave to file an interlocutory appeal, and proceeded to affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand the matter for further proceedings. Id., at 17697.

Briefly, Costco operates 350 warehouses, each containing a general manager (GM), two or three assistant general managers (AGM), and three or four senior staff managers (who are themselves divided into four categories consisting of front end managers, administration managers, receiving managers, and merchandise managers). Ellis, at 17699. The company “promotes almost entirely from within its organization” and “[o]nly current Costco AGMs are eligible for GM positions.” Id. No written policy exists explaining the criteria that Costco considers in selecting employees for consideration or in making its promotion decisions. Id., at 17699-700. Among senior staff managers, however, Costco generally rotates managers among the various categories as part of its belief that this exposure trains and develops employees for future positions as AGMs and GMs. Id., at 17700.

Continue reading

Published on:

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

Published on:

District Court Applied Wrong Legal Standard in Finding Named Plaintiffs and Their Counsel to be Adequate Representatives of the Proposed Class under Rule 23(a)(4) and thus Abused its Discretion in Certifying Class and Approving Nationwide Class Action Settlement Third Circuit Holds

Several putative class actions were filed against various defendants, including Community Bank of Northern Virginia (CBNV), Guarantee National Bank of Tallahassee (GNBT) and Residential Funding Corporation (RFC), arising out of “the alleged predatory lending scheme of the Shumway/Bapst Organization (‘Shumway’), a residential mortgage loan business involved in facilitating the making of high-interest, mortgage-backed loans to debt-laden homeowners.” In re Community Bank of N. Va. & Guar. Nat’l Bank of Tallahassee Second Mortgage Loan Litig., 622 F.3d 275 (3d Cir. 2010) [Slip Opn., at 10]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaints, Shumway entered into relationships with CBNV and GNBT in order to circumvent state-law restrictions on fees that it could charge; the alleged scheme permitted Shumway to make it appear as if the fees were paid to depository institutions (which are not subject to the fee restrictions) when in reality they were being funneled to Shumway. Id. RFC allegedly aided this conspiracy by purchasing CBNV and GNBT loans on the secondary market, even though it allegedly knew that these institutions were acting as mere “straw parties” for Shumway. Id., at 11. The class actions were consolidated, see id., at 11-12, and ultimately a proposed nationwide class action settlement was reached, id., at 13. Certain members of the class objected to the proposed class action settlement, and certain class members sought leave to intervene in the consolidated class action lawsuit; the district court denied the motion to intervene and overruled the objections to the class action settlement. Id., at 9. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of intervention, but reversed and remanded the approval of the class action settlement. Id. The district court again approved the class action settlement, and again the objectors appealed: “The Objectors contend that the failure [to make claims against the defendants under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA)] renders the named plaintiffs and class counsel inadequate class representatives.” Id. The Circuit Court again reversed.

We do not discuss in detail the Circuit Court’s 100-page opinion. In sum, the Third Circuit concluded that “by approaching the adequacy-of-representation questions on remand as though it were ruling on a motion to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) or a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)6)[,] [the district court] applied the wrong legal standard in ruling on class certification under Rule 23.” In re Community Bank, at 9. Accordingly, the Court “reluctantly” vacated the district court order certifying the class action and approving the class action settlement, and again remanded the matter for further proceedings. Id. The Third Circuit also noted, “we continue to reject (i) the claim that the District Court abused its discretion in denying the Objectors’ renewed motion to intervene, and (ii) their renewed petition for mandamus to recuse the District Judge in this case.” Id.

Continue reading

Published on:

Class Action Treatment of Sex Discrimination in Promotion Claim Against Wal-Mart not Proper because Commonality Requirement not Met and because Rule 23(b)(2) Class Inappropriate given Monetary Relief Sought Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative labor law class action against Wal-Mart Stores, alleging systematic discrimination against women in pay and promotion in violation of Title VII. Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 564 U.S. ___ (June 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The class action sought injunctive and declaratory relief, but also sought monetary damages in the form of backpay. Id. The theory underlying the class action against Wal-Mart was not that the company had “any express corporate policy against the advancement of women” but, rather, that Wal-Mart’s local managers “[exercised] discretion over pay and promotion…disproportionately in favor of men, leading to an unlawful disparate impact on female employees.” Id., at 4. As the Supreme Court explained, “The basic theory of the[] case is that a strong and uniform ‘corporate culture’ permits bias against women to infect, perhaps subconsciously, the discretionary decisionmaking of each one of Wal-Mart’s thousands of managers – thereby making every woman at the company the victim of one common discriminatory practice.” Id. The district court certified a nationwide class action against Wal-Mart consisting of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees, id., at 1. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the class action certification order, id. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

By way of background, the Supreme Court noted that Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States, operating 4 types of retail stores (Discount Stores, Neighborhood Markets, Sam’s Clubs and Superstores) that are “divided into seven nationwide divisions, which in turn comprise 41 regions of 80 to 85 stores apiece,” each with 40-53 separate departments and anywhere 80-500 employees. Wal-Mart, at 1-2. Decisions regarding pay and promotion “are generally committed to local managers’ broad discretion, which is exercised ‘ in a largely subjective manner.’” Id., at 2, quoting 222 F.R.D. 137, 145 (N.D. Cal. 2004). With respect to the individual named plaintiffs, Betty Dukes began working for Wal-Mart in 1994 and was eventually promoted to customer service manager before being demoted all the way down to greeter due to “a series of disciplinary violations.” Id., at 3. Dukes admitted that she violated company policy, but claimed that her demotions were “retaliation for invoking internal complaint procedures and that male employees have not been disciplined for similar infractions.” Id. Christine Kwapnoski worked at Sam’s Club “for most of her adult life” and held various positions, “including a supervisory position,” but she claimed that her male manager yelled at her and other female employees (but not at men) and told her to dress better, wear makeup and “doll up.” Id. Edith Arana worked at Wal-Mart from 1995-2001, and in 2000 repeatedly asked her store manager about management training “but was brushed off.” Id. She followed internal complaint procedures and was advised to bypass her store manager and apply directly to the district manager for management training, but she elected not to do so. Id. Arana was fired in 2001 for failing to comply with the company’s timekeeping policy. Id.

Continue reading