Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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RECON filed suit against AECOM for damages related to AECOM's alleged failure to properly manage the construction project on which RECON worked as one of AECOM's subcontractors. After AECOM moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration clause contained in a separate contract (the Prime Agreement) between AECOM and the property owner, Shell, the trial court denied AECOM's motion.The Court of Appeal affirmed and concluded that, in the absence of a clear agreement to submit a dispute to arbitration, the court will not infer a waiver of a party's jury trial rights. The court explained that the subcontractor's incorporation of a voluminous contract containing an arbitration agreement between other parties was insufficient to subject RECON to arbitration of its claims against AECOM. Accordingly, AECOM has failed to establish the existence of an agreement to arbitrate RECON's claims. View "Remedial Construction Services, LP v. Aecom, Inc." on Justia Law

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Pillar hired Epiphyte to convert its cryptocurrency into Euros. Epiphyte informed Pillar that it used Payward’s online exchange to convert its clients’ cryptocurrencies. Pillar transferred its cryptocurrency into Epiphyte’s account on Payward’s platform. After Epiphyte converted the currency but before the exchanged funds were transferred to Pillar’s bank account, four million Euros belonging to Pillar were stolen from Epiphyte’s account.Pillar sued Payward, alleging Payward knew or should have known that Epiphyte was using its Payward account on Pillar's behalf, failed to use standard security measures that would have prevented the theft, and falsely advertised that it provided the best security in the business. Payward moved to compel arbitration, claiming that Epiphyte agreed to Payward’s “Terms of Service” when it created an account, as required for all users, that those Terms included an arbitration agreement, and that Pillar was bound by that agreement.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Payward’s motion. There is no evidence Epiphyte was acting as Pillar’s agent when it agreed to the Terms two years before Pillar hired it or that the agency relationship automatically bound the principal to the agent’s prior acts. There is no evidence Pillar knew the arbitration agreements existed or had a right to rescind them. No ratification occurred. There was no intent to benefit Pillar or similar parties. Pillar’s claims are not inextricably intertwined with the Terms. View "Pillar Project AG v. Payward Ventures, Inc." on Justia Law

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Bannister worked in the administrative offices at a skilled nursing facility, for approximately three decades before Marinidence purchased the facility. A year later, Marinidence terminated Bannister. She sued, alleging discrimination, retaliation, and defamation. Marinidence moved to compel arbitration, alleging that, when it took over the facility, Bannister electronically signed an arbitration agreement while completing the paperwork for new Marinidence employees. After Bannister presented evidence that she never saw the agreement during the onboarding process, the trial court denied the motion.The court of appeal affirmed. Because the existence of the agreement is a statutory prerequisite to granting the petition, the petitioner bears the burden of proving its existence by a preponderance of the evidence. The party seeking arbitration can meet its initial burden by attaching to the petition a copy of the arbitration agreement purporting to bear the respondent’s signature. Where, as here, the respondent challenges the validity of the signature, the petitioner must “establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the signature was authentic.” The court noted conflicting evidence, including Bannister’s evidence that she was not the only person who could have executed the arbitration agreement and the onboarding process was completed for other employees without their participation. View "Banister v. Marinidence Opco, LLC" on Justia Law

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Foremost provided insurance for McIsaac's motorcycle. The uninsured motorist coverage endorsement included an arbitration provision. McIsaac was involved in an accident. The other driver’s insurance policy provided $15,000 of coverage. McIsaac’s policy provided uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage of up to $100,000 per person per accident. McIsaac initiated an uninsured motorist claim. Foremost opened an investigation and sent a settlement offer. McIsaac served Foremost with an arbitration demand. Foremost suggested proceeding with discovery and sent McIsaac interrogatories and a deposition notice.Months later, McIsaac filed suit, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and bad faith. Foremost filed a petition to compel arbitration. McIsaac argued his dispute was not solely about damages, but whether Foremost breached the contract and acted in bad faith. Foremost argued arbitration was a “condition precedent” to McIsaac’s lawsuit. The trial court denied the petition, stating that arbitration does not apply to claims of bad faith by the insurer.The court of appeal reversed. Under Insurance Code section 11580.2(f), disputes between insureds and insurers over entitlement to recover damages caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, or the amount of damages, must be resolved by agreement or arbitration. Foremost made a showing that the parties dispute the amount of damages. View "McIsaac v. Foremost Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Joanna Grabowski brought claims for medical malpractice against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Southern California Permanente Medical Group, and various associated physicians (collectively, Kaiser). The claims were heard by an arbitrator, pursuant to a contractual arbitration agreement. After a contested hearing, the arbitrator awarded judgment in favor of Kaiser. Grabowski petitioned the trial court to vacate the arbitration award, alleging: (1) the arbitrator committed misconduct, and revealed disqualifying bias, by engaging in an ex parte communication with Kaiser’s counsel about Grabowski’s self-represented status; (2) the arbitrator failed to disclose two matters involving Kaiser where he was selected as an arbitrator; and (3) the arbitrator improperly denied Grabowski’s request for a continuance of the arbitration hearing. The trial court found that “the arbitrator’s conduct did not rise to a level that substantially prejudiced [Grabowski’s] rights” and dismissed her petition. Grabowski appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal agrees the award should have been vacated. The Court concluded the arbitrator committed misconduct on several levels, at least one required vacating the arbitration award. The ex parte communication between the arbitrator and Kaiser’s counsel was recorded by Grabowski’s mother as part of her effort to document the arbitration hearing; the audio recording revealed comments by the arbitrator making light of Grabowski’s self- representation and her inability, in the arbitrator’s view, to effectively represent herself. The arbitrator volunteered these comments to Kaiser’s counsel, ex parte, and “they shared a hearty laugh about Grabowski’s perceived shortcomings as an advocate.” Because the arbitrator was aware of this communication and did not disclose it to Grabowski, the award had to be vacated. View "Grabowski v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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Four business partners had a dispute that ultimately led to a nine-day arbitration hearing. During the hearing, the arbitrator openly took pain medications. After the arbitrator issued a final ruling, the two losing partners filed a petition in the trial court to vacate the arbitration award. They alleged for the first time, that the arbitrator was “unable to properly perceive the evidence or . . . unable to properly conduct the proceeding.” The trial court denied the petition based on principles of forfeiture: the losing partners failed to demand, at any point during the nine-day hearing, that the arbitrator needed to disqualify himself. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court, thus affirming the order denying the petition to vacate the arbitration award. View "Alper v. Rotella" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of Uber's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging a single cause of action for wage violations under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Lab. Code, 2698 et seq. Plaintiff was an Uber driver under a written agreement stating she was an independent contractor and all disputes would be resolved by arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and the agreement delegated to the arbitrator decisions on the enforceability or validity of the arbitration provision.The court concluded, as has every other California court presented with this or similar issues, that the threshold question of whether plaintiff is an employee or an independent contractor cannot be delegated to an arbitrator. The court found that this issue has been resolved adversely to Uber in two cases decided during and after briefing in this case: Provost v. YourMechanic, Inc. (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 982, and Contreras v. Superior Court (2021) 61 Cal.App.5th 461. The court was not persuaded to depart from the analyses in Provost and Contreras and all the authorities they cite. The court rejected Uber's claims to the contrary and affirmed the trial court's order. View "Rosales v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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The arbitration award at issue here involved claims by a former investment fund manager and his former employers, namely, the investment funds. All parties were sophisticated and engaged in a business - not consumer - dispute. Both law firms were frequent users of the services of the ADR provider, JAMS. The motion to vacate was based on the sole ground that the arbitrator did not disclose the extent of JAMS’s “business relationship” with O’Melveny & Myers (one of the law firms) and the arbitrator’s ownership interest in JAMS (not more than .1 percent of total revenue in a given year). Appellant contended the arbitrator failed to make required disclosures. The sole basis for the appeal was the argument the arbitrator did not disclose information that could cause a reasonable person aware of the facts to entertain a doubt that the arbitrator would be able to be impartial. The trial court granted a motion to confirm an arbitration award and denied a motion to vacate that award. Based on the facts and circumstances shown by this record, and applying the analytical framework the Court of Appeal held that the arbitrator’s and JAMS’s disclosures were sufficient, and the arbitrator was not required to disclose more information about the extent of JAMS’s business with O’Melveny & Myers, or the arbitrator’s own ownership interest in JAMS. "There is no issue of a repeat party or lawyer being favored over a non-repeat party or lawyer; the parties in this business dispute are sophisticated; and the law firms were both frequent users of JAMS to the same extent." View "Speier v. The Advantage Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, consisting of the estate of decedent Edward William Kuntz (decedent), his wife, and his three children, sued, among others, the Kaiser Foundation Hospital and the Permanente Medical Group, Inc. (collectively Kaiser), asserting causes of action sounding in elder abuse, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. Kaiser filed a petition to stay the action and compel arbitration. The trial court granted the petition as to the elder abuse cause of action, staying the other causes of action. Ultimately, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Kaiser. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) Kaiser failed to satisfy its burden of producing a valid agreement to arbitrate; and (2) Kaiser failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of Health and Safety Code section 1363.1 concerning the disclosure of arbitration requirements. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Kuntz v. Kaiser Foundation Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of a putative class, filed suit against his employers, SSP, alleging violations of various provisions of California’s wage and hour laws. SSP moved to compel arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between it and the labor union representing plaintiff.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of SSP's motion to compel arbitration. The court concluded that the CBA between SSP and the union provides for arbitration of claims arising under the agreement, but it does not waive the right to a judicial forum for claims based on statutes. In this case, the trial court correctly concluded that arbitrability was a question for the court, not the arbitrator, and that plaintiff's claims are not subject to arbitration. View "Wilson-Davis v. SSP America, Inc." on Justia Law