Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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Almost two years into active litigation, defendants moved to compel arbitration of this class action brought on behalf of persons who employed the services of PMZ to buy or sell a residence. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. A motion to compel arbitration is properly denied when the moving party has waived its right to do so, Civ. Proc. Code, 1281.2(a). The California Supreme Court has identified relevant factors: whether the party’s actions are inconsistent with the right to arbitrate; whether the litigation machinery has been substantially invoked and the parties were well into preparation of a lawsuit before the party notified the opposing party of an intent to arbitrate; whether a party either requested arbitration close to the trial date or delayed for a long period before seeking a stay; whether a defendant seeking arbitration filed a counterclaim without asking for a stay; whether important intervening steps [e.g., taking advantage of judicial discovery procedures not available in arbitration] had taken place; and whether the delay affected, misled, or prejudiced the opposing party. The trial court properly applied the factors; its determination that defendants’ delay of nearly two years constituted an unreasonably long period of time, and defendants’ explanation for their delay was unavailing, is “copiously supported by the evidence.” View "Spracher v. Paul M. Zagaris, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants appealed the denial of their motion to compel arbitration or, in the alternative, motion for judicial review. Appellants' motion stemmed from claims JHBE brought against them for judicial foreclosure and declaratory relief related to a promissory note JHBE entered into with the Boyd Trust, which was secured by a deed of trust. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying the motion to compel arbitration. In this case, the parties' dispute is governed by California law, and because the dispute concerns a secured loan and JHBE has not elected to proceed with the arbitration, under paragraph F of the agreement, the dispute cannot be submitted to arbitration. Furthermore, because an order denying judicial reference is not an appealable order, the court granted JHBE's motion to dismiss that portion of the appeal. View "J.H. Boyd Enterprises, Inc. v. Boyd" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility, appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of claims asserting negligent or willful misconduct, elder abuse, and wrongful death filed against it by decedent’s daughter as successor in interest and individually. The trial court found the successor claims were not arbitrable because no arbitration agreement existed between decedent and defendant, given defendant’s failure to prove daughter had authority to sign the agreement on decedent’s behalf. The court further found the arbitration agreement was unenforceable against daughter individually on grounds of unconscionability. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court order. View "Lopez v. Bartlett Care Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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In March 2018, employees of defendant Greystone Ridge Condominium, including plaintiff Victor Franco, were presented with and asked to sign an agreement requiring that each employee agree to submit to final and binding arbitration “[a]ny and all claims . . . relating to any aspect of . . . employment with Employer (pre-hire through post-termination).” About 10 days later, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Greystone, C & A Services, John Stokke, and Maher A.A. Azer asserting employment-related claims. Two days after that, plaintiff signed the arbitration agreement and returned it to Greystone. Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s claims which plaintiff opposed on the ground the arbitration agreement failed to expressly state that claims that had already accrued, including the claims asserted in plaintiff’s complaint, were subject to arbitration. The trial court agreed with plaintiff and denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the parties’ arbitration agreement was "clear, explicit, and unequivocal" with regard to the claims subject to it, and contained no qualifying language limiting its applicability to claims that had yet to accrue. On the contrary, the agreement’s reference to claims relating to “pre-hire” matters expressed an intent to cover all claims, regardless of when they accrued, that are not otherwise expressly excluded by the arbitration agreement. View "Franco v. Greystone Ridge Condominium" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Daniel Clifford began working for Quest Software Inc. (Quest). In 2012, Dell Inc. acquired Quest to form its software division, Dell Software Inc., which hired Clifford as an employee. In 2015, Clifford participated in Dell’s online “Code of Conduct” training course. According to Quest, when Clifford completed the training, he acknowledged that he read and agreed to the terms of Dell’s Arbitration Agreement and Dispute Resolution Program. In 2017, Clifford filed a complaint against Quest for: (1) failure to pay overtime; (2) failure to provide meal periods; (3) failure to provide rest periods; (4) failure to provide accurate wage statements; (5) failure to reimburse for business expenses; and (6) unfair business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200. He based his complaint on his allegation Quest misclassified him as an exempt employee. Quest moved to compel arbitration of Clifford’s claims. The trial court found Quest had established the existence of a binding and enforceable arbitration agreement, and it compelled arbitration of Clifford’s first through fifth causes of action. However, it denied the motion on the sixth cause of action, his UCL claim, citing without discussion the California Supreme Court’s decision in Cruz v. PacifiCare Health Systems, Inc., 30 Cal.4th 303 (2003). The court stayed the prosecution of that cause of action pending the completion of the arbitration. Quest timely appealed. The question posed in this appeal was whether an employee’s claim against his employer for unfair competition under section 172001 was arbitrable. The Court of Appeal reversed that portion of the trial court’s order. "Assuming Cruz remains good law . . . Cruz at most stands for the proposition that UCL claims for 'public' injunctive relief are not arbitrable. Cruz does not bar arbitration of a UCL claim for private injunctive relief or restitution, which is precisely what the UCL claim here seeks. The employee’s UCL claim therefore is subject to arbitration, along with his other causes of action." View "Clifford v. Quest Software Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants Merchants Building Maintenance, LLC and Merchants Building Maintenance Company (the MBM defendants) appeal from an order of the trial court denying their joint motion to compel arbitration. The MBM defendants moved to compel arbitration of a portion of plaintiff Loren Mejia's cause of action brought against them for various violations of the Labor Code under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). The MDM defendants moved to compel arbitration of that portion of Mejia's PAGA claim in which she seeks "an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages." The Court of Appeal reduced the issue presented as whether a court could split a single PAGA claim so as to require a representative employee to arbitrate that aspect of the claim in which the plaintiff sought to recover the portion of the penalty that represented the amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages, where the representative employee has agreed to arbitrate her individual wage claims, while at the same time have a court review that aspect of the employee's claim in which the plaintiff sought to recover the additional $50 or $100 penalties provided for in section 558 of the Labor Code for each violation of the wage requirements. The Court of Appeal concluded that a single PAGA claim seeking to recover section 558 civil penalties could not be "split" between that portion of the claim seeking an "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages" and that portion of the claim seeking the $50 or $100 per-violation, per-pay-period assessment imposed for each wage violation. The Court affirmed the trial court's order denying the MDM defendants' motion to compel arbitration in this case. View "Mejia v. Merchants Building Maintenance" on Justia Law

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Defendants-appellants Catalina Restaurant Group, Inc., Carrows Restaurants, Inc., Carrows Family Restaurants, Inc., Coco’s Bakery Restaurants, Inc. and Coco’s Restaurants, Inc. (collectively, Catalina Defendants) appealed the partial denial of their motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiff-respondent Yalila Lacayo (Lacayo) was an employee of Catalina Defendants, and filed a plaintiff’s class action complaint on behalf of herself and others similarly situated (Class Members) against Catalina Defendants in superior court alleging numerous wage and hour violations under the Labor Code, and an injunctive relief claim under California’s unfair competition law (UCL). Catalina Defendants responded by filing a motion to compel arbitration of Lacayo’s individual claims, including the UCL claim, and dismissal of the class claims (Motion). The trial court granted the Motion as to Lacayo’s individual claims; refused to dismiss the class claims, instead letting the arbitrator decide if the class claims were subject to arbitration or a class action waiver; and denied the Motion as to the UCL claim; and stayed the matter until after arbitration was completed. Catalina Defendants on appeal argued the trial court erred by: (1) refusing to enforce the individual arbitration agreement according to its terms; and (2) refusing to compel arbitration of Lacayo’s UCL claim. In supplemental briefing, both parties addressed whether Catalina Defendants could appeal the trial court’s order granting arbitration of individual claims but refusing to dismiss the classwide claims, leaving the decision for the arbitrator. The Court of Appeal found Catalina Defendants could not appeal the portion of the Motion that granted arbitration for Lacayo’s individual claims and the refusal to dismiss the class claims. The Court of Appeal only addressed the order finding that the UCL claim was not subject to arbitration, and affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' Motion as to the UCL claim. View "Lacayo v. Catalina Restaurant Group Inc." on Justia Law

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The owners and operators of a skilled nursing facility contended the trial court erred when it denied their petition to compel arbitration. They attempted to enforce arbitration in this action for elder abuse and wrongful death brought by a decedent through her husband as successor in interest, her husband individually, and their children. Appellants claimed the successor had signed the arbitration agreements as the decedent’s authorized agent. The trial court determined that although the successor did not sign the agreements as the decedent’s agent, he expressly bound himself to arbitrate all claims he held individually and as the successor in interest. As a result, the decedent’s claim for elder abuse and the husband’s individual claim for wrongful death were subject to arbitration. However, the court denied the petition because the children’s claims were not subject to arbitration, and allowing the arbitration and the litigation to proceed concurrently could result in inconsistent findings of fact and law. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Valentine v. Plum Healthcare Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Miller Freight Lines, LLC (RMFL) appealed a trial court order granting in part and denying in part its motion to compel its former employee, plaintiff William Muller (Muller), to arbitrate his wage and hour claims under the arbitration provision in his employment agreement. The trial court granted RMFL’s motion on all but one cause of action: Muller’s claim for unpaid wages, and stayed the prosecution of that remaining claim pending the completion of the arbitration. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) applied, and more specifically, whether Muller was a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce under 9 U.S.C. 1 (section 1) and thus exempt from FAA coverage. If he was exempt from FAA coverage, as the trial court held, Muller did not have to arbitrate his cause of action for unpaid wages because Labor Code section 229 (section 229) authorized lawsuits for unpaid wages notwithstanding an agreement to arbitrate. If the FAA applied, as RMFL contended, the FAA preempted section 229, and Muller had to submit his cause of action for unpaid wages to arbitration, along with his five other causes of action. The Court found the trial court correctly concluded Muller was exempt from FAA coverage under section 1. Even though Muller did not physically transport goods across state lines, his employer was in the transportation industry, and the vast majority of the goods he transported originated outside California. Thus, section 229 required staying the prosecution of his cause of action for unpaid wages while the other five causes of action proceed to arbitration. View "Muller v. Roy Miller Freight Lines, LLC" on Justia Law

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When De Melo was hired, he signed SCI’s “Owner/Operator Agreement,” five pages long, typed in small font, with 27 clauses. The arbitration clause provides that if the parties are unable to settle a dispute, disputes “within the jurisdictional maximum for small claims will be settled in the small claims court.” All other disputes shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act. The clause prohibits consolidating claims in arbitration or arbitrating any claim as a representative member of a class or in a private attorney general capacity. All parties may examine up to three witnesses per party. Each deposition is limited to two hours. Any objections based on privilege and/or confidential information are reserved for arbitration. The arbitrators have authority to award actual monetary damages only. No punitive or equitable relief is authorized. All parties bear their own costs; no attorney’s fees or other costs may be granted. "The arbitrator’s decision shall be final and legally binding and judgment may be entered thereon.” De Melo’s native language is Portuguese; he cannot fully understand documents written in English. No one asked if he wanted the documents translated nor explained the documents. He was not given time to carefully review the documents; no one told him he could have an attorney review them. De Melo filed a claim with the Labor Commissioner, seeking unpaid overtime, meal, and rest period wages, reimbursement of unlawful wage deductions and business expenses, and statutory penalties. (Lab. Code, 203, 226, 2802.) . The court of appeal affirmed the denial of a petition to compel arbitration, finding that the arbitration clause was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and that severance of the substantively unconscionable provisions was not possible because the clause was permeated with unconscionability. View "Subcontracting Concepts (CT), LLC v. De Melo" on Justia Law