Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
Coughenour v. Del Taco
Plaintiff-respondent Sarah Coughenour worked for defendant-appellant Del Taco, LLC, starting when she was 16 years old. When she was first employed by Del Taco, she signed a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate” (Agreement). After Coughenour reached the age of 18, she continued working for Del Taco for four months. Coughenour quit and filed a lawsuit against Del Taco for sexual harassment committed by one of their employees, wage and hour claims brought pursuant to the Labor Code, and other claims under the Fair Housing and Employment Housing Act. Del Taco moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the Motion, finding that Coughenour’s filing of the lawsuit was a disaffirmance of the Agreement within the meaning of Family Code section 6710, which allowed a person upon reaching majority age to disaffirm a contract entered into while a minor. Del Taco appealed the denial of its motion, arguing that by working for Del Taco for four months after she reached the age of majority, Coughenour ratified the Agreement, which estopped her power to disaffirm the Agreement. In the alternative, Del Taco argued that Coughenour did not disaffirm the Agreement within a “reasonable time” after reaching the age of 18 as required by Family Code section 6710. The Court of Appeal affirmed denial of Del Taco's motion: [t]he filing of the lawsuit was notice that [Coughenour] disaffirmed the Agreement." The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Coughenour disaffirmed the Agreement within a reasonable time. View "Coughenour v. Del Taco" on Justia Law
Brown v. TGS Management Co., LLC
Plaintiff Richard Brown appealed a judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of defendant TGS Management Company (TGS) in an employment contract dispute. The specific statutory right at issue in the underlying dispute was Brown’s right to work in his chosen field free of contractual restraints on competition. The Legislature expressed that right in the simple but sweeping language of Business and Professions Code section 16600: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind is to that extent void.” Brown worked for TGS for over 10 years. During that time, a substantial portion of Brown’s compensation was a yearly bonus which rewarded Brown’s performance over the previous year with a sizable cash award to be paid over the next two years. In February 2016, TGS terminated Brown’s employment without cause effective March 2016. Over the next month, Brown and TGS attempted to negotiate a confidential separation agreement. TGS prepared a settlement offer in the form of a draft separation and general release agreement (the Draft Separation Agreement), but Brown rejected the offer. TGS terminated Brown as planned, making the termination “without cause” so Brown could keep two bonuses he had earned but not yet received (the deferred bonuses), given the two-year bonus structure in place. In October 2016, Brown filed a complaint against TGS stating claims for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and reformation of the arbitrator-selection process in the Employment Agreement. The declaratory relief claim sought a declaration Brown could compete with TGS without risking a damages claim for breaching the Employment Agreement or jeopardizing his two deferred bonuses. Brown also sought an injunction against enforcement of the covenant not to compete. Ten days after filing the complaint, Brown filed a petition to compel arbitration. TGS consented, and answered, stating it would not seek to enforce the no-compete clause in Brown's contract, but that he forfeited the two bonuses at issue when he filed a copy of the Draft Separation Agreement, which disclosed the identity of TGS' clients and its bonus formula for computing employee bonuses. The arbitrator granted TGS' motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Brown contended the Court of Appeal had to vacate the judgment because the arbitration award exceeded the arbitrator's powers, “and the award cannot be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision[.]” The Court concluded the arbitrator exceeded his power in issuing an award enforcing provisions of an employment agreement which illegally restricted Brown’s right to work. Consequently, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. TGS Management Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Swain v. LaserAway Medical Group, Inc.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of LaserAway's petition to compel arbitration of an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that she suffered skin injuries as a result of laser hair removal treatment she received from LaserAway.The court held that plaintiff met her burden of showing that the arbitration agreement between her and LaserAway was unconscionable. In this case, the arbitration was procedurally unconscionable because the agreement was adhesive, warranting further review of the agreement's substantive terms. The court also held that the agreement had a high degree of substantive unconscionability, rendering it unenforceable. Furthermore, LaserAway failed to show the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable under Code of Civil Procedure section 1295. View "Swain v. LaserAway Medical Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Arbitration & Mediation
McCluskey v. Henry
McCluskey sought damages for the termination of her Airbnb account, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court granted a motion to stay the action and compel arbitration under the contract between McCluskey and Airbnb. McCluskey filed a claim for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which set deadlines for paying filing fees. McCluskey paid her fee; AAA acknowledged receipt. Airbnb sent the fee by wire transfer. AAA did not acknowledge receipt. In an April 9 email, AAA informed all counsel that it had closed the arbitration due to defendants’ failure to pay their filing fee. Defense counsel contacted AAA, and, on April 19, sent documentation of an April 5 wire transfer and an email explaining the payment had been sent together with another payment. On May 1, AAA emailed all parties that payment had been received and that AAA needed confirmation, by May 6, that they wanted the case reopened. Not having heard from McCluskey, on May 9 AAA sent “a final request for confirmation.” McCluskey again did not respond.On May 10, McCluskey sought to lift the stay, asserting that the defendants’ failure to pay their filing fee by April 5, constituted a default, waiver, or breach of the arbitration agreement. The court denied the motion. The defendants served a section 128.7 sanctions motion. The court of appeal affirmed an award of $22,159.50, as “reasonable” attorney fees for opposing the motion to lift the stay and declining to award fees incurred in bringing the sanctions motion. View "McCluskey v. Henry" on Justia Law
Olson v. Lyft, Inc.
Olson is a driver for Lyft, whose terms of service include an agreement he could not bring a Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), Labor Code 2698, claim in court, and that disputes with Lyft must be resolved by individual arbitration. Olson sued Lyft alleging six PAGA claims. Lyft petitioned to compel to arbitration. The petition acknowledged that a 2014 precedent (Iskanian) precluded enforcement of PAGA waivers, but asserted that Iskanian was wrongly decided and was no longer good law in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, Epic Systems. The trial court rejected Lyft’s arguments.The court of appeal affirmed. Epic Systems addressed the question of whether the NLRA renders unenforceable arbitration agreements containing class action waivers that interfere with workers’ right to engage in “concerted activities.” It did not address private attorney general laws like PAGA or qui tam suit. View "Olson v. Lyft, Inc." on Justia Law
Midwest Motor Supply Co. v. Superior Court
Finch began his employment with Midwest in 2014. His employment agreement stated: “This Agreement shall be construed in accordance with Ohio Law" and that any litigation "must be venued in Franklin County, Ohio.” In 2016, Midwest promoted Finch. The exhibits to the 2014 employment agreement were revised. In 2017 and 2018, Midwest provided Finch with Compensation and Annual Plan letters, revising Finch’s compensation. In 2019, Finch filed this lawsuit in Contra Costa County, alleging violations of the Labor Code for failure to pay his final wages on time and failure to reimburse him for business expenses; violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200; and a cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act.The court concluded that the 2017 and 2018 Compensation letters modified the 2014 employment agreement. Because these modifications occurred after January 1, 2017, the court concluded they triggered Finch’s Labor Code section 925 right. Section 925 renders a forum selection clause in an employment contract voidable by an employee if the contract containing the clause was “entered into, modified, or extended on or after January 1, 2017.” The court of appeal denied Midwest’s writ petition. Section 925 is triggered by any modification to a contract occurring on or after January 1, 2017. View "Midwest Motor Supply Co. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
Epstein v. Vision Service Plan
Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law
Provost v. YourMechanic, Inc.
Defendant YourMechanic, Inc. sought to compel plaintiff Jonathan Provost to arbitrate whether he was an “aggrieved employee” within the meaning of the California Labor Code before he could proceed under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) with his single-count representative action alleging various Labor Code violations against company. The Court of Appeal determined that requiring Provost to arbitrate whether he was an “aggrieved employee” with standing to bring a representative PAGA action would have required splitting that single action into two components: an arbitrable “individual” claim and a nonarbitrable representative claim. The Court concluded that a PAGA-only representative action was not an individual action at all, but instead was one that was indivisible and belonged solely to the state. Therefore, YourMechanic could not require Provost to submit by contract any part of his representative PAGA action to arbitration. The trial court therefore properly denied YourMechanic's motion. View "Provost v. YourMechanic, Inc." on Justia Law
Mejia v. DACM Inc.
In May 2017, plaintiff Joseph Mejia bought a used motorcycle from Defendant DACM, Inc. (Del Amo) for $5,500. Mejia paid $500 cash and financed the remainder of the purchase price with a WebBank-issued Yamaha credit card he obtained through the dealership purchasing the motorcycle. In applying for the credit card, Mejia signed a credit application acknowledging he had received and read WebBank’s Yamaha Credit Card Account Customer Agreement (the credit card agreement), which contained an arbitration provision. Sometime after his purchase, Mejia filed a complaint against Del Amo on behalf of himself and other similarly situated consumers alleging Del Amo “has violated and continues to violate” the Rees-Levering Automobile Sales Finance Act by failing to provide its customers with a single document setting forth all the financing terms for motor vehicle purchases made with a conditional sale contract. The trial court denied Del Amo’s petition to compel arbitration, finding the arbitration provision was unenforceable under McGill v. Citibank, N.A., 2 Cal.5th 945 (2017) because it barred the customer from pursuing “in any forum” his claim for a public injunction to stop Del Amo’s allegedly illegal practices. Del Amo contended the trial court erred in ruling the arbitration provision was unenforceable under McGill, arguing: (1) McGill did not apply because, due to a choice-of-law provision in the contract, Utah law rather than California law governed the dispute; (2) if California law applied, the arbitration provision “does not run afoul of McGill” because Mejia did not seek a public injunction; (3) the arbitration clause was not unenforceable under McGill because the provision did not prevent a plaintiff from seeking public injunctive relief in all fora; and (4) if the arbitration provision was unenforceable under McGill, the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted McGill and required enforcement of the clause. The Court of Appeal found no merit to any of Del Amo's contentions and affirmed the district court's order. View "Mejia v. DACM Inc." on Justia Law
Moritz v. Universal City Studios LLC
The lawsuit underlying this appeal involves a "spin-off" of the Fast & Furious franchise, a project ultimately released as Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (the film), on which Moritz allegedly worked as a producer pursuant to an oral agreement with Universal. After Moritz filed suit for breach of a binding oral agreement regarding Moritz's work on the film, appellants moved to compel arbitration based on arbitration agreements in the written producer contracts regarding Moritz's work for Universal on the Fast & Furious franchise.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of appellants' motion to arbitrate, holding that the arbitration agreements from the Fast & Furious movies did not apply to the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off dispute. The court stated that not only is it not clear and unmistakable here that the parties agreed to delegate arbitrability questions concerning Hobbs & Shaw to an arbitrator, no reasonable person in their position would have understood the arbitration provisions in the Fast & Furious contracts to require arbitration of any future claim of whatever nature or type, no matter how unrelated to the agreements nor how distant in the future the claim arose. The court explained that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) requires no enforcement of an arbitration provision with respect to disputes unrelated to the contract in which the provision appears. In this case, appellants' argument that an arbitration provision creates a perpetual obligation to arbitrate any conceivable claim that Moritz might ever have against them is plainly inconsistent with the FAA's explicit relatedness requirement. View "Moritz v. Universal City Studios LLC" on Justia Law