Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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After encountering problems with their used 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan, plaintiffs Dina C. and Pastor O. Felisilda brought an action against Elk Grove Auto Group, Inc., doing business as Elk Grove Dodge Chrysler Jeep (Elk Grove Dodge) and the manufacturer, FCA US LLC (FCA) for violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Relying on the retail installment sales contract signed by the Felisildas, Elk Grove Dodge moved to compel arbitration. FCA filed a notice of nonopposition to the motion to compel. The trial court ordered the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against both Elk Grove Dodge and FCA. In response, the Felisildas dismissed Elk Grove Dodge. The matter was submitted to arbitration, and the arbitrator found in favor of FCA. The trial court confirmed the arbitrator’s decision. The Felisildas appealed, contending: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to compel them to arbitrate their claim against FCA for lack of notice that the motion to compel included FCA; and (2) the trial court lacked discretion to order the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against FCA because FCA was a nonsignatory to the sales contract. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Felisildas forfeited their claim regarding lack of notice by arguing against FCA’s participation in arbitration. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court correctly determined the Felisildas’ claim against FCA was encompassed by the arbitration provision in the sales contract. View "Felisilda v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendants Silverado Senior Living Management, Inc., and Subtenant 350 W. Bay Street, LLC dba Silverado Senior Living – Newport Mesa appealed a trial court's denial of its petition to compel arbitration of the complaint filed by plaintiffs Diane Holley, both individually and as successor in interest to Elizabeth S. Holley, and James Holley. Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, who operated a senior living facility, for elder abuse and neglect, negligence, and wrongful death, based on defendants’ alleged substandard treatment of Elizabeth. More than eight months after the complaint was filed, defendants moved to arbitrate based on an arbitration agreement Diane had signed upon Elizabeth’s admission. At the time, Diane and James were temporary conservators of Elizabeth’s person. The court denied the motion, finding that at the time Diane signed the document, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate she had the authority to bind Elizabeth to the arbitration agreement. Defendants argued the court erred in this ruling as a matter of law, and that pursuant to the Probate Code, the agreement to arbitrate was a “health care decision” to which a conservator had the authority to bind a conservatee. Defendants relied on a case from the Third District Court of Appeal, Hutcheson v. Eskaton FountainWood Lodge, 17 Cal.App.5th 937 (2017). After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that Hutcheson and other cases on which defendants relied are distinguishable on the facts and relevant legal principles. "When the Holleys signed the arbitration agreement, they were temporary conservators of Elizabeth’s person, and therefore, they lacked the power to bind Elizabeth to an agreement giving up substantial rights without her consent or a prior adjudication of her lack of capacity. Further, as merely temporary conservators, the Holleys were constrained, as a general matter, from making long-term decisions without prior court approval." Accordingly, the trial court was correct that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable as to Elizabeth. Furthermore, because there was no substantial evidence that the Holleys intended to sign the arbitration agreement on their own behalf, it could not be enforced against their individual claims. The Courttherefore affirmed the trial court’s order denial to compel arbitration. View "Holley v. Silverado Senior Living Management" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying Fantasy's petitions to compel arbitration in two actions involving substantially similar wage and hour allegations. Plaintiffs both signed settlement agreements with Fantasy in 2014 in connection with a case called Guerra v. Fantasy Activewear, Inc. (LASC No. BC517633) containing the arbitration clauses at issue.The court held that plaintiffs were not acting as agents of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) when they entered into their settlement agreements with AW and DF. Because plaintiffs were not acting as agents of the state when they entered into the arbitration agreements at issue here, the court held that Fantasy has identified no arbitration agreement that would bind the real party in interest—the state—to arbitration, even of the question of arbitrability. View "Bautista v. Fantasy Activewear, Inc." on Justia Law

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Chris Garner sued Inter-State Oil Company alleging employment claims and seeking certification of a class action. Based on an arbitration agreement between Garner and Inter-State Oil, the trial court granted Inter-State Oil’s petition to compel arbitration of individual claims only, effectively denying Garner the ability to pursue class action claims. The trial court relied on language in the arbitration agreement stating that Garner waived his right to participate in class action lawsuits. On appeal of the order granting the motion to compel arbitration, Garner contended: (1) the plain language of the arbitration agreement gave him the right to pursue his class claims in arbitration; and (2) Inter-State Oil waived reliance on the arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the arbitration agreement required arbitration of Garner’s class claims; and (2) Inter-State Oil did not waive reliance on the arbitration agreement. The Court modified the trial court’s order to require arbitration of both individual and class claims, and affirmed the order as modified. View "Garner v. Inter-State Oil Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of Fitness's motion to compel arbitration in an employment dispute with plaintiff. The court held that the arbitration agreement was not procedurally unconscionable where both the 2008 and 2013 agreements had no elements of surprise. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to point to any instances of oppression. The court also held that the arbitration agreement was not substantively unconscionable where plaintiff's deal with Fitness does not shock the conscience, for its terms are standard rather than shocking. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's claim of issue preclusion. View "Torrecillas v. Fitness International, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Icee Company and J & J Snack Foods Corp. (collectively, Icee) appealed a trial court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a dispute with a former employee. The employee, Taraun Collie, alleged a single cause of action against Icee under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). Collie alleged that he worked for Icee from November 2014 to August 2015. When he began his employment, he signed an arbitration agreement. In July 2016, Collie filed his PAGA complaint on behalf of himself and other aggrieved employees. Icee moved to compel arbitration of Collie’s “individual claim” in August 2018. It argued that the parties had agreed to bilateral arbitration only, so Collie had to arbitrate his PAGA cause of action on an individual basis—that is, he could not seek PAGA penalties on behalf of other Icee employees. And because Collie had agreed to arbitrate all claims or controversies with Icee, he had effectively waived his right to bring a PAGA action on behalf of other employees in any forum. The trial court denied Icee’s motion, concluding that the California Supreme Court’s decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014), required that result. The Court of Appeal concluded that under Iskanian, an employee could not be compelled to arbitrate a PAGA cause of action on the basis of a predispute arbitration agreement, thereby affirming the trial court. View "Collie v. The Icee Co." on Justia Law

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Saldana resigned from his position at Veeco and went to work for a competitor, Aixtron. Veeco initiated arbitration proceedings against Saldana under an arbitration clause in his employee confidentiality agreement, alleging breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, and conversion, including alleged data theft. Aixtron was not a party to the arbitration. The arbitrator granted Veeco’s application for a pre-hearing discovery subpoena for Aixtron’s business records, including a demand that Aixtron produce any computers that Saldana had used for forensic examination by “an agreed-upon third-party neutral expert.” Over Aixtron’s objections, the arbitrator granted Veeco’s motion to compel. Aixtron sought judicial review; Veeco filed a separate petition to enforce the arbitrator’s discovery order, which the court granted.The court of appeal reversed, after first finding the order appealable. The arbitrator did not have the authority to issue a discovery subpoena to Aixtron in these circumstances under either the Federal Arbitration Act or the California Arbitration Act. Federal precedent indicates that there is no right to pre-hearing discovery under the FAA. There is no such right under Code of Civil Procedure section 1282.61 since the parties to the arbitration did not provide for full discovery rights in their arbitration agreement. View "Aixtron, Inc. v. Veeco Instruments Inc." on Justia Law

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The parties’ arbitration agreement purported to waive class actions and any “other representative action” (the representative waiver). There was no dispute that this representative waiver was broad enough to cover a Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) claim, and was thus invalid. The arbitration agreement went on to provide that the provision containing the class action and representative waiver was not modifiable nor severable. The arbitration agreement also contained a provision that if the representative waiver was found to be invalid, “the Agreement becomes null and void as to the employee(s) who are parties to that particular dispute,” the so-called "blow-up provision." Plaintiff Nichole Kec brought individual, class, and PAGA claims against defendants R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Reynolds American Inc., and three individual employees at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, alleging in essence, that she and others were misclassified as exempt employees, resulting in various violations of the Labor Code. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Reynolds American Inc., moved to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s individual claims except the PAGA claim. The court granted the motion. The court reasoned: (1) because defendants had not asked the court to rule on the enforceability of the representative waiver, it had not found the representative waiver invalid, and thus the blow-up provision had not been triggered; and (2) the blow-up provision could apply only to the attempted waiver of the PAGA claim, not to the arbitrability of plaintiff’s claims under the Labor Code. The Court of Appeal concluded defendants could not selectively enforce the arbitration agreement in a manner that defeated its goals. "Had the parties intended to permit defendants to proceed with arbitration notwithstanding an invalid waiver of representative claims, they would have simply made that provision severable, like every other term in the agreement. But that is not what they did. Instead, by specifically making section 5 not severable, the agreement evinces an intent not to allow defendants to selectively enforce the arbitration agreement." The Court issued a writ of mandate ordering the trial court to vacate its order granting arbitration, and to enter a new order denying the motion in its entirety. View "Kec v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The lack of initials next to a jury waiver contained in an arbitration agreement, even though the drafter included lines for the initials, is of no legal consequence in this case.After plaintiff filed an employment-related suit against BaronHR, BaronHR moved to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in denying the motion to compel arbitration because the language of the agreement between the parties establishes their mutual assent to submit employment-related disputes to arbitration and to waive the right to a jury trial. Furthermore, plaintiff does not dispute that he signed the agreement and thus he is deemed to have assented to its terms. The court stated that the fact that plaintiff did not also initial the subject paragraph does not provide a basis for concluding the parties did not mutually assent to the arbitration agreement. View "Martinez v. BaronHR, Inc." on Justia Law

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Where, as here, an arbitrator issues a series of rulings during an arbitration proceeding, a court determines which rulings constitutes an "award" by (1) asking whether the ruling (a) determines all issues necessary to resolve the entire controversy and (b) leaves unaddressed only those issues incapable of resolution at that time because those issues are potential, conditional or contingent, and (2) answering those questions by looking to the specific procedures adopted in the arbitration at issue.In this case, the parties trifurcated the arbitration proceedings and the arbitrator's second of three rulings did not determine all issues necessary to the controversy and left unaddressed issues that could have been addressed at that time. Therefore, the Court of Appeal held that the arbitrator acted within her authority in modifying that second ruling prior to issuing her third and final ruling that constituted an "award" and the trial court erred in refusing to confirm that award on the ground that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers in incorporating a modification of the second ruling into the award. The court vacated with instructions to enter a new and different judgment, rejecting the parties' further attorney fees-based challenges and awarding attorney fees on appeal to the prevailing party on appeal. View "Lonky v. Patel" on Justia Law