Yes, yes I did write that post title. In Sprunk v. Prisma LLC (August 23, 2017), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One) considered whether a defendant in a putative class action can waive its right to compel arbitration against absent class members by deciding not to seek arbitration against the named plaintiff. The Court agreed that it did, holding that Prisma LLC "waived its right to seek arbitration by filing and then withdrawing a motion to compel arbitration against the named plaintiff, Maria Elena Sprunk, and then waiting until after a class had been certified to seek arbitration against class members." Slip op., at 2.
Some of the less interesting issues in the opinion concern the sufficiency of evidence of arbitration agreements with class members. The juicy stuff, however, is described as follows:
Plan B [Prisma LLC] also raises a legal issue concerning the status of absent class members. Plan B argues that the trial court erred in considering Plan B’s delay in moving to compel arbitration before the court decided class certification because the unnamed class members were not parties until a class was certified. Because this argument raises an issue of law concerning the time period that the trial court could properly consider in analyzing waiver, we review it de novo. (Sky Sports, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 1363, 1367 (Sky Sports) [applying the de novo standard to the issue whether a defendant “waived its right to compel arbitration because it did not bring the motion before certification of a class that included parties to the arbitration agreement”].)
Slip op., at 12. The Court concluded that strategic delay can properly result in waiver:
An attempt to gain a strategic advantage through litigation in court before seeking to compel arbitration is a paradigm of conduct that is inconsistent with the right to arbitrate. For example, Bower was a putative wage and hour class action in which the defendant engaged in discovery and attempted to settle the case on a classwide basis when the class was a modest size. (Bower, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1038–1040.) When the plaintiff sought an amendment that would have expanded the class, the defendant (Inter-Con) moved to compel arbitration. The trial court found waiver, and the appellate court affirmed, concluding that Inter-Con’s decision to delay seeking arbitration “appears to have been tactical.” (Id. at pp. 1045, 1049). Based upon Inter-Con’s litigation conduct, “[o]ne can infer that InterCon chose to conduct discovery, delay arbitration, and seek a classwide settlement because it saw an advantage in pursuing that course of action in the judicial forum.” (Id. at p. 1049.) Such conduct provided substantial evidence to support the finding that “Inter-Con’s actions were inconsistent with a right to arbitrate.” (Id. at p. 1045.)
Slip op., at 18. The discussion about waiver is extensive (seriously - about 24 pages of the opinion concern waiver). The Court seems to leave the door open for situations where the trial court believes that there is a bona fide desire to wait for an expected clarification in the law, but it would seem to be a risky bet for a defendant if its actions could just as well be perceived as done for strategic benefit.
I'm somewhat surprised that this hasn't come up more frequently.
Knapp, Petersen & Clarke, André E. Jardini, Gwen Freeman and K. L. Myles successfully represented Plaintiff and Respondent.