It's still possible to waive enforcement of arbitration agreements according to Nunez v. Nevell Group, Inc.

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Other than the minor surprise I now experience when any motion to compel arbitration is denied, such agreements having achieved a status as super-contracts with super powers, the decision in Nunez v. Nevell Group, Inc. (pub. ord. May 28, 2019) isn’t too surprising. In Nunez, the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration on the basis of waiver, delay, and prejudice.

The Court covers two topics in its discussion of waiver that might be of use to others. First, the Court examines the idea of waiver generally. Second, the Court examines the “clear and unmistakable” standard that asks whether a CBA clearly and unmistakably waives the right to a judicial forum for the particular type of claim in question. Keep in mind that, as the Court here observed, federal and California state courts may reach slightly different conclusions regarding application of the “clear and unmistakable” waiver standard, since California Courts are not bound by federal court decisions on the subject.

FAA section 1 held to exempt some California truck drivers from FAA coverage in Nieto v. Fresno Beverage Co.

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The arbitration battle lines have somewhat diminished in their spectacular scope, but that doesn’t mean the war is entirely over. Case in point: in Nieto v. Fresno Beverage Co. (certified for publication March 22, 2019), the Court of Appeal (Fifth Appellate District) affirmed a trial court ruling that found beverage company deliver drivers to be exempt from Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §1 et seq., the “FAA”) by operation of the exemption in Section 1 for what the Supreme Court has denominated “transportation workers.”

The case is not too long of a read, but it nevertheless does a thorough job of reviewing decisions addressing the Section 1 exemption (see pages 6-13 for the state of affairs).

There is also a quick reminder in the discussion about waiver of arguments not raised in the Opening Brief.

Kenneth H. Yoon, Stephanie E. Yasuda, and Brian G. Lee of Yoon Law and Douglas Han, Shunt Tatavos-Gharajeh, and Daniel J. Par of Justice Law Corporation represented the prevailing plaintiff on appeal.

Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 834 F.3d 975 is officially vacated by Ninth Circuit

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Following the Epic decision by the Supreme Court, today the Ninth Circuit formally vacated Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP in a per curiam Opinion.  And I bet you were wondering if they would Resist!  They did not.

Arbitration bid sunk in Sprunk

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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.

Further nuances to PAGA and arbitration clauses in Esparza v. KS Industries, L.P.

Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014) held that PAGA representative claims for civil penalties are not subject to arbitration.  In Esparza v. KS Industries, L.P. (August 2, 2017), the Court of Appeal (Fifth Appellate District) tackled the question of whether any claims asserted under PAGA can be "individual" claims, and, if so, how are they treated for purposes of arbitration agreements. The issue arose, in particular, because it appeared that the plaintiff asserted, within the PAGA claim, a claim to recover wages under Labor Code section 558, which, unlike the other PAGA penalties (in the sense of the word meaning something akin to a fine) sought, would result in the recovery of the underlying wages owed, with no portion going to the State from the recovered wages.  The Court directed the plaintiff on remand to declare unequivocally whether only penalties would be sought or whether, in addition, individual recovery claims would be pursued.  The Court concluded that such individual recovery claims would be severed and arbitrated.

Don't see the Fifth Appellate District having to wade into these issues regularly, so hat tip to that District for getting into the PAGA mix.

The trial court was technically affirmed, but the holding and directions on remand make this one a win for defendant/respondent, who was represented by Call & Jensen, John T. Egley and Jamin S. Soderstrom.

DOJ switches teams in NLRB v. Murphy Oil

The DOJ announced on Friday, June 16, 2017, that it was reversing its position on the validity of class action waivers in arbitration agreements and would file an amicus brief in support of the employer's position in NLRB v. Murphy Oil.  I get that a change in administration can bring with it a change in policy, but this is unfortunate in that it overtly politicizes a legal analysis that should at least attempt to be a textual analysis that doesn't depend on which way the wind blows.  I suppose Judge Posner has the right of it when he argues that all the supposedly dispassionate judicial reasoning is just a veneer over personal preference and wanting anything as significant as this issue to be decided apolitically is laughably naive.  Still, I think the better approach for the DOJ would have been to undertake the equivalent of a noisy withdrawal, officially retracting its position and choosing to take a neutral position in the case.

In Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc., the Ninth Circuit adds to the list of decisions severing PAGA claims from claims sent to arbitration

Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (9th Cir. Dec. 21, 2016) isn't the first decision to hold, in the face of a motion to compel arbitration in a wage and hour suit, that (1) PAGA claims should be severed from the rest of the claims and proceed in Court, and (2) the arbitrability of all other claims was for an arbitrator to determine.  The Court said:

In Iskanian v. CLS Transp. L.A., LLC, 327 P.3d 129 (Cal. 2014), the California Supreme Court held that where “an employment agreement compels the waiver of representative claims under the PAGA, it is contrary to public policy and unenforceable as a matter of state law.” Id. at 149. We have held that the Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt this rule. Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail N. Am., Inc., 803 F.3d 425, 427 (9th Cir. 2015). 

Slip op., at 21.

Another PAGA versus arbitration decision, this time from the Second Appellate District in Perez v. U-Haul Co. of California

Law is driven as much by unforeseen consequences as it is by any rational planning. The Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) is exhibit one.  Over the last five or so years, inexorable advance of the Federal Arbitration Act looked as if it would cut a fatal swath through many class actions. But, somewhat unexpectedly, PAGA has served as a counterpoint in the wage & hour sector.  In Perez v. U-Haul Co. of California (Sept. 16, 2016), the Second Appellate District, Division Seven, affirmed the trial Court's ruling that U-Haul could not assert an arbitration agreement to compel the plaintiffs to individually arbitrate whether they qualified as “aggrieved employee[s],” to determine in arbitration whether they had standing to pursue a PAGA claim.

The Court agreed with Williams v. Superior Court, 237 Cal. App. 4th 642 (2015), which also held that California law prohibits the enforcement of an employment agreement provision that requires an employee to individually arbitrate whether he or she qualifies as an “aggrieved employee” under PAGA, and then (if successful) to litigate the remainder of the “representative action in the superior court.”  Slip op., at 11-12.  The Court concluded by dismissively rejecting the notion that the FAA can apply to claim belonging to a governmental entity or its designated proxy.

Gregg A. Farley, of the Law Offices of Gregg A. Farley, and Sahag Majarian, of the Law Offices of Sahag Majarian, represented Plaintiff and Respondent Sergio Lennin Perez; Larry W. Lee and Nicolas Rosenthal. of the Diversity Law Group, and Sherry Jung, of the Law Offices of Sherry Jung, represented Plaintiff and Respondent Erick Veliz.

The Proposed Arbitration Regulations from the CFPB

If you have insomnia or just want to test the lower bounds of your will to live, you can view the text of the proposed rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (along with about 350 pages of commentary before you actually get to the proposed rules - it's a lot like the longest law review article you've ever read).

The Proposed Rules

Chamber of Commerce concerned over proposed regulation that would prohibit class action bans in consumer agreements

Nothing says Cinco de Mayo like arbitration. I have no idea what that means, so don't ask.  Anyhow, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will propose a regulation today that will ban contract terms that prohibit consumers from filing class action lawsuits.  And the Chamber of Commerce is none to happy about this development.  You can read the details at politico.com, which posted an opinion piece by Lisa A.Rickard, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform and David Hirschmann, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness.  If you don't have time to read the article, allow me to paraphrase: "Damn trial lawyers! Get off my lawn!"