California Court of Appeal Validates Arbitration Agreement, Despite Class Waiver

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albanian car dealer (Photo credit: gabork)

Yesterday, in an opinion with implications for employment arbitration agreements, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District reversed a trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration.  See Vasquez v. Greene Motors, Inc., et al., Case No. A134829, __ Cal.App.4th __ (1st Dist. Mar. 27, 2013).  The arbitration agreement related to the purchase of a used car on credit from defendants.  This opinion is notable for approving an arbitration agreement, despite the presence of a class waiver and the requirement to arbitration “public” claims.  Id. at 25-26.

The Court described the clause as follows:

The reverse side, also dense with text, contains a number of provisions in separate boxes, many dealing with typical ―boilerplate legal matters, such as warranties, applicable law, and buyer and seller remedies. None of the provisions on the back page requires a buyer‘s signature. Toward the bottom of the page is the arbitration clause. The entire text of the clause is outlined in a black border. In all capital letters and bold type at the top is written, ―ARBITRATION CLAUSE [¶] PLEASE REVIEW— IMPORTANT—AFFECTS YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS. Immediately below, three numbered provisions, also in all capital letters, inform the buyer either party may request arbitration, this would prevent a court or class-wide proceeding, and it might limit discovery. Below these, in smaller type, are the actual terms of the clause. Pursuant to these terms, the arbitration may be conducted under the auspices of the National Arbitration Forum or the American Arbitration Association (AAA), at the election of the buyer, or by any other mutually agreeable organization; the initial arbitration will be conducted by a single arbitrator; it will occur in the federal district of the buyer‘s residence; the seller must advance up to $2,500 of the buyer‘s arbitration costs; the award is binding unless it is $0 or more than $100,000 or includes injunctive relief, in which 4 case either party can request a second arbitration before three arbitrators; and the use of self-help remedies and small claims court is exempted.

The Court validated the presence of a class action waiver and requirement to arbitrate public claims, finding the arguments against each “foreclosed” by Concepcion:

Finally, Vasquez argues the waiver of class action rights and the requirement to arbitrate ―public claims, such as the statutory violations alleged here, are impermissible. (See Discover Bank v. Superior Court (2005) 36 Cal.4th 148 (Discover Bank); Cruz v. PacifiCare Health Systems, Inc. (2003) 30 Cal.4th 303.) Both arguments have been foreclosed by the United States Supreme Court‘s decision in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 131 S.Ct. 1740 (Concepcion), which found preemption by the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.). (See Phillips v. Sprint PCS (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 758, 769; Nelsen v. Legacy Partners Residential, Inc. (2012) 207 26 Cal.App.4th 1115, 1136–1137.) Although Concepcion expressly considered only Discover Bank‘s judicially created ban on class action waivers as unconscionable, the same rationale would require a finding of preemption of the statutory ban on class action waivers in section 1751, which is similarly based on public policy.

You can read more about the opinion here.

Judges & Attorneys

Justice Margulies wrote the opinion for the court, and Justices Dondero and Banke concurred.  The trial court judge was Hon. Robert S. Bowers of Solano County Superior Court

Toschi, Sidran, Collins & Doyle, David R. Sidran and Thomas M. Crowell for Defendants and Appellants.

Rosner, Barry & Babbitt, Hallen D. Rosner, Christopher P. Barry and Angela J. Smith for Plaintiff and Respondent.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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