Monthly Archives: June 2013

Supreme Court Upholds Class Waiver

First photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court, by...

First photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court, by Mathew Brady, 1869 (courtesy of National Archives). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a five-to-three decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a class waiver in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12-133, 570 U.S. __ (June 20, 2013).  The Court considered whether a contractual waiver of class arbitration is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act when the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.  The Court held that it was.

“Respondents argue that requiring them to litigate their claims individually—as they contracted to do—would contravene the policies of the antitrust laws. But the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim.”  Slip Op. at 4.

Nor does congressional approval of Rule 23 establish an entitlement to class proceedings for the vindication of statutory rights. . . . One might respond, perhaps, that federal law secures a nonwaivable opportunity to vindicate federal policies by satisfying the procedural strictures of Rule 23 or invoking some other informal class mechanism in arbitration. But we have already rejected that proposition in AT&T Mobility, 563 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9).

Slip Op. at 5.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, also rejected the argument that “Enforcing the waiver of class arbitration bars effective vindication, respondents contend, because they have no economic incentive to pursue their antitrust claims individually in arbitration.”  Id.

By CHARLES JUNG

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Unanimous Supreme Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Interpretation of Contract Allowing for Classwide Arbitration

English: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the...

English: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The U.S. Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed an arbitrator’s interpretation of an arbitration clause to permit class proceedings.  Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, 569 U.S. __ (June 10, 2013).  The Court considered whether an arbitrator, who found that the parties’ contract provided for class arbitration, “exceeded [his] powers” under §10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq.  Justice Kagan, delivering the opinion of the Court and citing Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662, 684 (2010), concluded that the arbitrator’s decision survives the limited judicial review §10(a)(4) allows.

The arbitration clause at issue provided as follows:

No civil action concerning any dispute arising under this Agreement shall be instituted before any court, and all such disputes shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration in New Jersey, pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association with one arbitrator.

Slip Op. at 2.

The Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC distinguished Stolt-Nielsen:

The contrast with this case is stark. In Stolt-Nielsen, the arbitrators did not construe the parties’ contract, and did not identify any agreement authorizing class proceedings. So in setting aside the arbitrators’ decision, we found not that they had misinterpreted the contract, but that they had abandoned their interpretive role. Here, the arbitrator did construe the contract (focusing, per usual, on its language), and did find an agreement to permit class arbitration. So to overturn his decision, we would have to rely on a finding that he misapprehended the parties’ intent. But §10(a)(4) bars that course: It permits courts to vacate an arbitral decision only when the arbitrator strayed from his delegated task of interpreting a contract, not when he performed that task poorly. Stolt-Nielsen and this case thus fall on opposite sides of the line that §10(a)(4) draws to delimit judicial review of arbitral decisions.

Id. at 7.

The Court decided that Oxford must live with its choice of arbitral forum and the arbitrator’s construction of the contract, “however good, bad, or ugly”:

So long as the arbitrator was “arguably construing” the contract—which this one was—a court may not correct his mistakes under §10(a)(4). Eastern Associated Coal, 531 U. S., at 62 (internal quotation marks omitted). The potential for those mistakes is the price of agreeing to arbitration. As we have held before, we hold again: “It is the arbitrator’s construction [of the contract] which was bargained for; and so far as the arbitrator’s decision concerns construction of the contract, the courts have no business overruling him because their interpretation of the contract is different from his.” Enterprise Wheel, 363 U. S. at 599. The arbitrator’s construction holds, however good, bad, or ugly.

Id. at 8 (emphasis supplied).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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PAGA Claims Not Subject to Arbitration, Says Sixth District

KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED

KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED (Photo credit: avlxyz)

The Sixth District yesterday reversed an order compelling arbitration of an employee’s PAGA claims. Brown v. Superior Court (Morgan Tire & Auto, LLC), No. H037271, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (6th Dist. June 4, 2013).  This is a  preview of a question currently pending before the California Supreme Court in the case Iskanian v. CLS Transportation of Los Angeles.  The court in Brown held that “When applied to the PAGA, a private agreement purporting to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right.”

The question presented in this case is whether the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16) (FAA) permits arbitration agreements to override the statutory right to bring representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.) We conclude that the FAA does not demand enforcement of such an agreement. A plaintiff suing for PAGA civil penalties is suing as a proxy for the State. A PAGA claim is necessarily a representative action intended to advance a predominately public purpose. When applied to the PAGA, a private agreement purporting to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right. AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 131 S.Ct. 1740 (Concepcion) does not require otherwise.

Slip Op. at 1-2.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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