Tag Archives: California

Second District Orders Published Serpa v. California Surety Investigations, Inc.

Old crest of the club.

Old crest of the club. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the Second District ordered published Serpa v. California Surety Investigations, Inc., et al., No. B237363, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (filed Mar. 21, 2013, modified Apr. 19, 2013).  At the trial court level, the court denied defendants’  motion to compel arbitration, finding the agreement to arbitrate lacked mutuality.  Defendants argued that the requisite mutuality was provided by the bilateral arbitration provisions in the employee handbook, incorporated by reference into the arbitration agreement.  The trial court rejected this argument because defendant could change the handbook at its sole discretion and without notice.  The Second District reversed.

The motion to compel arbitration was based on three documents: (1) “Acknowledgment of Receipt of Arbitration and Agreement to Arbitrate”; (2) “Acknowledgment of Receipt of Employee Handbook”; and (3) a copy of the employee handbook.  Plaintiff contended the agreement to arbitrate is one-sided because it requires her to submit claims against her employer to arbitration but does not require her employer to arbitrate its claims against her: “I understand and agree that if my employment is terminated or my employment status is otherwise changed or any other dispute arises concerning my employment . . . , I will submit any such dispute exclusively to binding arbitration.”

The Court of Appeal agreed that if “that the full extent of the agreement, we would likely agree it lacked mutuality because it requires Serpa to submit to arbitration ‘any such disputes’ involving her employment without imposing a similar obligation on CSI.”

However, because the agreement incorporated the arbitration policy in the employee handbook, the Court concluded that this “salvages the agreement by establishing an unmistakable mutual obligation on the part of CSI and Serpa to arbitrate ‘any dispute’ arising out of her employment.”  Plaintiff argued that the while the arbitration policy in the handbook establishes a bilateral obligation to arbitrate, she insisted that the mutual obligation is illusory because, the employer is authorized to alter the terms of any policy contained in the handbook at its sole discretion and without notice.  The Court disagreed, reasoning that the right to alter the terms was limited by the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in every contract.

The implied covenant of good faith prevents one contracting party from “unfairly frustrating the other party‟s right to receive the benefits of the agreement actually made.” (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 349; accord, American Express Bank, FSB v. Kayatta (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 563, 570.) Thus, it has long been the rule that a provision in an agreement permitting one party to modify contract terms does not, standing alone, render a contract illusory because the party with that authority may not change the agreement in such a manner as to frustrate the purpose of the contract. (See Perdue v. Crocker National Bank (1985) 38 Cal.3d 913, 923 [“„where a contract confers on one party a discretionary power affecting the rights of the other, a duty is imposed to exercise that discretion in good faith and in accordance with fair dealing‟”]; see generally Asmus v. Pacific Bell (2000) 23 Cal.4th 1, 16 [employer‟s right to unilaterally modify employment agreement does not make agreement illusory]; Badie v. Bank of America (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 779, 787-788 [contracting party with unilateral right to modify contract does not have “carte blanche to make any kind of change whatsoever”; unilateral right to modify, when limited by the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, requires the party holding the power to affect the other party‟s rights to exercise it in a manner consistent with the reasonable contemplation of the parties at the time of the contract].) Application of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is no different in the arbitration context. In 24 Hour Fitness, Inc. v. Superior Court (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 1199 (24 Hour Fitness), a former employee brought an action against the company, doing business as 24 Hour Nautilus, for sexual harassment and related torts. The employer moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration policy in its employee handbook, which also contained a provision allowing the company to amend the handbook at its sole discretion. The 24 Hour Fitness court rejected the plaintiff‟s contention the unilateral right-to-amend provision made the arbitration agreement illusory and thus unconscionable. Observing the parties to an arbitration agreement, like any contract, are bound by the contract‟s implied covenant of good faith, the court explained, “Nautilus‟s discretionary power to modify the terms of the personnel handbook on [written] notice indisputably carries with it the duty to exercise that right fairly and in good faith. [Citation.] So construed, the modification provision does not render the contract illusory.” (Id. at p. 1214.)

Judges & Attorneys

Presiding Justice Perluss delivered the opinion for the court, with Associate Justices Woods and Jackson concurring.

Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Judge Ruth Ann Kwan.

Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton, Fred M. Plevin, Jeffrey P. Ames and Matthew R. Jedreski for Defendants and Appellants, California Surety Investigations, Inc., Two Jinn, Inc., Aladdin Bail Bonds and Peter Holdsworth.

Stevens, Carlberg & McMillan and Daniel P. Stevens for Plaintiff and Respondent Valerie Serpa.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Compels Arbitration in Kilgore v. KeyBank, But Avoids Vitiating Broughton-Cruz Rule

English: Diamond Katana aircraft owned by Amer...

English: Diamond Katana aircraft owned by American School of Aviation, an FAA Part 141 flight school based in Atwater, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a ruling that was expected to have a broad impact on mandatory employment arbitration agreements, the Ninth Circuit today compelled arbitration in Kilgore v. Keybank, National Association, but avoided a broad ruling vitiating the Broughton-Cruz rule.  Kilgore v. Keybank, National Association, No. 09-16703, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013) (en banc).  The appeal involved a putative class action by former students of a failed flight-training school who seek broad injunctive relief against the bank that originated their student loans among others.  The en banc court held that the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable under California law and reversed and remanded with instructions to compel arbitration.

Arbitration Clause

The Court quoted the relevant part of the arbitration clause as follows:

IF ARBITRATION IS CHOSEN BY ANY PARTY WITH RESPECT TO A CLAIM, NEITHER YOU NOR I WILL HAVE THE RIGHT TO LITIGATE THAT CLAIM IN COURT OR HAVE A JURY TRIAL ON THAT CLAIM . . . . FURTHER, I WILL NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE AS A REPRESENTATIVE OR MEMBER OF ANY CLASS OF CLAIMANTS PERTAINING TO ANY CLAIM SUBJECT TO ARBITRATION. . . . I UNDERSTAND THAT OTHER RIGHTS I WOULD HAVE IF I WENT TO COURT MAY ALSO NOT BE AVAILABLE IN ARBITRATION. . . .

Defendants sought a broad ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Concepcion vitiated the Broughton-Cruz rule that makes unenforceable arbitration agreements that bar certain claims for public injunctive relief.  The Ninth Circuit did not reach this question: Continue reading

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Employers Must Pay Piece Rate Workers Separate Hourly Compensation, Even Where Employer Maintains Minimum Wage Floor

Mercedes-Benz Motor Shop

Mercedes-Benz Motor Shop (Photo credit: Visionstyler Press)

The Second District published today Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, et al., Case No. B235292, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (2d Dist. Mar. 6, 2013).  Gonzalez is a wage and hour class action where the question presented was whether California’s minimum wage law requires an employer that compensates its automotive service technicians on a “piece-rate” basis for repair work must also pay those technicians a separate hourly minimum wage for time spent during their work shifts waiting for vehicles to repair or performing other non-repair tasks directed by the employer.  Defendant automobile dealership contended it was not required to pay the technicians a separate hourly minimum wage for such time because it ensured that a technician’s total compensation for a pay period never fell below what the employer refers to as the “minimum wage floor” — the total number of hours the technician was at work during the pay period (including hours spent waiting for repair work or performing non-repair tasks), multiplied by the applicable minimum wage rate.  The employer supplemented pay, if necessary, to cover any shortfall.

The Court of Appeal concluded that class members were entitled to separate hourly compensation for time spent waiting for repair work or performing other non-repair tasks directed by the employer during their work shifts, as well as penalties under Labor Code section 203, subdivision (a).  You can read more about the Gonzalez opinion here.

Judges and Attorneys

Associate Justice Victoria M. Chavez wrote the opinion for the court, with Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren and Associate Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst concurring.  Appeal was taken from a judgment of Hon. Mary H. Strobel of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.

Dickstein Shapiro, Arthur F. Silbergeld and Jennifer A. Awrey; Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Robin Meadow, Cynthia E. Tobisman, and Alana H. Rotter for Defendants and Appellants.

Gartenberg Gelfand Hayton & Selden and Aaron C. Gundzik; Law Offices of Neal J. Fialkow and Neal J. Fialkow for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP and Felicia R. Reid for National Automobile Dealers Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

Nossaman LLP and John T. Kennedy for California Automotive Business Coalition as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

Fine, Boggs & Perkins LLP, John P. Boggs and David J. Reese for California New Car Dealers Association and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

Altshuler Berzon LLP, Eve H. Cervantez and Eileen B. Goldsmith for California Employment Lawyers Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Press Quotes About Analysis of Compton v. Superior Court

Armendariz: Besta Berri 2009 4906

Armendariz: Besta Berri 2009 4906 (Photo credit: dantzan)

The author’s analysis of the Compton v. Superior Court, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013), was quoted in legal press today:

“In both cases, the First and Second districts applied Armendariz and invalidated arbitration agreements for lack of mutuality,” said Charles Jung, a Nassiri & Jung LLP attorney. “At least as far as California courts are concerned, Armendariz is alive and well, and it appears that this is going to continue to be the case until the California Supreme Court overrules it.”

In light of the latest ruling, plaintiffs and their attorneys looking to defeat mandatory arbitration agreements will keep an eagle eye out for any type of one-sidedness, according to Jung.

“The Compton ruling creates an avenue for employees to argue that mandatory agreements are unlawfully one-sided and that under Armendariz, they should be stricken,” he said. “For employers, it suggests the way to make arbitration agreements enforceable is by making them simple and even-handed. Employers can’t have their cake and eat it too.”

“The California Supreme Court really has its work cut out for it,” Jung said. “The challenge for the California Supreme Court is to try to preserve what it can of California’s public policy, yet not fall afoul of and directly contradict or simply ignore the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a very tricky position for the court to be in.”

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“Any Dispute” Language Plus Incorporation of AAA Rules Manifested Clear and Unmistakable Intent to Delegate Arbitrability Decision to Arbitrator

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In an unpublished opinion, the Second District Court of Appeal held that an arbitration clause that states that “[a]ny dispute whatsoever arising out of or referable to this Agreement, . . . as to the arbitrator’s jurisdiction, or as to the ability to arbitrate any such dispute, shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration” manifested a clear and unmistakable intent to delegate the arbitrability decision to the arbitrator.  Gallo v. Youbet.com, Inc., 2012 WL 470426, No. B230274 (Feb. 14, 2012).

Background

Plaintiff Gallo is an attorney a former General Counsel of defendant Youbet.com, Inc. Id. He signed an employment agreement, which included the following arbitration clause:

Any dispute whatsoever arising out of or referable to this Agreement, including, without limitation, any dispute as to the rights and entitlements and performance of the parties under this Agreement or concerning the termination of Executive’s employment or of this Agreement or its construction or its validity or enforcement, or as to the arbitrator’s jurisdiction, or as to the ability to arbitrate any such dispute, shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration in Los Angeles, California, by and pursuant to the Labor Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association with discovery proceedings pursuant to Section 1283.05 of the California Code of Civil Procedure.   The arbitrator shall be entitled to award any relief, which might be available at law or in equity, including that of a provisional, permanent or injunctive nature.   The prevailing party in such arbitration as determined by the arbitrator, or in any proceedings in respect thereof as determined by the person presiding, shall be entitled to receive its or his reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in connection therewith.

Id.

Defendant moved to compel arbitration, and the trial court granted the motion except for two causes of action for alleged violation of FEHA.  Id. The trial court did not issue a written rationale for its ruling or orally explain its rationale at the hearing.  Id.

Discussion Continue reading

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In an Employment Case, Denial of Class Certification Cannot Establish Collateral Estoppel Against Unnamed Putative Class Members

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The Court of Appeal for the Second District held that a denial of class certification cannot establish collateral estoppel against unnamed putative class members. Bridgeford v. Pacific Health Corporation, et al., No. B227486, 202 Cal.App.4th 1034 (2d Dist. Jan. 18, 2012).

Background

Plaintiffs Bridgeford and Tarin filed a class action complaint in May 2010 against Pacific Health Corporation and other entities, alleging that defendants committed numerous wage and hour violations, including (1) failure to pay wages due upon discharge or resignation, (2) failure to pay regular and overtime wages due semimonthly, (3) failure to provide meal breaks, (4) failure to provide rest breaks, (5) failure to provide itemized wage statements, (6) failure to pay minimum wages for time worked off-the-clock, (7) failure to pay overtime wages, and (8) unfair competition.  Id.

The trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend.  Id.  Plaintiff’s appealed, contending the trial court misapplied the doctrine of collateral estoppel in holding that their class claims are precluded, and there is no basis to dismiss their individual claims or their representative claims under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code section 2698, et seq.).

Discussion

Continue reading

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50 State Noncompete Survey Shows That California Is in Rare Company

John Burke, 10th Governor of North Dakota

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A 50 state noncompete survey shows that California is in elite company with respect to its general prohibition against noncompete agreements.  North Dakota and Oklahoma are the only other states to disallow noncompetes.

By CHARLES JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Holds That Newspaper Reporters Not Exempt

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On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in “all respects” the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs, a judgment after jury and bench trials, and an award of attorney’s fees to plaintiffs.  Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., Nos. 08-55483, 08-56740, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 3733568 (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010).  Among other things, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff newspaper reporters were non-exempt.  (Thank you to Randy Renick for bringing this case to my attention.)

Background

Employees of Chinese Daily News, Inc. (“CDN”), a Chinese-language newspaper, filed suit against CDN on behalf of current, former, and future CDN employees based in CDN’s San Francisco and Monterey Park (Los Angeles), California locations.  Id. *1.  Plaintiffs claimed violations of the FLSA, California’s Labor Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, alleging that employees were made to work in excess of eight hours per day and forty hours per week. Id. Continue reading

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Eastern District Finds Class-Wide Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

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United States District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected defendant’s argument that Stolt-Nielson preempted Gentry, and the court held that a class-wide arbitration agreement was unenforceable as against an unpaid wage and overtime plaintiff.  Mathias v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civ. No. S-10-1476 LKK/KJM, 2010 WL 3715059 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Ryan Mathias (“Mathias” or “plaintiff”) was employed by Rent-A-Center, Inc. (“RAC” or “defendant”) as an Assistant Manager, a position that was classified as a non-exempt or hourly position. Id. *1. As a condition of employment, plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement (“Agreement”), which Agreement contained a class action waiver and excluded arbitration private attorney general actions.  Id. Plaintiff filed a class action alleging eight claims arising from his employment with defendant, including claims for unpaid wages and overtime, unpaid rest and meal period premiums, and penalties arising from non-compliant wage statements under the California Labor Code and California Business and Professions Code. Id. Continue reading

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Southern District Requires Plaintiffs in CUTSA Case to Post $800,000 Bond for Fees and Costs Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 1030

Qualcomm Clown
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The United States District Court for the Southern District of California required plaintiffs in a UTSA case to post an $800,000 bond for fees and costs, pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 1030.  Gabriel Technologies Corporation v. Qualcomm Incorporated, No. 08 CV 1992 MMA (POR), Slip Copy, 2010 WL 3718848 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2010).

The action arose out of events related to technology licenses and related joint ventures between Plaintiffs and their predecessor in interest, and Defendants.  Id *1.  In the Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims for: (1) Breach of the Amended and Restated License Agreement; (2) Correction of Inventorship (pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 256); (3) Declaratory Judgment of Ownership Interest in the Patents (pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201); and (4) Misappropriation (pursuant to Cal. Uniform Trade Secrets Act). Id. *2. Defendants filed a motion for a cost bond under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1030. Id. The Court also has authority under Civil Local Rule 65.1.2(a) to require Plaintiffs to post a bond “where authorized by law and for good cause shown.” Continue reading

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