Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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Ngo purchased a BMW. The dealership financed Ngo’s purchase; the purchase agreement contained an arbitration clause. As a result of alleged defects with the car, Ngo sued BMW, the manufacturer, which was not a signatory to the purchase agreement. BMW moved to compel arbitration. The district court granted the motion, finding BMW to be a third-party beneficiary.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Under California law, a nonsignatory is a third-party beneficiary only to a contract made expressly for its benefit. Any benefit that BMW might receive from the clause was peripheral and indirect because it was predicated on the decisions of others to arbitrate. The purchase agreement was drafted with the primary "motivating purpose" of securing benefits for the contracting parties; third parties were not the purposeful beneficiaries of that undertaking. Nothing in the contract evinced any intention that the arbitration clause should apply to BMW. The parties easily could have indicated that the contract was intended to benefit BMW but did not do so. The court declined to apply equitable estoppel to compel arbitration. Ngo did not allege any “concerted misconduct.” BMW was mistaken that, under the Song-Beverley and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Acts, Ngo’s claims were inextricably intertwined with the terms of the purchase agreement. View "Ngo v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Bird and other blind vendors filed a formal complaint with Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) seeking arbitration, prospective relief, and attorney’s fees as a consequence of OCB’s alleged mishandling of vending contracts and representation of blind vendors’ interests. The arbitration panel denied relief. The district court held that sovereign immunity did not apply to an arbitration panel’s decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA), which creates a cooperative federal-state program that gives preference to blind applicants for vending licenses at federal facilities, 20 U.S.C. 107, and that the Eleventh Amendment did not protect OCB from liability for damages. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Neither the RSA nor the parties’ operating agreements unequivocally waived a state’s sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages, attorney’s fees, or costs. Citing the Supreme Court’s 2011 "Sossamon" decision, the court rejected a “constructive waiver” argument, reasoning that a waiver of sovereign immunity must be explicit. An agreement to arbitrate all disputes simply did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages. The operating agreements incorporated the text of the RSA and contained no express waiver of immunity from money damages. Because no provision of the RSA or the operating agreements provided for attorney’s fees, Bird was not entitled to attorney’s fees. View "Bird v. Oregon Commission for the Blind" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing a putative class action complaint and granting defendant's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff contends that the arbitration agreement upon which DHIM relies was not properly formed.The panel agreed with its sister circuits and held that parties cannot delegate issues of formation to the arbitrator. In this case, where plaintiff challenged the very existence of an agreement to arbitrate, the district court was required to address his challenge and determine whether an agreement existed. If no agreement to arbitrate was formed, then there is no basis upon which to compel arbitration. The panel also concluded that the mutual arbitration agreement, as drafted, describes and governs a relationship between plaintiff and D.R. Horton that does not exist, and thus does not constitute a properly formed agreement to arbitrate. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Ahlstrom v. DHI Mortgage Co." on Justia Law

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In a putative class action by Domino’s drivers, asserting violations of various California labor laws, the district court denied a motion to compel arbitration based on its finding that the drivers were a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” and were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), notwithstanding their contracts with Domino’s, which provided claims between the parties be submitted to arbitration under the FAA. The exemption applies if the class of workers is engaged in a “single, unbroken stream of interstate commerce” that renders interstate commerce a “central part” of their job description.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Domino’s argument that the drivers who delivered goods to individual Domino’s franchisees in California were not engaged in interstate commerce because the franchisees, all located in California, placed orders with the supply center in the state, and the goods delivered were not in the same form in which they arrived at the supply center. Domino’s was directly involved in the procurement and delivery of interstate goods, was involved in the process from the beginning to the ultimate delivery of the goods, and its business included not just the selling of goods, but also the delivery of those goods. The transportation of interstate goods on the final leg of their journey by the Domino’s drivers satisfied the requirements of the residual clause. View "Carmona v. Domino's Pizza, LLC" on Justia Law

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Elkhorn is a farm labor contractor for a California-based vegetable grower. As part of Elkhorn’s orientation for incoming employees, Martinez-Gonzalez signed employment paperwork that included arbitration agreements. The district court held that the arbitration agreements resulted from undue influence and economic duress and were invalid and unenforceable.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for determination of whether Martinez-Gonzalez’s allegation of federal and state labor and wage law violations fell within the scope of the arbitration agreements. Under California law, the doctrine of economic duress did not render the arbitration agreements unenforceable because Elkhorn did not commit a wrongful act and reasonable alternatives were available to Martinez-Gonzalez. Martinez-Gonzalez made the journey from Mexico to California, where he was dependent on Elkhorn housing and had already started work but, while “not ideal,” those circumstances did not constitute a “wrongful act” under California law. No one at Elkhorn told Martinez-Gonzalez that refusing to sign the agreements was a cause for termination. It was clearly erroneous for the district court to conclude that MartinezGonzalez lacked a reasonable alternative. The timing and place of the orientation did not show that Martinez-Gonzalez’s will was overborne; the lack of time to consult with attorneys or read the agreements did not improperly induce his signatures. Elkhorn’s representatives’ instructions to sign the agreements quickly were not insistent demands. View "Martinez-Gonzalez v. Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs obtained short-term, high-interest loans from lenders owned by the Tribes. The standard loan contracts contained an agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising under the contract and a delegation provision requiring an arbitrator—not a court—to decide “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of [the loan] agreement or [arbitration agreement].” The contracts stated that they were governed by tribal law and that an arbitrator must apply tribal law. Plaintiffs filed class-action RICO complaints against the Tribal Lenders. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that the arbitration agreement as a whole in each contract was unenforceable because it prospectively waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue federal statutory claims by requiring arbitrators to apply tribal law.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Rather than asking first whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable as a whole, the court must consider first the enforceability of the delegation provision specifically. The delegation provision was enforceable because it did not preclude plaintiffs from arguing to an arbitrator that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the prospective-waiver doctrine. The general enforceability issue must, therefore, be decided by an arbitrator. The choice-of-law provisions were not to the contrary because they did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing their prospective-waiver enforcement challenge in arbitration. View "Brice v. Plain Green, LLC" on Justia Law

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California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law California Assembly Bill 51, which was enacted with the purpose of ensuring that individuals are not retaliated against for refusing to consent to the waiver of rights and procedures established in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Labor Code and to ensure that any contract relating to those rights and procedures be entered into as a matter of voluntary consent, not coercion.The Ninth Circuit reversed in part the district court's conclusion that AB 51 is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The panel held that California Labor Code 432.6 neither conflicts with the language of section 2 of the FAA nor creates a contract defense by which executed arbitration agreements may be invalidated or not enforced. Furthermore, section 432.6 does not make invalid or unenforceable any agreement to arbitrate, even if such agreement is consummated in violation of the statute; section 432.6 applied only in the absence of an agreement to arbitrate and expressly provided for the validity and enforceability of agreements to arbitrate; and because the district court erred in concluding that section 432.6(a)–(c) were preempted by the FAA, it necessarily abused its discretion in granting plaintiffs a preliminary injunction.However, the panel agreed that the civil and criminal penalties associated with AB 51 stood as an obstacle to the purposes of the FAA and were therefore preempted. The panel held that Government Code 12953 and Labor Code 433 are preempted to the extent that they apply to executed arbitration agreements covered by the FAA. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's determination that the civil and criminal penalties associated with AB 51 were preempted; vacated the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining AB 51's enforcement; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying Comcast's motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act of the claims asserted against it by a former cable subscriber. Plaintiff filed a putative class action challenging certain of Comcast's privacy and data-collection practices and seeking a variety of monetary and equitable remedies. The district court ultimately concluded that provisions of plaintiff's subscriber agreements were unenforceable under the McGill rule.The panel concluded that the district court misconstrued what counts as "public injunctive relief" for purposes of the McGill rule and that it therefore erred in concluding that the complaint here sought such relief. The panel explained that public injunctive relief within the meaning of McGill is limited to forward-looking injunctions that seek to prevent future violations of law for the benefit of the general public as a whole, as opposed to a particular class of persons, and that do so without the need to consider the individual claims of any non-party. Furthermore, such an injunction attempts to stop future violations of law that are aimed at the general public, and imposing or administering such an injunction does not require effectively fashioning individualized relief for nonparties. Because plaintiff's complaint did not seek such relief, the McGill rule is not implicated, and the arbitration agreement should have been enforced. View "Hodges v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC" on Justia Law

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Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lim, formerly a TForce California delivery driver, alleged that TForce employs delivery drivers and misclassifies them as independent contractors in violation of California law. The drivers sign an Independent Contractor Operating Agreement, providing that the agreement is governed by the laws of Texas, that “any legal proceedings … shall be filed and/or maintained in Dallas, Texas,” that all disputes “arising under, out of, or relating to this Agreement … including any claims or disputes arising under any state or federal laws, statutes or regulations, … including the arbitrability of disputes … shall be fully resolved by arbitration," that any arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association, that class actions are prohibited, and that the parties shall share the costs except in the case of substantial financial hardship--the prevailing party is entitled to recover its attorney’s fees and costs.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration, referring to the Agreement as an adhesion contract. Based on the cost-splitting, fee-shifting, and Texas venue provisions, the district court correctly concluded the delegation clause, which requires the arbitrator to determine the gateway issue of arbitrability, the agreement was substantively unconscionable as to Lim. View "Lim v. TForce Logistics, LLC" on Justia Law