Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation

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Fair Labor Standards Act claims, not dependent on interpretation of collective bargaining agreement, need not be arbitrated, where arbitration clause does not include a clear waiver. Certified nursing assistants, sued their employer, Silver Care, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and related New Jersey laws, claiming that Silver underpaid them for overtime by failing to include certain hourly wage differentials in the calculation of plaintiffs’ regular rate of pay, and by deducting plaintiffs’ half-hour meal breaks from their total hours worked, although they often worked through those breaks. Silver unsuccessfully moved to dismiss or to stay the proceedings, citing the arbitration clause in the governing collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The Third Circuit affirmed. A court may compel arbitration of a plaintiff’s federal statutory claim when the arbitration provision clearly and unmistakably waives the employee’s ability to vindicate that right in court and the federal statute does not exclude arbitration as an appropriate forum. If no clear or unmistakable waiver exists, arbitration may be compelled if the plaintiff’s FLSA claim “depends on the disputed interpretation of a CBA provision,” which must “first go to arbitration.” Silver did not dispute that the arbitration provision lacks a clear and unmistakable waiver. Neither of the FLSA claims depend on disputed interpretations of CBA provisions. View "Jones v. SCO Silver Care Operations LLC" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey, GTL is the sole provider of telecommunications services that enable inmates to call approved persons outside the prisons. Users can open an account through GTL’s website or through an automated telephone service with an interactive voice-response system. Website users see GTL’s terms of use and must click “Accept” to complete the process. Telephone users receive an audio notice: Please note that your account, and any transactions you complete . . . are governed by the terms of use and the privacy statement posted at www.offenderconnect.com.” Telephone users are not required to indicate their assent to those terms, which contain an arbitration agreement and a class-action waiver. Users have 30 days to opt out of those provisions. The terms state that using the telephone service or clicking “Accept” constitutes acceptance of the terms; users have 30 days to cancel their accounts if they do not agree to the terms. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that GTL’s charges were unconscionable and violated the state Consumer Fraud Act, the Federal Communications Act, and the Takings Clause. GTL argued that the FCC had primary jurisdiction. Plaintiffs withdrew their FCA claims. GTL moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied GTL’s motion with respect to plaintiffs who opened accounts by telephone, finding “neither the knowledge nor intent necessary to provide ‘unqualified acceptance.’” The Third Circuit affirmed. The telephone plaintiffs did not agree to arbitration. View "James v. Global TelLink Corp." on Justia Law

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In August 2012, Aliments, a Canadian snack purveyor, contacted its American broker, Sterling, to purchase thousands of pounds of raw pistachios. Sterling contacted Pacific, another broker, which called Nichols, a California pistachio grower, who agreed to the proposed quantity and price. In September, Sterling contacted Pacific with another order from Aliments. Pacific contracted with Nichols again. Sterling sent sales confirmations to Aliments and Pacific. Pacific did not forward the Sterling sales confirmations to Nichols but issued its own confirmations to Nichols and Sterling. Neither Aliments nor Nichols was aware that two confirmations existed, with the same terms, including a 30-day credit term. However, while Sterling’s confirmations contained arbitration clauses, not all of the confirmations generated by Pacific contained arbitration clauses. Aliments believed that the Sterling confirmations, though unsigned by either party, represented binding contracts to purchase pistachios from Nichols, with payment due 30 days from delivery, “as usual.” Nichols thought that the 30-day term was but a placeholder. The parties were unable to agree to payment terms. Despite being notified of an arbitration, Nichols did not attend. Aliments was awarded $222,100 in damages. Nichols refused to pay. The district court denied Aliments’ petition to enforce the award and granted Nichols’s cross-petition to vacate because no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the parties failed to enter into “an express unequivocal agreement” to arbitrate. The Third Circuit vacated, finding multiple issues of fact. View "Aliments Krispy Kernels Inc v. Nichols Farms" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the workers’ compensation insurance policy for South Jersey (SJ), a trash-removal business, neared expiration, SJ, through its insurance agent, entered into a three-year Reinsurance Participation Agreement (RPA) with Applied Underwriters. The RPA stated that any disputes would be arbitrated in Tortola or in an agreed location and indicated that it would be governed by Nebraska law. The RPA and its attachments total 10 pages. SJ claims that it believed the RPA was a workers’ compensation insurance policy; that Applied fraudulently presented it as such; that the RPA is actually a retrospective rating insurance policy under which premiums would be based on claims paid during the previous period; and that it was promised possible huge rebates. SJ acknowledged that Applied is not an insurer and cannot issue workers’ compensation insurance. Applied represented that SJ purchased a primary workers’ compensation policy from Continental, which entered into a pooling agreement with California; all are Berskshire Hathaway companies. The pooling agreement was a reinsurance treaty. According to Applied, the RPA was not insurance, but an investment instrument. For 34 months, SJ paid monthly premiums of $40,000-$50,000, expecting a rebate. Claims paid on its behalf were $355,000 over three years. After the RPA expired, Applied declared that SJ owed $300,632.94. SJ did not pay. Applied filed a demand for arbitration. SJ sought declaratory relief as to the arbitration provision and rescission of the RPA. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit reversed. SJ’s challenges to the arbitration agreement apply to the contract as a whole, rather than to the arbitration agreement alone; the parties’ dispute is arbitrable. View "South Jersey Sanitation Co., Inc v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs represent a putative class of New Jersey real estate purchasers and refinancers who were overcharged $70 to $350 in fees. Plaintiffs allege that settlement agents (Defendants) intentionally charged Plaintiffs more than the county clerk charged for recording deeds and mortgages and kept the difference. The class claims total over $50 million, exclusive of treble damages and interest. Defendants sought dismissal and raised affirmative defenses, but did not seek to enforce arbitration clauses present in their contracts with Plaintiffs. The case was litigated for 30 months with the focus primarily on class certification. Both sides conducted broad discovery and contested substantive motions. Plaintiffs have served 130 non-party subpoenas and spent over $50,000 on experts. In 2011, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted state laws that had previously prohibited a party from compelling bipolar (individual) arbitration in certain situations even when it was specifically agreed to by contract. Defendants demanded enforcement of the arbitration agreements in light of this change in the law, then moved to compel bipolar arbitration. The Third Circuit affirmed in favor of Defendants. Futility can excuse the delayed invocation of the right to compel arbitration; any attempt to compel bipolar before the Supreme Court’s decision would have been futile. View "Chassen v. Fid. Nat'l Fin. Inc." on Justia Law

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The Goldmans, proceeding before an arbitration panel operating under the auspices of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), alleged that their financial advisor and Citigroup had violated federal securities law in their management of the Goldmans’ brokerage accounts. The district court dismissed their motion to vacate an adverse award for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating the Goldmans’ motion failed to raise a substantial federal question. The Third Circuit affirmed. Nothing about the Goldmans’ case is likely to affect the securities markets broadly. That the allegedly-misbehaving arbitration panel happened to be affiliated with a self-regulatory organization does not meaningfully distinguish this case from any other suit alleging arbitrator partiality in a securities dispute. The court noted “the flood of cases that would enter federal courts if the involvement of a self-regulatory organization were itself sufficient to support jurisdiction.” View "Goldman v. Citigroup Global Mkts., Inc" on Justia Law

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Hamilton Park, a long-term care facility, belonged to a multi-employer bargaining group, Tuchman. Tuchman and the employees' union agreed to a CBA beginning in 2008 and extending through February 28, 2013, giving the union the option to reopen negotiations in November 2011 to bargain for new terms for the CBA’s last year and to submit any unresolved items to binding interest arbitration, and allowing the arbitrator to “determine his jurisdiction” and grant “all appropriate remedies.” In 2011, the union invoked its right to reopen negotiations. The parties agreed to arbitrate unresolved issues, including the cost to maintain the existing health benefits. The arbitrator, Scheinman, suggested a multi-year award to spread increased contributions over a longer period. Scheinman claims that “[b]oth sides [orally] agreed my jurisdiction permitted a multi-year Award, at my discretion.” In 2012, Scheinman issued an award that extended through June 2016, dealing with wages and health benefits contributions, and allowing the union to reopen negotiations for the contract’s last year. Scheinman did not address why he included a second generation interest arbitration provision, nor did he claim that the parties consented. Hamilton Park petitioned to vacate the award, arguing that Scheinman exceeded his authority. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Hamilton Park agreed to expand Scheinman’s jurisdiction to a multi-year award, but did not agree to inclusion of a second generation interest arbitration provision. View "Hamilton Park Health Care Ctr., Ltd.v. 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers E." on Justia Law

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Hamilton Park, a long-term care facility, belonged to a multi-employer bargaining group, Tuchman. Tuchman and the employees' union agreed to a CBA beginning in 2008 and extending through February 28, 2013, giving the union the option to reopen negotiations in November 2011 to bargain for new terms for the CBA’s last year and to submit any unresolved items to binding interest arbitration, and allowing the arbitrator to “determine his jurisdiction” and grant “all appropriate remedies.” In 2011, the union invoked its right to reopen negotiations. The parties agreed to arbitrate unresolved issues, including the cost to maintain the existing health benefits. The arbitrator, Scheinman, suggested a multi-year award to spread increased contributions over a longer period. Scheinman claims that “[b]oth sides [orally] agreed my jurisdiction permitted a multi-year Award, at my discretion.” In 2012, Scheinman issued an award that extended through June 2016, dealing with wages and health benefits contributions, and allowing the union to reopen negotiations for the contract’s last year. Scheinman did not address why he included a second generation interest arbitration provision, nor did he claim that the parties consented. Hamilton Park petitioned to vacate the award, arguing that Scheinman exceeded his authority. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Hamilton Park agreed to expand Scheinman’s jurisdiction to a multi-year award, but did not agree to inclusion of a second generation interest arbitration provision. View "Hamilton Park Health Care Ctr., Ltd.v. 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers E." on Justia Law

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Singer-songwriters John Whitehead and Gene McFadden were “an integral part of the 1970s Philadelphia music scene. In 2002, Pullman approached them about purchasing their song catalogue. The parties signed a contract but never finalized the sale. Pullman claims he discovered tax liens while conducting due diligence and that the matter was never resolved. Whitehead and McFadden passed away in 2004 and 2006, respectively. Pullman became embroiled in disputes with their estates over ownership of the song catalogue. The parties eventually agreed to arbitration. Pullman, unhappy with the ruling, unsuccessfully moved to vacate the arbitration award on the ground that the panel had committed legal errors that made it impossible for him to present a winning case by applying the Dead Man’s Statute, which disqualifies parties interested in litigation from testifying about personal transactions or communications with deceased or mentally ill persons.” The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that the arbitrators did not misapply the law, but that legal error alone is not a sufficient basis to vacate the results of an arbitration in any case. View "Whitehead v. Pullman Group LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Chesapeake, as “Lessee,” entered into oil and gas leases with northeastern Pennsylvania landowners. The Leases indicate that they were “prepared by” Chesapeake and include a provision, stating that, in the event of a disagreement between “Lessor” and “Lessee” concerning “this Lease,” performance “thereunder,” or damages caused by “Lessee’s” operations, “all such disputes” shall be resolved by arbitration “in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association.” In 2013, Scout purchased several leases and began receiving royalties from Chesapeake. In 2014, Scout filed an arbitration demand on behalf of itself and similarly situated lessors, alleging that Chesapeake paid insufficient royalties. Chesapeake objected to class arbitration and sought a declaratory judgment, arguing that “[it] did not agree to resolve disputes arising out of the leases at issue in ‘class arbitration,’ nor did Chesapeake agree to submit the question of class arbitrability ... to an arbitrator.” The district court and Third Circuit ruled in favor of Chesapeake, finding that the issue of arbitrability is a question for the court. Based on the language of the Leases, the nature and contents of the AAA rules, and existing case law, the Leases did not “clearly and unmistakably” delegate the question of class arbitrability to the arbitrators. View "Chesapeake Appalachia LLC v. Scout Petroleum, LLC" on Justia Law