Court of Appeal: Concepcion Kills Gentry

It's hard to keep up with arbitration law in California.  Can you waive class actions? Must you attach the entire rule set to the arbitration agreement?  Must you serve a nutritious meal when you provide the arbitration agreement?  It never ends. 

The tension between California case law and case law interpreting the Federal Arbitration Act causes these problems. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court decided in ATT Mobility v. Concepcion that the Federal Arbitration Act allows parties to limit arbitration agreements to single-plaintiff claims.  The Court overruled the Califoria Supreme Court's decision in Discover Bank v. Superior Court.  We posted about that here.

Discover Bank was about a consumer class action for small dollars / cents per claim. In Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443, the California Supreme Court extended Discover Bank  to wage-hour class actions. The Court held that a class waiver should not be enforced if "class arbitration would be a significantly more effective way of vindicating the rights of affected employees than individual arbitration."

The U.S. Supremes never mentioned Gentry. So what happened to it after Concepcion?


The Court of Appeal in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation- Los Angeles  (opinion here) decided that Gentry is no more. The real news here, though, is that this decision may dispose of - or severely restrict -- the entire body of anti-arbitration case law that has been developed over the past 10 years in California.  The language I've quoted below seems to sound the death knell to California courts' hostility to arbitration on "public policy" grounds (assuming this case remains on the books):
Now, we find that the Concepcion decision conclusively invalidates the Gentry test.  . . . Concepcion thoroughly rejected the concept that class arbitration procedures should be imposed on a party who never agreed to them. ... This unequivocal rejection of court-imposed class arbitration applies just as squarely to the Gentry test as it did to the Discover Bank rule. 
Second, Iskanian argues that the Gentry rule rested primarily on a public policy rationale, and not on Discover Bank‟s unconscionability rationale. While this point is basically correct, it does not mean that Gentry falls outside the reach of the Concepcion decision. ....

Third, the premise that Iskanian brought a class action to "vindicate statutory rights" is irrelevant in the wake of Concepcion. As the Concepcion court reiterated, "States cannot require a procedure that is inconsistent with the FAA, even if it is desirable for unrelated reasons." (131 S.Ct. at p. 1753.) ....
 This Court then decided that Concepcion applies to PAGA claims too. The Court disagreed with
Brown v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 489. "Brown held that the Concepcion holding does not apply to representative actions under the PAGA, and therefore a waiver of PAGA representative actions is unenforceable under California law."
This Court disagreed and held that Concepcion would not allow courts to invalidate arbitration agreements merely because they preclude PAGA claims:
Respectfully, we disagree with the majority‟s holding in Brown. We recognize that the PAGA serves to benefit the public and that private attorney general laws may be severely undercut by application of the FAA. But we believe that United States Supreme Court has spoken on the issue, and we are required to follow its binding authority.


The Court then went for the Tri-Fecta and disagreed with the National Labor Relations Board's decision in DR Horton, too. D. R. Horton  (2012) 357 NLRB No. 184
In D.R. Horton, the NLRB held that a mandatory, employer-imposed agreement requiring all employment-related disputes to be resolved through individual arbitration (and disallowing class or collective claims) violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because it prohibited the exercise of substantive rights protected by section 7 of the NLRA.
 The Court decided that it was not bound to follow DR Horton:

We decline to follow D.R. Horton. In reiterating the general rule that arbitration agreements must be enforced according to their terms, Concepcion (which is binding authority) made no exception for employment-related disputes. Furthermore, the NLRB‟s attempt to read into the NLRA a prohibition of class waivers is contrary to another recent United States Supreme Court decision. In CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood (2012) __ U.S. __, __ [132 S.Ct. 665, 668] (CompuCredit), plaintiff consumers filed suit against a credit corporation and a bank, contending that they had violated the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) (15 U.S.C. § 1679 et seq.).5 The plaintiffs brought the matter as a class action, despite having previously agreed to resolve all disputes by binding arbitration. The Supreme Court rejected their efforts to avoid arbitration, finding that unless the FAA‟s mandate has been "„overridden by a contrary congressional command,‟" agreements to arbitrate must be enforced according to their terms, even when federal statutory claims are at issue. (CompuCredit, at p. 669, citing (1987) 482 U.S. 220, 226.) The Supreme Court held: "Because the CROA is silent on whether claims under the Act can proceed in an arbitrable forum, the FAA requires the arbitration agreement to be enforced according to its terms." (CompuCredit, at p. 673.)

The D.R. Horton decision identified no "congressional command" in the NLRA prohibiting enforcement of an arbitration agreement pursuant to its terms. D.R. Horton’s holding—that employment-related class claims are "concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection" protected by section 7 of the NLRA, so that the FAA does not apply—elevates the NLRB‟s interpretation of the NLRA over section 2 of the FAA. This holding does not withstand scrutiny in light of Concepcion and CompuCredit.


Well, all that is left is Armendariz.  This Court did not touch it expressly. So, stay tuned.... The California Supreme Court is considering related issues. My bet is that the Court will take this case up as well if the parties seek review.