Author: Arielle E. Katz

New Jersey Appellate Division Finds Parties’ Agreement for Arbitrator to Participate in Settlement Discussions and Continue as Arbitrator Need Not Be in Writing

In Pami Realty, LLC v. Locations XIX Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division, in a to-be-published opinion, reversed a trial court’s determination that an agreement between litigants that an arbitrator could participate in settlement discussions and then continue as arbitrator must be in writing. After commencing litigation over a construction contract dispute, the parties agreed to participate in arbitration proceedings to resolve their dispute. On the second day of arbitration, the parties discussed settlement. When the settlement negotiations were unsuccessful, the arbitration resumed for a final day of testimony. Six weeks after the submission of post-hearing briefs, the arbitrator reported that he had finished his opinion and would be finding in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff’s counsel responded that the arbitrator “had no authority to act as a mediator in this matter and then re-assume the role of arbitrator,” and his “decision to act as mediator created a conflict of interest that neither party waived through the arbitration agreement.” After the arbitrator issued an award in favor of the defendant, the defendant moved to confirm the award. The plaintiff filed a cross motion to vacate the award, again arguing that the arbitrator had “exceeded his powers when he resumed the role of arbitrator after acting as a mediator mid-arbitration.” In a one-page statement of reasons,...

New Jersey Appellate Division Holds Semblance of Acknowledgement Needed for Internet-Based Terms and Conditions Arbitration Clause to Apply

In Wollen v. Gulf Streams Restoration and Cleaning LLC, the New Jersey Appellate Division, in a to-be-published opinion, reversed a trial court’s determination that a plaintiff was bound to an arbitration provision found on an internet-based company’s website. Specifically, the Appellate Court found that the plaintiff did not “knowingly and voluntarily agree to waive her right to resolve her disputes in court.” Defendant HomeAdvisor is an internet-based home improvement website that refers potential customers to third-party local service providers. A potential customer would log on to the HomeAdvisor website and create an online account in order to submit a service request. The customer was then required to provide information about the project before reaching the final webpage, which featured a button for the user to press requesting “free project cost information” from contractors in the area. An orange button with the words “View Matching Pros” was at the bottom of the page, with a line of text beneath it stating “[b]y submitting this request, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions.” The phrase “Terms & Conditions” was in blue and contained a hyperlink to a separate document entitled “HomeAdvisor Terms and Conditions.” However, a customer could click “View Matching Pros” without viewing the terms and conditions. Further, there was nothing to indicate that a...

Eighth Circuit Rules That Plaintiff Can File Motion to Strike Class Action Without Waiving Right to Compel Arbitration

In Donelson v. Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s decision that had denied both a motion to strike class action allegations and a motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiff was invited to create an Ameriprise account by defendant Sachse, who worked as a broker and investment advisor at defendant Ameriprise. The two met over lunch, where Sachse brought, and filled out himself, a copy of the account application. After the account application was signed, but not read, by the plaintiff, it was alleged that Sachse “badly mishandled [Plaintiff’s] investment account.” The plaintiff brought suit alleging violations of § 10(b) and § 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5, as well as breach of fiduciary duty under 15 U.S.C. § 80b-6, and, after finding other Sachse clients who had experienced similar problems with their accounts, sought to represent them in a Rule 23(b)(2) class action. The defendants moved to strike the class action allegations and to compel arbitration, which the district court denied. The defendants appealed. On appeal, the court addressed the question of whether the defendants waived their right to arbitrate when they simultaneously moved to strike the class action allegations. The court found that they had not. Ultimately, the court determined that when the defendants...

District Courts Now Split on Whether Provision in TCPA is Unconstitutional

Earlier this year, we wrote about Lindenbaum v. Realgy, a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which dismissed the plaintiff’s “robocall” class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), based on the Supreme Court’s 2020 holding that a statutory exception for automated calls to collect government debts was unconstitutional. Because 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) was unconstitutional at the time of the alleged violations, the district court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit. Lindenbaum is currently on appeal before the Sixth Circuit (No. 20-4252). On March 18, 2021, the ACLU joined the fight by filing an amicus brief in support of the defendant, arguing that the defendant cannot be held “liable under a discriminatory statutory scheme that punishes only disfavored speakers.” Since Lindenbaum, the Middle District of Florida, in Hussain v. Sullivan Buick-Cadillac-GMC Truck, Inc., also held that this provision in the TCPA is unconstitutional. Similar to Lindenbaum, the plaintiff in Hussain alleged that she received pre-recorded phone calls and voicemails from the defendants without her consent. The defendants sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint, alleging that the TCPA was unconstitutional and unenforceable during the time the phone calls were made, due to the unconstitutional provision. The Middle District of Florida, relying on Lindenbaum...

Second District Court to Dismiss Claims Based on Unconstitutional Statute Provision

In Lindenbaum v. Realgy, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio dismissed the plaintiff’s “robo-call” class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), based on the Supreme Court’s 2020 holding that a statutory exception for automated calls to collect government debts was unconstitutional. Because the statute was unconstitutional at the time of the alleged violations, the district court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit. Originally enacted in 1991, the TCPA restricts almost all prerecorded sales calls to cell phones. In 2015, Congress amended the provision to allow prerecorded calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The 2015 provision was struck down in 2020 by the United States Supreme Court’s plurality decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. While the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the statute dealing with calls for government debt, it left the rest intact. In Lindenbaum, the plaintiff brought a class action lawsuit alleging violations of the TCPA. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that she received two prerecorded calls, one to her cellphone and one to her landline, and had not provided express written consent to receive these calls. The plaintiff argued that the severance of the...

Supreme Court Holds That 14-Day Appeal Deadline Established by Rule 23(f) Cannot Be Tolled

On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Nutraceutical Corporation v. Lambert, that the 14-day deadline imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), seeking permission to appeal an order granting or denying class certification, cannot be tolled. After initially certifying a class, the District Court, on February 20, 2015, decertified the class after finding that common issues did not predominate among the class members. Pursuant to Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline, the plaintiff, Lambert, had until March 5, 2015 to seek permission to appeal. But, on March 2, 2015, Lambert orally informed the District Court that he would seek reconsideration and did not file his motion for reconsideration until March 12, 2015. Lambert’s motion for reconsideration was denied on June 24, 2015. Fourteen days after that, almost four months past his 14-day deadline, Lambert petitioned the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to appeal the District Court’s order decertifying the class. The Court of Appeals granted Lambert’s petition, finding that the 14-day deadline under Rule 23(f) should be tolled given the circumstances. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that because Lambert had informed the court within 14 days that he would be seeking reconsideration, he acted diligently. The Supreme Court disagreed, however, and found that the 14-day deadline imposed by Rule 23(f) could not be...

Third Circuit Relies on Spokeo to Shed Light on What is Needed For Article III Injury-in-Fact Standing

In Long v. SEPTA, the Third Circuit considered whether and when a violation of a statute is a standing-conferring injury-in-fact satisfying the Constitution’s “case or controversy” requirement. At issue in Long was whether the plaintiffs, who were denied employment by SEPTA when background checks disclosed disqualifying criminal histories, could sue SEPTA for failing to provide them with copies of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and copies of their background consumer reports before being denied employment, both of which are required by FCRA. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating that the plaintiffs did not allege a “concrete injury in fact,” because the alleged FCRA violations were “bare procedural violations.” On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim based on SEPTA’s failure to provide the plaintiffs notice of their FCRA rights. The Court held that, because the plaintiffs understood their rights well enough to bring the suit, they were not injured by SEPTA’s failure to give them notice of those rights and, therefore, lacked standing to pursue the claim. But the Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the claim based on SEPTA’s failure to provide copies of the plaintiffs’ consumer reports. The Third Circuit applied the two tests “for whether an intangible injury can be . . . concrete”...

New Jersey Appellate Division Finds Individual Causation Issues Related to Ascertainable Loss Detrimental to Class Certification

In Polanco v. Star Career Academy, the New Jersey Appellate Division vacated a $10.7 million final verdict against Star Career Academy (“Star”), a New Jersey for-profit school. At issue in the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) class action trial below was whether Star concealed and failed to disclose necessary information to Surgical Technology (“ST”) program applicants and students. Specifically, it was alleged that the school did not have the required accreditation needed for students to gain employment upon graduation. Trial resulted in a verdict against Star in the amount of $9 million, with a $1.7 million fee award. On appeal, the appellate panel first found that students seeking an education from a school like Star have the right to know, before enrollment, whether the school has proper accreditation. This is to afford students the opportunity to attend an accredited institution instead. The panel found that because the record contained evidence that Star had made material misrepresentations to students regarding the lack of proper accreditation, Star’s pre-trial summary judgment motion had properly been denied. However, the appellate panel concluded that the trial court had improperly certified the class because the class-wide claims did not predominate over individual allegations by the class members for the following reasons: First, there was a “disparate series of alleged misrepresentations,”...