Judge: Maurice A. Leiter, Case: 24STCV00723, Date: 2024-06-11 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 24STCV00723    Hearing Date: June 11, 2024    Dept: 54

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles

 

Jose Gutierrez,

 

 

 

Plaintiff,

 

Case No.:

 

 

24STCV00723

 

vs.

 

 

Tentative Ruling

 

 

Tesla Energy Operations, Inc.,

 

 

 

Defendant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing Date: June 11, 2024

Department 54, Judge Maurice A. Leiter

Motion to Compel Arbitration

Moving Party: Defendant Tesla Energy Operations, Inc.

Responding Party: Plaintiff Jose Gutierrez

 

T/R:     DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION IS GRANTED.

THE ACTION IS STAYED.

DEFENDANT TO NOTICE.

 

If the parties wish to submit on the tentative, please email the courtroom at SMCdept54@lacourt.org with notice to opposing counsel (or self-represented party) before 8:00 am on the day of the hearing.

 

The Court considers the moving papers, opposition, and reply.

 

BACKGROUND

 

On January 11, 2024, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant, asserting causes of action for Labor Code violations, FEHA violations and wrongful termination.

 

ANALYSIS

 

“On petition of a party to an arbitration agreement alleging the existence of a written agreement to arbitrate a controversy and that a party thereto refuses to arbitrate a controversy, the court shall order the petitioner and the respondent to arbitrate the controversy if it determines that an agreement to arbitrate the controversy exists….”  (CCP § 1281.2.)  The right to compel arbitration exists unless the court finds that the right has been waived by a party’s conduct, other grounds exist for revocation of the agreement, or where a pending court action arising out of the same transaction creates the possibility of conflicting rulings on a common issue of law or fact.   (CCP § 1281.2(a)-(c).)  “The party seeking arbitration bears the burden of proving the existence of an arbitration agreement, and the party opposing arbitration bears the burden of proving any defense, such as unconscionability.”  (Pinnacle Museum Tower Assn. v. Pinnacle Market Development (US), LLC (2012) 55 Cal.4th 223, 236.)

 

A.           Existence of Arbitration Agreement

 

Defendant moves to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in the offer letter signed by Plaintiff on October 31, 2020. (Decl. Flesch, Exh. A.) The agreement provides, “[A]ny and all disputes, claims, or causes of action, in law or equity, arising from or relating to your employment, or the termination of your employment, will be resolved, to the fullest extent permitted by law by final, binding and private arbitration in your city and state of employment conducted by the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services/Endispute, Inc. (“JAMS”), or its successors, under the then current rules of JAMS for employment disputes …” (Id.) This action arises from Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant.

 

Defendant has met its burden to establish an agreement to arbitrate. The burden shifts to Plaintiff to establish any defenses to enforcement.

 

B. Enforceability of Agreement

 

Plaintiff asserts that the arbitration agreement is procedurally unconscionable as it is an adhesion contract. Regarding procedural unconscionability, the California Supreme Court has found:

 

“[T]here are degrees of procedural unconscionability. At one end of the spectrum are contracts that have been freely negotiated by roughly equal parties, in which there is no procedural unconscionability . . . . Contracts of adhesion that involve surprise or other sharp practices lie on the other end of the spectrum. [Citation.] Ordinary contracts of adhesion, although they are indispensable facts of modern life that are generally enforced (see Graham v. Scissor–Tail, Inc. (1981) 28 Cal.3d 807, 817–818, 171 Cal.Rptr. 604, 623 P.2d 165), contain a degree of procedural unconscionability even without any notable surprises, and ‘bear within them the clear danger of oppression and overreaching.’ (Id. at p. 818 [171 Cal.Rptr. 604, 623 P.2d 165].)” (Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443, 469, 64 Cal.Rptr.3d 773, 165 P.3d 556.)

 

(Baltazar v. Forever 21, Inc. (2016) 62 Cal.4th 1237, 1244.)

 

Generally, in the employer-employee context, there is unequal bargaining power. (See Amendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 83, 115 [“in the case of preemployment arbitration contracts, the economic pressure exerted by employers on all but the most sought-after employees may be particularly acute, for the arbitration agreement stands between the employee and necessary employment, and few employees are in a position to refuse a job because of an arbitration requirement.”]

 

The Court finds that a low degree of procedural unconscionability exists here as the agreement is one of adhesion. This low degree of procedural unconscionability does not render the arbitration agreement unconscionable; to find the agreement unenforceable, the degree of substantive unconscionability must be high. (See Dotson v. Amgen, Inc. (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 975, 981.)

 

Plaintiff asserts that the agreement is substantively unconscionable because it contains an illegal fee shifting provision, prohibits appeal, and requires Plaintiff to waive PAGA and class claims. Regarding attorney’s fees, the agreement states that the parties are entitled to the remedies that would be allowed in court, and requires Defendant pay all fees greater than what would be allowed in court. This is not substantively unconscionable. The agreement’s silence on appeal does not render the agreement unconscionable; the nature of an arbitration agreement is that the parties waive the right to the procedures of the court system. And the PAGA and class waiver are capable of being severed. The agreement is not substantively unconscionable.

Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration is GRANTED. The action is STAYED.