In a dispute over the purchase of a car, the purchaser filed a class action in California against the car dealer, and the dealer moved to compel arbitration. The dealer invoked the arbitration agreement contained in the automobile sales contract. The agreement contained a class action waiver provision and further provided that if the class waiver is deemed unenforceable, the entire arbitration agreement is unenforceable. The trial court denied the dealer’s motion to compel arbitration, finding the class waiver, and, thus, the entire arbitration agreement to be unenforceable. As we previously reported, the Court of Appeal declined to address the class waiver issue, holding instead that the arbitration appeal provision and the agreement as a whole were unconscionably one-sided. Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), the dealer appealed.
After the trial court decision but before the appellate court ruled, the Supreme Court in Concepcion held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) requires enforcement of class waivers in consumer arbitration agreements. The appellate court’s decision focused on whether the arbitration agreement was unconscionable, concluding that several of its provisions “have the effect of placing an unduly oppressive burden on the buyer.” The California Supreme Court noted that after Concepcion, unconscionability remains a valid defense to a motion to compel arbitration, but that state unconscionability laws must not disfavor arbitration by imposing procedures that interfere with the fundamental attributes of arbitration. The court then analyzed the arbitration agreement at issue under California’s unconscionability framework and concluded that while elements of the agreement were burdensome, the provisions the plaintiff claimed were substantively unconscionable — limits on appeals, allocation of costs, retention of the remedy of self-help — did not render the agreement unconscionable. The court likewise rejected the plaintiff’s class waiver arguments. Sanchez v. Valencia Holding Co., No. S199119 (Cal. Aug. 3, 2015)