Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation

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Eileen Dalton purchased two used cars under separate finance contracts which contained provisions that retained self-help remedies for both parties, and that allowed either party to compel arbitration of any claim or dispute arising out of the contracts that exceeded the jurisdiction of a small claims court (which in New Mexico was $10,000). One of the cars was repossessed without judicial action. Dalton sued, alleging fraud, violations of the New Mexico Uniform Commercial Code, unfair trade practices, conversion, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of warranty of title. Santander Consumer USA moved to compel arbitration based on the clause contained in the finance contracts. Dalton argued that the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable on its face, and therefore unenforceable because the self-help and small claims carve-outs were unreasonably one-sided. After review of the provisions at issue here, the Supreme Court held that the arbitration provision in this case was not substantively unconscionable because: (1) lawful self-help remedies were extrajudicial remedies; and (2) the small claims carve-out was facially neutral because either party had to sue in small claims court if its claim was less than $10,000, or arbitrate if its claim exceeds $10,000, thereby neither grossly unfair nor unreasonably one-sided on its face. View "Dalton v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nina Strausberg signed an arbitration agreement as a mandatory condition of her admission to Defendants' nursing home. Despite having signed the arbitration agreement, Plaintiff sued the home its operators alleging negligent care. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on which party has the burden to prove that a contract is unconscionable and therefore, unenforceable. The district court found that Plaintiff had failed to prove unconscionability and, therefore, granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding the district court erred by placing the burden on Plaintiff to prove unconscionability. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that Plaintiff had the burden to prove that the agreement was unconscionable because unconscionability is an affirmative defense to contract enforcement, and under settled principles of New Mexico law, the party asserting an affirmative defense has the burden of proof. Furthermore, the Court held that federal law preempted the Court of Appeals' holding because it treats nursing home arbitration agreements differently than other contracts. View "Strausberg v. Laurel Healthcare Providers" on Justia Law

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Defendant Halliburton Energy Services hired Plaintiff Edward Flemma to work as a cement equipment operator in Houma, Louisiana, in January of 1982. During his twenty-six years of employment with Halliburton, Flemma was promoted several times and worked for the company in Louisiana, Texas, Angola, and New Mexico. The last position he held was as district manager in Farmington, New Mexico, where he worked from 2006 until the time of his termination in 2008.The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a conflict of laws issue that requires the Court to determine whether enforcement of an arbitration agreement, formed in the State of Texas, would offend New Mexico public policy to overcome our traditional choice of law rule. Upon review, the Court concluded that the agreement formed in Texas would be unconscionable under New Mexico law, and it therefore violated New Mexico public policy. Thus, the Court applied New Mexico law and concluded that no valid agreement to arbitrate existed between the parties because Halliburton's promise to arbitrate was illusory. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Flemma v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose from an employee grievance at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC. After succeeding in arbitration, the employee, John Horne, filed a lawsuit in state district court in 2008, in which he alleged more expansive claims arising out of the same subject matter covered in the arbitration agreement. LANL objected, claiming that it should not have to defend against claims that either were subject to arbitration or were waived by the arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court took the opportunity of this case opinion to discuss the consequences that follow when an employee voluntarily contracts to arbitrate grievances and what the employee must do to preserve a subsequent lawsuit if that is his intention. In this case the Court sided with the district court's ruling in favor of LANL, and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Horne v. Los Alamos Nat'l Sec., L.L.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review a decision that upheld a district court's order compelling arbitration of Petitioner Kim Rivera's claims against a title loan lender, American General Financial Services, Inc., and its affiliated insurance agency, American Security Insurance Company.  The Court based its reversal of those decisions on its holding that the arbitration provisions in the title loan contract cannot be enforced because the involvement of the now-unavailable National Arbitration Forum (NAF) to arbitrate contract disputes was an integral requirement of the parties' agreement.  Although no longer technically necessary to the Court’s disposition of this appeal, the Court corrected the analysis in the published opinion of the Court of Appeals that imposed an overly narrow construction on New Mexico's unconscionability jurisprudence and misapplied the Supreme Court's holding in “Cordova v. World Finance Corp. of N.M.,” 146 N.M. 256, 208 P.3d 901. View "Rivera v. American General Financial" on Justia Law