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When the responding party on a motion to compel arbitration produces evidence challenging the authenticity of the purported arbitration agreement, the party seeking to compel arbitration must rebut the challenge by establishing...

California

,

USA

A Signature on an Arbitration Agreement is Not Enough to Prove the Existence of the Agreement In Gamboa v. Ne. Cmty. Clinic, B304833 (Cal. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2021), the California Court of Appeal for the Second District affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration in an employment dispute. In support of its motion, the defendant had filed a declaration by its director of human resources and attached the signed arbitration agreement as an exhibit to her declaration. However, the plaintiff’s opposition declaration stated that she did not remember the arbitration agreement at all and that no one had ever told her about the agreement or explained what it was. The defendant filed a reply brief arguing that the plaintiff’s failure to remember the arbitration agreement did not invalidate the agreement; however, the defendant did not file a supplemental declaration or any other evidence establishing that the agreement existed.The Court of Appeal explained that the moving party bears the initial burden of producing prima facie evidence of a written agreement to arbitrate the controversy. This burden can be met by attaching a copy of the arbitration agreement purporting to bear the opposing party’s signature (at 4). If the moving party meets its initial prima facie burden and the opposing party wishes to dispute the agreement, then the opposing party bears the burden of producing evidence to challenge the authenticity of the agreement. The opposing party can meet this burden by testifying or declaring that the party never saw or does not remember seeing the agreement, or that they never signed or do not remember signing the agreement (at 5). If the opposing party meets its burden of producing evidence, then in the third and final step, the moving party must establish with admissible evidence a valid arbitration agreement between the parties on a preponderance of the evidence (at 5).The Court held that the plaintiff had met her burden in challenging the authenticity of the agreement by filing an opposing declaration stating that she did not remember the arbitration agreement (at 7-8). This placed the burden of establishing a valid arbitration agreement by a preponderance of the evidence on the defendant. The defendant failed to meet this burden because the assertions in its representative’s declaration did not establish the preliminary facts needed to justify admission of the evidence.As a result, the defendant’s evidence had been properly excluded (at 10-11). Further, even if the trial court had admitted the defendant’s declaration into evidence, the contents of the declaration would not have met the burden of establishing a valid arbitration agreement by a preponderance of the evidence because the declaration did not explain how the declarant knew that the plaintiff had seen or signed the arbitration agreement (at 11-12). The bald assertions in the declaration were insufficient to meet the burden (at 13).

April 14, 2022
Gamboa v. Ne. Cmty. Clinic, B304833 (Cal. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2021)
California Courts