On June 13, 2023, Lieff Cabraser partner Sarah London testified before the California State Assembly in support of SB 365. The bill, if passed, would put an end to a tactic used by corporate defendants to exploit the legal appeal process as a means to indefinitely delay a case when a judge overrules their demand for arbitration, and instead, orders a public, open-court proceeding between the parties to the lawsuit.

SB 365, aimed at “reigning in corporate abuse of legal processes around forced arbitration,” allows a worker’s, consumer’s, or government’s lawsuit to move forward even if a corporate defendant files an appeal to a trial court’s ruling that a forced arbitration clause is invalid or non-existent. Corporations frequently delay proceedings for months or years in consumer and workers rights cases by filing appeals when a forced arbitration clause is ruled invalid or inapplicable. SB 365 will level the playing field for workers and consumers by allowing cases to proceed.

Mandatory arbitration clauses have become a common feature of consumer transactions and employment agreements. More than half the American workforce has been constrained by arbitration clauses as a condition of their employment, and such provisions have also become widespread in consumer contracts. Under these terms, workers and consumers whose rights have been violated are barred from bringing their claims in public court or via a state agency. Instead, they must submit their claims in a private arbitration proceeding funded by defendants that overwhelmingly favors businesses and employers.

When before the Assembly, Ms. London shared the testimony of Mayah Curtis. Ms. Curtis, who underwent intrusive, painful, and expensive fertility procedures to assure the storage of her eggs, lost those eggs when a cryogenic containment vessel at her fertility clinic failed. Ms. Curtis saw her case forced into limbo when the defendants in an ensuing lawsuit derailed the proceedings over questions relating to the transferability of an underlying arbitration clause in the clinic’s agreements. Though the court denied the tank manufacturer’s motion to compel arbitration, the manufacturer’s appeal of that decision stopped the case entirely for over three years. Ultimately, the appellate court upheld the denial, meaning Ms. Curtis’ case – and her opportunity to find redress and get justice — was delayed for no reason at all.

As Ms. London explained in her testimony,

“Justice delayed can really amount to justice denied. The appeal paused all proceedings in the trial court. But she could not pause her biological clock. Every month her fertility options dwindled. Time is of the essence in this type of case. But the trial court judge had no discretion at all to even consider the irreparable harm caused by the stay. With everything stayed, she could not get a trial date or obtain the closure she needed to recover and move on with her life.”

Ms. London further explained, “While Mayah’s case and several dozen other cases were stayed, some victims were able to proceed in federal court to have their cases tried. There, unlike in California state court, the federal judge used her discretion to allow discovery and the proceedings to continue while the manufacturer appealed the denial of the motion to compel arbitration in the 9th circuit. It makes no sense that cases arising from the same disaster could proceed in Federal court, against the very same defendant, while the California actions had to come to a screeching halt. California citizens should have at the very least the same access to justice in their own courts as residents from other states have in our federal courts.”

About Sarah London

Sarah LondonA member of the Consumer Attorneys of California Convention Leadership Committee and a partner in Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Sarah R. London is a determined, skilled, and experienced advocate for the injured, employees, and consumers. She is experienced in all aspects of trial work, from drafting and arguing motions in limine, opposing Daubert challenges to plaintiffs’ experts and deposing defendants’ experts, and serving as lead trial counsel to writing successful post-trial and appellate briefs. Sarah’s case work involvement includes: the Florida Tobacco litigation, Zofran Infant Injury lawsuits, the Toyota Sudden Acceleration litigation, the Norvir antitrust case, Pacific Fertility Clinic Egg and Embryo Preservation Failures, the Gilead HIV Drug Kidney & Bone Injuries litigation, and the nationwide multidistrict Juul e-cigarette fraud and injury litigation. A 2020-2022 Super Lawyer, Super Lawyers Rising Star for eight consecutive years and 2015 finalist for the Consumer Attorneys of California Streetfighter of the Year Award, Sarah has held multiple leadership positions in CAOC.

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