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Champion v. Amazon.Com LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 12, 2019

AMAZON.COM LLC, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is plaintiff Yolanda Champion's ("Champion") "Motion to Amend June 21, 2019, Order to Certify the Same for Interlocutory Appeal Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. sec 1292(b)," filed July 19, 2019. Defendant Amazon Logistics, Inc. ("Amazon") has filed opposition, to which Champion has replied. Having read and considered the papers filed in support of and in opposition to the motion, the Court rules as follows.[1]

         Champion was formerly employed by defendant NEA Delivery, LLC ("NEA"), and was assigned by NEA to work as a delivery driver for Amazon. Champion alleges she was jointly employed by both NEA and Amazon and that, during such employment, she was not provided with meal and rest periods or with proper wages.

         On May 10, 2019, Amazon filed, under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), a motion to compel arbitration of Champion's claims, relying on a contract between NEA and Champion, titled "Binding Arbitration Agreement" (hereinafter, "Agreement") under which Champion agreed to arbitrate any claims "that may arise out of the employment context." (See Nyhan Decl., filed May 10, 2019, Ex. A.) On June 21, 2019, the Court held a hearing and, at the conclusion thereof, granted the motion and stayed the action, to the extent alleged against Amazon, pending completion of arbitration proceedings.[2]That same date, the Court issued a written order incorporating the Court's ruling.

         In granting the motion, the Court found: (1) Champion had entered into the Agreement, (2) the Agreement was not unconscionable, (3) Amazon, although not a party to the Agreement, could rely thereon to compel arbitration, and (4) a statutory exemption from enforcement of the Agreement did not apply. By the instant motion, Champion requests the Court amend the June 21 order to certify, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), that the fourth of the above-referenced findings is appropriate for interlocutory appeal.

         Under § 1292(b), a district court may certify for interlocutory appeal an order where (1) "such order involves a controlling question of law," (2) "there is substantial ground for difference of opinion" as to such question of law, and (3) "an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation." See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). The Court discusses each such factor in turn.

         Under § 2 of the FAA, a party may seek to enforce "[a] written provision in any . . . contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy." See 9 U.S.C. § 2. Pursuant to § 1, however, an exemption exists for "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce." See 9 U.S.C. § 1. The term "any other class of workers" has been interpreted to mean "transportation workers," see Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 119 (2001). Courts have found "contracts of employment" of "transportation workers" are contracts of "workers in the transportation industry." See Hill v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 398 F.3d 1286, 1290 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing cases).

         Here, the Court found the exemption set forth in § 1 did not apply to the Agreement, which ruling involves a controlling question of law. See Kuehner v. Dickinson & Co., 84 F.3d 316, 319 (9th Cir. 1996) (holding order staying action pending completion of arbitration proceedings "involve[s] a controlling question on law").

         Next, in determining whether the exemption in § 1 applied, the Court found the relevant contract is the Agreement between NEA and Champion, the only contract that contains a "written provision" to arbitrate, see 9 U.S.C. § 2, and Champion has not argued, let alone offered evidence to show, NEA is in the interstate transportation industry. See Performance Team Freight Systems, Inc. v. Aleman, 241 Cal.App.4th 1233, 1241 (2015) (holding "party opposing arbitration bears the burden of demonstrating that the [§ 1] exemption applies"). The Court also found, without dispute by Champion, said contract could be invoked by Amazon to compel arbitration, as Champion's claims against NEA and Champion are "based on the same facts and are inherently inseparable from the arbitrable claims against [the] signatory defendant[ ]." See Garcia v. Pexco, LLC, 11 Cal.App. 5th 782, 787-788 (2017) (finding non-signatory customer of temporary staffing agency entitled to compel arbitration, based on clause in contract between plaintiff and staffing agency).

         The Court further found that, even if, as Champion argues, the nature of Amazon's business can be considered for purposes of § 1, despite the absence of an arbitration agreement in what Champion asserts is an implied contract between Amazon and Champion, the exemption set forth in § 1 was inapplicable, as Amazon is not engaged in the transportation industry. With regard to such finding, a difference of opinion exists. See Rittman v., Inc., 2019 WL 177725, at *1, *4 (W.D. Wash. April 23, 2019) (finding, in case involving arbitration provision in written contract of employment between Amazon and plaintiff therein, § 1 exemption applicable). Based on the record presented here, the Court did not agree with another district court's characterization of Amazon as "akin to UPS and FedEx," see id., 2019 WL 177725, at *3, but rather, found Amazon is primarily engaged in the sale of merchandise, both its own products and, in some instances, those of others, and, in connection therewith, provides efficient delivery as a service to customers. In essence, the Court found Amazon is more closely akin to an online version of Walmart than an online version of Federal Express.

         Lastly, as one court has noted, although an appeal may "take more time and effort than arbitration . . .[, ] an appeal will still conclude more quickly than requiring arbitration to run its course before the appeal begins." See Lee v. Postmates Inc., 2019 WL 1864442, at *4 (N.D. Cal. April 25, 2019).

         Accordingly, the Court having found each factor set forth in § 1292(b) is met, Champion's motion is hereby GRANTED, and, by separate order filed concurrently herewith, the Court's order compelling arbitration has been amended to reflect such finding.

         IT ...

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