United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Richard Seeborg United States District Judge
Jennifer Garcia filed this putative class action alleging
various wage and hour violations under California state law
by defendants. Two years ago, Silvia Contreras and Martha
Valencia Lazaro sued the same defendants, alleging the same
wage and hour claims, but under the California Labor
Code’s Private Attorneys General Act §§ 2698
et seq. (“PAGA”). Defendants recently
settled with Contreras and Lazaro. Defendants now move for
summary judgment, on the grounds that Garcia either must be
compelled to arbitrate her claims or that Contreras and
Lazaro’s settlement precludes the ongoing litigation of
this case. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is
alleges systematic deprivation of minimum and overtime wages,
inadequate rest and meal breaks, failure to indemnify
employees, failure to provide accurate wage statements,
failure to pay wages owed upon termination, and violations of
California’s Unfair Competition Law during her tenure
at a northern California “Jack in the Box”
restaurant. She seeks back-pay and other damages for herself
and all others similarly situated. Defendants-both California
corporations engaged in the operation of the restaurants in
the chain at issue-are no strangers to allegations of this
sort. They have recently reached a settlement with two other
former employees, also represented by Garcia’s counsel,
who filed a PAGA case alleging similar claims.
Garcia began working for defendants on approximately May 20,
2015, she was seventeen years old. On her first day of work,
she signed an At-Will & Arbitration Employee
Acknowledgement and Agreement (“the Agreement”),
which required binding arbitration of “any claim,
dispute, and/or controversy…arising from, related to,
or having any relationship or connection whatsoever” to
her employment with defendants. Exhibit 3, Plaintiff’s
Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Plaintiff’s Response”). She alleges being
rushed through signing the paperwork, tricked as to its
contents, and taken advantage of because she was a minor.
Plaintiff Jennifer Garcia’s Declaration in Support of
Plaintiff’s Response (“Plaintiff’s
Declaration”) at 2–3. Garcia stopped working for
defendants in April 2016 and turned eighteen years old in May
in October 2015, two of defendants’ other employees
sued defendants in Superior Court in the County of Monterey.
See Contreras et al v. JIB Management, Inc. et al,
No. 15-cv-000143 (Cal. Super. Ct. filed October 21, 2015).
Contreras makes claims similar to those in the
present case: failure to pay minimum and overtime wages,
failure to provide rest and meal periods, failure to
indemnify employees, failure to pay wages due at termination,
and failure to provide wage statements. The plaintiffs in
both cases are represented by the same counsel. While the
present case is a putative class action, the
Contreras plaintiffs made their claims on behalf of
the State of California pursuant to PAGA. The
Contreras plaintiffs have recently reached a $400,
000 settlement with defendants, which provides for payment to
the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency
(“CLWDA”), to the named plaintiffs, and to
plaintiffs’ attorneys for fees and costs. The remainder
is to be allocated to aggrieved employees “as penalties
and to recover underpaid wages as penalties.” Order
Granting Motion to Approve Penalties Sought as Part of a
Settlement Pursuant to the Private Attorney Generals Act
filed the present case in December 2017, approximately
eighteen months after the termination of her employment with
defendants. Her complaint disavowed “[a]ny
employment-related documents, including any arbitration
agreement(s) entered into by Plaintiff and
Defendants…during the time Plaintiff was a
minor.” Class Action Complaint at 4, Garcia v. Central
Coast Restaurants, Inc., No. RG-17886551 (filed Dec. 13,
2017). Garcia characterizes her disavowal as preemptive,
however, and alleges she was unaware of having signed the
Agreement until defendants filed their motion for summary
deciding a motion to compel arbitration, a standard similar
to the summary judgment standard is applied. Concat LP v.
Unilever, PLC, 350 F.Supp.2d 796, 804 (N.D. Cal. 2004).
The question of whether parties agreed to arbitration is to
be decided by a court, not an arbitrator, unless the parties
clearly provide otherwise. AT & T Techs., Inc. v.
Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986).
Under the Federal Arbitration Act, arbitration agreements
“shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save
upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the
revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2 (2012).
Federal policy encourages arbitration, prohibiting state
courts from treating arbitration agreements differently than
any other contractual agreement. AT&T Mobility v.
Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 341 (2011). Doubts regarding
the scope of arbitrable issues should thus be resolved in
favor of arbitration. Rajagopalan v. NoteWorld, LLC,
718 F.3d 844, 846–47 (9th Cir. 2013).
the question is not whether a particular issue is
arbitrable but whether a particular party is bound
by an arbitration agreement, however, this liberal policy is
irrelevant. Id. The court must apply principles of
contract law to arbitration agreements the same way it would
to any other contract. Concepcion, 563 U.S. at 343.
Under California law, the essential elements for a contract
are (1) “[p]arties capable of contracting;” (2)
“[t]heir consent;” (3) “[a] lawful
object;” and (4) “[s]ufficient cause or
consideration.” Cal. Civ. Code § 1550 (West 1999).
If a motion to compel arbitration is opposed on the ground
that no agreement was made, the benefit of all reasonable
doubts and inferences should be given to the opposing party.
Concat LP, 350 F.Supp.2d at 804. The
formation of an arbitration agreement can only be decided as
a matter of law when there is no genuine issue of material
fact. Three Valleys Mun. Water Dist. v. E.F. Hutton &
Co., 925 F.2d 1136, 1141 (9th Cir.1991).
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is proper “if the pleadings and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The purpose of summary
judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually
unsupported claims or defenses.” Celotex v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323–24 (1986). The moving
party “always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of the pleadings and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Id. at 323 (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). If it meets this burden,
the non-moving party then “must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Those facts must be material, i.e.,
“facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under
the governing law….Factual disputes that are
irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.”
Anderson v. Liberty ...