The Morrison Law Journal
Under the California Arbitration Act, a party to an arbitration may file a Petition in the Superior Court to vacate the award of the arbitrator under certain circumstances, including that the arbitrator has exceeded his or her powers and that the award cannot be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision upon the controversy submitted. But a question that has arisen is whether an arbitrator's "partial" final arbitration award may be subject to a Petition to vacate the arbitrator's award.
This question has been answered in part in the matter Maplebear, Inc. v. Donna Busick (2018) Westlaw 3991259 ("Maplebear case"). In that regard, Donna Busick is a shopper and driver for a same day grocery delivery service known as Maplebear, Inc. or Instacart ("Instacart"). Ms. Busick claims that Instacart has violated California law by classifying she and other drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Ms. Busick and Instacart had signed an independent contractor agreement stating that disputes between them would be subject to binding arbitration. Under the terms of the independent contractor agreement, the arbitration would be conducted by JAMS, under its rules and procedures, with the arbitrator to apply California substantive law. Ms. Busick filed a claim in arbitration and also filed a class action arbitration demand on behalf of herself and similarly situated shoppers and drivers.
After Ms. Busick filed her class arbitration demand, the parties submitted to the arbitrator the threshold issue whether the agreement allowed Ms. Busick to seek certification of a claimant class within the arbitration. Ms. Busick prevailed on that question and the arbitrator issued a document entitled, "Partial Final Award on Clause Construction Regarding Putative Class Arbitration." Instacart then filed a Petition to the Superior Court to vacate the "Partial" Final Award, arguing that the arbitrator made legal errors in concluding that the agreement authorizes class certification, and that the arbitrator had exceeded her authority. The Trial Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on Instacart's petition. Instacart appealed.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Trial Court's ruling was an appealable order, but also ruled that the Trial Court correctly determined that it had no jurisdiction to reach the merits of Instacart's Petition. In that regard, the Court of Appeal ruled that the arbitrator's "Partial" Final Award is not a final "award" under the California Arbitration Act and that the matter would have to be fully arbitrated first before the Trial Court would be vested with jurisdiction again insofar as a Petition to vacate any award.
The Maplebear case is important in that it holds that interim awards, including "Final Partial" awards, will not be disturbed by the Court until and unless there is a truly final award.