Saturday, September 19, 2009

How Much Discovery is Too Much, Resulting in Waiver?

WHAT AMOUNT OF PRE-ARBITRATION DISCOVERY ENTAILS WAIVER OF THE RIGHT TO ENFORCE ARBITRATION AGREEMENT? In a recent mandamus proceeding the El Paso Court of Appeals did not answer that question directly, but pointed to the fact that a motion to compel arbitration had been filed and denied prior to the discovery being served. Invoking the Supreme Court's "totality of the circumstances" mantra, the Court finds that the right to arbitrate was not waived, and compels arbitration. Nobody knows what the totality of the circumstances means, other than providing for the consideration of "everything" as opposed to a defined list of factors, but it seems safe to conclude that objecting to litigation -- and moving for arbitration -- as soon as possible, and getting an adverse ruling prior to sending out discovery requests and noticing depositions, is the prudent thing to do in order to minimize the possibility of a waiver finding. In Re ReadyOne Industries, Inc. and Amalia Lopez (Tex.App.- El Paso, Aug. 8, 2009) In granting the mandamus petition in this case, opinion author Chief Justice David Wellington Chew goes the extra mile to be polite to trial judge, merely "requesting" the trial court to vacate the order denying arbitration. Others are typically are more blunt and "direct" the trial judge to comply upon a finding of abuse of discretion. As a matter of professional courtesy, courts of appeals typically do not actually issue mandamus writs in Texas, but afford the judge below an opportunity to comply before one is prepared. They typically do, thus mooting the writ. The waiver section of the opinion, which also contains other holdings of jurisprudential interest, including an analysis of the novel issue of how a corporate reorganization & name change affects an existing arb agreement, follows below: WAIVER A party waives the right to arbitrate by substantially invoking the judicial process to the other party's detriment or prejudice. In re Fleetwood Homes of Tex., L.P., 257 S.W.3d 692, 694 (Tex. 2008) (orig. proceeding). Waiver is a legal question for the court based on the totality of the circumstances, and asks whether a party has substantially invoked the judicial process to an opponent's detriment, the latter term meaning inherent unfairness caused by "a party's attempt to have it both ways by switching between litigation and arbitration to its own advantage." See id. (quoting Perry Homes v. Cull, 258 S.W.3d 580, 597 (Tex. 2008)). Waiver must be decided on a case-by-case basis, and courts should look to the totality of the circumstances involved. We consider factors such as when the movant knew of the arbitration clause, how much discovery has been conducted, who initiated it, whether it related to the merits rather than arbitrability or standing, how much of it would be useful in arbitration, and whether the movant sought judgment on the merits. Perry Homes, 258 S.W.3d at 591-92.

The Real Party in Interest argues that the litigation process has been substantially invoked, because both sides have completed extensive discovery, which goes to the merits of the case. The Relators made a request for disclosure, eight interrogatories, fifteen requests for production, and conducted two depositions. The request for disclosure, eight interrogatories, and fifteen requests for production were made on March 14, and 18, 2008. Relators filed their motion to compel arbitration on October 1, 2007, but the trial court did not rule on the motion until March 10, 2008. On April 30, 2008, Relators filed a motion to reconsider compelling arbitration, which was denied.

The discovery was conducted after the motion to compel arbitration was denied. We do not find that this conduct acts as a waiver. From the beginning of this litigation the Relators have attempted to invoke the arbitration agreement. In their first pleading, the Relators expressed that the arbitration agreement precludes state court litigation. Relators have not filed any affirmative claims for relief nor sought any judgments on the merits. They proffered two witnesses for deposition explicitly stating that the deposition was subject to an upcoming motion to reconsider the denial of the motion to compel arbitration. However, there is no record of the content of those depositions. The Real Party argues that all medical records have been exchanged, but this is not represented in the Relators' Record. The only medical document in the record is an Accident Investigation Report, which indicates that the Real Party is experiencing pain in her left shoulder. Critical to this type of litigation would be the diagnoses of her condition by a medical doctor and some testimony that her condition could be caused by her workplace duties.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, the discovery conducted in this case does not amount to substantially invoking the litigation process. The Texas Supreme Court has found that eighteen interrogatories and one set of nineteen requests for production did not waive the right to compel arbitration. In re Bruce Terminix Co., 988 S.W.2d 702, 704 (Tex. 1998). The Texas Supreme Court has also found that taking four depositions does not waive the right to arbitrate. In re Vesta Ins. Group, Inc., 192 S.W.3d 759, 763 (Tex. 2006). In Vesta Ins. Group, the Court found "the record does not show whether these requests were limited or extensive, whether they sought information for affirmative claims or defensive ones, or even whether they addressed the merits or merely the arbitration issue." Id. The same is true in this case. The content of the depositions is not available for this Court to review, nor was it available for the trial court to review in the Real Party in Interest's response in opposition to Defendant's motion to reconsider compelling arbitration. Most importantly, the Relators did not try to hide their desire to arbitrate this claim. In fact they tried twice to compel arbitration, once before any discovery had been completed.

Crucial to the Perry outcome was the fact that the party seeking to arbitrate waited until fourteen months after the case was filed to assert the right to do so.

14 months after filing suit and shortly before the December 2001 trial setting, the Culls changed their minds and requested arbitration. They justified their change of heart on the basis that they wanted to avoid the delays of an appeal. But their change unquestionably delayed adjudication of the merits; instead of a trial beginning in a few days or weeks, the plenary arbitration hearing did not begin until late September of 2002-almost ten months after the Culls abandoned their trial setting. Moreover, to the extent arbitration reduces delay, it does so by severely limiting both pretrial discovery and post-trial review. Having enjoyed the benefits of extensive discovery for 14 months, the Culls could not decide only then that they were in a hurry.

Perry Homes, 258 S.W.3d at 596-97. The court was clear to point out that while they found that the Culls had substantially invoked the judicial process that was only one part of a totality of the circumstances review. Id. at 596.

Thus, we should also look at the conduct of the parties. Id. In this case it is clear that the Relators desired to arbitrate the claim pursuant to an enforceable arbitration agreement from the early stages of the litigation. If the Supreme Court in Perry could have hung its hat solely on the amount of discovery that had been completed, it would not have continued to review how the Culls originally objected to arbitration, and then fourteen months later argued they were entitled to arbitrate.

We resolve any doubts that we have regarding waiver in favor of arbitration. Nw. Constr. Co. v. Oak Partners, L.P., 248 S.W.3d 837, 847 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth 2008, pet. denied). Considering the above in addition to the totality of the circumstances, we disagree that Relators waived their right to compel arbitration, because they have not substantially invoked the judicial process.

We also find that the Real Party has not shown that she will be prejudiced by arbitration. Fleetwood Homes of Tex., L.P., 257 S.W.3d at 694. Contrary to the assertions of the Real Party, the litigation process will not have to start over if the parties arbitrate this case. There is no evidence that the discovery already obtained could not be used at arbitration. Absent a showing that some evidence discovered would not be attainable in arbitration, no prejudice has occurred. In re Bruce Terminix Co., 988 S.W.2d at 704.


In Re ReadyOne Industries, Inc, [opinion in pdf on court's website] No. 08-08-00221-CV (Tex.App.- El Paso, Aug. 19, 2009) (arbitration mandamus granted, arbitration of workplace injury claim, no waiver of right to arbitrate) MOTION OR WRIT GRANTED: Opinion by Chief Justice Chew Before Chief Justice Chew, Justice McClure, The Honorable Gomez 08-08-00221-CV In Re: ReadyOne Industries, Inc. and Amalia Lopez [opinion in html] RELATED SEARCH TERMS: Discovery in civil litigation and arbitration | pre-arbitration discovery | timeliness of motion to compel arbitration | substantial invocation of the litigation process | waiver of contractual right to arbitrate, enforce arbitration clause| Perry Homes v. Cull progeny| arbitration in the employment context | arbitration of workplace personal injury claims|

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