Burden Of Proof Shifted To Employer Because Employee Didn’t Remember Signing Arbitration Agreement.
Ruiz v. Moss Bros. Auto Group, Inc., E057529 (4/2 Dec. 23, 2014) (King, Hollenhorst, Codrington) is one more reminder of the pitfalls when dealing with electronic signatures. After employer Moss Bros. unsuccessfully petitioned for an order compelling arbitration of employee Ruiz’s employment-related claims based on an arbitration agreement Ruiz allegedly electronically signed, Moss Bros. appealed – also without success.
The employer’s declaration stated, in conclusory fashion, that Ruiz had signed the arbitration agreement. Indeed, Ruiz’s name had been electronically affixed to an arbitration agreement. Ruiz, however, did not remember signing the agreement. This shifted the burden to the employer to authenticate the signature, and the employer’s conclusory declaration failed to do so. The employer’s declaration failed to establish that the electronic signature was “the act of” Ruiz. Cal. Civ. Code, section 1633.9(a).
COMMENTS: Citing Condee v. Longwood Management Corp., 88 Cal.App.4th 215 (2001), the Court of Appeal explains, “Condee holds that a petitioner is not required to authenticate an opposing party’s signature on an arbitration agreement as a preliminary matter in moving for arbitration or in the event the authenticity of the signature is not challenged.” Because Ruiz failed to recall signing the 2011 agreement, the burden of authenticating the signature shifted to the employer, whose conclusory declaration failed to satisfy that burden.
On December 31, 2014, I posted on another electronic signature case, J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. v. Fair, Case Nos. A140232, A141228 (1/2 Dec. 30, 2014), in which the Court failed to enforce a settlement agreement under CCP 664.6, due to problems with the electronic signature. The analysis was quite different, however, than the analysis in Ruiz. The problem in Ruiz was that the employer failed to authenticate the electronic signature as the act of Ruiz. The problem in J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. was different – the party relying on the signature failed to show that the parties agreed to conduct business with electronic signatures under the California Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA).
The lesson here is that relying on electronic signatures can be tricky business, because electronic signatures present problems of compliance with the UETA and problems of authentication.