Law Lessons from PATRICIA ATALESE VS. U.S. LEGAL SERVICES GROUP, L.P., App. Div., A-0654-12T3, February 22, 2013:
New Jersey courts favor arbitration as a means of resolving disputes, embracing the federal policy preferring this method of alternative dispute resolution. EPIX Holdings Corp. v. Marsh & McLennan Cos., 410 N.J. Super. 453, 471 (App. Div. 2009); Bruno v. Mark MaGrann Assocs., 388 N.J. Super. 539, 545 (App. Div. 2006). “Because of the favored status afforded to arbitration, ‘[a]n agreement to arbitrate should be read liberally in favor of arbitration.’” Garfinkel v. Morristown Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs., 168 N.J. 124, 132 (2001) (quoting Marchak v. Claridge Commons, Inc., 134 N.J. 275, 282 (1993)).
It is equally well-settled “that parties to an agreement may waive statutory remedies in favor of arbitration.” Garfinkel, supra, 168 N.J. at 131. Courts have determined arbitration is an appropriate forum to vindicate statutory rights under the CFA. See, e.g., Curtis v. Cellco P’ship, 413 N.J. Super. 26, 36-37 (App. Div.) (“We have found nothing in the CFA that precludes vindication of a consumer’s ‘statutory rights in the forum.’”), certif. denied, 203 N.J. 94 (2010); Gras v. Assocs. First Cap., 346 N.J. Super. 42, 52 (App. Div. 2001) (“There is no inherent conflict between arbitration and the underlying purposes of the CFA.”), certif. denied, 171 N.J. 445 (2002); Caruso v. Ravenswood Developers, 337 N.J. Super. 499, 505 (App. Div. 2001) (“[C]laims arising under the Consumer Fraud Act may be heard and resolved through arbitration.”); Cybul v. Atrium Palace Syndicate, 272 N.J. Super. 330, 335 (App. Div.) (same), certif. denied, 137 N.J. 311 (1994).
To be sure, “such a waiver contained in a written provision ‘must reflect that [a party] has agreed clearly and unambiguously to arbitrate the disputed claim.’” NAACP of Camden Cnty. E. v. Foulke Mgmt. Corp., 421 N.J. Super. 404, 425 (App. Div.) (quoting Leodori v. CIGNA Corp., 175 N.J. 293, 302, cert. denied, 540 U.S. 938, 124 S. Ct. 74, 157 L. Ed. 2d 250 (2003)), certif. granted, 209 N.J. 96 (2011), appeal dismissed, ___ N.J. ___ (2013). Consequently, courts “must examine whether the terms of the provisions were stated with sufficient clarity and consistency to be reasonably understood by the consumer who is being charged with waiving her right to litigate a dispute in court.” Foulke, supra, 421 N.J. Super. at 428. In this regard, an arbitration will be upheld if
[t]he arbitration provisions are sufficiently clear, unambiguously worded, satisfactorily distinguished from the other Agreement terms, and drawn in suitably broad language to provide a consumer with reasonable notice of the requirement to arbitrate all possible claims arising under the contract.
[Curtis, supra, 413 N.J. Super. at 33.]
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