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Judge rejects car salesman's request for class action arbitration

Nicholas B. Carter and Christian G. Kiely persuaded a Massachusetts Superior Court judge to deny the request of a salesman for a class action arbitration against his former auto dealership employer.

In the absence of binding precedent, the ruling could have widespread ramifications in Massachusetts on the question of the arbitrability of class action claims.

Judge Rosemary Connolly held that the arbitration agreement between the former salesman and the firm’s client compels a single claim proceeding, absent an express, unequivocal authorization of a class arbitration. 

Ambiguity in an arbitration agreement is not enough, the judge found, because a class arbitration fundamentally alters the underlying dispute.

“Where an agreement is either silent, or is ambiguous, on the availability of class arbitration, the court cannot compel such arbitration,” the judge wrote in her 13-page decision.

The judge also determined she had the authority to decide the threshold question of whether the agreement permits a class action arbitration because the agreement did not expressly authorize the arbitrator to do so.

Mr. Carter, a partner at the firm, is a veteran trial lawyer with a strong record of litigation success in a wide range of matters, including representing car dealerships in complex business disputes.  Mr. Kiely concentrates his practice on business litigation, including employment law disputes, as well as matters involving intellectual property, university discipline, government investigations, and white collar criminal defense.