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Ramirez v. Golden Queen Mining Co. (CA5 F086371, filed 5/15/24, pub. 6/11/24) Arbitration Agreement | Authenticity of Signature

By June 11, 2024June 24th, 2024Uncategorized

Carlos Ramirez filed a class action lawsuit against his former employer alleging various violations of the Labor Code and unfair competition.  The employer moved to compel arbitration.  The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the employer failed to demonstrate the existence of an executed arbitration agreement.  The employer appealed, contending it carried the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that a written arbitration agreement existed.  The employer also contended Ramirez’s statements that he did not recall being presented with or signing an arbitration agreement were insufficient to rebut its initial showing and create a factual dispute about the authenticity of a handwritten signature.

There is a split of authority among the Courts of Appeal as to what constitutes sufficient evidence to create a factual dispute about the authenticity of a handwritten signature on a document agreeing to arbitration.  (Cf. Iyere v. Wise Auto Group (2023) 87 Cal.App.5th 747, 757–758 (Iyere) with Gamboa v. Northeast Community Clinic (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 158, 164–165 (Gamboa).)  We join Iyere in concluding that an individual is capable of recognizing his or her handwritten signature and if that individual does not deny a handwritten signature is his or her own, that person’s failure to remember signing the document does not create a factual dispute about the signature’s authenticity.  (Iyeresupra, at p. 757.)

Here, Ramirez’s declaration asserts he does not recall ever being presented with or signing an arbitration agreement.  The declaration, however, omits several significant facts.  First, the declaration fails to state whether Ramirez even reviewed the arbitration agreement, the related handbook acknowledgement, or any other documents purportedly signed by him and included in the employer’s moving papers.  A review of those documents, the handwritten signatures, and the handwritten initials might have improved Ramirez’s recollection.  Second, the declaration does not address whether Ramirez recalled signing the handbook acknowledgement, which is the document relied upon by the employer to show his consent to arbitration.  The acknowledgement included a bolded, underlined sentence stating he agreed to the terms of the arbitration agreement in the employee handbook.  Third, Ramirez’s declaration does not state, one way or the other, whether the handwritten signature on the handbook acknowledgement is his.  Based on these omissions, we conclude Ramirez did not rebut the employer’s initial showing that an arbitration agreement existed.

We therefore reverse the order denying the motion to compel arbitration and remand for further proceedings to address Ramirez’s unconscionability defense.