Second Circ. Holds Arbitration Provision in Uber App’s Terms of Service Created Valid Agreement to Arbitrate

By Michael S. Oberman

Oberman
By opinion issued August 17 in Meyer v. Uber Technologies, the Second Circuit reversed a district court denial of a petition to compel arbitration and held that the arbitration provision within Uber’s terms of service as presented in Uber’s app interface resulted in a valid agreement to arbitrate.

Finding that New York and California law was essentially the same on contract formation but applying California law, the Second Circuit stated (at 21) that “we may determine that an agreement to arbitrate exists where the notice of the arbitration provision was reasonably conspicuous and manifestation of assent unambiguous as a matter of law.”

The court found reasonably conspicuous notice on these bases (at 24-26):

Accordingly, when considering the perspective of a reasonable smartphone user, we need not presume that the user has never before encountered an app or entered into a contract using a smartphone. Moreover, a reasonably prudent smartphone user knows that text that is highlighted in blue and underlined is hyperlinked to another webpage where additional information will be found.

Turning to the interface at issue in this case, we conclude that the design of the screen and language used render the notice provided reasonable as a matter of California law. The Payment Screen is uncluttered, with only fields for the user to enter his or her credit card details, buttons to register for a user account or to connect the userʹs pre‐existing PayPal account or Google Wallet to the Uber account, and the warning that ʺBy creating an Uber account, you agree to the TERMS OF SERVICE & PRIVACY POLICY.ʺ The text, including the hyperlinks to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy, appears directly below the buttons for registration. The entire screen is visible at once, and the user does not need to scroll beyond what is immediately visible to find notice of the Terms of Service. Although the sentence is in a small font, the dark print contrasts with the bright white background, and the hyperlinks are in blue and underlined. This presentation differs sharply from the screen we considered in Nicosia, which contained, among other things, summaries of the userʹs purchase and delivery information, ʺbetween fifteen and twenty‐five links,ʺ ʺtext . . . in at least four font sizes and six colors,ʺ and several buttons and advertisements. Nicosia, 834 F.3d at 236‐37. Furthermore, the notice of the terms and conditions in Nicosia was ʺnot directly adjacentʺ to the button intended to manifest assent to the terms, unlike the text and button at issue here. Id. at 236.

In addition to being spatially coupled with the mechanism for manifesting assent ‐‐ i.e., the register button ‐‐ the notice is temporally coupled… Here, notice of the Terms of Service is provided simultaneously to enrollment, thereby connecting the contractual terms to the services to which they apply. We think that a reasonably prudent smartphone user would understand that the terms were connected to the creation of a user account.

That the Terms of Service were available only by hyperlink does not preclude a determination of reasonable notice…. Moreover, the language ʺ[b]y creating an Uber account, you agreeʺ is a clear prompt directing users to read the Terms and Conditions and signaling that their acceptance of the benefit of registration would be subject to contractual terms. As long as the hyperlinked text was itself reasonably conspicuous ‐‐ and we conclude that it was ‐‐ a reasonably prudent smartphone user would have constructive notice of the terms. While it may be the case that many users will not bother reading the additional terms, that is the choice the user makes; the user is still on inquiry notice.

The Court further held (at 27), expressly reversing the district court, that although the terms were lengthy and must be reached by a hyperlink, the arbitration clause was not unreasonably hidden. “Once a user clicks through to the Terms of Service, the section heading (‘Dispute Resolution’) and the sentence waiving the user’s right to a jury trial on relevant claims are both bolded.”

Finally, the Court found manifestation of assent given the objectively reasonable notice and the user’s election to click on the registration button. “The fact that clicking the register button has two functions—creation of a user account and assent to the Terms of Service—does not render Meyer’s assent ambiguous.” (At 29). The Court added (at 30): “The transactional context of the partiesʹ dealings reinforces our conclusion. Meyer located and downloaded the Uber App, signed up for an account, and entered his credit card information with the intention of entering into a forward‐looking relationship with Uber. The registration process clearly contemplated some sort of continuing relationship between the putative user and Uber, one that would require some terms and conditions, and the Payment Screen provided clear notice that there were terms that governed that relationship.”

In sum, the Court applied traditional contract principles to smartphone technology, and placed heavy emphasis on Uber’s screen design—the clarity of the hyperlink to the Terms of Service and, within the Terms of Service, the bolding of the Dispute Resolution heading. This reasonable disclosure, coupled with the user’s intent to create an account with Uber, proved sufficient for an agreement to arbitrate. In distinguishing the present case from the Court’s own recent opinion in Nicosia, the Court has provided some specific guidance on the graphic features that can separate a binding agreement from an unenforceable agreement in the smartphone era.

Mr. Oberman heads up Kramer Levin’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Group. A fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitration, he serves as an arbitrator and a mediator, in addition to representing parties in ADR proceedings. He can be reached at moberman@kramerlevin.com.

Judicial Reforms in Poland – Context and Controversy

By Maciej Jóźwiak

After November 2015, when the right-wing party, Law and Justice (PiS), won the parliamentary elections and obtained majority in the Polish Parliament, a number of judicial reforms were commenced that stirred-up dramatic controversy in Poland and in Europe. The reforms covered the two key Polish judicial institutions – the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court. The Government also introduced changes in the law regarding state courts and prosecutors.

This play called “judicial reforms” started with an amendment which combined the roles of the General Prosecutor and the Minister of Justice. Currently these two positions are handled by one man. The amendment granted to a politician (the Ministry of Justice) the right to be involved in and to supervise all penal ongoing proceedings, either conducted by a prosecutor or before the court. This amendment restored a legal status of these positions changed in March 2010 by the previous government, established by the Civil Platform (PO).

The second act in the reform drama was the amendment to the Act on the Constitutional Tribunal. The reform itself was initiated by the previous government. On 8 October 2015, PO introduced a new law regulating the nomination procedure of the Constitutional Tribunal judges. Under this law the previously tenured Parliament was entitled to nominate two additional constitutional judges (two more than the standard three) for the next nine years. The Act, however, has been sent to the Constitutional Tribunal for a determination as to whether it is constitutional. In the meantime, the President of Poland, who won the election as the representative of PiS, refused to swear-in all five judges.

On 19 November 2015, PiS introduced a reparation Act which allowed the newly tenured Parliament to again nominate five constitutional judges, three already nominated by the previous Parliament and two new ones. Moreover, under this Act, the tenure of the President and the vice-President of the Constitutional Tribunal was terminated. The whole process of the introduction by the Parliament, the signing by the President and the entering into force of the reparation Act took no longer then one week. Under the new reparation Act, five new judges were nominated on 2 December and four of them were sworn-in by the President at night, between 2 and 3 December 2016.

On 3 December, the Constitutional Tribunal issued a judgment concerning the amendment Act introduced by PO. In its judgment, the Tribunal decided that three of the nominees were appointed properly but the appointment of the other two was unconstitutional. The government refused to publish this judgment. On 9 of December 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the provisions of the reparation Act regarding nomination of the three already appointed judges and the termination of the tenure of the President and vice-President of the Tribunal were unconstitutional. The government refused to publish this judgment as well.

After 9 of December 2016 two additional amendments acts were introduced by PiS. Both were analyzed by the Tribunal and neither was declared constitutional. Neither judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal regarding these amendments was published by the government.

The second act of the reforms focused on the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council. The amendment to the Act on the Supreme Court was introduced by PiS, together with an amendment to the Act of the National Judicial Council and the Act of the System for the State Courts.

The two key changes at the Supreme Court concerned: (i) a default retirement of all the Supreme Court judges, with the exclusion of those who are indicated by the Minister of Justice, and (ii) an appointment of a new chamber in the Supreme Court, dedicated to hearing disciplinary actions against judges.

The amendment of the law concerning the National Judicial Council focused on the politicians having more influence on this judicial body by establishing the new chamber of the Council, made up of Parliament’s representatives. This new chamber would have the right to veto all decisions taken by the “old chamber,” where inter alia sit judges as well as representatives of government and the representative of the president, among others.

And finally, we in the audience saw the Act of the System for the State Courts, which contained the following changes: (i) the power of the Ministry of Justice to call off and nominate new presidents of the state courts was established; (ii) cases were allocated between the judges based on their “weight” which is established by the Ministry of Justice; (iii) a case would have to be examined by the same judge from beginning to end; and (iv) the Act distinguished the age of retirement between male and female judges.

The proposals described herein have raised crucial constitutional doubts and even inspired a series of street protests by Polish citizens in many cities all over Poland.

The President of Poland decided to veto two of those acts (the Act of the Supreme Court and the Act of the National Judicial Council) and has signed the third one. The Act of the System for the State Courts comes into force 14 days after being published.

The drama, however, continues. The President has announced that he will prepare and present his own proposal of the amendments to the Act on the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council within a couple of months. Thus, we are still waiting for an epilogue.

These reforms were introduced to improve the judicial system in Poland. As it was presented, the new law was intended to speed up proceedings, making the system more transparent and understandable for citizens. Instead, however, the reforms have made the judicial system more dependent upon politicians.

In times where certainty of the independent judicial system is one of the most important factors for business development, the situation in Poland is being viewed by some with worry. To minimize the risk of adverse influence of these recent legislative changes on business, many entrepreneurs are opting to include arbitration clauses in their contracts. Despite some formal requirements for arbitration clauses under the Polish law, arbitration and other ADR methods may offer just the calming influence needed to counter the dramatic recent changes in the Polish judicial system.

Maciej Jóźwiak is an attorney at law on the dispute resolution team at Wierzbowski Eversheds Sutherland. He can be reached at maciej.jozwiak@eversheds-sutherland.pl