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GMCA v. Pittella

205 N.J. 572, 17 A.3d 177 (2011)

ARBITRATION — Going forward, all court orders denying or granting arbitration should be treated as final orders for the purposes of appeal even if the court order compelled or denied arbitration as to some, but not all parties.

A consumer financed the purchase of a car through a dealership. She also signed an agreement that would permit either party to choose binding arbitration to resolve disputes of any sort arising from the financing or acquisition of the vehicle. An assignee took the financing contract from the dealer, and then repossessed the vehicle for non-payment. It sued the consumer and the consumer answered the complaint with claims against the dealer alleging violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the Uniform Commercial Code based on what she believed was an excessive price for an extended warranty. She also requested class action status. The dealer moved for summary judgment to compel arbitration on these claims.

The lower court granted the motion for arbitration and dismissed the class-action claim. It did not stay the assignee’s collection claims against the consumer pending the arbitration. At that time, the consumer did not seek appellate review of the dismissals, but after she settled her case in court against the assignee seven months later, she then filed a notice of appeal from the summary judgment in favor of the dealer. The dealer moved to dismiss the appeal as untimely, arguing that the consumer was required to have filed her appeal within forty-five days after the summary judgment orders were filed. The consumer argued the orders were not final judgments because they had not disposed of all issues, as to all parties, because the assignee’s claims had been left unresolved. The Appellate Division reversed the orders compelling arbitration and the dismissal of the class-action claims,. It denied the motion to dismiss the appeal.

The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear and decide the narrow issue of whether orders that compel arbitration as to some, but not all parties, should be considered final for purposes of appeal. The Court held that all orders compelling or denying arbitration must be deemed final for purposes of appeal, regardless of whether the order disposes of all issues and all parties. Accordingly, lower courts are to retain jurisdiction to address other issues pending the appeal.

The Court observed that this particular agreement between the consumer and dealer was subject to the Uniform Arbitration Act. Because the Act was intended to promote expeditious arbitration and contained an express provision permitting appeals when arbitration is denied or stayed, the Court concluded that all orders denying or granting arbitration should be treated as final for purposes of appeal. The Court also ruled that appeals as of right under New Jersey Court Rules are permitted from all orders permitting or denying arbitration. As it was not apparent in the instant case that the orders were final under law, the Court affirmed the portion of the Appellate Division decision denying the motion to dismiss the appeal from the final judgment.

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