The California business fraud lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP are investigating claims against JAMS after concerns were raised about the arbitration company’s relationship with WeWork. In WeWork arbitrations administered by JAMS, prior case results were known only by JAMS and WeWork. These case results were never shared with WeWork’s opponents, who are mostly small businesses. Neither WeWork nor JAMS would seem to have an interest in sharing information with WeWork’s opponents because doing so could lead to less fees for JAMS. It is wrong for JAMS to operate so obliquely. As an administrator of justice, they need to be held to a higher standard.
To learn more about the claims against JAMS, keep reading this blog.
WeWork Uses JAMS Arbitration Services
JAMS is the world’s largest private provider of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services. As the name suggests, Alternative Dispute Resolution is an alternative to traditional litigation that allows parties to resolve their legal dispute without needing to go to court for a trial. Sometimes, a contract will require two parties to use ADR services, which is what happens in the standard WeWork contract: the small business owners who sign a lease with WeWork have no choice but to use mandatory arbitration if a dispute arises, and the parties are bound by the decision of the JAMS arbitrator. JAMS also sets the rules and procedures for these arbitrations.
JAMS arbitrates cases in several practice areas, including civil rights, class actions, intellectual property, personal injury, product liability, and real estate. One of JAMS’ biggest clients appears to be WeWork, which uses JAMS to administer arbitrations anytime a dispute arises with one of WeWork’s tenants. When a small business owner signs a lease agreement with WeWork, it typically includes a pre-dispute contract that requires the parties to use arbitration if a dispute arises. The effect of these forced arbitration clauses in WeWork contracts is to have the parties waive their right to a jury trial. A WeWork contract typically stipulates that the arbitration will be administered by JAMS, and the decisions rendered by JAMS arbitrators are final and legally binding on the parties.
JAMS Won’t Disclose Data About Arbitrations Involving WeWork
Does JAMS have a conflict of interest in WeWork arbitrations? JAMS touts its ability to resolve legal and business disputes with “impartial” dispute resolution services administered by “neutral” arbitrators and mediators. The former legal professionals who administer JAMS arbitrations are known as “JAMS Neutrals.” As their title indicates, these individuals are supposed to provide fair, unbiased decisions. But there are questions about JAMS’ relationship with its biggest client – WeWork – and this has raised concerns about the fairness and impartiality of the JAMS arbitrators in these cases.
Significantly, JAMS refuses to disclose information that might show they are colluding with WeWork in arbitration. Law firm Tauler Smith LLP recently requested disclosures from JAMS about WeWork and WeWork affiliates. JAMS responded by refusing to provide the requested information because it supposedly “goes beyond legal and ethical disclosure requirements for arbitrators and would violate JAMS confidentiality obligations to other litigants.”
Thus far, JAMS has only provided data about the number of arbitrations with respect to one WeWork company: the one with a listed address of 500 7th Avenue in New Yok. JAMS did not provide any disclosures about the other 36 WeWork entities. Moreover, even the information in the JAMS disclosure about the single WeWork address is limited becuase it simply states that the 500 7th Ave. tenant has 35 pending arbitrations with JAMS and 17 pending mediations. As such, JAMS failed to address the problem identified by the business fraud lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP: that WeWork could have an unfair advantage in any JAMS-administered dispute. If JAMS administers 1,000 cases in which WeWork is one of the parties, and WeWork has won all 1,000 of these cases, why wouldn’t JAMS tell the parties about this?
Why Is JAMS Sharing Relevant Case Information Only with WeWork?
JAMS has refused to share relevant case information with WeWork’s opponents in arbitration due to what JAMS claims is a confidentiality requirement. But JAMS is allowing this information to be shared with WeWork affiliates. This has created an information imbalance that severely disadvantages the small business owners being sued by WeWork. While JAMS declines to provide specific case information to the other parties in these claims, the fact is that WeWork already has access to this information and can share with its affiliates that are involved in other disputes administered by JAMS. This means that only one side of the dispute – and not the other side – can share information with itself, know the outcomes of other cases, and share information with its affiliates. This results in an unfair advantage for WeWork in any arbitration overseen by JAMS.
If WeWork and its affiliates (i.e., WeWork shell entities) account for a significant number of JAMS cases administered in the New York market, it could be evidence of many incentives that are created by JAMS’ administration of WeWork disputes. For example, JAMS would have an incentive to litigate all WeWork cases separately so that only WeWork (and JAMS) has relevant information about outcomes. If WeWork knows that arbitrators are ruling in WeWork’s favor 100% of the time and awarding attorney’s fees every single time based on an identical contract, WeWork’s legal counsel could overbill, constantly brief unnecessary issues, file pre-trial briefs, and file post-trial briefs knowing that these requests will be granted. Further, the small business owner respondents in these cases will not have access to this information because they are not allowed to see it.
Antitrust Concerns Over JAMS’ Relationship with WeWork
JAMS has an effective monopoly over these types of cases. And they may use that privilege unfairly. This could raise concerns about JAMS violating federal antitrust laws like the Sherman Act because WeWork appears to be getting preferential treatment from JAMS. The fact is that WeWork and its affiliates are repeat customers of JAMS, not the small businesses that are typically on the other side of a dispute with WeWork.
The actions taken by JAMS with respect to its relationship with WeWork do not appear to be a fair or reasonable way to administer justice. Any system of justice should treat litigants equally. In the complaint being prepared against JAMS, the California business fraud attorneys at Tauler Smith LLP allege that their clients’ due process rights have been violated because it would be manifestly unjust to collect arbitration fees from thousands of small businesses and force them to go to a hearing to defend themselves when the end result is already known to the other party in advance.
Contact the California Business Fraud Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
If you are a small business owner who has been forced to go into an arbitration administered by JAMS, you should speak with an experienced California business fraud lawyer immediately. The Tauler Smith LLP legal team includes attorneys who have extensive experience with professional negotiation, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution. Call or email us to schedule a free consultation about your case.