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NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION AGAIN GIVES BOOST OF SUPPORT TO THE BAIS DIN SYSTEM



Once again, the New Jersey Appellate Division has just given a strong boost of support to the Bais Din system, and declaring that arbitration provisions are real serious business - however, only if the arbitration clauses are written properly.


Prior to entering into a business deal, a rental lease, or a divorce proceeding, many members of our community enter into agreements which set forth the terms of their transactions and contain arbitration clauses that in case of a dispute a Bais Din will decide the dispute.


Such arbitration provisions are now commonplace in consumer contracts at large, but especially in the frum community.


While there is no set, express language required to uphold an arbitration agreement, in order for these provisions to be enforceable in court, established case law requires the agreement to expressly waive their right to sue in court.


A case ruling just released reinforces that it is imperative for parties to commercial contracts or to divorce proceedings to closely review precise terms of arbitration clauses with experienced Toanim and Lawyers to ensure; a) that there are no confusions as to what is being agreed to; and b) that the agreement will be enforceable in court if necessary.


In June 2021, Nechama Szimonowitz utilized Travelocity.com to purchase eight Turkish Airlines tickets for round trip flights to and from Tel Aviv, Israel. The cost for the tickets totaled $4,761.19. 


Before Szimonowitz could complete her transaction on the website, she was required to agree to their written "Terms of Use" which included a "Disputes; Arbitration" section which stated, in part: 

You and Travelocity agree that any and all [c]laims will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court... There is no judge or jury in arbitration, and court review of an arbitration award is limited..."


In September 2021, due to changes in international visa requirements resulting from COVID-19, Szimonowitz called Travelocity to cancel her tickets from Turkish Airlines and reschedule her trip.


Instead of providing a refund directly to her for the Turkish Airlines tickets, the representative told her that she "would receive a credit for the purchase price of the tickets to be retroactively applied to her new booking with El Al Israel Airlines."


However, after she gave the representative her credit card information, the representative purchased tickets on El Al for her, but failed to apply her refund credit towards the purchase and refused to issue a refund for the purchase price of the Turkish Airlines tickets.


In response, in March 2022, Szimonowitz filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County against Travelscape LLC, the parent company of Travelocity.com, seeking damages in the sum of $4,761.19, the price she paid for the Turkish Airlines tickets.


Travelscape filed a motion seeking dismissal of the complaint, citing the arbitration provision.


On January 23, 2023, Judge James Den Uyl granted the motion to dismiss the complaint and compel the matter to arbitration.


In a written opinion accompanying the orders, the judge initially noted that an arbitration agreement is generally valid and enforceable, and "the enforceability of an internet consumer contract often turns on whether the agreement is characterized as a 'scrollwrap,' 'sign-in wrap,' 'clickwrap,' or 'browsewrap'[—]or a hybrid version of these electronic contract types." After recognizing "an electronic communication may be a clear and effective method of communicating proposed contract terms," the judge stated, "the pertinent inquiry is whether the user was provided with reasonable notice of the applicable terms of the parties' contract, based on the design and layout of the website."


Turning to the facts of this case, the judge found that "as part of the purchase, Szimonowitz was required to click a dialog box agreeing to Travelocity's Terms of Use, including the arbitration provision."


Additionally, the judge concluded that she was required to agree to the 'Terms of Use' before purchasing the airline tickets, and because she "had the option to either click to agree and continue with the purchase or not move forward with the purchase," she received "sufficient notice of the arbitration agreement." Moreover, he found that "considering the scope of the agreement," the parties' "dispute fell within the scope of the terms."


Szimonowitz appealed this ruling.


In a written ruling just released, Appellate Division Judges Enright and Paganelli were not the least bit fazed.


New Jersey courts have recognized the validity of consumer web-based contracts "for decades." Wollen, 468 N.J. Super. at 495.


"A party may not claim lack of notice of the terms of an arbitration provision for failure to read it." Santana v. Smile Direct Club, LLC. "As a general rule, one who does not choose to read a contract before signing it cannot later relieve [themselves] of its burdens." Skuse.


As the motion judge here noted, clickwrap agreements are "routinely enforced by the courts" because "by requiring a physical manifestation of assent, a user is said to be put on inquiry notice of the terms assented to."


We are persuaded the judge correctly found plaintiff entered into an enforceable agreement to arbitrate the parties' dispute, given that she agreed to abide by defendant's Terms of Use before she bought the Turkish Airlines tickets. We also are convinced defendant did not waive its right to compel arbitration of plaintiff's claims. 


The winning attorney is Vincent Passarelli Esq. of Cozen O'Connor.


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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I couldn’t agree more!

NEVER EVER sign an arbitration agreement with a bais din unless you are 1000 percent sure of their honesty and if they have any backbone to uphold the agreement. I’ve seen a popular local bais be so dishonest as have many many others that I’ve spoken to. Other bais dins I’ve seen maybe more honest but do absolutely nothing to uphold an agreement. I heard from many rabbonim to stay away from these bais dins and go to court!!

Anonymous said...

Some Batei Din may be corrupt, although 'I asked my brother in law and the pesak was krum' is no proof at all.

But court is certainly no better. They are corrupt, krum, and take forever over nonsense.

Yudel Shain said...

Never sign with a bais din, unless it ONLY contains the clause that you will abide by their ruling. BUT no clause that is done to protect the Bais Din from clearly wrong rulings.
Either the BD records all of the sittings or they allow the parties to record.
There must be an Appeal process from an independent panel that does NOT do any Din Torahs, only appeals as is done by the Rabanut.