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DirectTV Class Action Is Out, Gay Parental Rights Are In

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yesterday, the Supreme Court put the kibosh on a class action lawsuit by DirectTV customers. California courts, it ruled, must enforce a DirectTV arbitration agreement that prevented class-wide claims. It's the last opinion from the Court in 2015, and one of a number of recent cases emphasizing that state courts must give effect to arbitration agreements.

But that's wasn't the only news out of the High Court on Monday. In its first major action on the rights of gays and lesbians since last summer's Obergefell decision, the Supreme Court stepped in to a dispute between two lesbian parents, staying an Alabama order that would have denied one mother parental rights to her adopted children.

Really, Those Arbitration Agreements Are Binding

The DirectTV case, DirectTV v. Imburgia, is another win for arbitration agreements -- and perhaps a loss for consumers, or at least plaintiffs' lawyers. Customers who signed up for DirectTV signed a service agreement that included binding arbitration, except where prohibited by "the law of your state."

When DirectTV users sued over early termination fees, the California Court of Appeals ruled that the waivers were unenforceable. The "law of your state" referred to California law, which banned such waivers, the court reasoned. Sure, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that California's ban was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act, the California courts said. But, the state law reference was to California law on its own, without federal preemption.

That reading of the agreement didn't hold up in the Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that California couldn't just ignore federal law in interpreting the agreement. As the Court noted, there's wide latitude in choosing the governing law for a contract. Parties "might choose to have portions of their contract governed by the law of Tibet, the law of pre-revolutionary Russia, or (as is relevant here) the law of California." But the law of California includes Supreme Court precedent finding that the Federal Arbitration Act trumps their ban on class-waivers.

Alabama's Baby Mama Drama

On to Alabama! The Supreme Court on Monday issued a stay in the case of two lesbian mothers fighting for custody of their children.

V.L., one of the mothers, adopted the unmarried couple's three children in Georgia in 2007, with her partner's support and consent. The two later separated and the second mother, E.L., prevented V.L. from seeing the children, arguing that the adoption was invalid in Alabama, where the kids now live.

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, declaring the Georgia adoption void and ruling that Georgia did not actually permit second parent adoption, despite the Georgia court's adoption decree.

The stay puts the Alabama ruling on hold as the Court considers V.L.'s cert petition. That petition largely centers around the validity of the Alabama court's interpretation of Georgia law and the effect of the Full Faith and Credit Clause on adoption decrees.

But, the case, should the Supreme Court accept it, would also mark an important evolution in same-sex parenting rights, moving the Court, as SCOTUSblog's Lyle Dennison puts it, "into a new phase of family law."

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