California Code of Civil Procedure 904.1 is probably not a stranger to appellate lawyers who practice in California, as the statute provides a list of certain types of pre-trial orders from which an appeal may be taken. One of the categories of orders listed is “order[s] granting or dissolving an injunction, or refusing to grant or dissolve an injunction.” The statutory phrase “injunction” is interpreted broadly (subject to some exceptions) and applies to a number of different types of injunction orders. (See Valley Casework, Inc. v. Comfort Const., Inc. (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 1013, 1019 [preliminary injunctions]; Nakamura v. Parker (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 327, 332 [temporary restraining orders]; R.D. v. P.M. (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 181, 187 [civil harassment restraining orders];  North Beverly Park Homeowners Ass’n v. Bisno (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 762, 765 [postjudgment orders granting or denying requests to modify or dissolve injunctions].)

But what happens if an arbitrator, as opposed to a court, grants or denies an injunction and a party seeks to have it vacated by a superior court? If unsuccessful, can the party take an appeal arguing that under Code of Civil Procedure Section 904.1, the arbitrator’s order granting or denying an injunction should be vacated in the same manner a court’s order granting or refusing to grant an injunction is appealable?

A recent court of appeal decision considered the question and answered it in the negative, holding that the appealability of a superior court order on a motion to petition or vacate the arbitrator’s award is governed by the California Arbitration Act (“CAA”), not Section 904.1. (Kirk v. Ratner (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 1052, 1062.)

In Ratner, actress Charlotte Kirk entered into a confidential settlement agreement to settle claims of sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation that she brought against certain entertainment industry executives in Los Angeles County Superior Court.  The settlement agreement’s confidentiality provision prohibited Kirk from disclosing any information about her claims and contained an arbitration clause. Months later, a dispute emerged regarding Kirk’s threats to disclose confidential information, and the executives initiated arbitration. The arbitrator issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Kirk from disclosing confidential information. 

Kirk filed a petition to vacate the arbitrator’s preliminary injunction in Los Angeles Superior Court arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his powers under the California Arbitration Act (“CAA”). The court dismissed the petition, ruling it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition because the arbitrator’s issuance of a preliminary injunction was not a “final judgment” under the CAA. 

On appeal, the court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the petition, holding that the trial court’s order was not an appealable order. In doing so, the court of appeal rejected Kirk’s argument that because she would be entitled to an appeal had the trial court granted a preliminary injunction, she should be able to appeal the arbitrator’s award and the superior court’s denial of her petition to vacate.

The district court’s determination in Ratner makes sense given the general legal landscape governing judicial review of an arbitration award. Where the award challenged is “interim,” i.e. not final for failure to resolve all issues to be decided in the arbitration, a superior court lacks jurisdiction to vacate or correct it. (See Maplebear, Inc. v. Busick (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 394, 407.) 

But the case also serves as an important reminder that judicial and appellate review of a motion to vacate an arbitration award does not follow the typical rules of appellate procedure that would apply to other orders filed in court. As Kirk argued in her appeal, if the court had issued a preliminary injunction she would be entitled to an immediate appeal—but because the arbitrator issued the injunction, her challenge in the superior court and appeal was governed by CAA rules requiring a separate determination. Thus, before challenging an arbitrator’s issuance or denial of an injunction in the superior court, it is important to assess whether the arbitrator’s actions were “interim” or “final.”

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Patrick Burns
Patrick Burns is Senior Counsel with Hanson Bridgett’s Appellate Practice. Patrick focuses on writs and appeals, as well as law and motion in the state and federal courts. A former litigator at a global law firm, Patrick has experience litigating high-stakes disputes. He can be reached at [email protected] and his blog posts can be read at www.appellateinsight.com.