On January 19, a California Court of Appeals issued a decision calling into question the evidentiary value of electronic signatures. Dicta in the opinion directly contradicts a previous ruling in Gamboa v. Northeast Community Clinic, where the court stated the difference between physical and electronic signatures is a “distinction without a legal difference” because “electronic handwritten signatures have the same legal effect and are equally enforceable.”

In Iyere v. Wise Auto Group, a group of employees filed suit against their former employer, Wise Auto Group (“WAG”). WAG moved to compel arbitration and the plaintiffs filed declarations claiming they did not recall signing the arbitration agreement. The trial court denied the motion and WAG appealed.

The court of appeals reversed, holding that the plaintiffs’ inability to recall signing the arbitration agreement is irrelevant because they did not deny that their respective personal signatures appear on the document. The court noted that absent testimony that their physical signatures were forged or inauthentic, testimony they did not recall signing is insufficient to create a factual dispute.

Of importance, the court of appeals specified that the decision was based largely on the fact that the signatures were personal, physical signatures not electronic ones. The court stated, “while handwritten and electronic signatures have the same legal effect once authenticated, there is a considerable difference between the evidence needed to authenticate the two. Authenticating an electronic signature, if challenged, can be quite daunting.”

The court reasoned that an individual cannot confirm or deny the authenticity of an electronic signature simply by looking at the document. Accordingly, “the individual’s inability to recall signing electronically may reasonably be regarded as evidence that the person did not do so.” By contrast, “a person is capable of recognizing his or her own personal signature” and if “the individual does not deny that the handwritten signature is his or her own, that person’s failure to remember signing is of little or no significance.”

Troutman Pepper will continue to monitor developments in this area.