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Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide II: Three Threshold Questions about the Federal Arbitration Act

January 21st, 2020 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Panama Convention, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.
Federal Arbitration Act | Arbitrator

This second instalment of the Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide addresses three threshold questions pertinent to the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA” or “Federal Arbitration Act”):

1. Does Chapter 1 of the FAA apply to my arbitration agreement?

2. Assuming it does, will a federal district court have subject matter jurisdiction over FAA litigation concerning the agreement or any awards made under it?

3. Does the Federal Arbitration Act apply in state court?

Does Chapter 1 of the FAA Apply to My Arbitration Agreement?

If your written arbitration agreement is contained in a maritime contract or a contract affecting commerce, or concerns a dispute arising out of such a contract, then it falls under Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act, unless it falls within Section 1’s exemption for contracts of employment of transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce. (See here.) It may also fall under Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA, which implement the New York and Panama Conventions.

In our first instalment of this FAQ guide (here) we explained that Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, applies to written, pre-dispute arbitration agreements in: (a) “maritime contract[s]” (“Maritime Contracts”); or (b) “contract[s] evidencing a transaction involving commerce. . . .” (“Contracts Affecting Commerce”). It also applies to written post-dispute arbitration agreements “to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such [Maritime Contracts or Contracts Affecting Commerce], or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 273-282 (1995)Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 55-58 (2003).

Section 2’s requirement that an arbitration agreement be “written” seems simple enough, and, for the most part, it is, at least in wholly domestic arbitrations to which Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA do not concurrently apply. But there are some caveats.

First, just because a contract is required to be “written” doesn’t necessarily mean the arbitration agreement must be signed. The arbitration agreement between the parties need only be in writing, although the arbitration-agreement proponent would need to show that the parties assented to the writing.

For example, suppose A agrees to provide services for B and further agrees that any disputes arising out of or relating to their agreement will be submitted to arbitration. A and B proceed to memorialize their agreement in a writing, including the agreement to arbitrate, spelling out the essential terms of their agreement. While the writing is not signed or initialed, both parties agree that it reflects the essential terms of the parties’ bargain. The written memorialization of the agreement is sufficient to establish a “written” agreement, even though it is not signed by the party opposing its enforcement. 

Second, provided there is a written agreement between at least two parties,  persons who are not parties to that agreement (“nonparties”) may, in appropriate circumstances, enforce the agreement or be bound by it if general principles of state law permit that result. Such general principles include “‘assumption, piercing the corporate veil, alter ego, incorporation by reference, third-party beneficiary theories, waiver and estoppel[.] . . .’” . Arthur Andersen LLP v. Carlisle, 556 U.S. 624, 631 (2009) (citations omitted). This Term the United States Supreme Court is to determine whether such principles apply in cases governed by Chapter 2.

As respects whether a “contract” “evidenc[es] a transaction involving commerce,” the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted Section 2 broadly to mean the Federal Arbitration Act applies to arbitration agreements in contracts or transactions that “affect” commerce, that is, to any contract or transaction that Congress could regulate in the full exercise of its Commerce Clause powers. See Allied-Bruce, 513 U.S. at 281-82; U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, Cl. 3 (giving Congress power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”).

Whether a contract “affects” commerce depends on the facts concerning, among other things, the parties, the contract’s subject matter, and the actual or contemplated transactions constituting the contract’s performance or contemplated performance. See Alafabco, 539 U.S. at 56-57. A party does not have to demonstrate that the contract has a “specific” or “substantial” “effect upon interstate commerce if in the aggregate the economic activity in question would represent a general practice subject to federal control.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted).  The question is whether the “aggregate economic activity in question” “bear[s] on interstate commerce in a substantial way.” Id. at 57.

Assuming that Chapter 1 of the FAA Applies to my Arbitration Agreement, Will a Federal District Court have Subject Matter jurisdiction over FAA Litigation Concerning the Agreement or any Awards Made under it?

Not necessarily. Unless an arbitration agreement also falls under Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA, then there must be an independent basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction.

Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act is “something of an anomaly in the realm of federal legislation: It bestows no federal jurisdiction but rather requires for access to a federal forum an independent jurisdictional basis over the parties’ dispute.” Vaden vDiscover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 59 (2009).

Section 4 of the FAA, which governs motions to compel arbitration, provides that to determine the “independent jurisdictional basis” the court must ascertain whether “save for such agreement, [the district court] would have jurisdiction. . . of the subject matter of a suit arising out of the controversy [claimed to be arbitrable][:]”

[a] party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition any United States district court which, save for such agreement, would have jurisdiction under title 28, in a civil action or in admiralty of the subject matter of a suit arising out of the controversy between the parties, for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.


9 U.S.C. § 4 (emphasis added).

The Supreme Court held in Vaden that “§ 4 of the FAA does not enlarge federal court jurisdiction,” 556 U.S. at 66, and district courts must “look through” the petition to the controversy between the parties to ascertain whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the controversy. 556 U.S. at 62. District courts must therefore “assume the absence of the arbitration agreement and determine whether it would have jurisdiction under title 28 without it.” Id. at 63.

Accordingly, if there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00, excluding interest and costs, then a federal court will have subject matter jurisdiction under the diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. 

At least in the Second Circuit, this principle applies even where an arbitrator has made an award for no damages, or for an amount less than the $75,000 jurisdictional minimum. The question is not the amount in controversy as respects the award, but what the amount of controversy was in the dispute that resulted in the award. Landau v. Eisenberg, 922 F.3d 495, 497-98 (2d Cir. 2019); Doscher v. Sea Port Grp. Sec., LLC, 832 F.3d 372, 379-89 (2d Cir. 2016).

A Court may also on a “look-through” basis have jurisdiction based on the federal question jurisdiction, irrespective of the amount in controversy. If a federal district court would have federal question jurisdiction over the dispute if the dispute were the subject of court litigation, rather than arbitration, then a federal court will have subject matter jurisdiction over FAA litigation arising out of that dispute.

While Chapter One of the FAA do not independently confer subject matter jurisdiction on federal courts, Chapters Two or Three, which implement the New York and Panama Conventions (see here), do exactly that as respects litigation over arbitration agreements and awards that fall under one or both of those Chapters. 9 U.S.C. § 202, 203, 302. Generally, if at least one person party to an arbitration agreement is a citizen or subject of a country other than the United States, and that Country is a signatory to either the New York Convention or the Panama Convention, then the Court will have subject matter jurisdiction over FAA litigation pertaining to the agreement or any award made under it. See, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 202, 302. In addition, even if both parties are United States citizens, a federal district court may have subject matter jurisdiction over arbitration-related litigation if “that relationship involves property located abroad, envisages performance or enforcement abroad, or has some other reasonable relation with one or more foreign states.” 9 U.S.C. § 202, 302. For purposes of these rules, “a corporation is a citizen of the United States if it is incorporated or has its principal place of business in the United States.” 9 U.S.C. § 202, 302. 

Does the Federal Arbitration Act Apply in State Court?

Yes. State courts are required to enforce arbitration agreements under Section 2 of the FAA, putting them on the same footing as other contracts. See, e.g., Kindred Nursing Ctrs. Ltd. v. Clark, 137 S. Ct. 1421, 1424 (2017). State Courts are also required to apply Chapters 2 and 3 of the FAA, implementing the New York and Panama Conventions. See, e.g., Corcoran v. Ardra Ins. Co., 77 N.Y.2d 225, 230 (1990).

Most or all states have their own arbitration statutes. New York’s arbitration statute, for example, is codified in Article 75 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”). Depending on applicable state law, state courts may carry out Section 2’s enforcement command using their own arbitration statute’s provisions, even if they are different than those provided by Chapter 1 of the FAA. But if enforcement of the FAA through the provisions of the state’s arbitration code would undermine the purposes and objectives of the FAA, then the offending state arbitration code provisions would be preempted (i.e., superseded) by the FAA to the extent of the conflict.

Please note. . .

This guide, including the instalments that will follow in later posts, is not designed to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law. It is designed simply to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will educate them about the legal challenges they may face and how engaging a skilled, trustworthy, and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. If you require legal advice, or representation by an attorney, then you should contact an experienced and skilled attorney with a solid background in arbitration law.

About the Author

Philip J. Loree Jr. is a partner and founding member of Loree & Loree. He has nearly 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing clients in arbitrations and litigations.

Loree & Loree represents private and government-owned-or-controlled business organizations, and persons acting in their individual or representative capacities, and frequently serves as co-counsel, local counsel or legal adviser to other domestic and international law firms requiring assistance or support.

Loree & Loree was recently selected by Expertise.com out of a group of 1,763 persons or firms reviewed to be one of Expertise.com’s top 18 “Arbitrators & Mediators” in New York City for 2019. (See here.)

You can contact Phil Loree Jr. at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING NOTICE: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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One Response to “Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide II: Three Threshold Questions about the Federal Arbitration Act”

  1. […] not an agreement falls under Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act is discussed in more detail here […]