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Archive for the ‘FAA Preemption of State Law’ Category

Does the Presumption of Arbitrability Apply if a Contract Contains two Broad, Overlapping Forum Selection Clauses, one for Arbitration and one for Litigation?

June 7th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Moses Cone Principle, Presumption of Arbitrability, Stay of Litigation, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Comments Off on Does the Presumption of Arbitrability Apply if a Contract Contains two Broad, Overlapping Forum Selection Clauses, one for Arbitration and one for Litigation?

Introduction

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Back in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark decision Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983) (Brennan, J.), famously declared that “[t]he [Federal] Arbitration Act establishes that, as a matter of federal law, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration, whether the problem at hand is the construction of the contract language itself or an allegation of waiver, delay, or a like defense to arbitrability.” Moses Cone thus established that there was a presumption in favor of arbitrability in cases governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, a conclusion that a number of other lower courts had previously reached, and which the Court had adopted about 23 years previously as a matter of federal labor law derived from Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (sometimes referred to as the “Taft-Hartley Act”). See United Steel Workers of Am. v. Warrier & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960) (Douglas, J.) (“An order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute. Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage.”)

The presumption of arbitrability is not a talismanic solution to every arbitration-law related problem. In fact it is designed to address only questions about the scope of an arbitration agreement.

The presumption has two related components. First, when courts construe the scope provision of an arbitration agreement to determine what merits-related issues the parties agreed to arbitrate, the court resolves ambiguities in favor of arbitration.  See, e.g., Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 62 (1995). Second, it presumes that procedural issues arising out of arbitrable disputes, and contract-related defenses to arbitrability—that is, “allegation[s] of waiver, delay and like defenses to arbitrability[,]” are presumptively for the arbitrator. See Moses Cone, 460 U.S. at 24-25; Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002).

Roughly ten days ago, in a post about U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner’s Sprint Spectrum decision, we wrote about how some judges have interpreted the presumption too expansively:

The federal policy in favor of arbitration has, at least arguably, been interpreted to apply more expansively than the U.S. Supreme Court likely intended. As a result, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said many times that arbitration is supposed to be a “matter of contract,” or one of “consent not coercion,” an overly expansive interpretation of the policy has, at least in some cases, arguably resulted in arbitration agreements being placed on a considerably more advantaged footing than ordinary contracts. As we read it, Judge Posner’s comment in Roughneck raises the question whether this might have more to do with “limit[ing] judicial workloads” than a desire to enforce contracts as written and according to their terms.

(Read our Sprint Spectrum post here.)

With all the hoopla about the presumption of arbitrability, one would think it very difficult to find a case that didn’t apply the presumption of arbitrability in a situation where it was supposed to apply it. In general that’s probably true, but on June 2, 2015 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington proved that truth is not a universal one.

In Scolari v. Elliot Rust Co., No. C15-5163 (BHS), slip op. (W.D. Wash. June 2, 2015) the court considered whether ambiguity created by apparently conflicting forum selections clauses: one arbitral and two judicial. While the Court’s reasoning indicated that it considered the issue before it one of contract interpretation—the resolution of ambiguity—it nevertheless held that the ambiguity had to be resolved against the drafter of the contract, which the district court thought Washington law required, rather than in favor of arbitration, which was what federal law required. While it apparently recognized that application of the presumption, rather than a state-law contra proferentem rule, would have required the court to stay the litigation, it nevertheless denied the requested stay of litigation, concluding that the issue before it concerned the enforceability of the arbitration agreement, rather than an interpretation of its scope.

The net effect of the ruling was for the district court to implicitly have found that a judicial forum selection clause trumped an arbitral one, simply because they overlapped in scope, and that accordingly the arbitral forum selection clause was not enforceable. There was no legal basis for such a finding and the district court cited none.

The seriousness of the error was compounded by the district court’s acknowledgement that the arbitration proponent had advanced a reasonable interpretation of the arbitration agreement and judicial forum selection clauses, which harmonized them, and would have allowed arbitration to proceed, with the district court staying its hand in the interim. Instead of adopting that interpretation, it said that the arbitration challenger’s interpretation was likewise “reasonable,” but the court did not say what the challenger’s interpretation was, and given the disposition of the case, we assume that the “interpretation” was that the parties must not have intended to include a concededly existing and valid arbitration agreement in their agreement. But that interpretation not only ignored the presumption of arbitrability, but the general rule of contract interpretation that one contract provision not be construed to negate another.

We do not know whether the arbitration proponent preserved the argument for appeal, but there was another ground for a stay of litigation in this case that would have bypassed the issue of the presumption of arbitrability. The arbitration agreement contained a delegation clause, which clearly and unmistakably required the parties to submit to arbitration all disputes about arbitrability. Because there was no dispute about the existence or validity of the delegation clause, the Court should have held that the resolution of the apparent conflict between arbitral and judicial forum selection clauses was a question for the arbitrators.

If the arbitration proponent decides to appeal the decision, we hope that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will correct these errors without delay, so that the parties can arbitrate their disputes, which is, after all, what they agreed to do.

Background

yay-12775922-digitalScolari v. Elliot Rust Co., No. C15-5163 (BHS), slip op. (W.D. Wash. June 2, 2015), arose out of the purchase, sale, termination and buyback of an interest in a limited liability company. Effective January 1, 2013 the plaintiff (the “Buyer”) purchased a ten-percent ownership interest in  Elliot Rust Companies, LLC (the “LLC”), the purchase and sale of which was governed by a “Grant Agreement” executed by the parties “according to the terms of [an] Amended and Restated LLC Agreement of Elliot Rust Companies, LLC dated January 1, 2013.” Both agreements were apparently part of the same transaction and were entered into at or about the same time.

The Buyer and LLC were the only parties to the Grant Agreement, which provided that the Buyer would acquire its 10% interest “according to the terms of the terms of the Amended and Restated LLC Agreement of Elliot Rust Companies, LLC dated January 1, 2013

The Grant Agreement provided, among other things, that:

[Scolari] understands, acknowledges and agrees that, upon execution of this Grant Agreement and the joinder to the LLC Agreement, [Scolari] shall, without further action or deed, thereupon be bound by the LLC Agreement, as it may thereafter be restated or amended, as though a direct signatory thereto.

It contained a “jurisdiction” clause that stipulated Washington law as governing and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington as the exclusive judicial forum:

Governing Law: Jurisdiction. This Grant Agreement and the transaction contemplated hereby shall be governed by and construed according to the laws of the state of Washington. With respect to any dispute arising out of or related to this Grant Agreement or the LLC Agreement, the parties hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. . . .

yay-1916763-digitalThe LLC Agreement, unlike the Grant Agreement, contained a broad arbitration agreement, which said:

Arbitration. All disputes, claims or controversies relating to this Agreement that are not resolved by mediation shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration. . . . Questions or arbitrability or the scope of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate shall be determined by the arbitrator.

But like the Grant Agreement, the LLC Agreement also contained a jurisdiction and venue clause:

Jurisdiction and Venue. Any suit involving any dispute or matter arising under this Agreement may only be brought in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington or the Superior Court of Pierce County. All Members hereby consent to the exercise of personal jurisdiction by any such court with respect to any such proceeding.

The LLC terminated the plaintiff on November 6, 2014, and on December 15, 2014 offered to buy plaintiff’s 10% interest out for $158,882.60. The plaintiff refused the offer one week later, claiming that he did not believe it to be accurately valued.

yay-13760132Unable to agree a resolution the plaintiff filed suit in March 2015, requesting a judgment declaring he has a 20% interest in the profits of the LLC, and equitable relief.

The LLC moved on April 3, 2015 to dismiss for improper venue or to stay the action pending arbitration under Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act pending arbitration. The Court denied the motion.

The District Court’s Analysis and Conclusions

The Court began its analysis by acknowledging that its “role” was confined “‘to determining (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and, if it does, (2) whether the agreement encompasses the dispute at issue.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Chiron Corp. v. Ortho Diagnostic Sys., Inc., 207 F.3d 1126, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000)). If the arbitration proponent establishes that the answers to both questions are “yes,” then, said the Court, the Court must “‘enforce the arbitration in accordance with its terms.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting 207 F.3d at 1130). And in discussing the standard applicable to question (2), the Court, playing homage to the strong presumption in favor of arbitration, said “‘any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration. . . .’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting 207 F.3d at 1131).

So far, so good. But having accurately stated the governing rules, the Court inexplicably failed to heed them. Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

May 19th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Class Arbitration, Contract Interpretation, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

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On March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration rule that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend to require parties to appoint only neutral arbitrators—that is, arbitrators that are both impartial and independent.

Five Justices of the nine-member Texas Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the AAA had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-12776482As reported here and here, the losing party requested Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

On Monday, May 18, 2015, SCOTUS denied the petition for certiorari.  (You can access the Court’s May 18, 2015 Order List here.)

On Monday May 4, 2015, SCOTUS also denied the petition for certiorari in another Federal Arbitration Act case, Jupiter Medical Center, Inc. v. Visiting Nurse Assoc., No. 14-944, which was decided by the Florida Supreme Court. (You can access the Court’s May 4, 2015 Order List here.) Jupiter Medical Center, like Americo, concerned a post-award challenge under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, and also like Americo, was decided by a state supreme court. In Jupiter Medical, however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the post-award challenge.

yay-5257980-digitalSupreme Court watchers interested in arbitration cases will have to get their fix next term from DIRECTV v. Imburgia, which we discussed here. Will SCOTUS hold that the California intermediate Court did not give effect to the presumption of arbitrability? Will SCOTUS go even further and explain that, just as a statute cannot be interpreted “‘to destroy itself,'” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1748 (2011) (quoting  American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Central Office Telephone, Inc., 524 U.S. 214, 227-228 (1998) (quotation omitted)), so too cannot state law contract interpretation rules be applied in a way that would destroy an arbitration agreement to which the Federal Arbitration Act applies? Cf. Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468,  (1989) (“The question remains whether, assuming the choice-of-law clause meant what the Court of Appeal found it to mean, application of Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Ann. § 1281.2(c) is nonetheless pre-empted by the FAA to the extent it is used to stay arbitration under this contract involving interstate commerce.  .  .  . [because] “it would undermine the goals and policies of the FAA.”)

Stay tuned for DIRECTV.  .  .  .

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to image 2 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Another Class Arbitration Case: Can the Federal Arbitration Act Spare DIRECTV an Extended Stay in Class-Arbitration-Waiver Purgatory?

March 31st, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Contract Interpretation, FAA Preemption of State Law, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

On March 23, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, No. 14-462. If decided on its merits, the case will be by our count the fifth U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning class arbitration decided on its merits during the period 2010 forward.

yay-1341284-digitalImburgia is a decision by the California Court of Appeals, Second District, Division One of which the California Supreme Court denied review. Like many other Federal Arbitration Act cases, it presents some interesting vertical conflict of law questions, but the California Court of Appeals does not appear to have resolved them in the way the U.S. Supreme Court presumably intended them to be resolved under the Volt and Mastrobuono lines of cases. 

The case centers  on a class-action waiver non-severability provision included in a consumer contract DIRECTV entered into in 2007, about four years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Concepcion that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California’s Discover Bank rule. The Discover Bank rule provides that class action waivers are unenforceable in litigation or arbitration proceedings. See, generally, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1753 (2011).

yay-3535433-digitalBefore Concepcion not only did the California state courts hold that the Federal Arbitration Act did not preempt the Discover Bank rule, but so did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Thus, at the time, the risk companies like DIRECTV and others with consumer class arbitration exposure had was that applicable state law would not only ban class arbitration waivers, but applicable federal law would permit that to happen.

So companies like DIRECTV and others built into their arbitration agreements a fail-safe mechanism under which the entire arbitration agreement would be rendered uneneforceable if state law rendered the class arbitration waiver unenforceable. In other words, the companies understandably viewed class action litigation to be a more favorable alternative than class arbitration if forced to choose between the two. Continue Reading »

What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the $10,000,000.00 Arbitration Award?

March 1st, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Contract Interpretation, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Preemption of State Law, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York Convention, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the $10,000,000.00 Arbitration Award?

SCA v. Armstrong:

Anatomy of an Arbitration Award—Part II

What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the Arbitrators’ $10,000,000.00 Sanctions Award?

 

yay-10447276-digitalAs discussed in Part I, if Lance Armstrong (“Armstrong”) and Tailwind Sports Corp. (“Tailwind”) (collectively, the “Armstrong Parties”) challenge the Armstrong Arbitration Award, that challenge will be based on the Panel allegedly exceeding its powers. To meaningfully assess whether the Panel exceeded its powers we need to consider what law applies. Continue Reading »

Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: Does a Petition to Vacate an FAA-Governed Award Timely Commenced in State Court Become Time-Barred Simply Because it is Removed to Federal Court?

April 6th, 2014 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, FAA Preemption of State Law, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: Does a Petition to Vacate an FAA-Governed Award Timely Commenced in State Court Become Time-Barred Simply Because it is Removed to Federal Court?

Part I

Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, No. 3:13-cv-636-J-34 (MCR), slip op. (M.D. Fla. March 5, 2014), is one of those deceptively complex cases. The petitioner, successor trustee of a family trust (the “Trustee”), timely commenced under the Florida Arbitration Code (the “FAC”) in Florida state court  a petition to vacate an arbitration award by filing it within the 90-day period allowed by state law, but did not serve it until a few days after the three-month period required to vacate an award under Section 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) had elapsed. Compare Fla. Stat. §§ 682.13(2) & 682.17 with 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 10 & 12.[1]. The petition requested an order vacating the award under both the FAA and the FAC, which allows service to be effected after expiration of the 90-day filing deadline. See Fla. Stat. §§ 682.13 & 682.17.

The respondent, a well-known securities broker-dealer (the “Broker-Dealer”), removed the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida based on the court’s diversity jurisdiction. In federal court the Broker-Dealer argued that the petition was time-barred because service was not effected within the FAA Section 12’s three-month deadline. The district court agreed and dismissed the petition as time-barred.

The district court apparently thought that, once a court determines that an arbitration agreement falls within the scope of the FAA, all of its provisions—whether substantive, procedural or a combination of the two—supersede their state law counterparts if they conflict in any way with them, irrespective of whether the conflict frustrates the purposes and objectives of the FAA. The court also seems to have thought that the state of Florida could not, independently from the FAA, declare an arbitration agreement falling under the FAA to be valid, irrevocable and enforceable under Florida substantive arbitration law, and enforce that arbitration agreement through Florida’s own statutory, summary procedures that are, for the most part, identical to those provided by the FAA, and, in any event, do not frustrate the purposes and objectives of the FAA.

Belz is deceptively complex because at first glance the case seems relatively straightforward: (a) the FAA applied to the arbitration agreement and award; (b) the FAA’s three-month statute of limitations for vacating an award is not tolled until service is effected; (c) the court determined service was not timely under the FAA; (d) the FAC’s statute of limitations, which requires only that an application for vacatur be filed within the 90-day period, did not apply because the FAA applied; and (d) therefore, the application to vacate was untimely.

But in Belz there was an “elephant in the room,” albeit one well-camouflaged by its inherent complexity: federalism—a principle reflected in the text of the FAA, in the Continue Reading »