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Archive for the ‘United States Supreme Court’ Category

Delegation Agreements, Separability, Schein II, and the October 2019 Edition of CPR Alternatives

November 12th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Contract Interpretation, Delegation Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Practice and Procedure, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments »
Delegation Provision

There have been a number of important cases decided in 2019 concerning the application and effect of “delegation provisions”—clear and unmistakable agreements to arbitrate arbitrability issues. Delegation provisions, which we’ll refer to as “delegation agreements,” are not a recent phenomenon, and are quite common, especially in administered arbitration, where consent to applicable arbitration rules typically includes clear and unmistakable consent to arbitrate arbitrability. But there’s been a good deal of judicial controversy this year over whether delegation agreements should, in certain circumstances, be given the full force and effect that they deserve.  

We think that delegation provisions should ordinarily be enforced as written and according to their terms. When Courts interpret and apply delegation agreements, they should, consistent with Rent-a-Center West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010), consider those agreements to be separate and independent from the arbitration agreements in which they are contained.

Much of the controversy has centered on whether terms of the arbitration agreement should define or circumscribe the scope of the delegation agreement and even effectively negate it. Consequently, certain courts have conflated the question of who gets to decide whether an issue is arbitrable with the separate question of what the outcome of the arbitrability dispute should be, irrespective of who decides it. 

The SCOTUS Schein Decision and The Fifth Circuit’s Schein II Decision on Remand

The first significant delegation-agreement development this year came on

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New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part II)

August 15th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Class Arbitration Waivers, Clause Construction Award, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Analysis

Part I of this post discussed how the Second and Fifth Circuits, in  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), and 20/20 Comms. Inc. v. Lennox Crawford, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-10260 (5th Cir. July 22, 2019), suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability (a/k/a the “Clear and Unmistakable Rule”).

Under this Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule, courts consider the merits of an underlying arbitrability issue as part of their analysis of whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability issues.

But the Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception runs directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 524 (January 8, 2019), and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein. 139 S. Ct. at 527-28, 529-31.

This Part II analyzes and discusses how Met Life and 20/20 Comm. effectively made an end run around Schein and considers what might have motivated those Courts to rule as they did.

Making an End Run Around Schein?

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Circumvent | End Run

When, prior to 20/20 Comm. we wrote about Met Life, we said it “an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.” (See here. )

But after the Fifth Circuit decided 20/20 Comm. this July, in comments we made to Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, the Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”)—which were reproduced with our consent in Mr. Zhan Tze’s CPR Speaks blog article about 20/20 Comm. (here)—we expressed the belief that the Fifth Circuit was (whether intentionally or unintentionally) making an end run around Schein, effectively creating an exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule.

After analyzing 20/20 Comm. and comparing it to the Second Circuit’s Met Life decision, we concluded that the Second Circuit’s decision also ran counter to Schein.

Schein’s Abrogation of the “Wholly Groundless Exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Jettison

In Schein the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the so-called “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule. Prior to Schein certain courts, including the Fifth Circuit, held that even when parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, courts could effectively circumvent the parties’ agreement and decide for itself arbitrability challenges that it determined were “wholly groundless.”  

The rationale Schein used to jettison the “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule is incompatible with the rationales the Second and Fifth Circuit used to support their decisions in Met Life and 20/20 Comm.

Under FAA Section 2, the Schein Court explained, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 529 (citation omitted). When those contracts delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, “a court may not override the contract[,]” and has “no power to decide the arbitrability issue.” 139 S. Ct. at 529. That is so even where a Court “thinks that the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is wholly groundless.” 139 S. Ct. at 529.

Schein explained that its conclusion was supported not only by the FAA’s text, but also by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Citing and quoting cases decided under Section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act, the Court explained that courts may not “‘rule on the potential merits of the underlying’ claim that is assigned by contract to an arbitrator, ‘even if it appears to the court to be frivolous[,]’” and that “[a] court has “‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’” because the “‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’” 139 S. Ct. at 529 (quoting AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 649–650 (1986) and Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960)).

This “principle,” said the Schein Court, “applies with equal force to the threshold issue of arbitrability[]”—for “[j]ust as a court may not decide a merits question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator, a court may not decide an arbitrability question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator.” 139 S. Ct. at 530.

Exception to Clear and Unmistakable Rule? Why the Second and Fifth Circuit Decisions Conflict with Schein

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New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part I)

August 13th, 2019 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 6

Arbitration law is replete with presumptions and other rules that favor one outcome or another depending on whether one thing or another is or is not clear and unmistakable. Put differently, outcomes often turn on the presence or absence of contractual ambiguity.

There are three presumptions that relate specifically to questions arbitrability, that is, whether or not an arbitrator or a court gets to decide a particular issue or dispute:   

  1. The Moses Cone Presumption of Arbitrability: Ambiguities in the scope of the arbitration agreement itself must be resolved in favor of arbitration. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). Rebutting this presumption requires clear and unmistakable evidence of an intent to exclude from arbitration disputes that are otherwise arguably within the scope of the agreement.
  2. The First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability:  Parties are presumed not to have agreed to arbitrate questions of arbitrability unless the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995)
  3. The Howsam/John Wiley Presumption of Arbitrability of Procedural Matters: “‘[P]rocedural’ questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (quoting John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557 (1964)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To rebut this presumption, the parties must clearly and unmistakably exclude the procedural issue in question from arbitration.

These presumptions usually turn solely on what the contract has to say about the arbitrability of a dispute, not on what the outcome an arbitrator or court would—or at least should—reach on the merits of the dispute.

Some U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Fifth Circuit, recognized an exception to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability called the “wholly groundless exception.” Under that “wholly groundless exception,” courts could decide “wholly groundless” challenges to arbitrability even though the parties have clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability issues to the arbitrators. The apparent point of that exception was to avoid the additional time and expense associated with parties being required to arbitrate even wholly groundless arbitrability disputes, but the cost of the exception was a judicial override of the clear and unmistakable terms of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.  

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, slip op. at *1 (January 8, 2019) abrogated the “wholly groundless” exception. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8. “When,” explained the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Schein, slip op. at 2, 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Schein,slip op. at 8.    

But since Schein both the Second and Fifth Circuits have decided First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability cases by effectively conflating the question of who gets to decide an arbitrability issue with the separate question of who should prevail on the merits of that arbitrability issue. The Courts in both cases determined whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions by considering, as part of the clear and unmistakable calculus, the merits of the arbitrability question.

These two cases suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability. But the problem with that trend is that it runs directly counter to the Supreme Court’s decision in Schein, and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein.

In Part I of this post we discuss the Second Circuit and Fifth Circuit decisions. In Part II we analyze and discuss how— and perhaps why — those courts effectively made an end run around Schein.

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2018-2019 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: What About Lamps Plus?

June 20th, 2019 Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Class Action Arbitration, Clause Construction Award, Consent to Class Arbitration, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court 2 Comments »
Lamps Plus - Supreme Court Building
U.S. Supreme Court

On April 24, 2019 in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, 587 U.S. ___, No. 17-998 (April 24, 2019), the United States Supreme Court considered whether whether consent to class arbitration may be inferred from ambiguous contract language.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. the Court held that ambiguity in and of itself was not enough to infer party consent to class arbitration. Parties would have to clearly express their consent to class arbitration before courts could impose it on them under the Federal Arbitration Act.

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Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?

April 27th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?
Arbitrability Question 5 | Delegation Clause | Delegation Provision

Parties can, and frequently do, agree to include in their contract a so-called
“Delegation Provision” that clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrators questions of arbitrability. (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, here, and here.) Questions of arbitrability include questions concerning: (a) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular disputes or categories of disputes; (b) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (c) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Who Gets to Decide whether the Parties Entered into a Delegation Provision?

Federal Arbitration Act  | Who Gets to Decide? | Delegation Provision

Suppose that Agent A, without the knowledge and consent of Party A, purports to bind Party A to a written contract with Party B, which includes a broad arbitration agreement that expressly incorporates by reference, and makes part of the purported contract, the 2018 version of CPR’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules. Party B and Agent A deal with each other concerning the subject matter of the contract, and a dispute arises.

Party B demands arbitration of the dispute, and serves an arbitration demand on Party A, who is understandably surprised at being named a party in an arbitration proceeding concerning a purported agreement of which it had no knowledge, objects to the arbitration demand, and Party B commences an action to compel arbitration.

In the proceeding to compel arbitration, Party A argues that Agent A had no actual or apparent authority to bind it to the agreement that contained the arbitration agreement. Party B responds that because the Delegation Clause made part of the agreement requires arbitration of issues concerning the “existence” of the arbitration agreement, Party A must arbitrate the issue of whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement.

Must Party A arbitrate the issue whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement because the agreement contains a Delegation Provision? If the only consideration were the text of Rule 8.1, then the answer would be “yes.”

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Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?

April 17th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Exceeding Powers, Grounds for Vacatur, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacatur Comments Off on Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?
authority

Suppose arbitrators decide an issue within the scope of their authority but do so in manifest disregard the parties’ contract. Do they exceed their authority by making an award that has not even a barely colorable basis in the parties’ contract or in applicable law?

The answer to that question, is, of course, “yes,” and over the years we’ve discussed in a number of posts how arbitrators can exceed their powers under Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) or Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act by making awards in manifest disregard of the parties’ agreement. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum Posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) As discussed in those posts, the U.S. Supreme Court has on multiple occasions ruled that commercial and labor arbitrators can exceed their powers by making an award that manifestly disregards—or does not “draw its essence” from—the parties’ agreement. See Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Inc., 130 S.Ct. 1758, 1768-70 (2010); Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S.Ct. 2064, 2067, 2068 (2013); Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000); Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 599 (1960); Paperworkers v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987).

In our April 12, 2019 post (here) we reviewed how it is that the limited review powers courts have to vacate commercial and labor arbitration awards are designed to provide a limited, but very important, safety net to protect parties against egregious, material violations of arbitration agreements. Without that limited protection, the risks associated with agreeing to arbitrate would be intolerably high and parties would be much less apt to opt for arbitration over court litigation.

Courts vacate arbitration awards where arbitrators act outside the scope of their authority by ruling on issues that the parties did not agree to submit to them. That’s what happened in Brock Indus. Servs., LLC v. Laborers’ Int’l Union., __ F.3d ___, No. 17-2597, slip op. (7th Cir. April 8, 2019), which we discussed in our April 12, 2019 post here.

But to obtain vacatur of an award based on manifest disregard of the agreement, however, an award challenger must satisfy an exceedingly demanding standard. We’ve addressed the parameters of that standard in a number of other posts. (See, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Our blog has also tried to give a feel for how Courts apply (or are supposed to apply) the standard by comparing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stolt-Nielsen, which held that an award should be vacated for manifest disregard of the agreement, to the Supreme Court decision in Oxford, which held that an award should not be vacated under that manifest disregard standard. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.) And from time-to-time we’ve reported on other cases that have applied the standard.

While challenges to awards based on manifest disregard of the agreement are not uncommon, a very large majority of those challenges are either virtually certain to fail or at least highly unlikely to succeed. It is a relatively small universe of remaining, close cases that pose the biggest challenges for parties and courts.

Today we’ll look at one of those close cases, which was decided by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and explain why the case failed to satisfy the demanding standard, even though, at least at first glance, it may be difficult to square the arbitration award with the parties’ agreement.

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Arbitrability of Arbitrability Questions: the Second Circuit Pushes Back (a little)

April 3rd, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Stay of Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse

Abitrability Questions
Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007

In a January 16, 2019 post (here) on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. (January 8, 2019), we explained that arbitrability questions are ordinarily for courts to decide, but parties may, by way of a “delegation provision,” clearly and unmistakably agree to submit them to arbitration. See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995); Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S. Ct. 2772, 2777 (2010). (See also Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts herehere, and here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. It might, for example, state that the parties agree to submit to arbitrators questions concerning their “jurisdiction,” or the “existence, scope, or validity” of the arbitration agreement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, does not require the parties to expressly state in their agreement that they agree to submit arbitrability questions to the arbitrators. The Second Circuit has found that the parties may “clearly and unmistakably” submit arbitrability questions to arbitration when they agree to a very broad arbitration clause. See Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC v. Sappington, 884 F.3d 392, 394, 396 (2d Cir. 2018) (An agreement “to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy that may arise between you and Wells Fargo Advisors, or a client, or any other person[, and] . . . giving up the right to sue Wells Fargo Advisors . . . in court concerning matters related to or arising from your employment” “demonstrate[d] the parties’ clear and unmistakable intent to arbitrate all questions of arbitrability.”); PaineWebber Inc. v. Bybyk, 81 F.3d 1193, 1199 (2d Cir. 1996) (A contractual provision that “any and all controversies . . . concerning any account, transaction, dispute or the construction, performance, or breach of this or any other agreement . . . shall be determined by arbitration” and that “the parties are waiving their right to seek remedies in court” clearly and unmistakably demonstrated “parties’ intent to arbitrate all issues, including arbitrability.”) (emphasis omitted); Alliance Bernstein Investment Research and Management, Inc. v. Schaffran, 445 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2006) (NASD Code Rule 10324, which authorized arbitrators “to interpret and determine the applicability of all provisions under [the] Code[]” was a clear and unmistakable delegation to arbitrators of arbitrability questions concerning interpretation of the NASD Code.).

In Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), the Second Circuit was faced with an unusual situation where party A sought to arbitrate against party B, a former member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)’s predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”), a dispute arising out of events that occurred years after party B severed its ties with the NASD.

The district court rejected A’s arguments, ruling that: (a) this particular arbitrability question was for the Court to decide; and (b) the dispute was not arbitrable because it arose years after B left the NASD, and was based on events that occurred subsequent to B’s departure. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

After the district court decision, but prior to the Second Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Schein, which—as we explained here—held that even so-called “wholly-groundless” arbitrability questions must be submitted to arbitration if the parties clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to arbitration. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8.

The Second Circuit faced a situation where a party sought to arbitrate a dispute which clearly was not arbitrable, but in circumstances under which prior precedent, including Alliance Berstein (cited above), suggested that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

To give effect to the parties’ likely intent that they did not agree to arbitrate arbitrability questions that arose after B left the NASD, the Second Circuit had no choice but distinguish and qualify its prior precedent without falling afoul of the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement in Schein. That required the Second Circuit to modify, to at least some extent, the contractual interpretation analysis that courts within the Second Circuit are supposed to engage to ascertain whether parties “clearly and unmistakably” agreed to arbitrate arbitrability in circumstance where they have not specifically agreed to arbitrate such issues.

Metropolitan Life is an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.

It is easy to see how applying Metropolitan Life in future cases could raise some interesting and challenging questions for parties, their attorneys, and the courts. We may look at those challenges in more detail in a future post, but for now, let’s take a careful look at the Second Circuit’s decision.

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New Prime v. Oliveira Part II: Federal Arbitration Act Section One “Contracts of Employment” Exemption Includes Independent Contractors

February 1st, 2019 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on New Prime v. Oliveira Part II: Federal Arbitration Act Section One “Contracts of Employment” Exemption Includes Independent Contractors
Contracts of Employment 1
Federal Arbitration Act Section 1

Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) exempts from the FAA’s scope disputes involving “contracts of employment of . . . workers engaged in . . . interstate commerce.”  9 U. S. C. § 1. Does the FAA apply to an agreement to arbitrate disputes between an individual trucker and an interstate trucking company if the contract between them establishes an independent contractor relationship, not an employer-employee one?

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 586 ___ U.S. ___, slip op. (Jan. 15, 2019), the United States Supreme Court said that the FAA does not apply to such contracts. That was so, the Court explained, because in 1925, the year Congress enacted the FAA, the term “contracts of employment” was ordinarily understood to include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee (or master and servant) relationship, but also independent contractor relationships. Slip op. at 7. Consequently, a court does not have authority under the FAA to stay litigation under FAA Section 3—or to compel arbitration under FAA Section 4—if the parties’ agreement evidences such a “contract of employment,” including a contract of employment that establishes an independent contractor relationship rather than an employer-employee one. Slip op. at 6, 7 & 15.

In our first New Prime post, here, we focused our discussion on a threshold issue addressed by the Court: who gets to decide whether a contract falls within Section 1’s “contracts of employment” exemption when the parties have delegated arbitrability disputes to the arbitrators? The answer to that question, we explained, is “the courts.” For the inapplicability of the Section 1 exemption is an “antecedent” question that must be resolved before the Court can conclude that it has any power whatsoever to stay litigation under Section 1 or compel arbitration under Section 4. Slip op. at 3-4. (See, also, here.)

Today we shift our focus to the merits of the Section 1 exemption question that the U.S. Supreme Court proceeded to resolve.

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Federal Arbitration Act Section 1: SCOTUS Says Courts Decide Whether FAA Applies to Contract and this Time Answer is “No”

January 25th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act exempts from the FAA’s scope disputes involving “contracts of employment of . . . workers engaged in . . . interstate commerce.”  9 U. S. C. § 1. If parties to an arbitration agreement clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, who decides whether a contract containing the arbitration agreement is such a “contract of employment?”   

Federal Arbitration Act Section 1 1
United States Supreme Court

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 586 U.S. ___, slip op. (Jan. 15, 2019), the nation’s highest court held that courts decide whether a contract is within the scope of the FAA’s coverage, even where the parties clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator. Slip op. at 4. Addressing the merits of the FAA’s applicability to the contract, the United States Supreme Court held that under Section 1 it was exempt from the FAA because in 1925, the year Congress enacted the FAA, the term “contracts of employment” was ordinarily understood to include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee (or master and servant) relationship, but also independent contractor relationships. Slip op. at 15.

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 2
Who gets to decide whether the Federal Arbitration Act applies to the parties’ agreement?

Today we’ll focus on the first issue addressed by the Court: who gets to decide whether a contract falls within the Section 1 “contracts of employment” exemption when the parties have delegated arbitrability disputes to the arbitrators. In a later post we’ll look at how the Court decided the contract before it was under Section 1 a “contract of employment of a “worker[] engaged in interstate commerce[,]” and thus outside the scope of the FAA.  

Background

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 3
Dispute between a trucker and a trucking company

New Prime was a dispute between a truck driver and a trucking company. The relationship between the two was established by a written contract which, at least in form, established an independent contractor, rather than an employer-employee relationship. The contract contained an arbitration clause which provided that “any disputes arising out of the parties’ relationship should be resolved by an arbitrator—even disputes over the scope of the arbitrator ’s authority.” Slip op. at 1-2.

The trucker commenced a federal-court class action, which alleged that, irrespective of what the trucking company called its drivers, the trucking company “treat[ed] them as employees and fail[ed] to pay the statutorily due minimum wage.” Slip op. at 2.

The trucking company asked the district court to compel arbitration of the dispute. In response the trucker contended that his contract was outside the scope of the FAA because it was a “contract[] of em­ployment of . . . [a] worker[] engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1. Thus, said the trucker, the FAA “supplied the district court with no authority to compel arbitration….” Slip op. at 2.

The trucking company replied that the parties had agreed to submit to arbitration the question whether the Section 1 “contracts of employment” exemption applied to the contract. The trucking company alternatively contended that, if the question was for the Court, then the term “‘contracts of employment’ refers only to contracts that establish an employer-employee relationship[,]” and the trucker was an independent contractor, not an employee, of the trucking company. Accordingly, said the trucking company, the Section 1 exclusion did not apply, the FAA applied, and the Court should stay the litigation and compel arbitration under FAA Sections 3 and 4. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 3 & 4; slip op. at 2-3.

The district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found in favor of the trucker. The First Circuit “held, first, that in disputes like this a court should resolve whether the parties’ contract falls within the Act’s ambit or [Section 1’s] exclusion before invoking the [FAA’s] au­thority to order arbitration.” Slip op. at 3. The First Circuit further “held that [Section 1’s] exclusion of certain ‘contracts of employ­ment’ removes from the Act’s coverage not only employer-employee contracts but also contracts involving independ­ent contractors.” Slip op. at 3. Accordingly, irrespective of whether the parties’ agreement established an employer-employee or independent contractor relationship, the district court lacked FAA authority to compel arbitration. Slip op. at 3.

In an 8-0 Opinion written by Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the First Circuit’s decision (Associate Justice Brett Michael Kavanaugh took no part). Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a brief concurring opinion.

The Court Must Decide Whether Section 1 Exempts the Contract from the FAA’s Scope

The Broad Authority the FAA Confers on Courts does not Extend to All Private Contracts 

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 4
SCOTUS: Judicial authority to compel arbitration under the FAA “may be considerable[,]” but it is not “unconditional”

The answer to the “who” question was “immediately” “clear” to the Court. Slip op. at 3. Though “a court’s authority under the [FAA] to compel arbitration may be considerable, it isn’t unconditional.” Slip op. at 3. FAA Sections 3 and 4 “often require a court to stay litigation and compel arbitration ‘according to the terms’ of the parties’ agreement[,]” “[b]ut this authority doesn’t extend to all private contracts, no matter how emphatically they may express a preference for arbitration.” Slip op. at 3.

Section 1 and Section 2 are Antecedent Provisions that Limit Judicial Power to Stay Litigation and Compel Arbitration under Sections 3 and 4

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 5
Court must apply FAA Sections 1 and 2 to determine whether it has the authority to stay litigation or compel arbitration under Sections 3 and 4

Sections 1 and 2, the Court explained, are “antecedent statutory provisions” that “limit the scope of the scope of the court’s powers under [Sections] 3 and 4.” Slip op. at 3. Section 2 “applies only when the parties’ agreement to arbitrate is set forth as a ‘written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.’” Slip op. at 3. Section 1, which “helps define [Section] 2’s terms[,]” provides that “‘nothing’ in the [FAA] ‘shall apply’ to ‘contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.’” Slip op. at 3-4 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 1).

According to the Court, Section 1’s exemption was included in the FAA, which was enacted in 1925, because “Congress had already prescribed alternative employment dispute resolution regimes for many transportation workers[,]” [a]nd it seems Congress ‘did not wish to unsettle’ those arrangements in favor of whatever arbitration procedures the parties’ private contracts might happen to contemplate.” Slip op. at (quoting Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 121 (2001)).

The FAA’s “Terms and Sequencing” Demonstrates that under Section 1 Courts Decide whether a Contract Falls Under the FAA

The FAA’s “terms and sequencing” supported the Court’s conclusion that “a court should decide for itself whether [Section] 1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applies before ordering arbitration.” Slip op. at 4. Before a Court can “invoke its statutory powers under [Sections] 3 and 3 to stay litigation and compel arbitration according to a contract’s terms, a court must first know whether the contract itself falls within or be­yond the boundaries of [Sections] 1 and 2.” Slip op. at 4. That is so even if the “parties’ private agreement [is] crystal clear and require[s] arbitration of every question under the sun….” See slip op. at 4.  

The Court’s Prior Decisions have Stressed the Significance of the FAA’s “Sequencing”

SCOTUS says its “holding” should come as no “surprise[,]” because its prior decisions require that a contract fall within the scope of Sections 1 and 2 before litigation may be stayed or arbitration compelled under Sections 3 or 4.

The Court said “[n]othing in our holding on this score should come as a surprise[,]” because the Court has “long stressed the significance of the statute’s sequencing.” By way of example the Court cited and quoted Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U. S. 198, 201–202 (1956), Circuit City, and Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465  U. S. 1, 10–11, and n. 5 (1984). In Bernhardt the Court explained that “‘Sections 1, 2, and 3 [and 4] are integral parts of a whole. . . . [Sections] 1 and 2 define the field in which Congress was legislating,’ and §§3 and 4 apply only to contracts covered by those provisions.” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Benhardt, 350 U.S. at 201-202). In Circuit City, the Court “acknowledged that ‘Section 1 exempts from the [Act] . . . contracts of employment of transportation workers.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Circuit City, 532 U. S., at 119). In Keating the Court “noted that ‘the enforce­ability of arbitration provisions’ under §§3 and 4 depends on whether those provisions are ‘ part of a written mari­time contract or a contract “evidencing a transaction in­volving commerce”’ under §2—which, in turn, depends on the application of §1’s exception for certain ‘contracts of employment.’” Slip op. at 4-5. (quoting Keating, 465  U. S. at 10–11, and n. 5).

The Trucking Company’s Delegation and Severability Arguments Put the Section 3 and Section 4 Cart before the Section 1 and Section 2 Horse

The trucking company’s arguments put the Section 3 and 4 cart before the Section 1 and 2 horse. Admittedly, the above photo doesn’t accurately depict that idiomatic scenario, but why make hay of it?

The trucking company contended that an arbitrator should decide the parties’ Section 1 dispute, relying on the delegation provision in the contract and the severability doctrine. “A delegation clause,” said the Court, “gives an arbitrator authority to decide even the initial question whether the parties’ dispute is subject to arbitration.” Slip op. at 5 (citing Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U. S. 63, 68–69 (2010)).

Under the severability doctrine, the Court “treat[s] a challenge to the validity of the arbitration agreement (or a delegation provision) separately from a challenge to the validity of the entire contract in which it appears.” Slip op. at 5. If a party does not “specifically challenge[] the validity of the agreement to arbitrate, both sides may be required to take all their disputes—including disputes about the validity of their broader contract—to arbitration. Slip op. at 5 (citing Rent-a-Center).  

The trucking company argued that: (a) the trucker did not “specifically challenge[] the parties’ delegation clause. . .”; and, therefore, (b) the parties had to arbitrate their dispute over whether the contract fell within Section 1’s exemption.

The Court explained that this argument “overlooks the necessarily antecedent statutory inquiry we’ve just discussed.” Slip op. at 5. “A delegation clause,” said the Court, “is merely a specialized type of arbitration agreement, and the [FAA] ‘operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other.’” Slip op. at 5 (quoting Rent-a-Center, 561 U. S. at 70.) To “use [Sections] 3 and 4 to enforce a delegation clause[,]” “the clause” must “appear[] in a ‘written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce’ consistent with [Section] 2[,]” “[a]nd only if the contract in which the clause appears doesn’t trigger [Section] ’s ‘contracts of employment’ exception.” Slip op. at 5.

“In exactly the same way,” said the Court, the FAA’s “severability principle applies only if the parties’ arbitration agreement appears in a contract that falls within the field [Sections] 1 and 2 describe.” Slip op. at 5-6. Indeed, the Court “acknowledged as much some time ago, ex­plaining that, before invoking the severability principle, a court should ‘determine[] that the contract in question is within the coverage of the Arbitration Act.’” Slip op. at 6 (citing and quoting Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U. S. 395, 402 (1967)).

Federal Arbitration Act Section 1 8

More to follow on New Prime

But if in the meantime you want to learn more now about arbitrability and delegation provisions, see prior posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Photo Acknowledgments:

The photos featured in this post were licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. 

Delegation Provisions: SCOTUS Says Courts Must Compel Arbitration of Even “Wholly-Groundless” Arbitrability Disputes

January 16th, 2019 American Arbitration Association, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Exceeding Powers, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Stay of Litigation, United States Supreme Court 3 Comments »
Wholly Groundless 1

Arbitrability questions are ordinarily for courts to decide, but parties may, by way of a “delegation provision,” clearly and unmistakably agree to submit them to arbitration. See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995); Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S. Ct. 2772, 2777 (2010). (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.)

But suppose parties to a delegation provision disagree about whether they are required to arbitrate a dispute, yet their contract clearly excludes the dispute from arbitration. Can a Court preemptively decide the merits of an arbitrability question delegated to the arbitrators, and refuse to compel arbitration of the arbitrability question, if the Court decides that the argument for arbitration of the underlying dispute is wholly groundless?

Some federal courts have held that a federal court can, despite a clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, refuse to compel arbitration of a “wholly groundless” arbitrability question, but others have held that the FAA requires Courts to refer to arbitration even “wholly groundless” arbitrability questions. Compare Simply Wireless, Inc. v. T-Mobile US, Inc., 877 F. 3d 522 (4th Cir. 2017); Douglas v. Regions Bank, 757 F. 3d 460 (5th Cir. 2014); Turi v. Main Street Adoption Servs., LLP, 633 F. 3d 496 (6th Cir. 2011); Qualcomm, Inc. v. Nokia Corp., 466 F. 3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2006), with Belnap v. Iasis Healthcare, 844 F. 3d 1272 (10th Cir. 2017); Jones v. Waffle House, Inc., 866 F. 3d 1257 (11th 2017); Douglas, 757 F. 3d, at 464 (Dennis, J., dissenting).

On January 8, 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, held that where parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability disputes, courts must compel arbitration even if the argument in favor of arbitration is “wholly groundless.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8 (January 8, 2019).

Wholly Groundless Exception 2

The Court said that “[t]he [FAA] does not contain a ‘wholly groundless’ exception, and we are not at liberty to rewrite the statute….” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. “When,” said the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8.

Facts and Procedural History

Wholly Groundless Exception 3

Schein was a dispute between a dental equipment manufacturer and a distributor. The parties’ contract contained an arbitration agreement, which required arbitration of “[a]ny dispute arising under or related to [the Parties’] Agreement (except for actions seeking injunctive relief and disputes related to trademarks, trade secrets, or other intellectual property of [the manufacturer]….” Slip op. at 2. Arbitration was to be “in accordance with the arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association [(the “AAA”)].” Slip op. at 2.

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