main image

Posts Tagged ‘Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson’

Some Initial Thoughts on the SCOTUS AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion Oral Argument

November 16th, 2010 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off

As many readers know, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893 (blogged here, here, here and here).  You can find the transcript of the argument, here, and the audio, here

After reviewing the oral argument transcript a number of times, and listening to the audio, we still believe it more likely than not that AT&T Mobility will prevail.  We’ll develop that thought further in upcoming installments of our Disputing guest post, “AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion:  Can Discover Bank Withstand Stolt-Nielsen Scrutiny?” (Part I, here).

There have been a number of differing opinions post argument on how the Court will likely rule.  Some believe the argument foreshadows victory for the Concepcions.  Others are not so certain, and still others believe that AT&T Mobility may emerge the victor.  Like all such opinions, they are are really nothing more than educated guesswork, and should be taken with a grain of salt. 

We don’t suggest our take on things is anything more, but we share it for what it is worth.  We think the oral argument was basically a toss-up, and that it mainly confirmed what we already knew or surmised:  That this is a very difficult case, and that the eight Justices who asked questions appear to be split along ideological lines.  We expected no less in light of the 5-3 and 5-4 split decisions in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559  U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010); and  Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2772 (2010). 

The key point on which the argument shed no meaningful light is what Associate Justice Clarence Thomas makes of this case.  Justice Thomas joined the Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center majority opinions, but those cases, unlike this one, did not concern the preemptive scope of the Federal Arbitration Act

Preemption is controversial, and its importance extends far beyond the AT&T Mobility case.    Particularly controversial — and very supportive of AT&T Mobility’s position — is the doctrine of “implied preemption,” also known as “conflict” or “obstacle” preemption. In Federal Arbitration Act cases this doctrine tells us that  state laws or policies that undermine “the goals and policies of the FAA” are preempted by the Act.  Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 477-78 (1990).

But Justice Thomas believes that the implied preemption doctrine is unconstitutional.  See Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1187, 1205 (2009) (Thomas, J. concurring) (“implied pre-emption doctrines that wander far from the statutory text are inconsistent with the Constitution.  .  .  .”).  He also believes that Congress intended the Federal Arbitration Act to be a procedural statute that applies only in federal court.  See, e.g., Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995) (Thomas, J., dissenting); Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 US 440 (2006) (Thomas, J., dissenting) (“[I]n state-court proceedings, the FAA cannot be the basis for displacing a state law that prohibits enforcement of an arbitration clause contained in a contract that is unenforceable under state law.”). 

He thus believes that state courts can apply state arbitration law as they see fit, irrespective of whether the result would be different had the case been brought in federal court.  While AT&T Mobility – like Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center – was brought in federal court, and everybody concedes that the Federal Arbitration Act applies, Justice Thomas remains a strong proponent of federalism.  

Justice Thomas’ deference to state law is problematic for AT&T Mobility.  Perhaps AT&T Mobility’s best argument is that the Federal Arbitration Act impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule for the reasons set forth in Stolt-Nielsen.   Apparently concluding that the Justices in the Stolt-Nielsen majority — including Justice Thomas —  are the ones most likely to support AT&T Mobility’s position, AT&T Mobility deliberately downplayed the implied preemption issue, although it made clear that it believes the Federal Arbitration Act both expressly and impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule. 

That was a wise strategy given Justice Thomas’ rejection of implied preemption.  Its wisdom was borne out by what transpired at the argument:  of the eight Justices that asked questions, the four more liberal ones (Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia M. Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt the Discover Bank rule, while the four more conservative ones (Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Associate Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Samuel J. Alito, Jr.) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts Discover Bank.      

That means Justice Thomas is likely to hold the deciding vote, but where he’ll ultimately cast it, nobody knows (at least outside the Supreme Court).  We believe there are equally plausible reasons why he might vote  for or against preemption.  

We’ll explore all of this and more in our Disputing guest post.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for our next Forum article on AT&T Mobility, which will focus on the highlights of the oral argument and tie them into the express and implied preemption issues that this critically important case presents.    

AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion: What is the Scope of Federal Preemption in Class Waiver Cases?

September 30th, 2010 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, Unconscionability, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off

Part II


Part I of this two-part post (here) briefly discussed the background of  AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893, a case pending before the United States Supreme Court that will be argued on November 9, 2010.  We now delve into the details of the preemption questions before the Court and take a guess at the outcome. 

Federal Arbitration Act Preemption

The Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt all state law applicable to arbitration agreements, but it expressly preempts state law that conflicts with Section 2, and impliedly preempts all state law that “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes of Congress”  embodied in the Federal Arbitration Act.  See Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Serv., Inc., 498 F.3d 976, 988 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations and quotation omitted). 

Does Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act Expressly Preempt the Discover Bank Rule?

Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act declares that arbitration agreements within its scope “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”  9 U.S.C. § 2.  Section 2 establishes substantive federal law that expressly preempts all conflicting state law, except for state law that permits “the revocation of any contract” or governs the formation, interpretation, or construction of contracts generally. 

The exception to federal preemption is exceedingly narrow, for it saves from preemption only state laws that apply equally across the board to all contracts.  The United States Supreme Court summarized it well when it said:

States may regulate contracts, including arbitration clauses, under general contract law principles and they may invalidate an arbitration clause ‘upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.  What States may not do is decide that a contract is fair enough to enforce all its basic terms (price, service, credit), but not fair enough to enforce its arbitration clause.  The Act makes any such state policy unlawful, for that kind of policy would place arbitration clauses on an unequal footing, directly contrary to the Act’s language and Congress’s intent.

Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 281 (1995) (citations and quotations omitted; emphasis in original).   Continue Reading »