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Posts Tagged ‘severability’

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.

Sections 1 and 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 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”

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 6
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 Proverbial Cart before the Horse

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 7
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. 

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

March 16th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Labor Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

The March 2010 issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, the excellent newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (“CPR”), featured as its cover story an article I wrote on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, No. 09-497, and Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 08-1214, two of the three cases pending before the United States Supreme Court this term.  The article is entitled “It’s Time for Doctrines: The Supreme Court Wrestles with ‘Severability’ and the ‘Clear and Unmistakable’ Standard.” 

These two cases involve, to some degree, the Buckeye Check Cashing/Prima Paint doctrine of severability—a/k/a “separability.”  Rent-A-Center also examines the “clear and unmistakable doctrine,” under which arbitrators can decide arbitrability questions if the parties clearly and unmistakably so agree. 

Rent-a-Center, which arises under the Federal Arbitration Act,  raises the question whether courts or arbitrators get to decide whether an arbitration agreement is unconscionable if the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration.  (See our prior posts here, here and here.)   Granite Rock, which arises under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, concerns whether, on the facts presented, arbitration must go forward and what it should encompass.  (See our prior post here.)

In the article I argue that both cases were wrongly decided by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and that, in Granite Rock, the Ninth Circuit reached the right result (an order compelling arbitration) for the wrong reasons.  I predict that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the Rent-A-Center decision and vacate the Granite Rock decision.

Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation is a subscription-only publication.   Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the article can request one at this page.  Subscription information is available at that page, too, as well as publisher John Wiley & Sons, here.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank CPR, and Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, for their kind assistance and support in featuring my article.  Russ is not only a keen, professional editor, but a pleasure to work with as well.

Professor Aaron Bruhl’s Analysis of Rent-A-Center, West v. Jackson (No. 09-497)

February 24th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Professor Aaron Bruhl’s Analysis of Rent-A-Center, West v. Jackson (No. 09-497)

Professor Aaron Bruhl, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, recently published in PrawfsBlawg a thought-provoking and insightful article on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson (No. 09-497).  (Post here)  Regular readers no doubt remember that the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Rent-A-Center, and will be hearing argument on April 26, 2010.  (See our prior posts here and here).

Professor Bruhl points out that, in addition to being of interest to those practicing employment, consumer or plain old arbitration law, Rent-A-Center “is just as interesting for those who study federal courts and judicial politics.”   He reminds us that one of the few remaining “safety valves” for challenging arbitration agreements is unconscionability:     

In the last few years, as other routes for challenging arbitration have been closed off, unconscionability has become a surprisingly common and surprisingly effective way of attacking arbitration agreements.  The challenges do not attack arbitration per se – federal law favors arbitration – but instead target various aspects of a particular arbitration process:  a given clause might forbid class arbitrations, bar punitive damages or otherwise restrict remedies, sharply curtail discovery, require a consumer to pay hefty arbitrator’s fees, etc.  There have been many cases on these topics in recent years, and a good number of them sustain the challenge to the arbitration clause.

He notes that the United States Supreme Court has consistently denied certiorari in cases where lower courts have invalidated arbitration agreements on state-law unconscionability grounds and the question is whether the invalidation offended the Federal Arbitration Act.  He suspects “the Court has avoided these cases because it feels ill-equipped to resolve whether a lower court is discriminating against arbitration:” 

First, unconscionability analysis often requires a fact-intensive inquiry.  Second, and more important, determining whether a lower court is using unconscionability differently when it comes to arbitration requires an engagement with the details of state law and a comparison of lots of prior unconscionability cases.  Third, and maybe most important of all, a holding that the lower court is applying unconscionability unfairly, especially when the lower court says it is applying the same analysis it applies elsewhere, carries with it some serious expressive baggage.  Essentially, it requires the Supreme Court to say that the lower court is being dishonest.  That happens, but when it does so, it is a big deal (think cases like Bush v. Gore or the cases from the 50s/60s rejecting supposed procedural defaults in the state courts).

 But the Court granted certiorari in Rent-A-Center, a case involving not the merits of a state law unconscionability challenge, but the question who gets to decide unconscionability when the parties clearly and unmistakably submit it to the arbitrators.  Professor Bruhl believes certiorari was granted because addressing the “who” question, and resolving it in favor of arbitration, will cleanly dispose of the unconscionability problem from the standpoint of the federal courts, at least in cases where the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability: 

That doesn’t require diving into the weeds of state law and the record. If the Court assigns the issue to the arbitrator, that will be a very easy rule to monitor for compliance (unlike deciding whether the lower court applied unconscionability correctly).  All of those unconscionability cases out there will instantly become not wrong but irrelevant – because courts won’t be deciding the issue anymore.  And it won’t matter whether some lower courts can be trusted to apply unconscionability correctly, because they will be cut out of the picture. Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Update: United States Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc. Arbitration Unconscionability Case

January 18th, 2010 Unconscionability, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court 5 Comments »

On September 23, 2009 we reported on the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, slip op. (9th Cir. Sept. 9, 2009), petition for cert. granted  Jan. 15, 2010 (No. 09-497).  (Prior post here)  As reported in Disputing, on January 15, 2010, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Rent-a-Center West’s appeal.  (Disputing post here

As we discussed nearly four months ago Rent-A-Center concerns an important “who” question that arises in unconscionability cases:  When the parties clearly and unmistakably agree that the arbitrators will decide arbitrability questions, who gets to decide whether the arbitration clause is unenforceable on unconscionability grounds? 

We think the question answers itself.  But the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, held that the court decides the unconscionability question irrespective of the parties clearly expressed intent to the contrary.  We argued that the Ninth Circuit should have applied a severability analysis of sorts, and referred the unconscionability question to the arbitrators.  The “Analysis” section of our prior post is reprinted in pertinent part below:  

There is logic to the rule adopted by the majority in that unconscionability is a state law defense that goes to the enforceability of an agreement.  When a party challenges the enforceability of an arbitration agreement, the court ordinarily decides it – unless the parties clearly and unmistakably agree otherwise.  And while the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability,  that agreement was – as is often the case – simply a component of the rest of the arbitration agreement.  If the entire arbitration agreement is unenforceable because of unconscionability, then so too must be the agreement to arbitrate arbitrability. 

The problem with the majority’s logic is that it does not distinguish between the enforceability of the clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability and the enforceability of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate all other disputes.  The Rent-A-Center parties envisioned that a dispute concerning the enforceability of their agreement to arbitrate all other disputes would be decided by the arbitrators.  That is what the parties’ agreement said, and the United States Supreme Court has said that parties can enter into such agreements, provided they are clear and unmistakable. 

We think courts would better advance the purposes of the Federal Arbitration Act by engaging in a severability analysis of sorts when confronting questions like the one in Rent-A-Center.   When parties agree not only to arbitrate the merits of controversies unrelated to the arbitration clause, but also clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability, the latter agreement is tantamount to an arbitration agreement within an arbitration agreement.  One agreement concerns who decides disputes concerning the existence, formation or enforceability of the other agreement.  And the other agreement concerns the parties’ obligation to arbitrate all other disputes.  Each should be analyzed separately under Federal Arbitration Act Section 2. 

What the court did in Rent-A-Center was assume that, if any part of the arbitration agreement was unenforceable for any reason, then the entire arbitration agreement – including the clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability – must fail.  Perhaps ironically, the Court found support for this analysis in the Prima Paint/Buckeye Check Cashing line of cases that hold that an enforceability challenge directed at the contract as a whole – as opposed to the arbitration agreement specifically – must be decided by the arbitrators rather than the court.  Because the challenge here was to a stand-alone arbitration agreement that included a clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, the Court simply assumed that Federal Arbitration Act Section 2 required the Court to decide it.  But doing so was inconsistent with the parties’ clearly expressed intent that the arbitrators would decide arbitrability questions, at least arbitrability questions that did not concern the enforceability of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate arbitrability. 

The Court should have limited its inquiry to whether the parties’ agreement to arbitrate arbitrability was substantively unconscionable.  If not, then the Court should have directed that the arbitrators decide the question whether the remainder of the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable.  Had the Court looked at the problem from that perspective, we believe it would have concluded that the unconscionability defense did not apply to the parties’ clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate, and that, accordingly, the arbitrators had to decide whether the challenge to the remainder of the arbitration clause had merit.  

.  .  .  . 

So we think the Court should have enforced the agreement to arbitrate arbitrability by committing to the arbitrators the question whether the parties’ agreement to arbitrate all other claims was unconscionable because it was allegedly one-sided.  Had it done so, it would have given full force and effect to the parties’ clearly expressed intentions, the pro-enforcement policies of Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, and the letter and spirit of First Options.

 We shall keep readers apprised of developments as and when they occur.  It will be interesting to see how the United States Supreme Court decides this case.

Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc.: Who Gets to Decide Whether an Arbitration Agreement is Unconscionable when the Parties Clearly and Unmistakably Say the Arbitrators Decide Arbitrability?

September 23rd, 2009 Arbitrability, Unconscionability, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 4 Comments »

I.            Introduction

We have explained in prior posts the First Options/AT&T Technologies rule that arbitrators get to decide arbitrability when the parties clearly and unmistakably so agree.  (See, e.g., here and here.)  That’s all well and good, but what happens when:  (a)  two parties sign an arbitration agreement which says, among other things, that the arbitrators shall decide any claim, including any claim concerning the applicability, formation or enforceability of the arbitration agreement; and (b) despite that clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, one of the parties challenges the arbitration agreement in court on unconscionability grounds?      

That is, for all practical purposes, what happened in Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, slip op. (9th Cir. Sept. 9, 2009) (here).  And the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the court gets to decide the question.  Continue Reading »

The Texas Supreme Court Says Court – Not Arbitrator — Gets to Decide Lack of Capacity Issue Notwithstanding the Severability Doctrine

July 21st, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Texas Supreme Court Comments Off on The Texas Supreme Court Says Court – Not Arbitrator — Gets to Decide Lack of Capacity Issue Notwithstanding the Severability Doctrine

Karl Bayer’s and Victoria VanBuren’s Texas-based  Disputing blog recently reported on In re Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc., __ S.W.3d __ (Texas 2009) (No. 07-0665), in which the Texas Supreme Court held that whether a contracting party had the capacity to enter into a contract containing an arbitration agreement was for the court to decide, notwithstanding that, under the severability (a/k/a “separability”) doctrine, a challenge to the validity or enforceability of a contract as a whole, including the arbitration agreement, is generally for the arbitrators to decide under a broad arbitration clause.  Ms. VanBuren did an excellent job summarizing the case and explaining its significance in her post, “Texas Supreme Court Holds that the Court, not the Arbitrator Should Decide the Issue of Capacity to Contract,” and we recommend that anyone interested in learning more about the case read her thoughtful and nicely-written post. 

Morgan Stanley illustrates that the severability doctrine —  first espoused by the United States Supreme Court in Prima Paint v. Conklin Mfg. Corp., 388 U.S. 395, 403-04 (1967) and later clarified in Buckeye Check Cashing v. Cardengna, 546 U.S. 440, 449 (2006) — is not without its limits.  Severability is a legal fiction, which Courts apply for the purpose of determining whether arbitrators have the authority to determine certain disputes concerning the enforceability or validity of a contract containing an arbitration clause.  It deems the arbitration clause to be an agreement which stands on its own footing from the contract in which it is contained.  Continue Reading »

The Senate Weighs in With Its Own Arbitration Fairness Act

May 7th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Legislative Developments, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

On April 29 — a/k/a “Arbitration Fairness Day” – – Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the Senate’s version of the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 (S. 931).  The Senate’s version  tracks the House version in many respects, but there are some important differences between the two. 

The Senate Arbitration Fairness Act adds a Chapter 4 to the Federal Arbitration Act, rather than amending Section 2 of Chapter 1.  This Proposed Chapter 4 consists of two sections:  Section 401, entitled “Definitions”; and Section 402, entitled “Validity and Enforceability.”  Proposed Section 402(a) states:  “In General – Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, franchise, or civil rights dispute.”  Proposed Section 402(b) provides: 

(1)  IN GENERAL – An issue as to whether this chapter applies to an arbitration agreement shall be determined under Federal law.  The applicability of this chapter to an agreement to arbitrate and the validity and enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate to which this chapter applies shall be determined by the court, rather than the arbitrator, irrespective of whether the party resisting arbitration challenges the arbitration agreement specifically or in conjunction with other terms of the contract containing such agreement. 

(2)  COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS – Nothing in this chapter shall apply to any arbitration provision in a contract between an employer and a labor organization or between labor organizations, except that no such arbitration provision shall have the effect of waiving the right of an employee to seek judicial enforcement of a right arising under a provision of the Constitution of the United States, a State constitution, or a Federal or State statute, or public policy arising therefrom.  Continue Reading »

Arbitration Fairness Act or Lawyers’ Full Employment Act?

April 18th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Legislative Developments, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Arbitration Fairness Act or Lawyers’ Full Employment Act?

What Does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 Have to Say About Commercial and Industry Arbitration Involving Sophisticated Parties? 

 Part V:  Summing Up

This is the final part of our multi-part post on the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 (the “Fairness Act”).  We did not address all aspects of the Fairness Act, but focused our attention on whether the Act may change the status quo in arbitrations involving only sophisticated, commercial entities. 

So what does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 have to say about commercial and industry arbitration involving sophisiticated parties?  If you have been following our last six posts, you know the answer is not clear, and that the only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty is that the Fairness Act will result in litigation between sophisticated parties concerning the continuing viability of two fairly settled principles of arbitration law — severability and what we refer to as the Own Jurisdiction Rule.  That may be good news to some and bad news to others.  Continue Reading »

What does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 Have to Say About Commercial and Industry Arbitration Involving Sophisticated Parties? (Part IIIC)

April 11th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Legislative Developments, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

Part IIIC:  Is the Narrow Construction Sustainable?

Introduction

In Part IIIB  (here) we discussed in general terms the “Narrow Construction” of the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 (the “Fairness Act”), which would limit the scope of Proposed Section 2(c) to situations where the party resisting arbitration claims that the arbitration agreement requires predispute arbitration of consumer, franchise, employment or statutory civil rights disputes.   We also set forth the five premises on which the Narrow Construction is based.  This Part IIIC addresses the validity of those premises.  [Because this post  frequently refers to Proposed Section 2 and its subsections, we have reproduced at the end the pertinent parts of Proposed Section 2.]

 The Narrow Construction is fairly complex.  A court choosing it would have to determine each of its five premises to be valid.  In addition, the validity of Premise 3 is interlinked to that of Premise 5:  Premise 3 is easier to accept when viewed without regard to Premise 5 and Premise 5 is harder to accept when viewed in isolation from Premise 3.  If a court believes that Premise 3 is reasonable, but has reservations about its validity, when it considers Premise 3 in conjunction with Premise 5, it may conclude that both are invalid.  But if it is confident that Premise 3 is valid, that confidence might lead it to conclude that Premise 5 is valid.  These are important considerations that a party advocating one construction or the other should take into account in structuring its argument.   Continue Reading »

What does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 Have to Say About Commercial and Industry Arbitration Involving Sophisticated Parties? (Part IIIB)

April 6th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Legislative Developments Comments Off on What does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 Have to Say About Commercial and Industry Arbitration Involving Sophisticated Parties? (Part IIIB)

Part IIIB:  Interpreting Proposed Section 2(c) Narrowly

Introduction

In Part IIIA we discussed what we call the “Broad Construction” of the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009, and showed how the Act could be construed to abrogate in all commercial disputes:  (a) the doctrine of severability; and (b) deferential review under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) of arbitrator determinations of arbitrability in cases where the parties clearly and unmistakably submit arbitrability questions to the arbitrators (the “Own Jurisdiction Rule”).  In this Part IIIB and in Part IIIC we discuss the “Narrow Construction”, which would limit the scope of Proposed Section 2(c) to situations where the party resisting arbitration claims that the arbitration clause requires predispute arbitration of consumer, franchise, employment or statutory civil rights disputes.   Continue Reading »