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Absent Class Members, Class Arbitration, Class Certification Awards, Consent, Coercion, and the Second Circuit

November 29th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Consent to Class Arbitration, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

absent class members

While federal, and many state, courts have class-action procedural rules that permit them to bind absent class members to a judgment or settlement, arbitration is different because it is based on party consent, not coercion. While the critical, threshold issues presented in class arbitration is party consent to class arbitration, class certification disputes arising out of a class arbitration proceeding can be just as challenging, especially when they involve absent class members who have not opted in to the proposed or certified class (“absent class members” or “absent members”).

Suppose Employer A requires each of its employees to sign a form arbitration agreement that clearly and unmistakably authorizes the arbitrator to decide all disputes arising out of or relating to the employment relationship as well as arbitrability and procedural issues. More than 250 employees (including putative class representatives) assert that an arbitrator (the “Arbitrator”) should determine whether Employer A consented to class arbitration. Employer A submits that issue to the Arbitrator.

The Arbitrator hears and considers the evidence and arguments and makes a Clause Construction Award, which rules that Employer A and each of the employees consented to class arbitration by signing the employment agreement. Employer A challenges the award as exceeding the arbitrator’s powers under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, but the challenge fails because an appellate court finds that the Arbitrator was at least arguably construing the employment agreement. .

After further proceedings the Arbitrator makes another award, this one certifying a class consisting of approximately 44,000 employees, which included not only the more than 250 persons who were either class representatives or opted in to the class, but also tens of thousands of persons who were absent class members in the sense that they had been notified of the class arbitration and proposed class but had not opted in to the class and had not otherwise appeared in the arbitration proceedings.  

Did the Arbitrator have the power to make that class certification award, which purports to bind each of the 44,000 class members, the vast majority of whom were never parties to the arbitration and had never submitted to the Arbitrator any of the issues that were decided by the Arbitrator’s Clause Construction and class certification awards?  

On November 18, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the answer to that question was “yes.”  But with all due respect to the Second Circuit, and understanding that reasonable minds can and do differ on this subject, we think the better answer would have been “no.”

This post briefly discusses the Second Circuit’s decision.

A subsequent post will explain why we believe the Second Circuit should have held that the arbitrator in that case did not have the authority to bind absent class members, who were not parties to the Clause Construction Award, did not opt into the class, did not otherwise agree to be bound by the Clause Construction Award or the class certification award, and did not otherwise submit to the Arbitrator the issues decided by the Clause Construction and class certification Awards.

 The result would be that the class arbitration could proceed, albeit with a far smaller, certified class (which might be expanded to accommodate any absent members who might be given an additional opportunity to opt-in). But that result, we think, is consistent with the consensual nature of arbitration— a dispute resolution method that is fundamentally different from its coercive counterpart, court litigation.   

Absent Class Members: Background and Procedural History of Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc.

The Second Circuit’s recent decision was the fourth appeal in the Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. case, a long-running class arbitration dispute. The first of these appeals,  Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 646 F.3d 113 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Jock I”), was decided in 2011—the most recent one, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 18-153-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. November 18, 2019) (“Jock IV”), and the subject of this post, was decided November 18, 2019.

Jock and her co-plaintiffs are retail sales employees of Sterling Jewelers, Inc. (“Sterling”). Back in 2008 they sought relief on behalf of a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and under the Equal Pay Act, alleging Sterling, based on their gender, paid them less than their similarly situated male co-workers. 

Sterling employees, including Jock and her co-plaintiffs were required to sign a “RESOLVE Program” agreement (the “Agreement”), which imposed mandatory arbitration. By executing the agreement employees expressly “waiv[ed] right[s] to obtain any legal or equitable relief . . . through any government agency or court, and . . . also waiv[ed] [their] right[s] to commence any court action.” The Agreement provided that they “may. . . seek and be awarded equal remedy through the RESOLVE Program.”

The Agreement provided that “[t]he Arbitrator shall have the power to award any types of legal or equitable relief that would be available in a court of competent jurisdiction[,]” and that any claim arising thereunder will be arbitrated “in accordance with the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association.”

Class arbitration ensued, and the arbitrator construed the Agreement to permit class arbitration. The district court overturned the award on the ground that the class construction award exceeded under the arbitrator’s powers for the reasons stated in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010).

Jock I

But the Second Circuit in Jock I reversed the district court’s judgment. As the Court explained in Jock IV, the Jock I Court “reversed, holding that the District Court impermissibly substituted its own legal analysis for that of the arbitrator instead of focusing its inquiry on whether the arbitrator was permitted to reach the question of class arbitrability that had been submitted to her by the parties.” Jock IV, slip op. at 5-6. The Jock I Court also “explained. . . that the arbitrator had a colorable justification under the law to reach the decision she did.” Jock IV, slip op. at 6.

Jock I “distinguished Stolt-Nielsen on the ground that the parties in Stolt-Nielsen stipulated that their arbitration agreement contained ‘no agreement’ on the issue of class arbitration, whereas the plaintiffs in [Jock I] merely conceded that there was no explicit agreement to permit class arbitration, thus leaving open the possibility of an ‘implied agreement to permit arbitration.’”  Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (citation omitted). 

The Class Certification Award

After Jock I the arbitrator made a class certification award, certifying a class of “approximately 44,000 women, comprising the then-254 plaintiffs as well as other individuals who had neither submitted claims nor opted in to the arbitration proceeding (‘the absent class members’).” Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (parenthetical in original). The arbitrator’s class certification was limited to those with Title VII disparate impact claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The district court denied Sterling’s motion to vacate the certification award. As Jock IV explains, the district court reasoned “that Sterling’s argument that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers in ‘purporting to bind absent class members who did not express their consent to be bound’ was ‘foreclosed by’ this Court’s holding in Jock I that ‘there is no question that the issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration was squarely presented to the arbitrator.’” ”  Jock IV, slip op. at 7 (citation omitted).

Jock II

The district court’s decision refusing to vacate the class certification award resulted in the second appeal, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 703 Fed. Appx. 15 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order). (“Jock II”). In July 2017 we wrote a short post (here) about Jock II.

Jock II vacated and remanded the district court’s decision refusing to vacate the certification award because it purported to bind absent members, who (because of their absence) could not have “squarely presented” to the arbitrator the question whether the agreement authorized class procedures, let alone the issue of whether they should be deemed part of a class in a class arbitration to which they had not consented. See Jock II, 703 Fed. Appx. at 16, 17-18 (quotation and citation omitted).

In Jock II, the Second Circuit directed the district court to “consider[] on remand. . . ‘whether an arbitrator, who may decide. . . whether an arbitration agreement provides for class procedures because the parties “squarely presented” it for decision, may thereafter purport to bind non-parties to class procedures on this basis.’”) Jock IV, slip op. at 7-8 (citation omitted).  

The Jock II Remand

The district court vacated the class determination award on remand for two reasons. First, the district court said that it had ruled in 2010 that the Agreement did not authorize class procedures and that, accordingly, the absent class members had not consented to class arbitration.

Second, the submission by the plaintiffs and defendants (not the absent members) to the arbitrator of the question whether the Agreement authorized class arbitration did not confer on the arbitrator the authority to make a ruling binding on the absent members (who did not submit the issue to the Arbitrator). “The District Court[,]” said the Second Circuit, “reasoned that, even if the arbitrator’s ‘erroneous interpretation’ of the [Agreement] could bind the 254 plaintiffs who had ‘authorized the arbitrator to make that determination by submitting the question to her or opting into the proceeding, that erroneous interpretation could not bind absent class members.” Jock IV, slip op. at 8.

The Jock IV Appeal

The district court ruling on the Jock II remand resulted in the Jock IV appeal. (The Jock III decision was the dismissal of an appeal of a district court ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to vacate an interim decision rendered by the arbitrator. Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 691 F. App’x 665 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order).) 

Since the issue before the district court on the Jock II remand  was whether the arbitrator’s class certification decision should be vacated under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, the applicable standard of review was the manifest disregard of the agreement standard set forth in Stolt-Nielsen and Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568-69 (2013). See Jock IV, slip op. at 9-11. (For discussion of that deferential standard, see here, here, here, and here)  

Sterling (the “Award Challenger”) argued, consistent with the district court’s decision,  that the deferential standard should not apply to the question whether the absent members had consented to class arbitration, because they were not parties to the class construction award that was the subject of Jock I, did not submit the issue of class consent to the arbitrator, or otherwise agree to be bound by a determination of consent to class arbitration to which they were not parties.

But the Second Circuit did not agree with the district court or the Award Challenger. It agreed with the plaintiff-appellants (the “Award Defending Parties”), who “argue[d] that the absent class members have, in fact, authorized the arbitrator to determine whether the [Agreement] permits class arbitration procedures.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11.  They urged “that because all Sterling employees signed the RESOLVE Agreement, all Sterling employees “agreed that, if any of them initiated a putative class proceeding, the arbitrator in that proceeding would be empowered to decide class-arbitrability—and, if he or she found it appropriate, to certify a class encompassing other employees’ claims.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11-12.

The Award Defending Parties asserted that “the District Court erred by ‘never ask[ing] what authority absent class members conferred on [the arbitrator] by joining the RESOLVE Program [i.e., signing the Agreement],’ a question that is a matter of contract interpretation.” Jock IV, slip op. at 12.

The Second Circuit determined that, by signing the Agreement, the employer and the absent class members agreed that: (a) any other employee who signed the Agreement was authorized to arbitrate on behalf of any absent member of a yet-to-be certified class the issue of consent to class arbitration, irrespective of whether the absent class member was a party to the arbitration, and irrespective of whether the absent member had notice of, and consented to, the arbitration; (b) any absent class member would be bound by the outcome of such a class-arbitration-consent arbitration proceeding, even though the absent class member did not participate in the arbitration, did not consent to the arbitration (apart from signing the Agreement), and did not play any role in the selection of the arbitrator who presided over the arbitration; and (c) the decision on class arbitration reached by the arbitrator in his or her absence would be subject to review under the exceedingly deferential Oxford/Stolt-Nielsen standard only, and the absent members would be bound by the result of that judicial review even though they were not parties to the Clause Construction Award or to the judicial proceeding in which the Clause Construction Award was reviewed.  

Absent Class Members: What to Make of Jock IV?

We’ll discuss that in an upcoming post….

The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit

November 18th, 2019 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Award Vacated, Confirmation of Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Repeat Players, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Disclosure | Evident Partiality | Repeat Player

Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10 permits Courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality. . . in the arbitrators. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). If an arbitrator fails to disclose an ownership interest in an arbitration provider, which has a nontrivial, repeat player relationship with a party, should the award be vacated for evident partiality?

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. We’ve written about it extensively over the years, including here, here, here, and here, as well as in other publications. The author has briefed, argued, or both, a number of U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district court cases on the subject over the years, including, among others, Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyds of London v. State of Florida, Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501 (2018); and Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640 (2005).

The most recent significant evident partiality development is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s 2-1 decision in Monster Energy Co. v. City Beverages, LLC, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-55813, slip op. (9th Cir. Oct. 22, 2019), a case that involved an award made in favor of a repeat player party in an administered arbitration. Monster held that an arbitrator who failed to disclose his ownership interest in an arbitration provider was guilty of evident partiality because the arbitration provider had nontrivial business relationship with the repeat player party.

The Repeat Player Problem

In administered arbitration the (inevitable) existence of repeat players raises important questions that bear on evident partiality. Repeat players are parties who use the services of an arbitration provider on a regular basis, and therefore are a source of repeat business for the provider.

Arbitrators who are part of an arbitration provider’s appointment pool have earned their appointments by satisfying certain criteria set by the arbitration provider, and may also be trained by the arbitration provider. Ordinarily they are not employees of the arbitration provider, and, at least ostensibly, are independent from the arbitration provider.

But the economic interests of these arbitrators are aligned with those of the arbitration provider. What’s good for the arbitration provider is generally good for the arbitration provider’s pool of arbitrators. Repeat business is good for arbitration providers, just as it is good for lawyers and others.

Let’s assume that an arbitrator appointed in an arbitration administered by provider X has never before served as an arbitrator for parties A and B. If the contract between A and B is a form contract used by Party A that appoints X to administer arbitrations, and the contract concerns a subject matter in which disputes are fairly common (e.g., a consumer, employment, or franchise matter), then the arbitrator knows or has reason to know that the customer is either a repeat player or is likely to be one in the not too distant future.

If party B is, for example, a consumer, employee, or franchisee, and is not a repeat player, then one might suggest that our hypothetical arbitrator has at least an indirect interest in the outcome of the arbitration, specifically, one that would be best served by an outcome favoring party A, the repeat player.

That creates a potential evident partiality problem, for to be neutral, arbitrators have to be not only independent, and unbiased, but also disinterested. To be disinterested, the arbitrator cannot have have “a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510 (citations and quotations omitted).

Does the kind of indirect and general financial or personal interest in the outcome described above, without more, establish evident partiality? It should not, although arbitrators are well-advised to disclose the existence of such an indirect or general financial or personal interests.

We think an argument for evident partiality based solely on an arbitrator having reason to believe that one of the parties is a repeat player with respect to the arbitration provider’s services would prove too much. Carried to its logical conclusion it would destroy, or at least severely diminish, the utility of the arbitration-provider-administered arbitration model in a large number of cases.

But that doesn’t mean that administered-arbitration awards in favor of repeat players and against non-repeat-players are immune from evident partiality challenge in all circumstances. Monster Energy provides an example and may be a harbinger of closer scrutiny of repeat player evident partiality challenges. 

We discuss the majority opinion in Monster Energy below. In a future post or posts, we will discuss the dissenting opinion, what to make of the case, and how it might (or not) influence how other courts address repeat-player-related issues that may arise in future cases.

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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 » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

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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Manifest Disregard of the Law | Manifest Disregard of the Agreement | Second Circuit Remands Award to Arbitrator for Do-Over

October 25th, 2019 Authority of Arbitrators, Award Vacated, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Contract Interpretation, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Vacatur No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Second Chance to Make Award not in Manifest Disregard of Law or Agreement

Arbitrators are human and occasionally they make awards that cannot be squared with logic and law, and courts may, in appropriate circumstances, vacate those awards as being in manifest the agreement, or in some circuits, in manifest disregard of the law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit considered such an award in Weiss v. Sallie Mae, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-2362, slip op. (Sept. 12, 2019), and solved the problem in a way that imposed minimal costs and delay on the parties and, at the same time, gave effect to the parties’ reasonable contractual expectations, including that the arbitrator would make an award with a colorable basis in the law or the parties’ agreement, not one in manifest disregard of the law or the agreement. It is therefore a good example of a case that promotes arbitration as an alternative to litigation.

Background

W is a student-loan borrower who in 2011 defaulted on a loan issued by S (N is the successor of S, but we shall refer to both as “S”). W gave S her phone number (“Phone Number 1”) when she obtained the loan and consented to S contacting her via an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). S made ATDS calls to her using Phone Number 1 prior to her default on the loan in 2011.

Also prior to her 2011 default W obtained a second telephone number (“Phone Number 2”) but did not give S consent to contact her on that number via an ATDS.

After W’s 2011 default, S contacted W seven or eight times a day at Phone Number 2 via an ATDS, attempting to collect the debt. S made 774 ATDS calls to Phone Number 2 during the period September 16, 2011 through July 1, 2013.

The Arbitration

A dispute arose between W and S about whether S’s ATDS calls had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and W commenced an action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The action was stayed after the parties stipulated to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement in a student-loan promissory note.

The Award: Was it in Manifest Disregard of the Law or the Agreement?

Final Award 2 - yay-15399450

Following a hearing an arbitrator made an award granting W $108,000 in statutory damages under the TCPA. But the award held that W was a class member in a class action that S had settled. The class-action settlement (the “Arthur Settlement”) “included as a class member, ‘any person who received ATDS calls from [S] between October 27, 2005 and September 14, 2010.’” Slip op. at 5 (citation omitted).

W did not contend that the calls S made to Phone Number 1 violated the TCPA (W had consented to those calls), and W contended that, accordingly, she was not bound by the settlement, even though she had received ATDS on Phone Number 1 during the specified period. The arbitrator, however, found that argument “‘unpersuasive,’” and “ruled that Weiss was a class member and that ‘the proof was conclusive that [S] provided [W] with the required notice of the settlement and of her rights and obligations under the terms of the settlement.’” Slip op. at 5-6 (citation omitted).

The Arthur Settlement “notice offered class members the opportunity to file a ‘consent Revocation’ document by September 15, 2012; absent such a filing, ‘the ATDS calls would not stop and the borrower’s prior consent to give them [sic] would be deemed to have been given.’” Slip op. at 6 (citation omitted; bracketed text in original).  

While W contended that she was not aware of the Arthur Settlement, S testified that notice was successfully emailed to W.

The agreement implementing the Arthur Settlement featured a general release, “under which class members were ‘deemed to have fully released and forever discharged [S]’. . . from any and all claims and causes of action, inter alia, ‘that arise out of or are related in any way to the use of an [ATDS]. . . used by any of the Released Parties in connection with efforts to contact or attempt to contact Settlement Class Members including, but not limited to, claims under or for violations of the [TCPA].’” Slip op. at 6 (citations omitted; some bracketed text in original).

Even though the general release, to which the arbitrator determined W was bound, deemed W to have “waived ‘any and all’ TCPA claims effective the date of final judgment in the Arthur Settlement action[,]” the arbitrator’s award did not acknowledge the existence of that release. Slip op. at 6-7. “Instead,” said the Court, “the arbitrator interpreted [W]’s failure to submit a consent revocation pursuant to the Arthur class notice as precluding recovery for any calls placed to [Phone Number 2] after the September 15, 2012 deadline but also as permitting recovery for ATDS calls placed to [Phone Number 2] between September 6, 2011, and September 16, 2012.” Slip op. at 7.

The arbitrator awarded TCPA statutory damages in the amount of $108,500 ($500 per call for 217 calls during the applicable period). W moved to confirm the award and S cross-moved to vacate it.

The district court vacated the award, finding that “by neglecting to ‘apply—or even address—an explicit, unambiguous term of the settlement agreement,’ which “clearly and unambiguously bars recovery for claims until and including the date of the agreement,’ the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law.” Slip op. at 7. W appealed.

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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 » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

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 » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

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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Attorney Fees and Arbitrability Addressed by New York Appellate Court

July 30th, 2019 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Confirmed, Award Vacated, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Confirm Award | Attorney Fees, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Confirm Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Law, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), Practice and Procedure, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Arbitrability, Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Exceeding Powers, Vacate Award | Excess of Powers, Vacate Award | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Vacate Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Vacatur Comments Off on Attorney Fees and Arbitrability Addressed by New York Appellate Court By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Attorney Fees in Arbitration | TV

In Steyn v. CRTV, LLC (In re Steyn), ____ A.D. 3d ____, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 5341, at *1 (1st Dep’t July 2, 2019), New York’s Appellate Division, First Department decided a case falling under the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) that involved two challenges: one to an award of attorney fees on manifest disregard of the law grounds, and the other to an award that a nonsignatory obtained by joining the petitioner’s counterclaim.

The Court rejected the manifest-disregard challenge to the attorney fee award in favor of a signatory to the arbitration agreement, but held that the trial court should have vacated the award made in favor of a nonsignatory (which included both damages and attorney fees).

Background: Attorney Fee and Arbitrability Challenges

Terms and Conditions

The appeal arose out of a contract “dispute between Mark Steyn, a renowned author and television and radio personality, and CRTV, an online television network, currently known as BlazeTV, which features conservative commentators such as Glenn Beck and Phil Robertson.” 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 5341, at *2. We’ll call Steyn the “Host” and CRTV the “Network.”

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Second Circuit Says Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause was Mandatory and did not Deprive Union Employee of Due Process

July 17th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Labor Arbitration, Motion to Compel Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York Comments Off on Second Circuit Says Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause was Mandatory and did not Deprive Union Employee of Due Process By Philip J. Loree Jr.

collective bargaining

Back in 2009 the Author wrote an article on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009), which held “that a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law.” 559 U.S. at 274. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum Post here.)

On July 2, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a district court decision that erroneously applied the Pyett clear and unmistakable standard to the question whether an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”) was mandatory or permissive. Finding that the CBA imposed mandatory arbitration, the Second Circuit ruled that the clear and unmistakable standard applied only to the question whether the Employee’s statutory claims were within the scope of the CBA’s arbitration agreement (the “Arbitration Agreement”), and not to the mandatory versus permissive question. Abdullayeva v. Attending Homecare Servs. LLC, ___ F.3d ____, No. 18-0651, slip op. at *8-10 (2d Cir. July 2, 2019).

Applying ordinary contract principles to the question whether the Arbitration Agreement was mandatory or permissive, the Court held that it was mandatory. Slip op. at *10-13. Applying Pyett‘s clear and unmistakable standard to the scope question, it held that the Employee’s statutory claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New York’s Labor Law (“NYLL”) were within the scope of the arbitration clause. Slip op. at *13-14.

Finally, the Court held that the arbitration clause did not deny the Employee of due process of law, rejecting the Employee’s argument that it was deprived of due process because it did not personally participate in the selection of the arbitrator named in the arbitration clause. Slip op. at *14-16.

Background

collective bargaining home health care

The Employer is a provider of home health care services which employs health and personal care workers that serve elderly clients. The Employee was a member of that staff.

The Employee was required to join a Union of home health care workers (the “Union”).

At or about the time when the Employee began work for Employer, the Union and Employer entered into a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”).

The CBA contained an “Adjustment of Disputes” provision (the “Arbitration Agreement”) that provided, in pertinent part:

B. The parties [the Union and Attending] further agree a goal of this Agreement is to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local wage hour law and wage parity statutes. Accordingly, to ensure the uniform administration and interpretation of this Agreement in connection with federal, state, and local wage-hour and wage parity statutes, all claims brought by either the Union or Employees, asserting violations of or arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act . . . , New York Home Care Worker Wage Parity Law, or New York Labor Law (collectively, the “Covered Statutes”), in any manner, shall be subject exclusively, to the grievance and arbitration procedures described below.

1) The statute of limitations to file a grievance concerning the Covered Statutes shall be consistent with the applicable statutory statute of limitations. All such claims if not resolved in the grievance procedure, including class grievances filed by the Union, or mediation as described below shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration before Elliott Shriftman. . . .

. . . .

4) In the event an Employee has requested, in writing, that the Union process a grievance alleging a violation of the Covered Statutes and the Union declines to process a grievance regarding alleged violations of the Covered Statutes, through the grievance/mediation process or to arbitration following the conclusion of mediation, an Employee solely on behalf of himself/herself, may submit their individual claim to mediation, or following the conclusion of mediation, to arbitration. . . .

Slip op. at *3-4 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court).

On her own behalf, and on behalf of all similarly situated employees, Employee sued Employer in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that Employer had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and provisions of New York’s Labor Law by, among other things, “willfully fail[ing] to pay its workers overtime and spread-of-hours pay. . . .” Slip op. at *4-5.

The Employer moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied the motion. The district court ruled that the CBA did not require that the Employee’s claims be resolved in arbitration.

The district court reached that conclusion on two alternative grounds. First, the district court ruled that the arbitration agreement “violated the Employer’s due process rights due process rights because the arbitrator had been preselected by the Union and [the Employer] without any input from [the Employee].” Slip op. at *5.

Second, and in any event, the district court held that the arbitration agreement was not mandatory, and that accordingly, the Employer was entitled to bring its claims in federal district court. To that end the district court determined that the Arbitration Agreement was “‘at best ambiguous,’ and does not satisfy the clear and unmistakable test applicable to the assessment of purported waivers of union members’ right to bring statutory claims in court when such waivers are part of a collective bargaining agreement’s arbitration provisions.” Slip op. at *5 (quoting district court decision; other quotation omitted).

The Employer appealed.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

Arbitrability Question 1
Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007

The Second Circuit began by explaining that motions to compel arbitration “ordinarily” present courts with four questions:

(1) whether the parties agreed to arbitrate; (2) the “scope” of the arbitration agreement; (3) whether the plaintiff’s federal statutory claims are “nonarbitrable”; and (4) if some, but not all of the claims in the case are arbitrable, whether to stay the balance of the proceedings pending arbitration.

Slip op. at *6.

But this case presented only the first two questions—whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, and if so, what they agreed to arbitrate. Slip op. at *6.

The “clear and unmistakable” standard for determining whether parties to a collective-bargaining agreement agreed to arbitrate statutory claims was a standard that applied only to the second question, that is, the scope of the arbitration agreement. Slip op. at *8-10. According to the Second Circuit, “[t]he district court framed the sole relevant inquiry as whether ‘[a] clause purporting to require arbitration of a [FLSA] claim that is contained in a collective bargaining agreement’ clearly and unmistakably requires arbitration.” Slip op. at *8 (quoting district court decision).

The district court therefore conflated the first two questions and applied the “clear and unmistakable” standard to both. The district court erred in doing so, said the Second Circuit, because “the clear and unmistakable standard does not reflect disfavor of union-negotiated arbitration agreements[,]” but instead “ensures that employees’ right to bring statutory claims in court is not waived by operation of confusing, “very general” arbitration clauses[,]” which, for example, might be reasonably construed to be limited to claims concerning the construction or application of a collective bargaining agreement, even though they might also be reasonably construed to encompass both contract and statutory claims. Slip op. at *9 (citations and quotations omitted).

The Second Circuit said “we ask not whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate, but whether, once we have established that an agreement exists, that agreement clearly and unmistakably encompasses the plaintiff’s statutory claims.” Slip op. at *9-10. “The clear and unmistakable standard,” the Court explained, is “therefore. . . specific to the scope question and has no bearing on whether there is an agreement to arbitrate in the first instance.” Slip op. at *10.

Having clarified how the clear and unmistakable standard is supposed to be applied, the Court addressed whether the arbitration agreement was permissive or mandatory, and if mandatory, whether statutory claims were  clearly and unmistakably within its scope. The Court held that the arbitration agreement was mandatory and clearly and unmistakably encompassed the statutory claims. Slip op. at *9.

Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause is Mandatory

 The Court concluded that “[t]he Union was legally authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements on [the Employee’s] behalf[,]” citing 29 U.S.C. § 159(a), which provides that unions “selected for purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees. . . for the purposes of collective bargaining. . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 159(a). The Employee was, accordingly, bound by the CBA, including the Arbitration Agreement.  

The Court next determined that the Arbitration Agreement, when construed as a whole, unambiguously imposed mandatory arbitration on the Employee, not simply an option to arbitrate or litigate. That provision, said the Court, “states that its goal is to ‘ensure the uniform administration and interpretation of [the CBA],’ and that the means by which it will achieve that goal is to require that all claims under the Covered Statutes, brought by the Union or employees, ‘be subject exclusively . . . to the grievance and arbitration procedures described below.” Slip op. at *11 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis added by Court). The Provision further “states that ‘all [claims under the Covered Statutes,] if not resolved in the grievance procedure, . . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration.’” Slip op. at *11-12. “On its face,” said the Court, “this language simply does not allow an employee to choose to proceed in a judicial forum.” Slip op. at *12.

The Court explained why it concluded the district court’s interpretation of the arbitration agreement was incorrect. The district court had “focused on subsection (4) of [the Arbitration Agreement][,]” which “states that where an employee has requested that ‘the Union process a grievance alleging a violation of the Covered Statutes,’ but the Union has declined to process that grievance, the employee ‘may submit [this] individual claim to mediation, or following the conclusion of mediation, to arbitration.’” Slip op. at *12 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court). The district court interpreted “‘may’. . . to mean that employees can ‘choose whether to arbitrate’ or pursue their claims in court.” Slip op. at *12 (quoting district court decision).

But the Second Circuit disagreed. Subsection (4) of the Dispute Resolution Provision, said the Court, “is best read as clarifying that when the Union declines to process particular grievances on employees’ behalf, aggrieved employees have two options[:]” “They ‘may’ either (1) submit their claims to meditation and arbitration or (2) abandon the claims entirely.” Slip op. at *12.

The Court said that its interpretation of “may” “makes sense of the provision in isolation but also in the context of the entire agreement.” Slip op. at *12-13 (quotation and citations omitted).

Interpreting “may” differently “is to bring subsection (4) into conflict with the rest of Article 8(B), which. . . manifestly reflects an intent to require arbitration.” Slip op. at *13. The district court’s interpretation, said the Court, “makes little sense in light of [subsection 1 of the Arbitration Agreement]’s requirement that ‘all [claims under the Covered Statutes,] if not resolved in the grievance procedure . . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration” Slip op. at *13 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court).

Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause Clearly and Unmistakably Encompasses Statutory Claims

Having concluded the arbitration agreement was mandatory, the Court turned to whether the Employee’s statutory claims were within the scope of that agreement. The Court held that the Arbitration Agreement clearly and unmistakably encompassed those claims, and consequently, the Employee was required to arbitrate those claims.  

The Second Circuit explained “that both this Circuit and other sister circuits have interpreted the clear and unmistakable standard to require specific references in the [collective bargaining agreement] either to the statutes in question or to statutory causes of action generally.” Slip op. at *13 (quotation and citation omitted).

The Court explained that a “vague directive” such as “‘any disputes . . . shall be subject to’ a grievance and arbitration procedure. . .” does not suffice, but that, here, the Arbitration Agreement “specifically cites. . . statutes. . . .” including “the FLSA, the New York Home Care Worker Wage Parity Law, and [New York’s Labor Law], and requires claims under those statutes to proceed pursuant to [the Arbitration Agreement]’s grievance and arbitration procedures.” Slip op. at *14 (citations and quotations omitted). The Arbitration Agreement thus clearly and unmistakably required arbitration of those statutory claims.  

The Employee’s brought claims under the FLSA and the NYLL, those claims are clearly and unambiguously within the scope of the Arbitration Agreement, and consequently, the Employee was required to arbitrate those claims. Slip op. at *14.  

The Arbitration Agreement does not Deny the Employee Due Process of Law   

The district court concluded that the Arbitration Agreement denied the Employee “due process because ‘the worker apparently has no part in the selection of the arbitrator.’” Slip op. at *14-15. The Second Circuit disagreed.

The Employee was a member of the Union, and under applicable law, including 29 U.S.C. § 159(a), the “Union had authority to negotiate on behalf of Abdullayeva, and so the fact that she did not personally participate in the selection of the arbitrator does not violate due process.” See slip op. at *15. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Pyett, “unions ‘may agree to the inclusion of an arbitration provision in a collective-bargaining agreement in return for other concessions from the employer.’” Slip op. at *15 (quoting Pyett, 556 U.S. at 257). And “‘courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, including terms that specify with whom [the parties] choose to arbitrate their disputes.’” Slip op. at *15 (quoting American Exp. Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 570 U.S. 228, 233 (2013) (emphasis in original; citation omitted).

The Union was the Employer’s representative “authorized to negotiate ‘conditions of employment,’ including arbitration clauses, with the Employer on behalf of [the Employer’s employees].” The Arbitration Agreement, “including its proviso that ‘claims. . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration before Elliot Shriftman,’ was the product of the Union’s negotiation with [the Employer].” Slip op. at *15-16.

New York law requires that “arbitration procedures must generally conform to the ‘due process right of notice and opportunity to defend.’” Slip op. at *16 (quoting Beckman v. Greentree Sec., Inc., 87 N.Y.2d 566, 570 (1996)). But the Employee did “not argue that [the Arbitration Agreement’s] procedures are lacking in notice, or that the selected arbitrator is biased or would conduct arbitration proceedings in bad faith.” Slip op. at *16.

Thus, “the challenged portion of the [Arbitration Agreement], which simply ‘specifies with whom’ arbitration will be conducted in accordance with established Supreme Court precedent, does not violate due process.” Slip op. at *16 (quoting American Exp. Co., 570 U.S. at 233).

Photo Acknowledgements

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

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 » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

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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Look Through: Second Circuit Holds that District Courts Must “Look Through” a Section 9 Petition to Confirm to Ascertain Subject Matter Jurisdiction

May 13th, 2019 Amount in Controversy, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Diversity Jurisdiction, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Look Through, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Look Through: Second Circuit Holds that District Courts Must “Look Through” a Section 9 Petition to Confirm to Ascertain Subject Matter Jurisdiction By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Look Through

In Landau v. Eisenberg, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-3963, slip op. (May 1, 2019) (per curiam), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that district courts must “look through” a Section 9 petition to confirm an arbitration award to determine whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the petition. District courts must therefore ascertain whether the district court would, absent an arbitration agreement, have had subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying controversy that resulted in the arbitration, and ultimately the award.

While the Second Circuit ruled in a per curiam decision, the issue it decided was of first impression. But it followed on the heels of, and heavily relied on, Doscher v. Sea Port Grp. Sec., LLC, 832 F.3d 372, 379-89 (2d Cir. 2016), which held that district courts should look through a Section 10 or 11 petition to ascertain the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction. Doscher instructed federal courts to focus not on whether the Section 10 and 11 FAA award review and enforcement process presented substantial federal questions, but on the same thing they would have focused on had they been asked to compel arbitration of the controversy: whether the underlying controversy, in keeping with the well-pleaded complaint rule, would have been within the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction had it not been submitted to arbitration. See Doscher, 882 F.3d at 379-89.  

While Eisenberg and Doscher concerned the question whether federal-question subject matter jurisdiction exists over FAA Sections 9, 10, and 11 petitions, the reasoning of those cases also applies to the question whether there is federal subject matter jurisdiction over such petitions based on the diversity jurisdiction.

The Problem Addressed by Eisenberg and Doscher

Problem | Issue

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

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

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


9 U.S.C. § 4 (emphasis added).

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

But section 4 of the FAA expressly specifies the circumstances under which a federal district court will have jurisdiction over an application to compel arbitration, whereas Sections 9, 10, and 11 of the FAA—which address applications to confirm, vacate, and modify awards—say nothing about subject matter jurisdiction. The availability of relief under those portions of the FAA is not conditioned on either the existence of a lawsuit over which the Court already has subject matter jurisdiction (and which may have been stayed pending arbitration under Section 3 of the FAA) or on a party having previously invoked the court’s jurisdiction by filing a proceeding to compel arbitration under Section 4.

Sections 9, 10, and 11 of the FAA do not in and of themselves vest jurisdiction in a district court simply because they are part of a federal statute—the FAA requires an independent basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. But what determines subject matter jurisdiction, the nature of the petition to confirm, vacate, or modify the award, or the nature of the underlying dispute that ultimately resulted in the arbitration award?   

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