main image

Archive for the ‘Existence of Arbitration Agreement’ Category

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) Interviews Professor Angela Downes, Richard D. Faulkner, and Philip J. Loree Jr. about the United States Supreme Court Certiorari Grant in Coinbase II Delegation Agreement Dispute

November 14th, 2023 Arbitrability, Arbitrability - Nonsignatories, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Challenging Arbitration Agreements, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Contract Interpretation, CPR Alternatives, CPR Speaks Blog of the CPR Institute, CPR Video Interviews, Delegation Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Presumption of Arbitrability, Questions of Arbitrability, Richard D. Faulkner, Russ Bleemer, Section 2, Separability, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, The Loree Law Firm, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Comments Off on International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) Interviews Professor Angela Downes, Richard D. Faulkner, and Philip J. Loree Jr. about the United States Supreme Court Certiorari Grant in Coinbase II Delegation Agreement Dispute

CoinbaseOn November 3, 2023, the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) granted certiorari in Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski, No. 23-3 (U.S.) (“Coinbase II”), a case that is related to Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, 143 S. Ct. 1915 (2023) (“Coinbase I”), which was decided on June 23, 2023, and discussed here. Coinbase II involves an issue entirely different from Coinbase I: the application of a “delegation provision”—an agreement to arbitrate arbitrability disputes. That issue arises in a unique context: who decides whether a dispute concerning a later agreement is arbitrable when that later agreement, among other things, expressly submits all disputes concerning it to the exclusive jurisdiction of the California courts and not to arbitration? Is the delegation provision, as applied to this dispute over a subsequent contract, clear and unmistakable, as required by prior SCOTUS precedent?

On November 10, 2023, our friend and colleague Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) (“CPR Alternatives”), interviewed our friends and colleagues, University of Professor Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law Professor of Practice and Assistant Director of Experiential Education; arbitrator, mediator, arbitration-law attorney, and former judge,  Richard D. Faulkner; and yours truly, Loree Law Firm principal, Philip J. Loree Jr., about the recent certiorari grant, what it means, and how the Court might rule on it.

You can watch the video-conference interview HERE.

As we discuss in the interview Coinbase II promises to be an extremely interesting case, one which could (and perhaps should) result in a decision that the parties did not clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate an arbitrability dispute concerning a contract that: (a) was entered into some time after the contract containing the arbitration and delegation provisions; (b) expressly provides that any disputes concerning it must be decided in a judicial forum only; and (c) features as a party a person who is not a party to the arbitration and delegation provisions or any other aspect of the earlier contract.

Lee Williams, a CPR Intern, and a second-year law school student, wrote for CPR Speaks (CPR’s blog) an excellent article about Coinbase II, which CPR Speaks recently published, here. Among other things, the article explains the relationship between Coinbase II and other matters previously before SCOTUS, including the very similar Schein II matter. (For a discussion of Schein II, including a link to a CPR video, see here.)

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately dismissed certiorari in that Schein II matter as improvidently granted, and as we briefly touch on in the interview, a similar fate might also befall Coinbase II. Perhaps more on that in another post, but for now, enjoy!

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, then please contact Phil Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. is a partner and founding member of the Loree Law Firm. He has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING NOTICE: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.

 

Assignment and Separability: Can an Assignor Compel Arbitration? The South Carolina Supreme Court Says the Arbitrators Get to Decide

August 2nd, 2023 Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Contract Defenses, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Practice and Procedure, Questions of Arbitrability, Section 4, Separability, Severability, South Carolina Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Assignment and Separability: Can an Assignor Compel Arbitration? The South Carolina Supreme Court Says the Arbitrators Get to Decide

Introduction: Assignment and the Separability Doctrine 

Separability and Assignment

Suppose A and B enter a contract imposing mutual obligations on them. The contract contains an arbitration agreement requiring arbitration of all disputes arising out of or related to the contract. The contract does not purport to prohibit assignment, and the parties’ rights under the contract are otherwise capable of assignment.

A assigns to assignee C its rights to receive performance under the contract. B commences an action against A under the contract and A demands arbitration. B resists arbitration, arguing that A has assigned to C its right to enforce the contract (we’ll call it a “container contract” because it contains an arbitration agreement) and thus there is no longer any arbitration agreement that A can enforce against B. Judgment for whom?

In Sanders v. Svannah Highway Auto Co., No. 28168, slip op. (July 26, 2023),  the Supreme Court of North Carolina said that, under the Federal Arbitration Act’s “separability” doctrine, the claim that the contract—including the arbitration agreement— could no longer be enforced was an issue that concerned the enforceability of the container contract as a whole, not the enforceability of the arbitration agreement specifically. And because the assignment concerned only the continued existence of the container contract, and not a claim that the container contract was never formed, the exception to the separability doctrine under which courts get to decide whether a contract has been concluded did not apply.

Accordingly, explained the South Carolina Supreme Court, it was for the arbitrator to decide what effect, if any, the assignment had on A’s right to enforce the container contract, including the arbitration agreement. Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Decides Coinbase, Ruling that District Court Proceedings on Merits Must be Stayed Pending Interlocutory Appeal of Order Denying Motion to Compel Arbitration

July 14th, 2023 Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR), Loree and Faulkner Interviews, Richard D. Faulkner, Stay Pending Appeal, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on SCOTUS Decides Coinbase, Ruling that District Court Proceedings on Merits Must be Stayed Pending Interlocutory Appeal of Order Denying Motion to Compel Arbitration

Coinbase - Stay Pending Appeal

Introduction: Must District Courts Grant a Stay Pending Appeal of an Order Denying a Motion to Compel?  

Section 16(a) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes interlocutory appeals of orders denying motions to compel arbitration. 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(B) & (C). This is a “rare statutory exception to the usual [federal] rule that parties may not appeal before final judgment.”   Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, 599 U.S. ___, No. 22-105, slip op. at 3 (June 23, 2023).  It authorizes interlocutory “appeals of orders denying—but not of orders granting—motions to compel arbitration.” Slip op. at 3 (emphasis in original).

Where such an order is made in a pending litigation on the merits, and an interlocutory appeal is taken, should the trial court litigation on the merits be stayed pending appeal? On June 23, 2023, in Coinbase, the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) ruled 5-4 that the answer was yes: a “district court must stay its pre-trial and trial proceedings while the interlocutory appeal is ongoing.” Slip op. at 1.

Discussion

To Stay or Not to Stay: SCOTUS says the Griggs Principle Controls

The Court initially noted the text of Section 16 says nothing about whether a stay of litigation pending an appeal of a denial of a motion to compel is required. See slip op. at 3. That said, “Congress enacted § 16(a) against a clear background principle prescribed by” Court “precedents[,]” which the Court referred to as the “Griggs principle[:]” “[a]n appeal, including an interlocutory appeal, ‘divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.’” Slip op. at 3 (quoting Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982)). Continue Reading »

Jury Trial | Application to Compel Arbitration | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Nuts and Bolts of Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Practice under Sections 2, 3, and 4 (Part V)

April 28th, 2020 Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Challenging Arbitration Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation 1 Comment »
Trial Application to Compel Arbitration

This segment of the Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide discusses the provisions of Section 4 relating to the jury trial of arbitrability issues.

The last instalment discussed the following FAQs related to Section 4 applications to compel arbitration:

  1. How does a Federal Court “Hear” an Application to Compel Arbitration? 
  2. In what Federal Court may an Application to Compel Arbitration be Filed?

This segment addresses the FAQ “What Happens when a Court Determines there is a Genuine Issue of Material Fact Concerning the Making of the Arbitration Agreement or the Failure, Neglect, or Refusal to Perform that Agreement?”  

What Happens when a Court Determines there is a Genuine Issue of Material Fact Concerning the Making of the Arbitration Agreement or the Failure, Neglect, or Refusal to Perform that Agreement?

In the last post we explained that district courts adjudicate applications to compel by applying a standard akin to that which applies to summary judgment motions. Courts therefore ascertain whether there are any genuine issues of material fact in dispute. If the material facts are not in dispute, then the Court determines whether the motion should be granted or denied by applying the law to the undisputed facts.

Continue Reading »

Provider Rules: Should I Agree to Arbitrate under Them?

March 23rd, 2020 American Arbitration Association, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Delegation Agreements, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Evident Partiality, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Practice and Procedure 1 Comment »
provider rules

Should your business agree to arbitrate under arbitration provider rules? Well, that depends.

Ideally, you should review those rules to see what they say, and discuss them with a knowledgeable and experienced arbitration attorney, or perhaps with another businessperson who has meaningful experience arbitrating under them. If, after doing your due diligence, you’re satisfied with the rules, understand how they might materially affect your arbitration experience, and are prepared to accept the consequences, then you may want to agree. If not, then you need to consider other options.

Granted, most of us do not bother to review arbitration rules before agreeing to arbitrate, or even to consult briefly with someone who is familiar with how they work in practice. And that can lead to some surprises, some of which may be unpleasant.

Here’s a nonexclusive list of a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to agree to arbitrate under arbitration provider rules:

  1. Agreeing to arbitrate under arbitration rules generally makes those rules part of your agreement, which means they are binding on you like any other part of your arbitration agreement;
  2. Arbitration provider rules generally provide that “arbitrability” issues—i.e., issues about the validity, enforceability, or scope of the arbitration agreement—must be decided by the arbitrator, not the court;
  3. They will govern not only the procedures to be used in the arbitration, but key substantive issues, such as arbitrator selection, arbitrator qualifications, and the number of arbitrators;
  4. They may empower the arbitration provider to resolve, at least in the first instance, questions about arbitrator impartiality, questions that one would otherwise reasonably expect were within the exclusive province of a court;
  5. They may determine whether your arbitration is placed on an expedited or complex-case track; and
  6. They may contain information about arbitration provider fees, which may be steeper than you anticipated.

And this list is by no means comprehensive.

Do any of these things really matter in business arbitration? They do, and to take but a single example, let’s look at how agreeing to provider rules may result in your business forefeiting its right to have a court decide disputes about the validity, enforceability, or scope of the arbitration agreement.

Continue Reading »

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

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

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

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

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wholly Groundless Exception 2

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

Facts and Procedural History

Wholly Groundless Exception 3

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

Continue Reading »

Res Judicata and Consolidated Arbitration: the Sixth Circuit puts the Kibosh on the “Contagion Theory of Arbitration”

September 17th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Construction Industry Arbitration, Contract Interpretation, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Final Awards, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Michigan State Courts, Practice and Procedure, Preclusive Effect of Awards, Res Judicata or Claim Preclusion, State Courts, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Res Judicata and Consolidated Arbitration: the Sixth Circuit puts the Kibosh on the “Contagion Theory of Arbitration”

Res judicata—Latin for a “matter” or “thing” “decided”—is the legal principle under which a final judgment in one action bars the same parties from relitigating in another, successive action matters that were or could have been asserted in that  first action. Also known as “claim preclusion”, it is designed to promote finality and judicial economy, and to protect persons from vexatious litigation. See, generally, Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 891 (2008).

But can an unconfirmed arbitration  award preclude a party from maintaining a court action to resolve a matter that it did not submit or agree to submit to arbitration? Suppose:

  1. A has an arbitration agreement with B (the “AB Agreement”);
  2. B has an arbitration agreement with C (the “BC Agreement”);
  3. A and C did not agree to arbitrate any disputes between them;
  4. The AB Agreement contemplates the parties arbitrating their claims against each other in a consolidated arbitration that may involve factually-related disputes that B has agreed to arbitrate with C or other third parties, provided those third parties consent to consolidated arbitration;
  5. The AB Agreement does not purport to require A or B to arbitrate any disputes between (a) A or B or both; and (b) C or any other non-party;
  6. The BC Agreement does not purport to require B or C to arbitrate any disputes between (a) B or C or both; and (b) A or any other third party;
  7. A dispute arises between A and B, and A demands arbitration against B;
  8. B, in turn, demands arbitration against C, seeking indemnity from C for any liability B may have to A;
  9. The AB and BC arbitrations are consolidated over A’s objection;
  10. A knows it has a legal and factual basis for asserting a tort claim against C arising out of the same transactions and occurrences at issue in the consolidated arbitration, but does not submit (or attempt to submit) that claim to arbitration;
  11. The arbitration proceeds, and the arbitrator issues a final award finding that B is liable to A for $X in damages and that C is not obligated to indemnify B;
  12. Nobody seeks to confirm, vacate, modify or correct the award; and
  13. A subsequently brings an action in court against C, which seeks damages from C allegedly caused by C’s negligent conduct with respect to the same transactions and occurrences that were the subject of the consolidated arbitration.

Is A’s lawsuit barred by res judicata?

On August 28, 2014, in O’Neil v. Shepley, No. 13-2320, slip op. (6th Cir. Aug. 28, 2014),  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, said the answer was “no,” and that the answer would have been the same had the AB/BC award been confirmed. See slip op. at 10-11.

The two-judge majority opinion—authored by Chief Circuit Court Judge R. Guy Cole, and joined by Circuit (and former Chief) Judge Danny Julian Boggs—minced no words when it said that to bar A’s lawsuit based on res judicata would be to endorse a “contagion theory of arbitration” that “has no basis in law or the relevant contracts[:]”

Simply put: the premise of arbitration is consent and [A] did not consent to arbitrate the present claims [against C]. Our judicial doctrines do not force it to do so now.

Slip op. at 10-11.

Circuit Court Judge David William McKeague dissented, arguing that the “court does not need to infect [A] with a ‘contagion theory of arbitration’ to bar his claims with res judicata. It merely needs to hold him to the basic terms of his contract. Any infection that [A] O’Neil has acquired is its own doing.” That was so, claimed the dissent, because:

[The AB arbitration was] eventually expanded to include [C]. Moreover, in [subcontractor A’s] contract with [construction manager B], [A] agreed to arbitrate his grievances with [B] and further agreed in a standard ‘flowthrough’ provision to be ‘bound by the procedures, decision and determinations resulting from any dispute resolution process’ in the contract between [B] and [the owner].  The contract between [B] and the [owner] required all disputes, among all contractors, to be submitted to binding arbitration.

Slip op. at 13 (emphasis in original) (McKeague, J., dissenting).

All three judges appeared to agree that res judicata does not turn on whether the first proceeding would have barred the second had the first been a plenary court proceeding. The difference of opinion between the majority and dissent was that the dissent was prepared to find A’s agreement to consolidated arbitration was the functional equivalent of an agreement arbitrate its claims against any person who might consent to join such a consolidated arbitration, even if A had no contractual relationship with that person, let alone a written agreement to arbitrate.

We think the majority’s read of the relevant contractual provisions gave effect to the parties expressed intent, whereas the dissent’s view of what the parties agreed did not. But to appreciate why, you’ll need to take a closer look at the Sheply facts, which in substance are much like (but not identical to) those in our hypothetical. Continue Reading »

Gateway Keeping: The Third Circuit Joins the Sixth in Holding that Courts get to Decide whether Parties Consented to Class Arbitration

August 28th, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consent to Class Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Practice and Procedure, Stay of Litigation, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Gateway Keeping: The Third Circuit Joins the Sixth in Holding that Courts get to Decide whether Parties Consented to Class Arbitration

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064 (2013) considered whether an arbitrator exceeded his powers under Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10(a)(4) by finding that a fairly run-of-the-mill arbitration agreement authorized class arbitration. Applying the deferential, manifest-disregard-of-the-agreement outcome-review standard authorized by FAA Section 10(a)(4), the Court upheld an arbitrator’s determination that an arbitration agreement authorized class arbitration because the arbitrator had, at least arguably, interpreted the arbitration agreement, albeit in a highly creative and doubtful way. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum posts here, here, here & here.)

In a footnote, the Court explained that it “would face a different issue if Oxford had argued below that the availability of class arbitration is a so-called ‘question of arbitrability.’” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. The Court said that Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 680 (2010), “made clear that this Court has not yet decided” whether class-arbitration-consent presents a question of arbitrability. But “Oxford agreed that the arbitrator should determine whether its contract with Sutter authorized class procedures[,]” and “Oxford submitted that issue to arbitrator not once, but twice—and the second time after Stolt-Nielsen flagged that it might be a question of arbitrability.” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. (emphasis added)

Had Oxford opted to request the Supreme Court to determine whether class- arbitration consent presented a question of arbitrability, and had the Court determined that it was such a question, then the Court would have determined independently—that is, without deferring to the arbitrator’s decision—whether the parties consented to class arbitration. See BG Group plc v. Republic of Argentina, No. 12-138, slip op. at 6 (U.S. March 5, 2014); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 543 U.S. 938, 942 (1995). And we doubt that a majority of the Supreme Court would have upheld the Oxford award had it reviewed the class-arbitration-consent determination de novo. See, e.g., Oxford, 133 S. Ct. at 2071 (Alito, J., concurring) (“If we were reviewing the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract de novo, we would have little trouble concluding that he improperly inferred “[a]n implicit agreement to authorize class-action arbitration … from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.”) (quoting Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 685).  

Those who have been tracking developments in class and consolidated arbitration since the turn of this century no doubt recall that, after a plurality of the Court determined in Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 452-53 (2003), that a class-arbitration-consent-related dispute did not present a question of arbitrability, but merely a procedural question, parties began to submit routinely and unreservedly class-arbitration-consent questions to arbitration.

But after Stolt-Nielsen, and, no doubt with renewed vigor after Oxford, class arbitration opponents began to argue that class-arbitration-consent presented a question of arbitrability for the Court to decide. And U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals are beginning to rule on those challenges.

The first one to do so was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Crockett, 734 F.3d 594 (6th Cir. 2013), where the Court in November 2013 held “that the question whether an arbitration agreement permits classwide arbitration is a gateway matter, which is reserved for judicial determination unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise.” 734 F.2d at 599 (quotation and citation omitted).

The second, and most recent Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the issue, was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Opalinski v. Robert Half Int’l Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 12-4444, slip op. (3rd Cir. July 30, 2014), which on July 30, 2014 “join[ed] the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in holding that.  .  .  “the availability of” class arbitration “is a substantive gateway question rather than a procedural one[,]” and thus “is a question of arbitrability.” Slip op. at 15, 16-17.  The Court’s decision turned on “the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences of that determination for both [a] whose claims are subject to arbitration[;] and [b] the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” Slip op. at 15 (emphasis added). Where, as in Opalinski, the arbitration agreement did not “mention” class arbitration, the Court “believ[ed] the parties would have expected a court, not an arbitrator, to determine the availability of class arbitration[,]” and that was “especially so given the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences” of the class-arbitration-consent determination as respects “whose claims are subject to arbitration and the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” slip op. at 16-17.

The Third Circuit’s Opalinski decision, like the Sixth Circuit’s in Reed Elsevier, is well reasoned and reaches the conclusion we likewise think is required by the Supreme Court’s long-line of arbitrability jurisprudence, and by its post-Bazzle class-arbitration cases, beginning with Stolt-Nielsen. We suspect that other circuits will, for largely the same reasons, that class-arbitration-consent presents a question of arbitrability.

Let’s have a look at what transpired in Opalinski.  .  .  . Continue Reading »

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: What do the Terms Arbitrable, Arbitrability, and Question of Arbitrability Mean, and Why do they Matter?

March 26th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: What do the Terms Arbitrable, Arbitrability, and Question of Arbitrability Mean, and Why do they Matter?

 Arbitrable, Arbitrability and Question of Arbitrability

If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be privy to a conversation about arbitration law, you probably heard things like:

“The dispute arguably falls within the scope of the agreement and is therefore arbitrable.”

Oxford expressly pointed out that none of the parties argued that consent to class arbitration is a question of arbitrability.”

“Did the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability? Because if they did, questions of arbitrability are arbitrable.”

Arbitration-law parlance is probably more arcane and cryptic than it has to be, but it has been with us for several decades and there’s no indication that it is likely to change any time soon. Learning it may be painful, but is usually well worth the modest effort required.

Today we’ll define in plain English some of the most bandied-about arbitration-law terms: “arbitrable,” “arbitrability” and “question of arbitrability.” And in the process we’ll try to explain why these closely-related terms are significant in matters governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”). Continue Reading »