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Archive for the ‘Existence of Arbitration Agreement’ Category

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 1 Comment »
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 »

Second Circuit Arbitration Roundup 2011: January 1, 2011 – January 14, 2011

January 15th, 2011 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Comments Off on Second Circuit Arbitration Roundup 2011: January 1, 2011 – January 14, 2011

In the first two weeks of the New Year the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided two Federal Arbitration Act cases:  UBS Securities, LLC v. Voegeli, No. 10-0690-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. Jan. 4, 2011) (summary order), and Dedon GmbH v. Janus et Cie, No. 10-4331-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2011) (summary order).  Both cases are summary orders, which under Second Circuit Local Rule 32.1.1, “do not have precedential effect.”  Second Circuit Local Rule 32.1.1(a). 

Each involved a dispute about the existence of an arbitration agreement.  In UBS Securities United States District Judge Denise L. Cote of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a declaratory judgment that certain Swiss investors could not compel UBS to arbitrate their securities fraud claims, and permanently enjoined the Swiss investors from pursuing their claims in arbitration.  Affirming the district court, the Second Circuit held that UBS satisfied the three requisites of permanent injunctive relief:  1) success on the merits; 2) lack of an adequate remedy at law; and 3) irreparable harm.

As respects success on the merits, the Court held that UBS was not obligated to arbitrate with the Swiss investors, and therefore had succeeded on the merits.  Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Code Rule 12200 provides that members can be compelled to arbitrate only 1) pursuant to a written agreement; or 2) where a customer requests arbitration.  FINRA R. 12200.  There was no written agreement to arbitrate between UBS and any of the Swiss investors and the Swiss investors were not customers of UBS.  See UBS Securities, slip op. at 3. 

As respects the lack of an adequate remedy at law and irreparable harm, the Court explained that under  Merrill Lynch Inv. v. Optibase, Ltd., 337 F.3d 125, 129 (2d Cir. 2003), “[b]eing forced to arbitrate a claim one did not agree to arbitrate constitutes an irreparable harm for which there is no remedy at law.”  Slip op. at 3.  Because UBS was not legally obligated to arbitrate, and because “the lack of an injunction would result in UBS effectively being required to do so, UBS satisfie[d] the ‘irreparable harm’ and ‘lack of an adequate remedy at law’ requirements for an injunction.”  Slip op. at 3.

Dedon concerned the familiar rule that disputes about the existence of a contract containing an arbitration agreement must be decided by the court (absent a clear and unmistakable post-dispute submission of that issue to arbitration).  Janus sought to compel arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) of an exclusive-distribution-agreement dispute, contending 1) the parties had agreed to arbitrate “as evidenced by a draft exclusive distribution agreement or the standard terms and conditions that accompanied each purchase;” and 2) Dedon had “waived its right to arbitrate through its conduct before the ICC” in London.  Slip op. at 2.  United States District Judge Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the motion to compel and declined to stay the proceedings pending an ICC determination of the contract formation issue, holding that the dispute concerned the existence of an arbitration agreement and that Dedon had not unreservedly submitted the contract formation issue to ICC arbitration. 

The Second Circuit affirmed.  It said the United States Supreme Court in Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2847, 2857-58 (2010), had “reconfirm[ed]” the Second Circuit’s “well-established precedent that where a party challenges the very existence of a contract containing an arbitration clause, a court cannot compel arbitration without first resolving the issue of the contract’s existence.”  Slip op. at 3 (citing Interocean Shipping Co. v. National Shipping & Trading Corp., 462 F.2d 673, 676 (2d Cir. 1972); Sphere Drake Ins. Ltd v. Clarendon Nat’l Ins. Co., 263 F.3d 26, 30 (2d Cir. 2001); Denny v. BDO Seidman LLP, 412 F.3d 58, 68 (2d Cir. 2005); Opals on Ice Lingerie v. Body Lines Inc., 320 F.3d 362, 369 (2d Cir. 2003); Sprecht v. Netscape Commc’ns Corp., 306 F.3d 17, 26 (2d Cir. 2002)).  Because Janus sought to compel arbitration based on a draft agreement containing an arbitration clause, the district court had to decide whether the parties had agreed to arbitrate. 

The Court held that Dedon had not waived its right to court determination of the contract formation issue.  The Court said that “Dedon’s submissions to the ICC were replete with statements that Dedon disputed the ICC’s jurisdiction; such repeated objections to ICC jurisdiction prevent a finding of waiver.  .  .  .”  Slip op. at 5 (citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 946 (1995); Opals on Ice, 320 F.3d at 368).   

The Court also rejected Janus’ argument that an agreement to arbitrate “may be found in the terms and conditions that accompanied each purchase order between Dedon and Janus.”  Slip op. at 5:

On their face, the terms and conditions in those purchase orders govern the particular exchange of goods occurring with that purchase order — “[a]ll contractual and extra-contractual disputes arising out of or in connection with contracts to which these International Terms and Conditions apply, shall be finally resolved by arbitration” (emphasis added) — and do not purport to create or refer to any exclusive distribution relationship between the parties, which is the sole focus of the present suit. 

Janus also argues that the exclusive distribution agreement should be encompassed within the meaning of ‘pre-contractual and collateral obligations’ to the purchase orders.  Janus would thus have this court find that “any dispute related to any obligation arising prior to or outside of the contract formed by each shipment of goods” is governed by the purchase orders’ terms and conditions.  (emphasis in original)  We decline to adopt Janus’s broad reading of that contractual language, as it ignores the plain language of the purchase order, and we agree with the district court that the terms and conditions do not provide an alternative basis for compelling arbitration.

Slip op. at 5-6 (emphasis in original).

Dedon — the party who prevailed in the district court — argued that the district court should have denied the motion to compel with prejudice.  Dedon relied on Kahn Lucas Lancaster, Inc. v. Lark Int’l Ltd., 186 F.3d 210, 218 (2d Cir. 1999), partially abrogated on other grounds by Sarhank Group v. Oracle Corp., 404 F.3d 657, 660 n.2 (2d Cir. 2005), which held that under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, arbitration agreements, to be enforceable, “must be signed by the parties or contained within an exchange of letters or telegrams.”   186 F.3d at 218) (quoting Article II of the Convention).  But Dedon did not raise that argument before the district court, and so the Court said “the parties will have the opportunity to argue this issue at the trial on the existence of a contact.”  Slip op. at 6-7.  The Court also noted that the district court may “consider what effect, if any, [the Court’s] holding in Kahn Lucas has on any renewed motion to compel.”  Slip op. at 7.

 

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  (Summary orders “filed on or after January 1, 2007 may be cited in a document filed” with the Second Circuit, subject to Rule 32.1 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and Local Rule 32.1.1.  See Second Circuit Local Rule 32.1.1(b)(1) ; Fed. R. App. P. 32.1.  “[A] party must cite either the Federal Appendix or an electronic database (with the notation ‘summary order)[,]” and “must serve a copy of it on every party not represented by counsel.”    Second Circuit Local Rule 32.1.1(c) & (d).]