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Archive for the ‘Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure’ Category

Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide II: Three Threshold Questions about the Federal Arbitration Act

January 21st, 2020 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Panama Convention, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments »
Federal Arbitration Act | Arbitrator

This second instalment of the Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide addresses three threshold questions pertinent to the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA” or “Federal Arbitration Act”):

1. Does Chapter 1 of the FAA apply to my arbitration agreement?

2. Assuming it does, will a federal district court have subject matter jurisdiction over FAA litigation concerning the agreement or any awards made under it?

3. Does the Federal Arbitration Act apply in state court?

Does Chapter 1 of the FAA Apply to My Arbitration Agreement?

If your written arbitration agreement is contained in a maritime contract or a contract affecting commerce, or concerns a dispute arising out of such a contract, then it falls under Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act, unless it falls within Section 1’s exemption for contracts of employment of transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce. (See here.) It may also fall under Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA, which implement the New York and Panama Conventions.

In our first instalment of this FAQ guide (here) we explained that Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, applies to written, pre-dispute arbitration agreements in: (a) “maritime contract[s]” (“Maritime Contracts”); or (b) “contract[s] evidencing a transaction involving commerce. . . .” (“Contracts Affecting Commerce”). It also applies to written post-dispute arbitration agreements “to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such [Maritime Contracts or Contracts Affecting Commerce], or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 273-282 (1995)Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 55-58 (2003).

Section 2’s requirement that an arbitration agreement be “written” seems simple enough, and, for the most part, it is, at least in wholly domestic arbitrations to which Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA do not concurrently apply. But there are some caveats.

First, just because a contract is required to be “written” doesn’t necessarily mean the arbitration agreement must be signed. The arbitration agreement between the parties need only be in writing, although the arbitration-agreement proponent would need to show that the parties assented to the writing.

For example, suppose A agrees to provide services for B and further agrees that any disputes arising out of or relating to their agreement will be submitted to arbitration. A and B proceed to memorialize their agreement in a writing, including the agreement to arbitrate, spelling out the essential terms of their agreement. While the writing is not signed or initialed, both parties agree that it reflects the essential terms of the parties’ bargain. The written memorialization of the agreement is sufficient to establish a “written” agreement, even though it is not signed by the party opposing its enforcement. 

Second, provided there is a written agreement between at least two parties,  persons who are not parties to that agreement (“nonparties”) may, in appropriate circumstances, enforce the agreement or be bound by it if general principles of state law permit that result. Such general principles include “‘assumption, piercing the corporate veil, alter ego, incorporation by reference, third-party beneficiary theories, waiver and estoppel[.] . . .’” . Arthur Andersen LLP v. Carlisle, 556 U.S. 624, 631 (2009) (citations omitted). This Term the United States Supreme Court is to determine whether such state law principles apply in cases governed by Chapter 2, or whether only signatories to arbitration agreements may enforce or be bound by them.

As respects whether a “contract” “evidenc[es] a transaction involving commerce,” the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted Section 2 broadly to mean the Federal Arbitration Act applies to arbitration agreements in contracts or transactions that “affect” commerce, that is, to any contract or transaction that Congress could regulate in the full exercise of its Commerce Clause powers. See Allied-Bruce, 513 U.S. at 281-82; U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, Cl. 3 (giving Congress power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”).

Whether a contract “affects” commerce depends on the facts concerning, among other things, the parties, the contract’s subject matter, and the actual or contemplated transactions constituting the contract’s performance or contemplated performance. See Alafabco, 539 U.S. at 56-57. A party does not have to demonstrate that the contract has a “specific” or “substantial” “effect upon interstate commerce if in the aggregate the economic activity in question would represent a general practice subject to federal control.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted).  The question is whether the “aggregate economic activity in question” “bear[s] on interstate commerce in a substantial way.” Id. at 57.

Assuming that Chapter 1 of the FAA Applies to my Arbitration Agreement, Will a Federal District Court have Subject Matter jurisdiction over FAA Litigation Concerning the Agreement or any Awards Made under it?

Not necessarily. Unless an arbitration agreement also falls under Chapters 2 or 3 of the FAA, then there must be an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction.

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Expertise.com Selects Loree & Loree as one of the top 18 Best Arbitrators & Mediators in New York City out of 1,763 Reviewed

January 16th, 2020 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, General, Loree & Loree, Mediation 1 Comment »
Arbitration | Loree & Loree

We were thrilled and honored to learn just recently that Loree & Loree was selected by Expertise.com out of a group of 1,763 persons or firms reviewed to be one of Expertise.com’s top 18 “Arbitrators & Mediators” in New York City for 2019. (See here.) Expertise.com’s “goal is to connect people with the best local experts.” (See here.)

The criteria used was reputation, credibility, availability, and professionalism. Expertise.com’s website describes those criteria in more detail and explains how top expert selections are made here and here.

In making its determination, Expertise.com “scored arbitrators & mediators on more than 25 variables across five categories, and analyzed the results to give you a hand-picked list of the best arbitrators & mediators in New York, NY.” (See here.) The category “Arbitrators & Mediators” includes firms, like L&L, which represent clients in arbitrations and in arbitration-law related disputes.

About L&L, Expertise.com said that “[t]he boutique firm is known for personalized service and reasonable fees and covers B2B litigation and arbitration, arbitration law, practice, and procedures, reinsurance, and insurance matters.” Expertise.com noted, among other things, that the “office has been quoted in Global Arbitration Review,” and “has considerable experience with the Federal Arbitration Act. . . .” (See here.)

You might also be interested in reading. . .

Second Circuit Sets Evident Partiality Standard for Party-Appointed Arbitrators on Industry Tripartite Arbitration Panels

2018-2019 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: What About Lamps Plus?

Class Arbitration, Absent Class Members, and Class Certification Awards: Consent or Coercion?

Nuts & Bolts: Limitation Periods for Motions to Vacate, Modify, Correct and Confirm Domestic Arbitration Awards Falling Under Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act

Arbitration Law FAQs: Confirming Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act

Delegation Agreements, Separability, Schein II, and the October 2019 Edition of CPR Alternatives

Photo Acknowledgment

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

The Federal Arbitration Act: a Businessperson’s FAQ Guide

January 15th, 2020 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Arbitration Risks, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Repeat Players, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 1 Comment »
Federal Arbitration Act | Text Added

This is the first in a series of posts that will pose and answer several important questions about the Federal Arbitration Act (the “Federal Arbitration Act” or “FAA”), and FAA practice and procedure. The Federal Arbitration Act is the federal statute that governs arbitration agreements that “affect commerce,” making them irrevocable, valid and enforceable to the same extent as contracts generally. It provides for the expedited enforcement (including the challenge) of arbitration awards, empowers arbitrators to issue hearing subpoenas that are enforceable in court against third parties, and authorizes Courts in appropriate circumstances to compel arbitration, stay litigation, and appoint arbitrators.

Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, and the many court decisions construing it, constitute the main body of arbitration law governing arbitration agreements in contracts “affecting commerce.” That body of arbitration law also includes state law governing contracts generally as well as state arbitration law, where applicable. More on that another day.

Before addressing specific FAQs, we review why arbitration law is important and what small businesses can do to help protect themselves in today’s challenging arbitration environment. We next provide an overview of Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, summarizing its provisions.

This guide, including the instalments that will follow in later posts, is not designed to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law. It is designed simply to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will educate them about the legal challenges they may face and how engaging a skilled, trustworthy, and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

Why is Federal Arbitration Act Arbitration Law Important and How can Small Businesses Protect Themselves in Today’s Challenging Arbitration Environment?

Arbitration can be a very effective way of resolving a wide range of disputes arising out of many legal and commercial relationships. It can benefit the parties if they make informed decisions about agreeing to it, craft their agreement accordingly, invest ample time and resources into the dispute-resolution process, proactively manage it, and make reasonable strategic and tactical decisions aimed at maximizing the odds of a beneficial outcome. It can benefit the courts and the general public by shifting to the private sector dispute-resolution costs that the public-sector (funded by tax payers) would otherwise bear.

Arbitration is not a perfect form of dispute resolution (and none is, including court litigation). That is so even when: (a) parties carefully draft their arbitration agreements and arbitrate in good faith; and (b) arbitrators, arbitration service providers and courts do their best to ensure the integrity, reliability, and cost-efficiency of the process and otherwise strive to protect the legitimate contractual expectations of the parties.

But at least over the last few decades or so, arbitration has, in the eyes of many, become a less attractive alternative to court litigation than it was intended to be, could be, and once was. One reason for the decline is because courts and arbitrators do not always enforce arbitration agreements in a way most likely to promote arbitration, even though they may believe in good faith that their decisions make arbitration a more attractive alternative to litigation.

The Arbitration Cottage Industry: Repeat Players versus Outsiders

Yet another reason is that arbitration has evolved into a cottage industry consisting of arbitration providers; and professional arbitrators (whether affiliated or not with one or more arbitration providers or arbitration societies). This industry serves (or is supposed to serve) relatively large businesses as well as smaller businesses, individuals, and consumers.

But it is a business that frequently pits repeat playersbusinesses which frequently use an arbitration provider’s services, usually because they regularly appoint in their arbitration agreements the arbitration provider as administratoragainst outsidersbusinesses or individuals who find themselves in an arbitrations administered by an arbitration provider before which they do not find themselves on a regular basis, usually because they either do not regularly appoint the arbitration provider as administrator in their arbitration agreements, or because they do not ordinarily agree to arbitrate in the first place.

Repeat players generate more revenue for arbitration providers and their stable of arbitrators over time than do outsiders. In theory that shouldn’t matter, for at least ostensibly, providers and arbitrators offer the market neutral dispute resolution services that are not supposed to favor repeat players, outsiders, or anyone else.

But economic realities can make that ostensible goal difficult to achieve in practice, even for exceedingly-well-intentioned providers and arbitrators. Those economic realities suggest an actual or potential conflict of interestthat is, a conflict between the provider’s and arbitrator’s interest in neutrality and their interest in an arbitration outcome that will not dissuade the repeat player from continuing regularly to use the provider’s services.

Businesses, particularly smaller business that are not arbitration provider repeat players, thus may find themselves in a challenging environment, one in which they probably did not anticipate being when they agreed to arbitrate. They are outsiders in an arbitration system that may be administered by an organization, and presided over by one or more arbitrators, who may consciously or unconsciously habor, or at least labor under, institutional predispositions that could tip the scales in favor of the repeat player and against the outsider.  

The potential for such free-floating institutional bias or predisposition ordinarily will not, without more, support an argument that the arbitrator has a material conflict of interest. The reasons that is so are, for present purposes, beyond the scope of this post, but irrespective of whether arbitration law provides or should provide any relief from such a conflict, the economic realities described pose risks for outsiders, whose odds of success on the merits might not be what they would otherwise be if the tables were turned, and they, not their adversaries, were the repeat players.

Outsiders who find themselves in arbitration disputes with repeat players need all the help they can get.

Arbitration Law: Limited Relief, Arcane Rules, and Traps for the Unwary

The nature of arbitration law itself poses other challenges with which businesses (including repeat players) must grapple. Arbitration law authorizes courts to provide only very limited relief to parties who claim to be the victims of arbitration-agreement violations, whether committed by arbitrators or by an adverse party.

To make matters worse it is not unusual for certain judges to interpret and apply arbitration law in a way that makes it all the more difficult to obtain relief, even when granting that relief would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration as an attractive alternative to litigation, which is the main objective of arbitration law.

For example, courts will sometimes confirm arbitration awards that should have been vacated even though the facts reveal that the arbitrators egregiously violated the parties’ arbitration agreement by exceeding their powers, being guilty of fraud, corruption, or evident partiality, or committing prejudicial procedural misconduct. Courts seem conciously or unconsciously to go out of their way to avoid recognizing such grave improprieties, perhaps because the public might perceive the outcome – a vacated arbitration award and an arbitration do over – as disfavoring arbitration. And that is so even though vacatur would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration by enforcing the parties’ arbitration agreement and protecting reasonable expectations of fundamental fairness.

The same kind of scenario may play out in the context of a pre-arbitration dispute about compelling arbitration and staying litigation pending arbitration. Believing in good faith that they are promoting arbitration, and perhaps desiring an outcome that appears to favor arbitration—such as one that compels arbitration and stays litigation pending arbitration—Courts sometimes determine persons have consented to arbitration in circumstances where a comprehensive examination of the facts and applicable law may indicate otherwise.

Arbitration law doctrines, rules, and procedures remain somewhat arcane even though arbitration disputes and arbitration-related litigation are fairly common. Consequently, outcomes and rationales are often counterintuitive, unless the lawyer has thorough knowledge of and experience with arbitration law. We’ll discuss some examples in later posts.

Even apart from that, arbitation law’s procedural rules are fraught with traps for the wary, which are, among other things, designed to encourage early forfeiture of defenses that might otherwise be raised in FAA litigation. Most, if not all, of these rules nevertheless serve purposes which at least arguably promote arbitration as a viable alternative to litigation. If your attorney doesn’t know the rules well or doesn’t follow them, then your interests may be in jeopordy.

Protecting your Interests in Arbitration and Arbitration-Related Litigation

How can you best protect your interests in the seemingly informal, but sometimes covertly hostile, arbitration environment? First, you must make sure that you are represented by an attorney who has abundent knowledge of and experience in arbitration law and in representing parties in arbitrations and in FAA litigation.

This can make a huge difference – the author has, over the years, encountered situations where another lawyer did not, for example, detect or adequately preserve for judicial review issues that may otherwise have provided a basis for vacating an adverse award. As a consequence, these parties lost the race before it even started, and ended up being saddled with arbitration awards that, in a more perfect world, they may have been able to vacate.  Needless to say, situations like this are far less likely to occur if experienced arbitration counsel been involved from the start.

If you are already represented by an attorney in your arbitration, but find yourself facing challenging FAA enforcement litigation, or the prospect of such litigation, then your interests are best suited by hiring skilled and experienced counsel who regularly handle such litigation. Depending on the circumstances, your own needs, and other considerations, you may wish to retain a new lawyer to handle the FAA litigation, while continuing to retain your current lawyer for purposes of handling the merits of the underlying arbitration (but making sure the FAA litigation lawyer is consulted at each step along the way to help preserve and enhance the record for future FAA litigation).

Second, you should work closely with that attorney, advising him or her of all matters pertinent to your claims and defenses, including matters that may be peculiar to your particular business or industry, including customs, practice, and usage. Always be an active part of your case and work only with attorneys who allow and encourage you to do that.  

Third, you should keep yourself informed about arbitration-law related matters, as well as the legal rules and principles that bear on the merits of your case. This series of posts addresses numerous basic questions concerning the Federal Arbitration Act, and thus should be a useful educational aid for that purpose.

An Overview of the Federal Arbitration Act and its Provisions

The judicial and arbitral enforcement of arbitration agreements that affect interstate commerce is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), a statute first enacted in 1925 as the “United States Arbitration Act.” As originally enacted, the FAA consisted of 15 provisions, section 14 of which Congress repealed in 1947, renumbering as Section 14 former Section 15.

In 1970 Congress designated those remaining 14 provisions as “Chapter 1” of the FAA, and added a “Chapter 2,” which consists of various provisions implementing and enabling the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (a/k/a the “New York Convention”).

In 1988 Congress added two additional provisions to Chapter 1 of the FAA, Sections 15 and 16. In 1990 Congress added to the FAA a Chapter 3, which consists of provisions implementing and enabling the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (a/k/a the “Panama Convention”).

The majority of U.S. domestic arbitration disputes are decided under Chapter One of the FAA, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. Of these 16 relatively sparse statutory provisions, Sections 1 through 14 have been on the statute books in largely the same form for about 95 years.

The provisions of Chapter One have not only been on the books for nearly 100 years, but they are fairly sparse, and certainly do not even come close to addressing expressly and comprehensively all of the many issues that may arise concerning the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards.

Out of necessity, a robust body of judicial interpretations and applications of the provisions has arisen to attempt to address these problems. These interpretations and applications of the FAA often vary from one circuit court of appeals to the next, and the U.S. Supreme Court has, on many occasions over the last four decades (and even before) stepped in to resolve such circuit splits and attempt to make FAA law more uniform by developing and implementing various FAA rules and principals, a number of which were first created in cases arising out of Labor Management and Relations Act (“LMRA”)-governed labor arbitration cases.

But before delving into any of the gory details, let’s look at the domestic, commercial arbitration-law outline that Chapter One of the FAA provides. Our starting point is Section 2, which is sometimes referred to as the FAA’s “enforcement command.” 

The Federal Arbitration Act’s Enforcement Command: Section 2

Section 2 of the FAA is the provision that declares that arbitration agreements falling within its scope are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

It also tells us what arbitration agreements fall within the scope of Section 2 and the other provisions of FAA Chapter One: (a) “[a] written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof [;] or [(b)] an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract, transaction, or refusal. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

Section 2’s scope provision therefore, and as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, applies to written pre-dispute arbitration agreements in: (a) “maritime contract[s]” (“Maritime Contracts”); or (b) “contract[s] evidencing a transaction involving commerce. . . .” (“Contracts Affecting Commerce”). It also applies to written post-dispute arbitration agreements “to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such [Maritime Contracts or Contracts Affecting Commerce], or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 273-282 (1995); Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 55-58 (2003). As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Section 2’s use of the “word ‘involving,’ like ‘affecting,’ signals an intent to exercise Congress’ commerce power to the full.” Allied-Bruce, 513 U.S. at 277. More on that another day.

Under Section 2, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524, 529 (2019).  Section 2 also “requires courts to place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with all other contracts.” Kindred Nursing Centers Ltd. P’ship v. Clark, 137 S. Ct. 1421, 1424 (2017) (quotations and  citations omitted).    

Section 1 of the FAA : Definitions and an Exemption

Section 1 of the FAA provides some definitions and exempts from the FAA a fairly limited universe of agreements that would otherwise fall within the scope of the Act. See 9 U.S.C. § 1. As respects the exemption, Section 1 provides that “nothing [in the FAA] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1.

According to the United States Supreme Court, the exemption applies “only” to “contracts of employment of transportation workers.” Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 119 (2001). But those “contracts of employment” include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee relationship, but also contracts establishing independent contractor relationships. New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532, 539-41, 544 (2019).

The Rest of the FAA

The other provisions of Chapter 1 implement the enforcement command by lending judicial support to the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards. These are briefly summarized below:

  • Section 3 – Requires courts to stay litigation in favor of arbitration.
  • Section 4 – Provides for courts to compel arbitration.
  • Section 5 – Provides for courts to appoint arbitrators when there has been a default in the arbitrator selection process.
  • Section 6 – Provides that motion practice rules apply to applications made under the FAA, thereby expediting the judicial disposition of such applications. 
  • Section 7 – Provides for the judicial enforcement of certain arbitration subpoenas.
  • Section 8 – Provides that where the basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction is admiralty, then “the party claiming to be aggrieved may begin his proceeding [under the FAA]…by libel and seizure of the vessel or other property….” 9 U.S.C. § 8.
  • Section 9 – Provides for courts to confirm arbitration awards, that is, enter judgment upon them.
  • Section 10 – Authorizes courts to vacate arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 11 – Authorizes courts to modify or correct arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 12 – Provides rules concerning the service of a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an award, including a three-month time limit.
  • Section 13 – Specifies papers that must be filed with the clerk on motions to confirm, vacate, modify, or correct awards and provides that judgment entered on orders on such motions has the same force and effect of any other judgment entered by the court.
  • Section 14 – Specifies that agreements made as of the FAA’s 1925 effective date are subject to the FAA.
  • Section 15 – Provides that “Enforcement of arbitral agreements, confirmation of arbitral awards, and execution upon judgments based on orders confirming such awards shall not be refused on the basis of the Act of State doctrine.”
  • Section 16 – Specifies when appeals may be taken from orders made under the FAA, and authorizing appeals from final decisions with respect to arbitration.

More to follow in future posts. . . .

You might also be interested in the following posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law. L&L has added text to the photo.

Class Arbitration, Absent Class Members, and Class Certification Awards: Consent or Coercion?

January 6th, 2020 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Arbitration - Class Certification Awards, Clause Construction Award, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Consent to Class Arbitration, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments »
absent class members | class arbitration

On November 29, 2019 we posted Absent Class Members, Class Arbitration, Class Certification Awards, Consent, Coercion, and the Second Circuit, which discussed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 18-153-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. November 18, 2019) (“Jock IV”).

In Jock IV the Second Circuit reversed a district court order vacating an arbitrator’s class certification award, which the district court vacated because it made tens of thousands of absent class members part of a certified class even though none: (a) was a party to the class arbitration; (b) opted in to the proposed class; or (c) participated in or otherwise consented to the class arbitration. The Second Circuit held it was enough that the absent class members, like all other employees, had executed an identical, form pre-dispute arbitration agreement (the “Agreement”), which required the absent class members to submit, among other things, arbitrability and arbitration procedure disputes to arbitration.

Absent Class Members: The Federal Arbitration Act’s First Principle and Consent to Class Arbitration

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)’s “first principle” is that “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80, 684 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted); see, e.g., Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 1417 (2019); Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 295 & n.7, 294 n.6 (2010); AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U. S. 643, 648 (1986).

Beginning in Stolt-Nielsen,and most recently in Lamps Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized the importance of consent to class arbitration. In Stolt-Nielsen, the Court required a “contractual basis” for imposing class arbitration, and explained that “[a]n implicit agreement to authorize class arbitration, however, is not a term that the arbitrator may infer solely from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.” 599 U.S. at 685.  

Most recently, in Lamps Plus the Court imposed a federal presumption against consent to class arbitration under which silent or ambiguous contract language cannot establish consent to class arbitration, and under which the FAA is deemed to preempt state-law contract interpretation rules that are not intent-based—such as contra proferentem, the rule that ambiguities are, at least in the absence of any other extrinsic evidence of intent, construed against the contract’s drafter. See Lamps Plus,139 S. Ct. at 1416-19.

The Lamps Plus presumption requires more than simply “a contractual basis” for finding consent to class arbitration. As a practical matter it means that the parties must clearly and unmistakably consent to class arbitration. (See, e.g., our Lamps Plus post, here.)

What does the Agreement Have to Say About Class Arbitration?

The Agreement is a form dispute resolution agreement that was signed by each of an employer (the “Employer”)’s many employees. By signing the Agreement the signatory Employer and employee agreed to arbitrate their disputes, “waiv[ed] [their] right to obtain any legal or equitable relief . . . through any government agency or court, and . . . also waiv[e] [their] right to commence any court action.”

The Agreement provides that the employee “may. . . seek and be awarded equal remedy” under the Agreement, 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.’” Jock IV, slip op. at 4 (citations omitted).

The Agreement does not purport to be, or evidence consent to, a multi-lateral agreement – i.e., a collective Agreement between the employer and all the tens of thousands of other employees. Employees signing the Agreement do not purport to assign rights or delegate duties to other nonsignatory employees, nor do they purport to confer any authority upon any nonsignatory employees to arbitrate, or otherwise act on behalf of, the signatory employee.

The Agreement did not mention class arbitration, although the Arbitrator found in a June 1, 2009 Clause Construction Award, that the Agreement implicitly permitted class arbitration. In 2011 the Second Circuit in Jock I ruled that the arbitrator’s award should have been confirmed because, by finding that the language of the agreement implicitly permitted class arbitration, the arbitrator had at least arguably interpreted the contract.

The Jock IV Court said that the absent class members were bound by the Clause Construction Award even though they were never parties to the class arbitration, the Clause Construction Award, the certification award, or any of the Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings (including Jock I, II, III, or IV, or any of the district court proceedings), and even though they never opted in to the class or otherwise consented to any of the arbitration or arbitration-related proceedings.

The Jock IV Court said that was so because each of the absent class members had signed an Agreement identical to the ones signed by the class representatives and employees who had opted into the class, and had agreed to submit arbitrability disputes to an arbitrator.

Further, said the Court, the absent class members could not collaterally attack the Clause Construction Award because the Agreement clearly and unmistakably authorized an arbitrator to decide both arbitrability questions and questions concerning procedure. Consequently, the absent class members were not entitled to a de novo determination of whether they consented to class arbitration, which, under Lamps Plus, would require the class arbitration proponents to demonstrate that the parties clearly and unmistakably consented to class arbitration.

What Result if the Court Determined the Class Arbitration Consent Issue on a De Novo Basis?

To test the soundness of the Jock IV Court’s conclusion, let’s assume that the Court should have determined on a de novo basis whether the absent class members consented to class arbitration, or, alternatively, whether the absent class members consented to be bound by Clause Construction and certification awards, which were made by arbitrators the absent class members had no part in selecting, and to which those absent class members did not consent after being given an opportunity to opt in to the class.

Lamps Plus requires clear and unmistakable consent to class arbitration. There is no possibility the arbitration agreements signed by the parties could satisfy that demanding requirement. As Jock I demonstrates, at most the Agreement was susceptible to an interpretation under which one might infer implied consent to class arbitration. But it was also susceptible to one or more other interpretations under which it contemplated only bilateral arbitration.

It was therefore ambiguous, and were the Court to have analyzed class arbitration consent on a de novo basis under Lamps Plus standard, then the Court would presumably have determined that the absent class members did not consent to class arbitration and therefore could not be made part of a class.

Did the Jock IV Court Err by Deeming the Absent Class Members to be Bound by the Clause Construction Award?   

The soundness of Jock IV thus depends on whether the absent class members’ signing of arbitration agreements identical to those signed by the Jock class representatives and opt-in class members can legitimately be construed to evidence their consent to be bound by a nearly-decade-old Clause Construction Award decided (a) by an arbitrator they played no part in selecting under (b) a legal standard that has been superceded by a 2019 United States Supreme Court decision (Lamps Plus). 

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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 1 Comment »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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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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
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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Federal Arbitration Act Section 1: SCOTUS Says Courts Decide Whether FAA Applies to Contract and this Time Answer is “No”

January 25th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act exempts from the FAA’s scope disputes involving “contracts of employment of . . . workers engaged in . . . interstate commerce.”  9 U. S. C. § 1. If parties to an arbitration agreement clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, who decides whether a contract containing the arbitration agreement is such a “contract of employment?”   

Federal Arbitration Act Section 1 1
United States Supreme Court

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 586 U.S. ___, slip op. (Jan. 15, 2019), the nation’s highest court held that courts decide whether a contract is within the scope of the FAA’s coverage, even where the parties clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator. Slip op. at 4. Addressing the merits of the FAA’s applicability to the contract, the United States Supreme Court held that under Section 1 it was exempt from the FAA because in 1925, the year Congress enacted the FAA, the term “contracts of employment” was ordinarily understood to include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee (or master and servant) relationship, but also independent contractor relationships. Slip op. at 15.

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 2
Who gets to decide whether the Federal Arbitration Act applies to the parties’ agreement?

Today we’ll focus on the first issue addressed by the Court: who gets to decide whether a contract falls within the Section 1 “contracts of employment” exemption when the parties have delegated arbitrability disputes to the arbitrators. In a later post we’ll look at how the Court decided the contract before it was under Section 1 a “contract of employment of a “worker[] engaged in interstate commerce[,]” and thus outside the scope of the FAA.  

Background

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 3
Dispute between a trucker and a trucking company

New Prime was a dispute between a truck driver and a trucking company. The relationship between the two was established by a written contract which, at least in form, established an independent contractor, rather than an employer-employee relationship. The contract contained an arbitration clause which provided that “any disputes arising out of the parties’ relationship should be resolved by an arbitrator—even disputes over the scope of the arbitrator ’s authority.” Slip op. at 1-2.

The trucker commenced a federal-court class action, which alleged that, irrespective of what the trucking company called its drivers, the trucking company “treat[ed] them as employees and fail[ed] to pay the statutorily due minimum wage.” Slip op. at 2.

The trucking company asked the district court to compel arbitration of the dispute. In response the trucker contended that his contract was outside the scope of the FAA because it was a “contract[] of em­ployment of . . . [a] worker[] engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1. Thus, said the trucker, the FAA “supplied the district court with no authority to compel arbitration….” Slip op. at 2.

The trucking company replied that the parties had agreed to submit to arbitration the question whether the Section 1 “contracts of employment” exemption applied to the contract. The trucking company alternatively contended that, if the question was for the Court, then the term “‘contracts of employment’ refers only to contracts that establish an employer-employee relationship[,]” and the trucker was an independent contractor, not an employee, of the trucking company. Accordingly, said the trucking company, the Section 1 exclusion did not apply, the FAA applied, and the Court should stay the litigation and compel arbitration under FAA Sections 3 and 4. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 3 & 4; slip op. at 2-3.

The district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found in favor of the trucker. The First Circuit “held, first, that in disputes like this a court should resolve whether the parties’ contract falls within the Act’s ambit or [Section 1’s] exclusion before invoking the [FAA’s] au­thority to order arbitration.” Slip op. at 3. The First Circuit further “held that [Section 1’s] exclusion of certain ‘contracts of employ­ment’ removes from the Act’s coverage not only employer-employee contracts but also contracts involving independ­ent contractors.” Slip op. at 3. Accordingly, irrespective of whether the parties’ agreement established an employer-employee or independent contractor relationship, the district court lacked FAA authority to compel arbitration. Slip op. at 3.

In an 8-0 Opinion written by Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the First Circuit’s decision (Associate Justice Brett Michael Kavanaugh took no part). Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a brief concurring opinion.

The Court Must Decide Whether Section 1 Exempts the Contract from the FAA’s Scope

The Broad Authority the FAA Confers on Courts does not Extend to All Private Contracts 

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 4
SCOTUS: Judicial authority to compel arbitration under the FAA “may be considerable[,]” but it is not “unconditional”

The answer to the “who” question was “immediately” “clear” to the Court. Slip op. at 3. Though “a court’s authority under the [FAA] to compel arbitration may be considerable, it isn’t unconditional.” Slip op. at 3. FAA Sections 3 and 4 “often require a court to stay litigation and compel arbitration ‘according to the terms’ of the parties’ agreement[,]” “[b]ut this authority doesn’t extend to all private contracts, no matter how emphatically they may express a preference for arbitration.” Slip op. at 3.

Section 1 and Section 2 are Antecedent Provisions that Limit Judicial Power to Stay Litigation and Compel Arbitration under Sections 3 and 4

Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 5
Court must apply FAA Sections 1 and 2 to determine whether it has the authority to stay litigation or compel arbitration under Sections 3 and 4

Sections 1 and 2, the Court explained, are “antecedent statutory provisions” that “limit the scope of the scope of the court’s powers under [Sections] 3 and 4.” Slip op. at 3. Section 2 “applies only when the parties’ agreement to arbitrate is set forth as a ‘written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.’” Slip op. at 3. Section 1, which “helps define [Section] 2’s terms[,]” provides that “‘nothing’ in the [FAA] ‘shall apply’ to ‘contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.’” Slip op. at 3-4 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 1).

According to the Court, Section 1’s exemption was included in the FAA, which was enacted in 1925, because “Congress had already prescribed alternative employment dispute resolution regimes for many transportation workers[,]” [a]nd it seems Congress ‘did not wish to unsettle’ those arrangements in favor of whatever arbitration procedures the parties’ private contracts might happen to contemplate.” Slip op. at (quoting Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 121 (2001)).

The FAA’s “Terms and Sequencing” Demonstrates that under Section 1 Courts Decide whether a Contract Falls Under the FAA

The FAA’s “terms and sequencing” supported the Court’s conclusion that “a court should decide for itself whether [Section] 1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applies before ordering arbitration.” Slip op. at 4. Before a Court can “invoke its statutory powers under [Sections] 3 and 3 to stay litigation and compel arbitration according to a contract’s terms, a court must first know whether the contract itself falls within or be­yond the boundaries of [Sections] 1 and 2.” Slip op. at 4. That is so even if the “parties’ private agreement [is] crystal clear and require[s] arbitration of every question under the sun….” See slip op. at 4.  

The Court’s Prior Decisions have Stressed the Significance of the FAA’s “Sequencing”

SCOTUS says its “holding” should come as no “surprise[,]” because its prior decisions require that a contract fall within the scope of Sections 1 and 2 before litigation may be stayed or arbitration compelled under Sections 3 or 4.

The Court said “[n]othing in our holding on this score should come as a surprise[,]” because the Court has “long stressed the significance of the statute’s sequencing.” By way of example the Court cited and quoted Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U. S. 198, 201–202 (1956), Circuit City, and Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465  U. S. 1, 10–11, and n. 5 (1984). In Bernhardt the Court explained that “‘Sections 1, 2, and 3 [and 4] are integral parts of a whole. . . . [Sections] 1 and 2 define the field in which Congress was legislating,’ and §§3 and 4 apply only to contracts covered by those provisions.” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Benhardt, 350 U.S. at 201-202). In Circuit City, the Court “acknowledged that ‘Section 1 exempts from the [Act] . . . contracts of employment of transportation workers.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Circuit City, 532 U. S., at 119). In Keating the Court “noted that ‘the enforce­ability of arbitration provisions’ under §§3 and 4 depends on whether those provisions are ‘ part of a written mari­time contract or a contract “evidencing a transaction in­volving commerce”’ under §2—which, in turn, depends on the application of §1’s exception for certain ‘contracts of employment.’” Slip op. at 4-5. (quoting Keating, 465  U. S. at 10–11, and n. 5).

The Trucking Company’s Delegation and Severability Arguments Put the Section 3 and Section 4 Cart before the Section 1 and Section 2 Horse

The trucking company’s arguments put the Section 3 and 4 cart before the Section 1 and 2 horse. Admittedly, the above photo doesn’t accurately depict that idiomatic scenario, but why make hay of it?

The trucking company contended that an arbitrator should decide the parties’ Section 1 dispute, relying on the delegation provision in the contract and the severability doctrine. “A delegation clause,” said the Court, “gives an arbitrator authority to decide even the initial question whether the parties’ dispute is subject to arbitration.” Slip op. at 5 (citing Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U. S. 63, 68–69 (2010)).

Under the severability doctrine, the Court “treat[s] a challenge to the validity of the arbitration agreement (or a delegation provision) separately from a challenge to the validity of the entire contract in which it appears.” Slip op. at 5. If a party does not “specifically challenge[] the validity of the agreement to arbitrate, both sides may be required to take all their disputes—including disputes about the validity of their broader contract—to arbitration. Slip op. at 5 (citing Rent-a-Center).  

The trucking company argued that: (a) the trucker did not “specifically challenge[] the parties’ delegation clause. . .”; and, therefore, (b) the parties had to arbitrate their dispute over whether the contract fell within Section 1’s exemption.

The Court explained that this argument “overlooks the necessarily antecedent statutory inquiry we’ve just discussed.” Slip op. at 5. “A delegation clause,” said the Court, “is merely a specialized type of arbitration agreement, and the [FAA] ‘operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other.’” Slip op. at 5 (quoting Rent-a-Center, 561 U. S. at 70.) To “use [Sections] 3 and 4 to enforce a delegation clause[,]” “the clause” must “appear[] in a ‘written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce’ consistent with [Section] 2[,]” “[a]nd only if the contract in which the clause appears doesn’t trigger [Section] ’s ‘contracts of employment’ exception.” Slip op. at 5.

“In exactly the same way,” said the Court, the FAA’s “severability principle applies only if the parties’ arbitration agreement appears in a contract that falls within the field [Sections] 1 and 2 describe.” Slip op. at 5-6. Indeed, the Court “acknowledged as much some time ago, ex­plaining that, before invoking the severability principle, a court should ‘determine[] that the contract in question is within the coverage of the Arbitration Act.’” Slip op. at 6 (citing and quoting Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U. S. 395, 402 (1967)).

Federal Arbitration Act Section 1 8

More to follow on New Prime

But if in the meantime you want to learn more now about arbitrability and delegation provisions, see prior posts here, here, here, here, and here.

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