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SCOTUS Decides Spizzirri, Saying that FAA Section 3 Stays of Litigation Pending Arbitration are Mandatory if Requested

May 21st, 2024 Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, FAA Section 3, FAA Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Look Through, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 16, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 4, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Stay Pending Appeal, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Textualism, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments »

Section 3 Stay of LitigationOn May 16, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) in Smith v. Spizzirri, 601 U.S. ___, No 22-1218, slip op. (U.S. May 16, 2024), decided 9-0 that Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) does not “permit[] a court to dismiss the case instead of issuing a stay when the dispute is subject to arbitration and a party requests a stay pending arbitration.” 601 U.S. at ___; slip op. at 1.

In an opinion written by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court concluded that the “text, structure, and purpose” of Section 3 and the FAA all “point to the same conclusion: When a federal court finds that a dispute is subject to arbitration, and a party has requested a stay of the court proceeding pending arbitration , the court does not have discretion to dismiss the suit on the basis that all the claims are subject to arbitration.” 601 U.S. at ___, slip op. at 3. The Court therefore held that if a lawsuit “involves an arbitrable dispute, and a party requests a Section 3 stay, the Court must stay the litigation. 601 U.S. at ___; slip op. at 6.

The Court’s opinion resolves a long-standing and deepening split in the circuits, which the Court left open in Green Tree Financial Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 87 n.2 (2000), and Lamps Plus v. Varela, 587 U.S. 176, 181 n.1 (2019). That split in the circuits is discussed in note 1 of the Court’s opinion. 601 U.S. at ___ n.1, slip op. at 2-3 n.1 (citing cases).

Background

The underlying merits litigation that resulted in an order granting a motion to compel arbitration—but a dismissal despite the request for a Section 3 stay— was a state court action between current and former drivers for a delivery service and the operators of that service. Claims were made under state and federal employment laws based on alleged misclassification of the drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Claimants sought damages for sick leave and overtime wages.

Defendants removed the case to federal district court in Arizona and moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. Claimants conceded arbitrability but argued that the action should be stayed under Section 3.

Ninth circuit precedent granted district courts considering an application to stay litigation under Section 3 the discretion to either stay or dismiss the action. Relying on that precedent, the district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that all claims in the litigation had been ordered to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but two judges concurred, suggesting that this Ninth Circuit precedent was wrong and that SCOTUS should resolve the split in the circuits concerning whether a requested Section 3 stay was mandatory when claims in the litigation are subject to arbitration and a stay is requested.

SCOTUS granted certiorari, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and resolved the split. Continue Reading »