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Status of Arbitration-Law Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this Term

February 12th, 2024 Appellate Practice, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Appoint Arbitrator, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, CPR Alternatives, CPR Speaks Blog of the CPR Institute, CPR Video Interviews, Delegation Agreements, Exemption from FAA, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, FAA Section 3, FAA Transportation Worker Exemption, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Professor Downes, Richard D. Faulkner, Russ Bleemer, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Status of Arbitration Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this TermThere are three arbitration-law cases pending before the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) this October 2023 Term. SCOTUS will presumably decide all three cases by this June, 2024.

 

The Cases: Bissonnette

The first is  Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, No. 23-51 (U.S.), a case that concerns the scope of Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which exempts from the FAA “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1 (the “Section 1 Exemption”). SCOTUS granted cert. in Bissonnette on September 29, 2023. As set forth in the question presented:

The First and Seventh Circuits have held that [the Section 1 Exemption] applies to any member of a class of workers that is engaged in foreign or interstate commerce in the same way as seamen and railroad employees-that is, any worker ‘actively engaged’ in the interstate transportation of goods. The Second and Eleventh Circuits have added an additional requirement: The worker’s employer must also be in the ‘transportation industry.’

The question presented is: To be exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, must a class of workers that is actively engaged in interstate transportation also be employed by a company in the transportation industry?

(Bissonnette Question Presented Report)

We summarized the case briefly here and provided a link to an October 24, 2023 video conference in which our friend and colleague Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) (“CPR Alternatives”), interviewed Professor Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law Professor of Practice and Assistant Director of Experiential Education; Richard D. Faulkner, arbitrator, mediator, arbitration-law attorney, and former judge; and yours truly, Loree Law Firm principal, Philip J. Loree Jr., about the case, its implications, and how SCOTUS might decide it. You can watch the video-conference interview here.

SCOTUS has set Bissonnette down for oral argument for Tuesday, February 20, 2024 (here). You can listen to SCOTUS arguments on C-Span or on the Court’s website.

The Cases: Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski (a/k/a “Coinbase II”)

The second case  is Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski, No. 23-3 (U.S.) (“Coinbase II”), a case that is related to Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, 143 S. Ct. 1915 (2023) (“Coinbase I”), which was decided on June 23, 2023, and discussed hereCoinbase II concerns the application of a delegation provision—an agreement to arbitrate arbitrability disputes—contained in  a contract (“Contract 1”) clearly and unmistakably requires the parties to submit to the arbitrator the question whether the Contract 1 arbitration agreement requires the parties to arbitrate disputes concerning a subsequent contract, Contract 2, even though Contract 2 does not provide for arbitration and requires the parties to submit all disputes concerning Contract 2 exclusively to litigation before the California courts. Is Contract 1’s delegation provision, as applied to the dispute over Contract 2, and in light of the parties’ agreement to litigate, not arbitrate,  disputes concerning Contract 2, clear and unmistakable, as required by SCOTUS precedent? Or, as put differently by the question presented: “Where parties enter into an arbitration agreement with a delegation clause, should an arbitrator or a court decide whether that arbitration agreement is narrowed by a later contract that is silent as to arbitration and delegation?”

SCOTUS granted certiorari in Coinbase II on November 3, 2023, and on November 10, 2023, CPR’s Bleemer interviewed Professor Downes, Faulkner, and Loree about the certiorari grant, what it means, and how the Court might rule on it. You can watch the video-conference interview here. Our blog post about the interview and cert. grant is here.

Oral argument in Coinbase II has been scheduled for February 28, 2024.

Smith v. Spizzirri

The third case is Smith v. Spizzirri, No. 22-1218, which concerns FAA Section 3’s stay-of-litigation-pending-arbitration provision. The Court granted certiorari on January 12, 2024.

FAA Section 3 provides that, once a court determines that a dispute must be arbitrated, the court “shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until” conclusion of the arbitration.  9 U.S.C. § 3 (emphasis added). Most circuits addressing the question have determined that a stay is mandatory if requested. The Ninth Circuit, and a few others, have held that, despite the statute’s mandatory text, courts retain discretion to dismiss an action where all disputes in the action are subject to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit below held that it was bound to follow prior precedent concerning discretion to dismiss (rather than stay), even though it acknowledged that the statute’s “plain text” suggests otherwise. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged the circuit split and two judges, in an occurring opinion, encouraged “the Supreme Court to take up this question.” (See Question Presented Report.)

The question presented to SCOTUS is “[w]hether Section 3 of the FAA requires district courts to stay a lawsuit pending arbitration, or whether district courts have discretion to dismiss when all claims are subject to arbitration.” (See Question Presented Report.)

Oral argument has not yet been scheduled and merits briefs have not yet been filed.

The case is more noteworthy than may initially meet the eye. It has important implications concerning appealability. If an action is stayed, rather than dismissed, a granted motion to compel arbitration cannot be immediately appealed, see 9 U.S.C. § 16(b)(1),(2), (3) & (4); but if a motion to compel is granted, and the action is dismissed, then the right to appeal the denial begins to run immediately. 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(3); Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 85-89 (2000). If a Section 3 stay is mandatory when requested, then there will presumably be fewer cases where courts compel arbitration and dismiss  (rather than stay) the underlying lawsuit, and therefore fewer cases where a grant of a motion to compel or denial of a motion to stay or enjoin arbitration is immediately appealable.

The subject matter jurisdiction implications of the case are equally significant. As we explained in a recent post, under Badgerow, a court’s federal-question subject matter jurisdiction can, for purposes of a motion to compel arbitration, be based on whether the underlying dispute would fall under the Court’s federal question jurisdiction.

But subject matter jurisdiction over a petition to confirm or vacate an award resulting from that arbitration cannot, after Badgerow, be based on such “look through” jurisdiction. An independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction must appear from the face of the petition and cannot be based on whether a court would have federal question jurisdiction over the underlying dispute.

As we explained in our Badgerow post, in cases where a Section 3 stay has been requested and granted, there may nevertheless be a so-called “jurisdictional anchor” on which subject matter jurisdiction over subsequent motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards, to enforce arbitral subpoenas, or appoint arbitrators may be based. Under that jurisdictional anchor theory as long as the court stays the litigation, the court would retain its subject matter jurisdiction, and could exercise it to grant subsequent motions for FAA relief. While there remains a question whether the jurisdictional anchor theory survived Badgerow,  the theory makes sense, even under Badgerow, and is supported by pre-Badgerow case law. (See Badgerow Post.)

If the Court in Spizzirri rules that a motion to stay litigation pending arbitration must be granted if supported and requested, then it will presumably be easier for parties to assert subject matter jurisdiction based on a jurisdictional anchor theory.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or the services that the Loree Law Firm offers, then please contact the author, Philip J. Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. (bio, here) has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related-litigation. He is licensed to practice law in New York and before various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

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