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Arbitration Law FAQ: Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act

February 27th, 2019 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration No Comments »
Chapter 1 Federal Arbitration Act 1

This Arbitration Law FAQ guide briefly explains what the Federal Arbitration Act is, and then answers some frequently asked questions about Chapter 1 of the Act. It is not legal advice, nor a substitute for legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such.

If you desire or require legal advice or representation in a matter concerning commercial, labor, or any other arbitration-law matter, then do not hesitate to contact a skilled and experienced arbitration-law attorney. This guide provides some general information that may be able to assist you in your search for legal representation, or in simply obtaining a better understanding of some arbitration-law basics.

Arbitration Law FAQS: What is the Federal Arbitration Act?

Wholly Groundless Exception 3 - Chapter 1 Federal Arbitration Act 2

The Federal Arbitration Act is a federal statute enacted in 1925 that makes certain (but not all) arbitration agreements “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. It was originally, and for many years, known as the “United States Arbitration Act,” but for simplicity’s sake we’ll refer to it as the “Federal Arbitration Act,” the “FAA,” or the “Act.”

It was passed at a time when courts were, for the most part, unwilling to enforce agreements to arbitrate because they thought that such agreements “divested” their “jurisdiction” over disputes that would ordinarily be decided by courts. In other words, many courts thought it wrong for courts to lend their assistance to the enforcement of contracts under which parties would agree to submit their disputes to private decision makers.

Even by the time the FAA was passed, arbitration was not new. For example, it can be traced back at least as far as medieval times, when various guilds used it as a way of resolving disputes according to what became known as the “law merchant,” an informal body of rules and principles that merchants believed should be applied to their disputes, but which common law courts did not, at the time, apply. The first arbitration agreement was reportedly included in a reinsurance contract in the late 18th century, and George Washington apparently included an arbitration clause in his will.  

The FAA, as originally enacted, consisted of 14 provisions. In 1970 Congress designated those first 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 remainder of this FAQ guide focuses on Chapter 1 of the FAA.

Arbitration Law FAQs: What does Chapter 1 of the FAA do apart from declaring certain arbitration agreements to be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable?

Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act is sometimes referred to as the Act’s “enforcement command.” It is the provision that declares certain (but not all) arbitration agreements to be “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

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., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. at *4 (Jan. 8, 2019) (citation and quotation omitted). 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).    

implement

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. 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. 9 U.S.C. § 3.

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.

How can I tell if an arbitration agreement or award is governed by Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act?

Commerce

Whether an arbitration agreement falls under the FAA depends on whether: (a) the arbitration agreement is in writing; and (b) is part of a “maritime transaction” or of a contract that affects interstate commerce.

The starting point is, as before, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2’s enforcement command, which provides, with bracketed text added:

[A] A written provision [B] in any maritime transaction or [C] a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce [D] 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 [E] an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract, transaction, or refusal, [F] shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.

9 U.S.C. § 2.

Section 2’s requirement that an arbitration agreement be “written” (Part [A]) seems simple enough, and, for the most part, it is. But remember, just because a contract is required to be “written” doesn’t mean the arbitration agreement must be signed.

As respects whether a “contract” “evidenc[es] a transaction involving commerce” (Part [C]), 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 Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 268, 281-82 (1995); 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 Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 56-57 (2003). 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.

Parts [A] through [D]] of Section 2 make the Federal Arbitration Act applicable to written, pre-dispute arbitration “provision[s]” in “maritime transactions” or in “contract[s] evidencing transactions involving commerce….” These arbitration provisions are “pre-dispute” arbitration agreements because they are defined by Part [D] as “provision[s]” “to settle a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or [out of] the refusal to perform the whole or any part” of such contract or transaction….”  9 U.S.C. § 2 (emphasis added). In other words, agreements to submit future disputes to arbitration.

Parts [A] through [E] of Section 2 make the FAA applicable also to written, post-dispute arbitration agreements, that is, agreements to arbitrate existing disputes arising out of “maritime transactions” or “contract[s] evidencing transactions involving commerce….”  To that end Part [E] makes Section  2 applicable to “agreement[s] in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of”  “maritime transaction,” (Part [B]) “contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce” (Part [C]), or “refusal to perform the whole or any part” of such a contract or transaction. (Part[D]). 9 U.S.C. § 2 (emphasis added).

Arbitration Law FAQs: Are there any Arbitration Agreements Falling Under FAA Section 2 that are Exempt from Chapter 1 of the FAA?

Contracts of Employment 1 Federal Arbitration Act Section 1
Federal Arbitration Act Section 1

Yes. Section 1 of the FAA 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.” According to the United States Supreme Court, this 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, 586 U.S. ___, slip op.at 6, 7, & 15 (Jan. 15, 2019).

Arbitration Law FAQs: If the Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act applies, does that mean all FAA litigation falling under Chapter 1 can be brought in federal court?

No. Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act does not confer an independent basis for federal court subject matter jurisdiction over applications for the relief authorized by Chapter 1. Put differently making an application under the FAA does not raise a “federal question” over which a federal court could, under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, base subject matter jurisdiction.

But that doesn’t mean that federal courts cannot have subject matter jurisdiction over Chapter 1 Federal Arbitration Act proceedings. If the requirements for diversity jurisdiction are met, including complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, and an amount in controversy that exceeds $75,000.00, excluding interest and costs, then a federal court will have subject matter jurisdiction under the diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. 

Does Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act apply in state court?

Federalism

Yes. State courts are required to enforce arbitration agreements under Section 2 of the FAA. Basically, they must enforce arbitration agreements falling under the FAA, putting them on the same footing as other contracts. See Kindred Nursing Centers, 137 S. Ct. at 1424.     

Most or all states have their own arbitration statutes. New York’s arbitration statute, for example, is codified in Article 75 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”). Depending on applicable state law, state courts may carry out Section 2’s enforcement command using their own arbitration statute’s provisions, even if they are different than those provided by Chapter 1 of the FAA. But if enforcement of the FAA through the provisions of the state’s arbitration code would undermine the purposes and objectives of the FAA, then the offending state arbitration code provisions would be preempted (i.e., superseded) by the FAA to the extent that they conflict with the FAA.

If you are interested in learning more about the Federal Arbitration Act, see here, here, and here.

Photo Acknowledgments:

The photos featured in this post were licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. L&L added text to the first three photos from the top.

Some Initial Thoughts on the SCOTUS AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion Oral Argument

November 16th, 2010 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, California State Courts, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Some Initial Thoughts on the SCOTUS AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion Oral Argument

As many readers know, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893 (blogged here, here, here and here).  You can find the transcript of the argument, here, and the audio, here

After reviewing the oral argument transcript a number of times, and listening to the audio, we still believe it more likely than not that AT&T Mobility will prevail.  We’ll develop that thought further in upcoming installments of our Disputing guest post, “AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion:  Can Discover Bank Withstand Stolt-Nielsen Scrutiny?” (Part I, here).

There have been a number of differing opinions post argument on how the Court will likely rule.  Some believe the argument foreshadows victory for the Concepcions.  Others are not so certain, and still others believe that AT&T Mobility may emerge the victor.  Like all such opinions, they are are really nothing more than educated guesswork, and should be taken with a grain of salt. 

We don’t suggest our take on things is anything more, but we share it for what it is worth.  We think the oral argument was basically a toss-up, and that it mainly confirmed what we already knew or surmised:  That this is a very difficult case, and that the eight Justices who asked questions appear to be split along ideological lines.  We expected no less in light of the 5-3 and 5-4 split decisions in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559  U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010); and  Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2772 (2010). 

The key point on which the argument shed no meaningful light is what Associate Justice Clarence Thomas makes of this case.  Justice Thomas joined the Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center majority opinions, but those cases, unlike this one, did not concern the preemptive scope of the Federal Arbitration Act

Preemption is controversial, and its importance extends far beyond the AT&T Mobility case.    Particularly controversial — and very supportive of AT&T Mobility’s position — is the doctrine of “implied preemption,” also known as “conflict” or “obstacle” preemption. In Federal Arbitration Act cases this doctrine tells us that  state laws or policies that undermine “the goals and policies of the FAA” are preempted by the Act.  Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 477-78 (1990).

But Justice Thomas believes that the implied preemption doctrine is unconstitutional.  See Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1187, 1205 (2009) (Thomas, J. concurring) (“implied pre-emption doctrines that wander far from the statutory text are inconsistent with the Constitution.  .  .  .”).  He also believes that Congress intended the Federal Arbitration Act to be a procedural statute that applies only in federal court.  See, e.g., Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995) (Thomas, J., dissenting); Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 US 440 (2006) (Thomas, J., dissenting) (“[I]n state-court proceedings, the FAA cannot be the basis for displacing a state law that prohibits enforcement of an arbitration clause contained in a contract that is unenforceable under state law.”). 

He thus believes that state courts can apply state arbitration law as they see fit, irrespective of whether the result would be different had the case been brought in federal court.  While AT&T Mobility — like Stolt-Nielsen and Rent-A-Center — was brought in federal court, and everybody concedes that the Federal Arbitration Act applies, Justice Thomas remains a strong proponent of federalism.  

Justice Thomas’ deference to state law is problematic for AT&T Mobility.  Perhaps AT&T Mobility’s best argument is that the Federal Arbitration Act impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule for the reasons set forth in Stolt-Nielsen.   Apparently concluding that the Justices in the Stolt-Nielsen majority — including Justice Thomas —  are the ones most likely to support AT&T Mobility’s position, AT&T Mobility deliberately downplayed the implied preemption issue, although it made clear that it believes the Federal Arbitration Act both expressly and impliedly preempts the Discover Bank rule. 

That was a wise strategy given Justice Thomas’ rejection of implied preemption.  Its wisdom was borne out by what transpired at the argument:  of the eight Justices that asked questions, the four more liberal ones (Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia M. Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt the Discover Bank rule, while the four more conservative ones (Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Associate Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Samuel J. Alito, Jr.) appear to be leaning in favor of finding that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts Discover Bank.      

That means Justice Thomas is likely to hold the deciding vote, but where he’ll ultimately cast it, nobody knows (at least outside the Supreme Court).  We believe there are equally plausible reasons why he might vote  for or against preemption.  

We’ll explore all of this and more in our Disputing guest post.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for our next Forum article on AT&T Mobility, which will focus on the highlights of the oral argument and tie them into the express and implied preemption issues that this critically important case presents.    

AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion: What is the Scope of Federal Preemption in Class Waiver Cases?

September 30th, 2010 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Practice and Procedure, Unconscionability, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion: What is the Scope of Federal Preemption in Class Waiver Cases?

Part II

Introduction

Part I of this two-part post (here) briefly discussed the background of  AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893, a case pending before the United States Supreme Court that will be argued on November 9, 2010.  We now delve into the details of the preemption questions before the Court and take a guess at the outcome. 

Federal Arbitration Act Preemption

The Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt all state law applicable to arbitration agreements, but it expressly preempts state law that conflicts with Section 2, and impliedly preempts all state law that “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes of Congress”  embodied in the Federal Arbitration Act.  See Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Serv., Inc., 498 F.3d 976, 988 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations and quotation omitted). 

Does Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act Expressly Preempt the Discover Bank Rule?

Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act declares that arbitration agreements within its scope “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”  9 U.S.C. § 2.  Section 2 establishes substantive federal law that expressly preempts all conflicting state law, except for state law that permits “the revocation of any contract” or governs the formation, interpretation, or construction of contracts generally. 

The exception to federal preemption is exceedingly narrow, for it saves from preemption only state laws that apply equally across the board to all contracts.  The United States Supreme Court summarized it well when it said:

States may regulate contracts, including arbitration clauses, under general contract law principles and they may invalidate an arbitration clause ‘upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.  What States may not do is decide that a contract is fair enough to enforce all its basic terms (price, service, credit), but not fair enough to enforce its arbitration clause.  The Act makes any such state policy unlawful, for that kind of policy would place arbitration clauses on an unequal footing, directly contrary to the Act’s language and Congress’s intent.

Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 281 (1995) (citations and quotations omitted; emphasis in original).   Continue Reading »