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Posts Tagged ‘Federal Arbitration Act Section 2’

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 Comments Off on Arbitration Law FAQ: Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act
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.

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.

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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 

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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.

Sections 1 and 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 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”

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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 Proverbial Cart before the Horse

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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.

Photo Acknowledgments:

The photos featured in this post were licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. 

Does the Presumption of Arbitrability Apply if a Contract Contains two Broad, Overlapping Forum Selection Clauses, one for Arbitration and one for Litigation?

June 7th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Moses Cone Principle, Presumption of Arbitrability, Stay of Litigation, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Comments Off on Does the Presumption of Arbitrability Apply if a Contract Contains two Broad, Overlapping Forum Selection Clauses, one for Arbitration and one for Litigation?

Introduction

yay-4719842---Copy

 

Back in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark decision Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983) (Brennan, J.), famously declared that “[t]he [Federal] Arbitration Act establishes that, as a matter of federal law, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration, whether the problem at hand is the construction of the contract language itself or an allegation of waiver, delay, or a like defense to arbitrability.” Moses Cone thus established that there was a presumption in favor of arbitrability in cases governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, a conclusion that a number of other lower courts had previously reached, and which the Court had adopted about 23 years previously as a matter of federal labor law derived from Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (sometimes referred to as the “Taft-Hartley Act”). See United Steel Workers of Am. v. Warrier & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960) (Douglas, J.) (“An order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute. Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage.”)

The presumption of arbitrability is not a talismanic solution to every arbitration-law related problem. In fact it is designed to address only questions about the scope of an arbitration agreement.

The presumption has two related components. First, when courts construe the scope provision of an arbitration agreement to determine what merits-related issues the parties agreed to arbitrate, the court resolves ambiguities in favor of arbitration.  See, e.g., Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 62 (1995). Second, it presumes that procedural issues arising out of arbitrable disputes, and contract-related defenses to arbitrability—that is, “allegation[s] of waiver, delay and like defenses to arbitrability[,]” are presumptively for the arbitrator. See Moses Cone, 460 U.S. at 24-25; Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002).

Roughly ten days ago, in a post about U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner’s Sprint Spectrum decision, we wrote about how some judges have interpreted the presumption too expansively:

The federal policy in favor of arbitration has, at least arguably, been interpreted to apply more expansively than the U.S. Supreme Court likely intended. As a result, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said many times that arbitration is supposed to be a “matter of contract,” or one of “consent not coercion,” an overly expansive interpretation of the policy has, at least in some cases, arguably resulted in arbitration agreements being placed on a considerably more advantaged footing than ordinary contracts. As we read it, Judge Posner’s comment in Roughneck raises the question whether this might have more to do with “limit[ing] judicial workloads” than a desire to enforce contracts as written and according to their terms.

(Read our Sprint Spectrum post here.)

With all the hoopla about the presumption of arbitrability, one would think it very difficult to find a case that didn’t apply the presumption of arbitrability in a situation where it was supposed to apply it. In general that’s probably true, but on June 2, 2015 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington proved that truth is not a universal one.

In Scolari v. Elliot Rust Co., No. C15-5163 (BHS), slip op. (W.D. Wash. June 2, 2015) the court considered whether ambiguity created by apparently conflicting forum selections clauses: one arbitral and two judicial. While the Court’s reasoning indicated that it considered the issue before it one of contract interpretation—the resolution of ambiguity—it nevertheless held that the ambiguity had to be resolved against the drafter of the contract, which the district court thought Washington law required, rather than in favor of arbitration, which was what federal law required. While it apparently recognized that application of the presumption, rather than a state-law contra proferentem rule, would have required the court to stay the litigation, it nevertheless denied the requested stay of litigation, concluding that the issue before it concerned the enforceability of the arbitration agreement, rather than an interpretation of its scope.

The net effect of the ruling was for the district court to implicitly have found that a judicial forum selection clause trumped an arbitral one, simply because they overlapped in scope, and that accordingly the arbitral forum selection clause was not enforceable. There was no legal basis for such a finding and the district court cited none.

The seriousness of the error was compounded by the district court’s acknowledgement that the arbitration proponent had advanced a reasonable interpretation of the arbitration agreement and judicial forum selection clauses, which harmonized them, and would have allowed arbitration to proceed, with the district court staying its hand in the interim. Instead of adopting that interpretation, it said that the arbitration challenger’s interpretation was likewise “reasonable,” but the court did not say what the challenger’s interpretation was, and given the disposition of the case, we assume that the “interpretation” was that the parties must not have intended to include a concededly existing and valid arbitration agreement in their agreement. But that interpretation not only ignored the presumption of arbitrability, but the general rule of contract interpretation that one contract provision not be construed to negate another.

We do not know whether the arbitration proponent preserved the argument for appeal, but there was another ground for a stay of litigation in this case that would have bypassed the issue of the presumption of arbitrability. The arbitration agreement contained a delegation clause, which clearly and unmistakably required the parties to submit to arbitration all disputes about arbitrability. Because there was no dispute about the existence or validity of the delegation clause, the Court should have held that the resolution of the apparent conflict between arbitral and judicial forum selection clauses was a question for the arbitrators.

If the arbitration proponent decides to appeal the decision, we hope that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will correct these errors without delay, so that the parties can arbitrate their disputes, which is, after all, what they agreed to do.

Background

yay-12775922-digitalScolari v. Elliot Rust Co., No. C15-5163 (BHS), slip op. (W.D. Wash. June 2, 2015), arose out of the purchase, sale, termination and buyback of an interest in a limited liability company. Effective January 1, 2013 the plaintiff (the “Buyer”) purchased a ten-percent ownership interest in  Elliot Rust Companies, LLC (the “LLC”), the purchase and sale of which was governed by a “Grant Agreement” executed by the parties “according to the terms of [an] Amended and Restated LLC Agreement of Elliot Rust Companies, LLC dated January 1, 2013.” Both agreements were apparently part of the same transaction and were entered into at or about the same time.

The Buyer and LLC were the only parties to the Grant Agreement, which provided that the Buyer would acquire its 10% interest “according to the terms of the terms of the Amended and Restated LLC Agreement of Elliot Rust Companies, LLC dated January 1, 2013

The Grant Agreement provided, among other things, that:

[Scolari] understands, acknowledges and agrees that, upon execution of this Grant Agreement and the joinder to the LLC Agreement, [Scolari] shall, without further action or deed, thereupon be bound by the LLC Agreement, as it may thereafter be restated or amended, as though a direct signatory thereto.

It contained a “jurisdiction” clause that stipulated Washington law as governing and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington as the exclusive judicial forum:

Governing Law: Jurisdiction. This Grant Agreement and the transaction contemplated hereby shall be governed by and construed according to the laws of the state of Washington. With respect to any dispute arising out of or related to this Grant Agreement or the LLC Agreement, the parties hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. . . .

yay-1916763-digitalThe LLC Agreement, unlike the Grant Agreement, contained a broad arbitration agreement, which said:

Arbitration. All disputes, claims or controversies relating to this Agreement that are not resolved by mediation shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration. . . . Questions or arbitrability or the scope of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate shall be determined by the arbitrator.

But like the Grant Agreement, the LLC Agreement also contained a jurisdiction and venue clause:

Jurisdiction and Venue. Any suit involving any dispute or matter arising under this Agreement may only be brought in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington or the Superior Court of Pierce County. All Members hereby consent to the exercise of personal jurisdiction by any such court with respect to any such proceeding.

The LLC terminated the plaintiff on November 6, 2014, and on December 15, 2014 offered to buy plaintiff’s 10% interest out for $158,882.60. The plaintiff refused the offer one week later, claiming that he did not believe it to be accurately valued.

yay-13760132Unable to agree a resolution the plaintiff filed suit in March 2015, requesting a judgment declaring he has a 20% interest in the profits of the LLC, and equitable relief.

The LLC moved on April 3, 2015 to dismiss for improper venue or to stay the action pending arbitration under Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act pending arbitration. The Court denied the motion.

The District Court’s Analysis and Conclusions

The Court began its analysis by acknowledging that its “role” was confined “‘to determining (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and, if it does, (2) whether the agreement encompasses the dispute at issue.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting Chiron Corp. v. Ortho Diagnostic Sys., Inc., 207 F.3d 1126, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000)). If the arbitration proponent establishes that the answers to both questions are “yes,” then, said the Court, the Court must “‘enforce the arbitration in accordance with its terms.’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting 207 F.3d at 1130). And in discussing the standard applicable to question (2), the Court, playing homage to the strong presumption in favor of arbitration, said “‘any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration. . . .’” Slip op. at 4 (quoting 207 F.3d at 1131).

So far, so good. But having accurately stated the governing rules, the Court inexplicably failed to heed them. Continue Reading »

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: I Received an Arbitration Award in my Favor but my Adversary Refuses to Pay it. What can I do?

June 14th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Final Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: I Received an Arbitration Award in my Favor but my Adversary Refuses to Pay it. What can I do?

Favorable arbitration awards are wonderful things, but they are not self-enforcing. Sometimes the other side voluntarily complies, but if not, there is really not much of anything the arbitrator can do to help.

Arbitrators are not judges and thus do not have the authority to garnish wages, seize property,  foreclose on encumbered property, freeze bank accounts, impose contempt sanctions and so forth. Parties can delegate to arbitrators broad adjudicatory and remedial authority, but that is relevant only to the nature and scope of their awards, and does not confer power on the arbitrators to enforce their awards coercively.

Apart from its potential preclusive effect in subsequent litigation, an arbitration award stands on the same footing as any other privately prepared legal document, such as a contract. It may be intended by the arbitrators and at least one of the parties to have legal effect, but it is up to a court to say what legal effect it has, and,  if necessary, to implement that legal effect through coercive enforcement. A judgment, by contrast, is an official decree that not only can be coercively enforced through subsequent summary proceedings in the same or other courts (including courts in other states and federal judicial districts), but is, to some extent, self-enforcing. A judgment, for example, can ordinarily be filed as a lien on real property, and applicable state or federal law may, for example, authorize attorneys to avail their clients of certain judgment-enforcement-related remedies without prior judicial authorization.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck; it means you need a court to enter judgment on the award, that is, to “confirm” it. Once an award has been reduced to judgment, it can be enforced to the same extent as any other judgment. See, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 13 (Under Federal Arbitration Act, judgment on award “shall have the same force and effect, in all respects, as, and be subject to all the provisions of law relating to, a judgment in an action; and it may be enforced as if it had been rendered in an action in the court in which it is entered”); Fla. Stat. § 682.15(1)( “The judgment may be recorded, docketed, and enforced as any other judgment in a civil action.”); N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7514(a) (“A judgment shall be entered upon the confirmation of an award.”).

The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), and most or all state arbitration statutes, authorize courts to confirm awards in summary proceedings. State arbitration-law rules, procedures, limitation periods and the like vary from state to state and frequently from the FAA, and state courts may apply them to FAA-governed awards (provided doing so does not frustrate the purposes and objectives of the FAA).

But let’s keep things simple, and take a brief look at the FAA’s requirements for confirmation applicable in federal court when there is no prior pending action related to the arbitration, and  there are no issues concerning federal subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, sufficiency or service of process, venue (i.e., whether suit should have been brought in another federal judicial district) or the applicability of the FAA.  We’ll also discuss how applications to confirm are supposed to be summary proceedings, why timing of an application is important, and how courts go about deciding them. Continue Reading »

Professor Aaron Bruhl’s Analysis of Rent-A-Center, West v. Jackson (No. 09-497)

February 24th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Professor Aaron Bruhl’s Analysis of Rent-A-Center, West v. Jackson (No. 09-497)

Professor Aaron Bruhl, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, recently published in PrawfsBlawg a thought-provoking and insightful article on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson (No. 09-497).  (Post here)  Regular readers no doubt remember that the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Rent-A-Center, and will be hearing argument on April 26, 2010.  (See our prior posts here and here).

Professor Bruhl points out that, in addition to being of interest to those practicing employment, consumer or plain old arbitration law, Rent-A-Center “is just as interesting for those who study federal courts and judicial politics.”   He reminds us that one of the few remaining “safety valves” for challenging arbitration agreements is unconscionability:     

In the last few years, as other routes for challenging arbitration have been closed off, unconscionability has become a surprisingly common and surprisingly effective way of attacking arbitration agreements.  The challenges do not attack arbitration per se – federal law favors arbitration – but instead target various aspects of a particular arbitration process:  a given clause might forbid class arbitrations, bar punitive damages or otherwise restrict remedies, sharply curtail discovery, require a consumer to pay hefty arbitrator’s fees, etc.  There have been many cases on these topics in recent years, and a good number of them sustain the challenge to the arbitration clause.

He notes that the United States Supreme Court has consistently denied certiorari in cases where lower courts have invalidated arbitration agreements on state-law unconscionability grounds and the question is whether the invalidation offended the Federal Arbitration Act.  He suspects “the Court has avoided these cases because it feels ill-equipped to resolve whether a lower court is discriminating against arbitration:” 

First, unconscionability analysis often requires a fact-intensive inquiry.  Second, and more important, determining whether a lower court is using unconscionability differently when it comes to arbitration requires an engagement with the details of state law and a comparison of lots of prior unconscionability cases.  Third, and maybe most important of all, a holding that the lower court is applying unconscionability unfairly, especially when the lower court says it is applying the same analysis it applies elsewhere, carries with it some serious expressive baggage.  Essentially, it requires the Supreme Court to say that the lower court is being dishonest.  That happens, but when it does so, it is a big deal (think cases like Bush v. Gore or the cases from the 50s/60s rejecting supposed procedural defaults in the state courts).

 But the Court granted certiorari in Rent-A-Center, a case involving not the merits of a state law unconscionability challenge, but the question who gets to decide unconscionability when the parties clearly and unmistakably submit it to the arbitrators.  Professor Bruhl believes certiorari was granted because addressing the “who” question, and resolving it in favor of arbitration, will cleanly dispose of the unconscionability problem from the standpoint of the federal courts, at least in cases where the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability: 

That doesn’t require diving into the weeds of state law and the record. If the Court assigns the issue to the arbitrator, that will be a very easy rule to monitor for compliance (unlike deciding whether the lower court applied unconscionability correctly).  All of those unconscionability cases out there will instantly become not wrong but irrelevant – because courts won’t be deciding the issue anymore.  And it won’t matter whether some lower courts can be trusted to apply unconscionability correctly, because they will be cut out of the picture. Continue Reading »

Feeney v. Dell Inc.: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Says Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Agreement Governed by the Federal Arbitration Act Violates Massachusetts Public Policy

July 16th, 2009 Arbitrability, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 3 Comments »

Introduction

The validity of class action waivers in arbitration agreements is a controversial subject at the moment.  There is an obvious tension between the pro-enforcement policies of the Federal Arbitration Act and competing state and federal policies favoring class action arbitration or litigation as a vehicle for vindicating consumer rights.  The United States Supreme Court may provide some hint of where it stands on this issue when it decides the Stolt-Nielsen case (blogged here and here), which raises the related issue whether imposing class action arbitration is consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act when the parties’ contract is silent on that score.  And the Supreme Court may directly address the issue of whether class action waivers comport with federal policy if it decides to grant certiorari in the American Express Merchants’ Litigation (blogged here).  Today we examine a case in which the question was whether a state policy in favor of consumer class actions could trump the enforcement of an arbitration agreement containing a class-action waiver. 

On July 2, 2009, in Feeney v. Dell Inc., ___ Mass. ___, slip op. (July 2, 2009), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the “SJC”) ruled that a class action waiver contained in a consumer arbitration agreement violated a fundamental Massachusetts public policy favoring class actions, even though the parties had agreed that Texas law, which allows class action waivers, would govern their agreement.  This violation of Massachusetts public policy, said the Court, rendered the arbitration agreement unenforceable because the class action waiver was unenforceable and could not be severed from the remainder of the arbitration agreement.  But, in an interesting turn of events, the Court dismissed the consumers’ claims with leave to replead, because they failed to state a claim under Mass. G.L., c. 93A, the applicable consumer protection law. 

The case is somewhat different from other decisions voiding class action waivers because the agreement was voided on state public policy grounds, rather than on state unconscionability grounds, and because the court refused to enforce not only the class action waiver but also a choice-of-law clause indicating the parties’ desire that Texas, not Massachusetts, law would govern the class action waiver issue.  The case gives rise to serious questions concerning federal preemption of Massachusetts state policy. 

In this part I of a two-part post, we summarize the Feeny case.  In part II, which will follow tomorrow or the next day, we shall provide our critical analysis.  Because the publicly available copy of the case does not feature official pagination, we have eliminated jump cites, but provide after quotes pertinent information about internal citations, quotations and the like.    Continue Reading »