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2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb?

July 18th, 2022 Amount in Controversy, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Appoint Arbitrator, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitrability, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Agreements, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Equal Footing Principle, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Transportation Worker Exemption, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 5, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, International Arbitration, International Judicial Assistance, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Look Through, Modify or Correct Award, Moses Cone Principle, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Policy, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, Richard D. Faulkner, Section 10, Section 11, Section 1782, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 5, Section 6, Section 7, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Substantive Arbitrability, Textualism, United States Supreme Court, Vacatur, Waiver of Arbitration Comments Off on 2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb?

Introduction: This Term’s SCOTUS Arbitration Cases 

SCOTUS FAA CasesThe 2021 Term was a busy and controversial one for the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) regarding abortion, First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, and administrative agency power.  However, many may not know SCOTUS decided four Federal Arbitration Act cases during the 2021 Term (the “FAA Cases”), as well as a pair of cases consolidated into one concerning whether U.S. Courts may provide under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 judicial assistance to international arbitration panels sited abroad. See Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, 596 U. S. ____, No. 20–1573, slip op. (June 15, 2022) (construing FAA); ZF Automotive US, Inc., et al. v. Luxshare, Ltd., 596 U.S. ___, No. 21–401, slip op. (June 13, 2022) (construing 28 U.S.C. § 1782); Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, 596 U.S. ___, No. 21-309, slip op. (June 6, 2022) (construing FAA); Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., 596 U.S. ___, No. 21-328, slip op. (May 23, 2022) (construing FAA); Badgerow v. Walters, 596 U.S. ___, No. 20-1143, slip op. (March 31, 2022) (construing FAA).  

Three of the SCOTUS FAA Cases, Badgerow, Morgan, and Southwest Airlines signal SCOTUS’s apparent intention to construe strictly the Federal Arbitration Act’s text without indulging in any pro-arbitration presumptions or applying arbitration-specific rules intentionally encouraging arbitration-friendly outcomes. ZF Automotive, the 28 U.S.C. § 1782 judicial-assistance case also  employed a strict, textualist approach to interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1782, used the FAA to help support its conclusion, and held that 28 U.S.C. § 1782 did not authorize U.S. district courts to provide judicial assistance to private arbitration panels sited abroad—an outcome not particularly solicitous of international arbitration. It is therefore at least indirectly supportive of the more textually oriented and arbitration-neutral approach SCOTUS appears to have endorsed with special force during the 2021 Term.  

The SCOTUS 2021 Term FAA Cases are not the first ones in which the Court applied textualist interpretations to the FAA. There are others. See, e.g., New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, ___ U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 532 (2019) (discussed here and here). But common themes in three of those FAA Cases—echoed in ZF Automotive —suggest a marked trend by the Court to interpret the FAA in a less expansive manner that is not presumptively arbitration friendly. The expression of these common themes in four cases decided in a single term is particularly significant because Morgan, Southwest Airlines, and ZF Automotive were decided unanimously by all participating Justices and Badgerow was decided 8-1, with now retired Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissenting.  

Many previous FAA SCOTUS decisions of the last three or four decades have been very indulgent of arbitration. The Court encouraged arbitration proliferation far beyond B-2-B commercial and industry arbitration between sophisticated and resource-laden entities of roughly equal bargaining power.  Arbitration was introduced into consumer and employment disputes and other disputes involving persons (including businesses) of vastly disparate resources and sophistication. SCOTUS made arbitration agreements readily enforceable, interpreted them expansively in favor of arbitration, limited defenses to arbitration agreements and awards, and promoted arbitration to make it, at least in the eyes of some, an attractive alternative to litigation. Critics challenged that view and assailed arbitration as “do it yourself court reform.”  The SCOTUS arbitration decisions developed and implemented an expansive federal policy in favor of arbitration and a presumption of arbitrability and championed a very pro-arbitration approach to arbitration law in general.  

That SCOTUS, the lower federal courts, and eventually even the skeptical state courts that are bound by its FAA decisions, have been solicitous and supportive of arbitration is unsurprising. The assumed (but not necessarily realized) benefits of arbitration have long been touted by academics and promoted by business and industry representatives.  Of course, courts have for many years recognized that arbitration helps reduce docket congestion, which was exacerbated by COVID and remains a problem today, even with the help of proliferated arbitration proceedings. Arbitral dispute resolution is also a very impressive business sector in and of itself, generating billions in revenues for law firms, arbitrators, and arbitration providers. It therefore has many proponents.  

But Badgerow, Morgan, Southwest Airlines, and ZF Automotive suggest that SCOTUS is rethinking its prior expansive, and highly-arbitration-friendly approach to the FAA and might be more willing to entertain seriously arguments for interpreting: (a) arbitration agreements less expansively, and more like ordinary contracts; and (b) Sections 10 and 11 of the FAA strictly according to their text and not in an exceedingly narrow manner designed to encourage, arbitration-award-favoring outcomes. These cases may also embolden lower courts, especially the state courts, to do the same. Continue Reading »

Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?

April 27th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?
Arbitrability Question 5 | Delegation Clause | Delegation Provision

Parties can, and frequently do, agree to include in their contract a so-called
“Delegation Provision” that clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrators questions of arbitrability. (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, here, and here.) Questions of arbitrability include questions concerning: (a) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular disputes or categories of disputes; (b) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (c) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Who Gets to Decide whether the Parties Entered into a Delegation Provision?

Federal Arbitration Act  | Who Gets to Decide? | Delegation Provision

Suppose that Agent A, without the knowledge and consent of Party A, purports to bind Party A to a written contract with Party B, which includes a broad arbitration agreement that expressly incorporates by reference, and makes part of the purported contract, the 2018 version of CPR’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules. Party B and Agent A deal with each other concerning the subject matter of the contract, and a dispute arises.

Party B demands arbitration of the dispute, and serves an arbitration demand on Party A, who is understandably surprised at being named a party in an arbitration proceeding concerning a purported agreement of which it had no knowledge, objects to the arbitration demand, and Party B commences an action to compel arbitration.

In the proceeding to compel arbitration, Party A argues that Agent A had no actual or apparent authority to bind it to the agreement that contained the arbitration agreement. Party B responds that because the Delegation Clause made part of the agreement requires arbitration of issues concerning the “existence” of the arbitration agreement, Party A must arbitrate the issue of whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement.

Must Party A arbitrate the issue whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement because the agreement contains a Delegation Provision? If the only consideration were the text of Rule 8.1, then the answer would be “yes.”

Continue Reading »

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.

Photo Acknowledgments:

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

Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc.: Who Gets to Decide Whether an Arbitration Agreement is Unconscionable when the Parties Clearly and Unmistakably Say the Arbitrators Decide Arbitrability?

September 23rd, 2009 Arbitrability, Unconscionability, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 4 Comments »

I.            Introduction

We have explained in prior posts the First Options/AT&T Technologies rule that arbitrators get to decide arbitrability when the parties clearly and unmistakably so agree.  (See, e.g., here and here.)  That’s all well and good, but what happens when:  (a)  two parties sign an arbitration agreement which says, among other things, that the arbitrators shall decide any claim, including any claim concerning the applicability, formation or enforceability of the arbitration agreement; and (b) despite that clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, one of the parties challenges the arbitration agreement in court on unconscionability grounds?      

That is, for all practical purposes, what happened in Jackson v. Rent-A-Center West, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, slip op. (9th Cir. Sept. 9, 2009) (here).  And the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 that the court gets to decide the question.  Continue Reading »

What does the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 Have to Say About Commercial and Industry Arbitration Involving Sophisticated Parties? (Part IIIC)

April 11th, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Legislative Developments, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

Part IIIC:  Is the Narrow Construction Sustainable?

Introduction

In Part IIIB  (here) we discussed in general terms the “Narrow Construction” of the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 (the “Fairness Act”), which would limit the scope of Proposed Section 2(c) to situations where the party resisting arbitration claims that the arbitration agreement requires predispute arbitration of consumer, franchise, employment or statutory civil rights disputes.   We also set forth the five premises on which the Narrow Construction is based.  This Part IIIC addresses the validity of those premises.  [Because this post  frequently refers to Proposed Section 2 and its subsections, we have reproduced at the end the pertinent parts of Proposed Section 2.]

 The Narrow Construction is fairly complex.  A court choosing it would have to determine each of its five premises to be valid.  In addition, the validity of Premise 3 is interlinked to that of Premise 5:  Premise 3 is easier to accept when viewed without regard to Premise 5 and Premise 5 is harder to accept when viewed in isolation from Premise 3.  If a court believes that Premise 3 is reasonable, but has reservations about its validity, when it considers Premise 3 in conjunction with Premise 5, it may conclude that both are invalid.  But if it is confident that Premise 3 is valid, that confidence might lead it to conclude that Premise 5 is valid.  These are important considerations that a party advocating one construction or the other should take into account in structuring its argument.   Continue Reading »