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Third Circuit Opalinski Class Arbitration Arbitrability Case Cert. Petition Set for Conference

February 25th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Third Circuit Opalinski Class Arbitration Arbitrability Case Cert. Petition Set for Conference By Philip J. Loree Jr.

yay-10417208Classarb-e14248919879081 - CopyOn August 28, 2014 we posted an article discussing the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in Opalinski v. Robert Half Int’l Inc., 761 F.3d 326 (3rd Cir. 2014), which held that the question of consent to class arbitration was one of arbitrability. Prior to Opalinski the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Crockett, 734 F.3d 594 (6th Cir. 2013), “that the question whether an arbitration agreement permits classwide arbitration is a gateway matter, which is reserved for judicial determination unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise.” 734 F.2d at 599 (quotation and citation omitted).



yay-10343058Arbitrability-e1424891774286Opalinski “join[ed] the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in holding that the availability of class arbitration” is a substantive gateway question rather than a procedural one[,]” and thus “is a question of arbitrability.” 761 F.3d at 335. The Third Circuit’s decision turned on “the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences of that determination for both [a] whose claims are subject to arbitration[;] and [b] the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” Id. (emphasis and bracketed letters added). Where, as in Opalinski, the arbitration agreement did not “mention” class arbitration, the Court “believ[ed] the parties would have expected a court, not an arbitrator, to determine the availability of class arbitration[,]” and that was “especially so given the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences” of the class-arbitration-consent determination as respects “whose claims are subject to arbitration and the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” 761 F.3d at 335.


yay-34842-e1424891828235As we explained in our prior post, both Opalinski and Reed Elsevier followed on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064 (2013), which in footnote pointed out that the award-challenger in Oxford had unreservedly submitted to the arbitrator the issue of whether class arbitration consent was one of arbitrability, but that the case before it would have been “different” had Oxford “argued below that the availability of class-arbitration is a so-called ‘question of arbitrability.’” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. The Oxford Court said that Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 680 (2010) “made clear that this Court has not yet decided” whether class-arbitration-consent presents a question of arbitrability. But “Oxford agreed that the arbitrator should determine whether its contract with Sutter authorized class procedures[,]” and “Oxford submitted that issue to arbitrator not once, but twice and the second time after Stolt-Nielsen flagged that it might be a question of arbitrability.” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. (emphasis added)


yay-4295955StandardReview-e1424891877565Had Oxford opted to request the Supreme Court to determine whether class-arbitration consent presented a question of arbitrability, and had the Court determined that it was such a question, then the Court would have determined “independently, that is, without deferring to the arbitrator’s decision” whether the parties consented to class arbitration. See BG Group plc v. Republic of Argentina, No. 12-138, slip op. at 6 (U.S. March 5, 2014); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 543 U.S. 938, 942 (1995). And we doubt that a majority of the Supreme Court would have upheld the Oxford award had it reviewed the class-arbitration-consent determination de novo. See, e.g., Oxford, 133 S. Ct. at 2071 (Alito, J., concurring) (“If we were reviewing the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract de novo, we would have little trouble concluding that he improperly inferred “[a]n implicit agreement to authorize class-action arbitration.  .  .  from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.”) (quoting Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 685).


yay-14148680-digital-e1424891905695 - CopyAfter the Third Circuit denied rehearing en banc, the Opalinsky parties petitioned for certiorari. The petition has been distributed and is set to be considered at the Supreme Court’s March 6, 2015 conference. See Docket, Opalinski v. Robert Half Int’l Inc., No. 14-625.

The United States Supreme Court regularly holds private conferences at which it, among other things, votes on whether to grant particular petitions for certiorari. Four votes is required to grant a petition for cert. The vast majority of the many cert. petitions the Court considers considers are denied. When the Supreme Court grants a petition, it simply means that it has agreed to hear the case, which will then be fully briefed, and in most cases, orally argued. Neither the grant or denial of a petition for certiorari suggests approval or disapproval with the lower court’s decision on the merits.

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court is will agree to hear and determine the important arbitrability question addressed in Opalinski. If it does the Court will have an opportunity to provide some needed, uniform guidance on it, and perhaps even some indirect guidance on the related issue of whether, and if so, under what circumstances, consent to consolidated arbitration may present a question of arbitrability.

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