CPR Protocol on Disclosure of Documents & Presentation of Witnesses in Commercial Arbitration

By Verlyn Francis

One of the advantages of arbitration over litigation is efficiency. Arbitration does not have to contend with the numerous rules of civil procedure. This saves time and, therefore, cost. However, parties to arbitration still expect and do receive procedural fairness in the adjudication of their disputes.  

The concept of efficiency combined with procedural fairness is sometimes challenging for arbitration counsel from different jurisdictions who argue that, without all the court system’s procedural steps, parties do not receive fairness.

Trained commercial arbitrators would argue they are misconstruing the whole arbitration process.  One of the fundamentals of arbitration is that, at the first pre-hearing conference, the parties have input into the procedural rules that will govern the process before those rules are set out in the first preliminary order.

Unfortunately, document disclosure and witness presentation are two areas that can bedevil the tribunal, arbitration counsel and the parties.

The newly published Protocol on Disclosure of Documents & Presentation of Witnesses in Commercial Arbitration, by CPR, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, will go a long way to providing guidance to tribunals and tribunal counsel on the disclosure of documents and witness presentation in commercial arbitration.  This insightful Protocol, a revision of the first Protocol issued in 2009, is the work product of a CPR Arbitration Committee task force co-chaired by Baker McKenzie of counsel Lawrence W. Newman, in New York, and Viren Mascarenhas, a King & Spalding partner who works in the firm’s New York and London offices.

The Protocol’s stated aims are: (1) to give parties to arbitration agreements the opportunity to adopt certain modes of dealing with the disclosure of documents and the presentation of witnesses; and where they have not done so, (2) to assist CPR or other tribunals in carrying out their responsibilities regarding the conduct of arbitral proceedings. 

The Protocol does not supersede the institutional rules or ad hoc arbitrations.  Instead, it helps tribunals to refer to the Protocol in organizing and managing arbitrations under rules such as those for CPR (for example, CPR’s arbitration rules are available here), other institutions, or ad hoc arbitrations.

In dealing with the disclosure of documents, the Protocol considers the philosophy underlying document disclosure; attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product protection; party-agreed disclosure; disclosure of electronic information, and tribunal orders for the disclosure of documents and information. It provides schedules of the wording that can be adopted by parties in their agreements and tribunals in their orders.

In the section on the presentation of witnesses, the Protocol reminds arbitrators to bring to the attention of the parties at the pre-hearing conference the options for adducing evidence and encourage the exploration of those options with the parties.

The first option is that the parties can agree that the tribunal will decide the arbitration on documents only.  It then sets out guidance on how evidence can be submitted by witness statements, oral testimony, depositions, and presentations by party-appointed experts.  Also included are procedures that may be applied to the conduct of the hearing. 

This does not negate party-agreed procedures for the presentation of witnesses but, of course, the tribunal must be careful not to allow the parties to encumber the arbitration with all the court rules.  The Protocol also includes schedules setting out the modes of presenting witnesses, including experts.

This Protocol contains guidance that most commercial arbitrators know, but it is another important tool that tribunals can use to educate counsel and the parties while bringing efficiency into arbitration procedures. 

I have added it to my toolkit!

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The author, a mediator and arbitrator who heads Toronto-based Isiko, an ADR consulting firm, conducts adjudicative processes in estates, family, civil, and commercial disputes. She is a Professor of ADR at Centennial College, Toronto, Canada, and a member of the CPR Panel of Distinguished Neutrals.

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The Latest #SCOTUS #Arbitration: Process ‘Preference’; Int’l #Discovery; Federal Courts’ Arb #Jurisdiction

CPR presents on YouTube linked and embedded above a new discussion on the current U.S. Supreme Court hot arbitration topics.  

The discussion is moderated by Russ Bleemer, editor of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation (http://altnewsletter.com, and for CPR members at www.cpradr.org/news-publications/alternatives) (@altnewsletter)), who is joined by Angela Downes, Assistant Director of Experiential Education and Professor of Practice Law at the University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law; independent Dallas attorney-arbitrator Richard Faulkner, and arbitration advocate Philip J. Loree Jr., who heads the Loree Law Firm in New York (@PhilLoreeJr). 

Here are the matters discussed, and links on this CPR Speaks blog to details on the cases and potential cases along with resources including links to lower court opinions and briefs.

  1. Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, an employment case on the extent to which a federal court may defer to an arbitration agreement, which the nation’s top Court agreed to hear last week. For details, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15) (available here).
  2. The Court has scheduled two cases involving the reach of 28 U.S.C § 1782 for a Dec. 3 conference that will determine whether it should hear the matters or let lower court opinions stand.  The cases examine whether the statute, which authorizes “any interested person” in a proceeding before a “foreign or international tribunal” to ask for and receive discovery from a person in the United States, covers international arbitration tribunals. The cases, AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investors’ Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, and ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, are discussed at Bryanna Rainwater, “The Law on Evidence for Foreign Arbitrations Returns to the Supreme Court,” CPR Speaks (Oct. 22, 202) (available here).  CPR has filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to accept and decide the AlixPartners case; the NYC-based nonprofit which publishes this blog did not take a position in the case.  The details on the filing can be found at “CPR Asks Supreme Court to Consider Another Foreign Tribunal Evidence Case,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 12) (available here) (containing information and links to CPR’s previous amicus brief in Servotronics v. Rolls Royce PLC, No. 20-794, another Section 1782 case that the Supreme Court dismissed in September and removed from the Court’s October argument calendar).
  3. Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, an employment discrimination case that dives into the jurisdiction of federal courts under Federal Arbitration Act sections on enforcing and overturning arbitration awards.  The case was most recently discussed on CPR Speaks at Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov 2) (available here).

The video embedded above can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw8ps4vtTfs.

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House Subcommittee Introduces Bill that Would Restrict Arbitration

By Tamia Sutherland

The House Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a Nov. 4 hearing on employment arbitration to introduce the “Restoring Justice for Workers Act.” The meeting and bill was presented by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D., Va., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D., N.Y.

The text of the Restoring Justice for Workers Act is available here. The act would

  • prohibit pre-dispute arbitration agreements that require arbitration of work disputes;
  • prohibit retaliation against workers for refusing to arbitrate work disputes;
  • provide protections to ensure that post-dispute arbitration agreements are truly voluntary and with the informed consent of workers;
  • amend the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit agreements and practices that interfere with employees’ right to engage in concerted activity regarding work disputes, and
  • reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v Lewis, available here. (Earlier this week, the Court agreed to hear a case that could clarify the extent of the seminal case’s application. For more, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15) (available at https://bit.ly/3FnfyGd).

The subcommittee meeting, “Closing the Courthouse Doors: The Injustice of Forced Arbitration Agreements,” began with an opening statement from committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D., Calif. Senior Georgia Republican committee  Rick W. Allan gave an opening statement, and then four witnesses provided testimony:

  1. Alexander Colvin, Dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University;
  2. Glenda Perez, Former Implementation Set-Up Representative at Cigna;
  3. G. Roger King, Senior Labor and Employment Counsel at the Arlington, Va.-based HR Policy Association, a nonprofit membership group of “over 390 large” corporations’ chief human resource officers; and
  4. Kalpana Kotagal, a Partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll’s Washington, D.C., office.

First, Chairman DeSaulnier began by introducing the topic of “forced arbitration” agreements and collective action waivers, explaining that for many employees, employment documents “include an arbitration clause, hidden in the fine print,” which requires workers to sign the document or forgo employment.

Next, he provided data to support the assertion that the use of these agreements is widespread. He explained that “in 1990, 2.1% of non-union employees had an arbitration clause in their employment contracts . . . [and in] 2018, nearly 60% of all nonunionized private-sector employees were covered by forced arbitration agreements.”

Chairman DeSaulnier provided other examples of what he described as unfair practices and, finally, introduced the Restoring Justice for Workers Act as a solution.

Rep. Allan countered in his opening statement that the act is another instance of heavy-handed government reach that will be burdensome to employers and unfairly target job creators. Moreover, he asserted that the act would delay justice and continue to clog an already overrun court system.

Prof. Colvin, a longtime critic of mandatory arbitration processes, was the first witness to provide testimony. He provided statistics from his studies, cited at his link above, to show the increase use of arbitration, and how employees do worse in arbitration as opposed to the court. He also discussed how employees who use the arbitration process for the first time are at a structural disadvantage to companies who repeatedly use the process.

Next, Glenda Perez provided a personal account of her struggles with the arbitration process without a lawyer. Perez reported that she and her husband worked for Bloomfield, Conn.-based insurer Cigna from October 2013 to  July 2017. In April 2017, Cigna put her on a performance correction plan for work “errors” after meeting with her team on pharmacy benefits.

Her husband, a Cigna analyst, found evidence of errors by white women but none by his wife, according to Perez’s witness statement. She filed a discrimination complaint with Cigna’ human resources department. Typically, a full investigation takes 60 days, she reported, but in her statement, Perez said her investigation took one day, with human resources backing her manager’s claim. Two months later, she was fired.

Perez wanted to file a claim for discrimination and retaliation, but could not find an attorney to represent her in mandatory arbitration. She said she was forced to drive to a law library to do research while also taking care of her three children and looking for a new job. She claimed it took several months to choose an arbitrator.

Moreover, Perez reported, the arbitrator selected may have had a conflict of interest that was not disclosed. Perez’s testimony focused on arbitrator’s lack of impartiality. She reported that there are photos online of the arbitrator, and Cigna’s attorney, at the arbitrator’s 50th birthday party, which she filed with her committee testimony. Additionally, she testified, the arbitrator formerly worked for the firm representing Cigna and had Cigna’s counsel as a reference on his CV.

The arbitrator denied Perez’s request for materials to prove her case as Cigna claimed it would cost more than $1 million to retrieve “even though,” she said, “I was only requesting my employee personal profile.” Cigna moved for summary judgment, and then the arbitrator ruled in favor of Cigna, and canceled a hearing that had been scheduled. When Perez filed a motion to vacate the decision in court, she said Cigna fired her husband.

HR Policy Association attorney Roger King said that two of the legislation’s primary objectives are big mistakes and are a substantial overreach of congressional action. He explained that completely eliminating pre-dispute arbitration was a mistake, and a total prohibition on class-action waivers would be burdensome. Also, in response to Glenda Perez’s testimony, he asserted that generally, arbitrators are ethical.

Finally, Kalpana Kotagal testified that the justification for forced arbitration is predicated on myths because (1) there is no equal bargaining power in most forced arbitrations, (2) it burdens those who are already marginalized, (3) it is not speedy, and (4) it deters workers from bringing claims.

The meeting concluded with a Q&A from other committee members.

* * *

A video of the hearing, and witness statements, is available here. The Congressional repository page for the event can be found here.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021 Fall Intern.

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U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?

By Mark Kantor

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the petition in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., No. 21-328, in which the Question Presented is:

Does the arbitration-specific requirement that the proponent of a contractual waiver defense prove prejudice violate this Court’s instruction [in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011)] that lower courts must “place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts?”

In this case, Robyn Morgan, an employee at an Osceola, Iowa, Taco Bell, brought a proposed Fair Labor Standards Act class action in court against employer Sundance Inc., a company that owns more than 150 Taco Bell franchises, according to Morgan’s cert petition.  

Morgan alleged in the class action that Sundance did not pay Taco Bell franchise employees for all the hours they worked. Sundance eventually moved to require Morgan to arbitrate her claims.  

In substance, this dispute involves the question of whether one party arguing that a second party has waived its right to arbitration must show prejudice resulting from the second party’s delay in asserting the right to arbitrate the dispute. 

An Iowa federal district court determined that Sundance had waived its right to require arbitration because the company waited too long, and that Morgan was harmed by costs and efforts in defending the court litigation, instead of getting ready for arbitration.

The requirements to be met to show waiver of a right to arbitrate, said the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are:

A party waives its right to arbitration if it: “(1) knew of an existing right to arbitration; (2) acted inconsistently with that right; and (3) prejudiced the other party by these inconsistent acts.”

The Court of Appeals rejected Morgan’s argument that Sundance waited too long and engaged in too much judicial conduct to effectively waive Sundance’s right to arbitrate the dispute.  In doing so, the Court of Appeals held that Morgan had failed to show prejudice sufficient to succeed on the waiver argument. Morgan v. Sundance Inc., 992 F.3d 711 (8th Cir. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3nqL7sJ).

The appellate panel–in a 2-1 decision–disagreed with the lower U.S. District Court finding of prejudice, concluding that part of the delay was attributable to the time the district court spent deciding Sundance’s motion to dismiss on quasi-jurisdictional grounds, no discovery was conducted, and the efforts on the motion to dismiss did not duplicate efforts Morgan would have to spend in the arbitration. The majority opinion stated:

The district court found Morgan was prejudiced by having to respond to Sundance’s motion to dismiss over the eight-month span of litigation.  We disagree.  Four months of the delay entailed the parties waiting for disposition of Sundance’s motion to dismiss.  No discovery was conducted.  And, the record lacks any evidence that Morgan would have to duplicate her efforts during arbitration.  Instead, most of Morgan’s work focused on the quasi-jurisdictional issue [addressed by Sundance’s motion to dismiss], not the merits of the case.  For these reasons, we hold Morgan was not prejudiced by Sundance’s litigation strategy.

Morgan then petitioned the Supreme Court in August to determine whether she was required to show prejudice to prove that Sundance waived its right to arbitrate, arguing that she would not be required to make such a showing for other types of contracts under applicable law. 

Morgan has now persuaded the Court to take up the case for a hearing on the extent of AT&T Mobility’s reach sometime in 2022. The Court’s order this morning accepting the case—the sole cert granted in today’s order list—can be found here.

An argument date is expected to be scheduled soon. If argued this term, it will be the second arbitration case to be heard in the 2021-2022 Court year. Earlier this month, the Court heard arguments in Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, a case involving the federal courts’ jurisdiction under the Federal Arbitration Act. For more, see Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 2, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/30tIRI5).

Here is the Court’s official Morgan v. Sundance docket page, with case materials. More materials and analysis can be found on Scotusblog, here.

* * *

Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panel of Distinguished Neutrals.  Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, he was a partner in the firm’s Corporate and Project Finance Groups.  He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator.  He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor).  He also is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management.  He is a frequent contributor to CPR Speaks, and this post originally was circulated to a private list serv and adapted with the author’s permission.

[END]

CPR Asks Supreme Court to Consider Another Foreign Tribunal Evidence Case

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case on the extent of a law allowing U.S. federal courts to grant requests from foreign tribunals for discovery on U.S. persons as defined under the statute.  

The question in AlixPartners LLP, et al. v. The Fund for Protection of Investors’ Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, is whether the law on international tribunals applies to arbitration panel requests.

It’s the second Supreme Court amicus request by CPR in 2021.

CPR didn’t take a position in its Monday amicus filing, but instead asked the Court to hear the matter and clear up a federal circuit split over whether overseas arbitration tribunals may obtain requests for discovery under the law as, say, a foreign court can do.

The reach of 28 U.S.C § 1728 has become a hot topic in federal appellate courts over the past two years.  It was thought to be nearing a conclusion when the nation’s top Court granted cert on the issue in Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, et al., No. 20-794.

But while the parties waited for the October Court argument date, they also proceeded in arbitration.  After a July award by a London tribunal, the Court granted the parties’ request to dismiss the case in September, and it was removed from the docket. For more on Servotronics’ details and history, see Bryanna Rainwater, “Case Dismissed: Supreme Court Lightens Its Arbitration Load as Servotronics Is Removed from 2021-22 Docket,” CPR Speaks (Sept. 8) (available here).

CPR last January also had filed an amicus brief, linked at the CPR Speaks post, urging the Court to accept Servotronics. That brief also can be found at the Court’s docket page here.

CPR’s motion for leave to file the AlixPartners amicus brief, as well as the brief itself, is posted on the Supreme Court’s docket page for the case, linked above, and can be accessed directly here. The matter is expected to be considered by the Court at a conference before year end.

Attorneys at Cincinnati’s Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP prepared and filed the brief on CPR’s behalf.  The counsel of record on the filing is John B. Pinney, and the attorneys on the brief are Roula Allouch and John C. Greiner.

For coverage of CPR’s Alixpartners amicus filing argument, see Victoria McKenzie, “Arbitration Group Urges High Court To Define ‘Tribunal,’” Law360 (Nov. 9, 2021) (available here).

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CPR International Conference Highlights: ‘Effects on Cross-Border Disputes After the Singapore Convention’

By Bryanna Rainwater

According to the Singapore Convention on Mediation’s website, the Convention is a “multilateral treaty which offers a uniform and efficient framework for the enforcement and invocation of international agreements resulting from mediation.”

The speakers at the Oct. 6 CPR International Conference kickoff panel, “Effects on Cross-Border Disputes After the Singapore Convention” gave more context to the current legal landscape after the Convention has come into force.

The Convention was passed by resolution by the U.N.’s General Assembly in 2018, and signed into effect in August 2019. It has been hailed as a huge boost for mediation because it provides support for the effectiveness of the agreements the process produces.

The panel’s moderator was Javier Fernández-Samaniego, managing director of Samaniego Law with offices in Madrid and Miami. The speakers included: Sara Koleilat-Aranjo, a partner at Al Tamimi & Co., in Dubai; Michael Mcilwrath, founder and CEO of MDisputes, an ADR consulting firm in Florence, Italy, and a former vice president of litigation at Baker Hughes Co.; and Jan O’Neill, a professional support lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills in London.

Koleilat-Aranjo said that mediation has “established itself as a viable, typically cost-effective, non-contentious, means to resolve disputes.” She noted that “up until the advent of the Singapore Convention, there wasn’t really . . . a legal instrument, at an international scale which sort of provided a passport . . . of enforcement of mediated settlement agreements.”

Koleilat-Aranjo discussed differences between the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958), best known as the New York Convention, and the Singapore Convention. She noted that the Singapore Convention dispenses with reciprocity—the New York Convention only provides enforcement of an arbitration award that has been made in a jurisdiction that also has adopted the treaty–and that “the Singapore Convention adopts a transcendental approach, meaning . . . unlike the New York Convention, there isn’t really typically a place of mediation that is defined” like how the earlier treaty addresses the seat of arbitration.

Koleilat-Aranjo referred to what she calls “a certificate of origin,” which is when the parties must prove that settlement resulting from mediation occurred in order to enforce the award. She noted that this presents the novel issue of how to prove that a mediation award was given, particular outside of an “institutional framework,” so that it can be enforced via the Convention.

There are currently 54 Convention signatories, and eight states that have ratified it–seven at the date of the discussion, and one added since the CPR International Conference.  

Koleilat-Aranjo noted that two of the nations that have already ratified the treaty, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are in the Middle East.  She said that this reaffirmed the popularity of mediation in those countries, and that this is not surprising considering the cultural and religious influences and attitudes toward the process. She said that in Arabic, the mediator is called the “agent of peace,” and that mediation has been used in Arab nations for many types of different dispute settlements.

The panel discussed the reservations carve-out in Article 8 of the Convention, which provides that, when adopted by a ratifying state, “the Convention would not be applicable to settlement agreements to which its government or other public entities are a party.”

Saudi Arabia, Koleilat-Aranjo noted, has carved out a reservation per its Royal Decree 96 (April 9, 2020), which mirrors the convention carve out:  It does not allow mediation to apply to the government, government officials, governmental agencies, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies.  She explained that the Saudi economy is tied in with the government, so this is broad reservation, with many international transactions tying private overseas parties to government actors.

Mike Mcilwrath gave his perspective on why the Convention has not yet been ratified by European Union nations. He said that the EU was “hostile to the convention during the drafting stage. They did not support it.” He added that this is likely because of the “coordinating effort” of the EU as a unified front, making it more difficult for individual states to sign on separately.

Mcilwrath noted that the EU chose to go to court over concerns about the AstraZeneca Covid-19  vaccine, rather than mandating mediation, which is a sign of the EU’s trend of choosing not to mediate.

HSF’s Jan O’Neill had a differing view, and–echoing Mcilwrath’s description of Italy likely supporting the Convention on its own but for the current EU hesitancy–noted that the U.K. also “has been left to its own devices” since Brexit. She added that “the U.K. is of course a very mediation friendly jurisdiction, [with a] very long-standing sophisticated mediation infrastructure.”

As a result, she said that she believes that the U.K. will sign the Convention eventually, noting that “there is a sense on the ground . . . it feels like it will happen. They’re certainly not sensing any hostility.”

She said she that the U.K. is familiar with mediation and ADR, but that priorities are stuck on the most pressing issues–the pandemic and the Brexit economy.

* * *

CPR has posted a video of the full panel discussion.  You can find it here after logging into the CPR website. Videos from the other September CPR International Conference panels can be found here.

* * *

Panel moderator Javier Fernández-Samaniego has prepared an article analyzing the Singapore Convention developments and expanding on the panel discussion for CPR’s monthly newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation. His article is scheduled to appear in the December issue.

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The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern.

[END]

From CPR’s International Conference Last Month: How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel

By Mylene Chan

During the 2021 CPR International Conference, held online Oct. 6-7, CPR’s Young Leaders in Alternative Dispute Resolution Steering Committee presented “How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel.”  

The panel was moderated by Y-ADR’s Steering Committee member Elizabeth Chan, an associate at Three Crowns in London, and included Daniel Huth, Legal Counsel of Global Litigation Europe & MENA for Shell in London; Hemma Lomax, Senior Corporate Counsel, Snap Inc., in Santa Monica, Calif.; Brittany Mouzourakis, Counsel-Litigation at Detroit’s General Motors Co., and Megan Westerberg, Assistant General Counsel, Eisai U.S., Woodcliff Lake, N.J. (Links to the participants can be found on CPR’s website at https://bit.ly/3qlhryI.)

The panel’s focus was on providing advice for young practitioners on developing business relationships and working with in-house counsel. Young practitioners are often told to “think commercially” and to draft advice that reflects commercial acumen. As young practitioners gain more experience, they are expected to manage client relationships and case matters efficiently and within budget.  This panel discussed how young practitioners could gain visibility with the client, how they could understand their client’s commercial objectives, and how they could win clients’ trust and confidence.

The panel opened with a discussion on effective pitching to the client. One panelist advised that young practitioners at the pitch table should project confidence, passion, and knowledge of the subject. Even if a rainmaker is present, junior practitioners should not think of themselves as window dressing because the in-house counsel listening to the pitch wants to hear from the junior practitioners as well for other perspectives. 

Another panelist explained that the presence of junior practitioners at the pitch table underscores the law firm’s commitment to workforce diversity, which is an important criterion for many in-house counsel in selecting outside lawyers.

To raise visibility, the panelists encouraged young practitioners to find a few moments around the pitch to greet the potential clients, build rapport and to get to know the client. Young practitioners should take the initiative to interact with in-house counsel directly to create face-time opportunities, such as offering to buy in-house counsel a coffee to network.

The panelists also urged young practitioners to publish; the publication does not have to be in a formal journal but could be a blog. Many young practitioners also gain visibility through re-posting on LinkedIn and piggybacking on others’ posts. Newcomers to ADR practice should start networking early on, and one easy method is through joining relevant online communities.

In addition to finessing interpersonal skills, young practitioners also must learn how companies approach risks, including the practices that they put in place to avoid, mitigate, and remediate risk. 

The panelists elaborated that if young practitioners are cognizant of the principles of risk control, they will have a holistic view and better understanding of the company, putting those practitioners  in an excellent position to help companies resolve conflicts–which will inevitably happen–and to move past impasses.  

The panelists cautioned that in-house lawyers and company executives do not think alike, contrary to what many young practitioners appear to believe. For example, a vice president may or may not approach risk and compliance the same way as a manager.

Many young attorneys appear to harbor the erroneous assumption that companies have properly trained their staff and have the appropriate monitoring programs in place when, in fact, in-house counsel may expect external lawyers to guide companies in risk management through baby steps. 

Young practitioners should be mindful of the collaboration dynamics between inside and outside counsel so that they can contribute accordingly. When an arbitration or legal proceeding launches, the initial step is for the internal and external counsel to determine the appropriate questions to ask, the respective roles, and the documents to be collected in order to develop a case strategy.

The next step is to consider the staffing of the team, and the rule, the panel members agreed, is the broader the better. The team should ascertain the length, cost, and insurance coverage, and of course, they must discuss the assessment of the case, including the strengths and weaknesses of each claim. The panelists agreed that there should be full collaboration all the way through the matter between inside and outside counsel. 

For enhanced communication with outside counsel, young practitioners should understand that in-house counsel hire outside lawyers for their energy, expertise, and resources to facilitate decision making, so outside counsel must learn to synthesize complicated ideas and present information succinctly.

Since inside counsel may receive hundreds of emails per day, the communication must be concise and easy to digest. In such communications, young practitioners should lay out options, make a recommendation, and explain the relevant reasoning.  In-house counsel often want bullet points that they can easily parse through, not legal briefs, so that they can interface with business colleagues seamlessly. Understanding the life cycle of decision-making at companies and partnering with the in-house counsel is also critical for aspiring young practitioners.

The panelists concluded by giving their final advice for young practitioners: (1) be nosy and greedy, be a creator not just a consumer; (2) just jump in, be genuine and sincere; (3) take the initiative to be heard; and (4) distinguish oneself from the team, ask the right questions, help clients avoid surprises, and dare to challenge.

* * *

A video of “How to Work Effectively with Your In-House Counsel” from the 2021 CPR International Conference has been posted on CPR’s website at https://bit.ly/3qlhryI.

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The author, an LLM candidate at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, in Malibu, Calif., is a 2021 CPR Intern.

[END]

Florida’s Top Court Takes on ‘Who Decides?’ in Airbnb Arbitration Case

By Arjan Bir Singh Sodhi

Wednesday’s Florida Supreme Court argument presented a foundational issue on the adoption of arbitration proceedings—more on the question of who decides whether a case is arbitrated, based on the incorporation into a consumer contract of a set of arbitration rules.

The Nov. 3 argument, in Airbnb v. Doe, No. SC 20-1167, explores whether contract provisions are “clear and unmistakable”—the case law standard—in allowing the arbitration tribunal to determine its jurisdiction, and in allowing an assessment of the evidence from the contract that the parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

Both federal and Florida cases back Airbnb, the best-known accommodations rental app, in finding that by incorporating a set of contract rules—in the case, the American Arbitration Association Commercial Arbitration Rules—the parties are agreeing to have an arbitration tribunal decide whether a case is to be arbitrated. 

But a Florida appeals court bucked the trend, and in a detailed opinion, found that the click-thru web interface didn’t provide adequate notice to the app users that they were agreeing to arbitration via a link to the rules which stated the arbitrability provision.

In the case, an anonymous Texas couple filed a complaint against Airbnb and the condominium owner who had listed the Florida property on the Airbnb platform. The complaint includes intrusion against the condo owner, and constructive intrusion against Airbnb. The plaintiff rented the condo for three days in 2016 and later learned that the owner had installed hidden cameras and recorded the couple without their knowledge.

The Does filed their complaint in the Manatee County, Fla., circuit court. Airbnb moved to compel to settle the dispute through an arbitration proceeding. Airbnb claimed that the Does are bound to an arbitration proceeding under the signed terms and conditions when they accepted the app’s click-wrap agreement—that is, the legal contract in the Airbnb online software in which the customer indicates acceptance by typing in yes, or selecting a particular icon or link before they may use the service.

The click-wrap agreement included a dispute resolution clause stating that the parties must arbitrate under the rules of the American Arbitration Association, with a link to the rules.  The rules contain the provision that the determination of whether the case is arbitrable goes to the arbitrator, not a court.

The Manatee County Circuit Court granted Airbnb’s motion to compel the arbitration. But Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal reversed. John Doe & Jane Doe v. Natt & Airbnb Inc., 299 So. 3d 599 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3BPYPcu). The appellate court held that reference does not clearly and unmistakably suppress the court’s power to decide the arbitrability. The decision noted that the click-wrap agreement is not clear enough on the issue of who should decide the jurisdiction of the arbitration proceedings.  It stated that the reference “was broad, nonspecific, and cursory: the clickwrap agreement simply identified the entirety of a body of procedural rules. The agreement did not quote or specify any particular provision or rule.  . . .”

The appeals court also held that AAA Commercial Arbitration Rule 7 on arbitrability is not an exclusive power for the arbitrator.

Oral Argument

At Wednesday’s oral argument, Joel S. Perwin, who heads his eponymous Miami law firm, argued on behalf of petitioner Airbnb that the click-wrap clause covered everything, including the arbitrator’s resolution of deciding the arbitrability.

Justice Carlos G. Muñiz asked Perwin to clarify whether parties who accept the contract are expected to understand caselaw and legal language—whether they should understand that the courts have deemed such agreements referring to rule to be a “clear and unmistakable” indication that arbitrability goes to the tribunal.  

Perwin replied that he does not expect the parties to read the case law. “I would never suggest that,” he said. But he quickly added that the parties “are required to read the [contract] language.” He cited the “overwhelming weight of the authority” to indicate that the incorporation of the rules is accepted and customary.

Perwin addressed the parties’ sophistication, which was an argument that the Does made against the effectiveness of the click-wrap agreement.  He said the Does introduced no evidence that they were not sophisticated, and added that the parties’ sophistication level is not even a relevant factor in the matter.  

He said that in applying an objective test—Is the contract clear and unambiguous?–as to whether the agreement applies doesn’t depend on an analysis of the parties’ sophistication. “This language is clear and unambiguous as a matter of law,” he said.

* * *

Thomas Seider, an attorney in the Tampa, Fla., office of Brannock Humphries & Berman, arguing on behalf of the respondents, the Does, opened by noting that arbitration is a matter of consent. He said the question is whether the respondents gave their consent to the arbitration proceedings.

Justice Ricky Polston strongly suggested that while looking at federal law, the AAA rules, and the incorporation by reference of the rules into the contract, that the rules indeed are a part of the contract.

Justice Polston asked why, in reading AAA Rule 7, it wasn’t clear and unmistakable that that arbitrators have the ability to decide the jurisdiction. Focusing on the contract language, Seider argued that the Does only needed to read the rules if they needed to know, for example, about how the arbitration would be conducted, or the costs, not the “condition precedent” question of whether the case was subject to arbitration.

Justice John D. Couriel was skeptical. “The trouble with the argument is that none of this is in the contract,” he said.  Seider replied that if the consumer gets to the rule, then the party would understand that the arbitrator decides.  But even then, Seider noted, the language itself was “permissive but not mandatory.”

Couriel pressed Seider on the language.  Seider said that the AAA Rule 7 language—”The arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction”—did not exclude a decision by a court on arbitrability.

Justice Alan Lawson asked about the agreement language and whether it satisfied the “clear and unmistakable” standard for a delegation, which derives from First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995 (available at http://bit.ly/2WEXGnF). He said it is “basic contract interpretation,” and “you apply the basic rules” on whether the contract reflects what the parties agreed to—in this instance, whether there was a “clear and unmistakable” parties’ agreement on the arbitrator deciding arbitrability. He asked “whether the rules count” in determining what the parties agreed to under the contract.

Seider agreed that the rules count in reading the contract, and Lawson asked whether the rules’ language is clear and unmistakable evidence. Lawson said that in analyzing the contract, look at the whole agreement, leaving the rules to return to the first part of the contract, “the more conspicuous part”: The first page which incorporates the AAA rules.  With that, said Lawson, “it just seems pretty straightforward” that the parties agreed to arbitrate.

Seider said that “the clear and unmistakable standard is not supposed to require these inferential leaps” with cross-referenced rules, which he said are recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as arcane.  He said people do not understand the concept of arbitrability.

Justice Jorge Labarga was more sympathetic to the respondents’ argument.  He said that consent must be waived for arbitration, adding, “And what I’m hearing here today is that the agreement–they can attach as many attachments as they want to online, you can have 100,000 pages, and in there, in a footnote, someplace they can say, ‘Oh, by the way the arbitrator gets to decide whether this goes to arbitration or not,’ and that is OK as long . . . as it is a part of the text of the package.”

Seider quickly agreed that burying provisions in the agreement will become the norm. Justice Lawson asked about the need for conspicuous language, and Seider conceded that First Options doesn’t discuss that point in defining “clear and unmistakable.”

Justice Couriel asked Seider to clarify if there is a clear statement in the contract on how it will affect people’s rights, and how Airbnb encourages parties to read terms and conditions carefully. He asked if the advisory was “over and above” the First Options requirements.

Seider agreed that Airbnb advises parties to read the terms and conditions. He countered that reading and understanding about 60 pages of procedures and rules are hard to understand and is not clear and unmistakable.

Justice Polston wasn’t convinced, noting that the rules “were there.” Seider said they were, but again stressed that a court arbitrability determination was not excluded by AAA Rule 7.

Justice Carlos G. Muñiz asked Tom Seider to clarify why previous case law has been overwhelmingly against the petitioners. Seider said that early decisions didn’t thoroughly analyze the question of arbitrability. He pointed out a lack of discussion on how contract language can be clear and unmistakable. “The analytical foundation of these cases really isn’t there,” concluded Seider.

* * *

Airbnb attorney Joel Perwin rebutted, noting five points:

1. Every case is decided on its own merits and facts.  

2. The test for clear and unmistakable is a matter of federal law. Justice Polston pushed back and agreed that arbitrability is a federal concept, but strongly noted that contract review is state law.  

3. Party sophistication is not an issue because “clear and unmistakable” is an objective test. There is no evidence to prove that the Does are not sophisticated enough to understand the click-wrap agreement, Perwin emphasized, but regardless, it is an objective test.

4. Addressing Tom Seider’s argument that Rule 7 is permissive, Perwin noted that the language is clear enough for anyone reading it to understand that the arbitrator has “the power” to decide the matter. That is why the courts have said that when arbitrators are designated to get the power under the contract and nothing is said about the courts, it means the arbitrators have the power to decide alone.

5. The statute and contract should not be interpreted to be unreliable on arbitrability. In the past, courts have been clear on these issues.

* * *

The Nov. 4 oral arguments in Airbnb v. Doe, which were televised and streamed on several web outlets including Facebook, are archived on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3EJ0rqa.  The full Florida Supreme Court docket on the case, with links to documents, is available at https://bit.ly/3GYoZxe.

* * *

The author, a CPR 2021 Fall Intern, is an LLM candidate at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

[END]

Increased Mobile Health Triggers Increased FTC Enforcement, and Points to a Need for Dispute Prevention Efforts

By Janice L. Sperow

The pandemic changed how we work, how we shop, how we communicate, and how we “meet.” It changed our world’s “normal.”

Most significantly, it changed the healthcare industry, but not only with new vaccines and protocols. It revolutionized the way we maintain our health and wellness, as healthcare app development now shapes the future of medicine.

That, in turn, provides an opportunity for a new application for alternative dispute resolution—specifically, a recent Federal Trade Commission statement puts health-care industry managers on notice that they should institute dispute prevention steps and protocols to avoid potentially costly civil penalties as their products face closer federal scrutiny.

Spurred by rapid significant advances in mobile technology, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, medical apps have accelerated at an unprecedented rate. Even before the pandemic’s uptick in the use of healthcare mobility tools, the Physicians Practice medical publication conducted a mobile health survey in 2018 and found that more than 75% of respondents used some form of mobile health solutions on a weekly basis.

Since the pandemic, the use of mobile applications in healthcare, MedTech (see www.medtech.org), and eHealth has skyrocketed. A $21.3 billion market in 2017, the global mobile health market is anticipated to reach $151 billion by 2025. See, e.g., Grand View Research, mHealth Apps Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Type (Fitness, Medical), By Region (North America, APAC, Europe, MEA, Latin America), And Segment Forecasts, 2021–2028 (February 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/2Zqo5bR).

The U.S Food and Drug Administration defines a health app as mobile software that diagnoses, tracks, or treats disease. A wellness app uses mobile software to enhance or track overall user health. They can and do address every facet of life impacting wellness from mental, physical, social, environmental, nutritional, behavioral, to even spiritual factors.

In response to the market’s growth, the Federal Trade Commission issued its “Statement of the Commission on Breaches by Health Apps and Other Connected Devices” (Sept. 15) (available at https://bit.ly/3bgLv63).  The statement stresses the FTC’s commitment to protecting private medical and health information inputted into these apps and devices, and explains the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule in more detail. (The Rule is available at https://bit.ly/3nFzkpk.) The Statement unequivocally declares the Rule’s scope and the FTC’s intention to enforce the rule.

The FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule has been in effect since 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (text at https://bit.ly/3pGHtMy) became effective. The Rule addresses the security of personal health records, or PHR, defined to include an electronic record of identifiable health information on an individual that can be drawn from multiple sources and that is managed, shared, and controlled by or primarily for the individual. See 16 C.F.R. § 318.2(d).

“PHR identifiable health information” includes “individually identifiable health information,” as defined in section 1171(6) of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. 1320d-6. It also includes individual information provided by or on behalf of the individual that actually identifies or reasonably can be used to identify the individual. See 16 C.F.R. § 318.2(e) (“reasonable basis to believe that the information can be used to identify the individual”).

The Rule applies to (1) vendors of personal health records; (2) PHR-related entities that interact with vendors of PHRs or HIPAA-covered entities by offering products or services through their sites; (3) PHR-related entities that access information from or send information to a PHR; (4) PHR-related entities that process unsecured PHR identifiable health information as part of providing their services; and (5) third-party service providers for PHRs vendors.

The Rule does not apply to HIPAA-covered entities or any other entity to the extent that it engages in activities as a business associate of a HIPAA-covered entity.

Under the Rule, vendors of PHRs and PHR related entities must report a “breach of security” involving PHRs to the FTC, the consumers, and in some cases to the media. Service providers that process information for PHR vendors and PHR related entities also have a duty to notify their business customers of a security breach.

Typically, these service providers handle data storage or billing as a third-party provider. The Rule defines a “breach of security” as the acquisition of unsecured, PHR identifiable health information without the individual’s authorization.

Upon discovering a security breach, the entity must notify the required recipients within 60 days; but it must alert the FTC within 10 business days if the breach involves more than 500 individuals. Noncomplying entities face civil penalties of $43,792 per violation per day.

Rule Clarification

The FTC’s new Statement clarifies the Rule’s scope and application. It explains that the Rule covers PHRs vendors that contain individually identifiable health information created or received by health care providers. The Statement then specifies that health app and connected-device developers qualify as “health care providers” under the Rule because they “furnish health care services or supplies.”

Consequently, the Rule’s protections encompass any personally identifiable information developers create or receive that relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental condition of an individual; the provision of healthcare to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for healthcare to an individual.

The Statement also emphasized that an electronic health record must draw information from multiple sources and be managed, shared, or controlled by or primarily for the individual before the FTC will consider it to be a PHR under the Rule.

The Statement, however, interprets multiple sources liberally to include other non-health related information. An electronic health record can draw information “from multiple sources” in the context of a health app, for example, through a combination of consumer inputs and application programming interfaces.

Hence, the Rule would apply to an app if it collects information directly from consumers and can technically draw information through an application programming interface that enables syncing with a consumer’s fitness tracker or phone, even if only one source provided the health information. For example, the Rule would cover a blood sugar monitoring app that collects health information only from the user’s blood sugar levels if it then uses non-health information from the user’s phone, such as date, time, or percentage figures.

The Statement also warns entities that the Rule does not limit a “breach of security” to cybersecurity intrusions, illegal behavior, or ill-intentioned activities. Rather, any unauthorized access will trigger the Rule’s notification duties, much like under HIPAA. Thus, a health app developer faces a reportable breach of security if it accidentally discloses private health information to a third party without the individual’s consent.

Rule Enforcement Change

In addition to clarifying the Rule’s scope, the FTC’s new Statement also signaled an enforcement sea change. Even though the Rule was enacted more than a decade ago, the FTC has not enforced it once since 2009.

The FTC admitted that it has not used the Rule. The Statement cautioned, however, that the FTC considers the Rule’s notification duties critical now in light of the surge in health apps and connected devices. The Statement explicitly declares the FTC’s intent to notify entities of their continuing obligation to publicize breaches under the Rule.

The Statement’s message is unequivocal: the FTC will enforce the Rule and its notice requirements from now on.

A Dispute Prevention Opportunity

Instead of being in a “more bad news” category, healthcare managers should file the FTC’s Statement as a new opportunity to prevent future disputes. The FTC Statement serves as a warning, affording the healthcare industry some time to implement strategies to protect itself from class actions, mass claims arbitration, and other costly disputes. By taking the warning seriously, the industry can assess and then minimize its risk.

The bottom line: Healthcare and wellness app developers should assess the Rule’s application to their services and the adequacy of their current security measures in order to prevent triggering the Rule’s notification provisions or even the possibility of a noncompliance finding.

And then they can breathe a sigh of relief if the current measures adequately protect the business, or implement new measures now to upgrade them until they do. Either way, the FTC handed the healthcare industry an opportunity to prevent costly future risk.

* * *

The author is a full-time neutral, arbitrator, mediator, dispute prevention facilitator, and Hearing Officer specializing in mass claims, healthcare, technology, employment, and all commercial matters. She works on domestic and international matters, and is based in La Mesa, Calif.

[END]

Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges

By Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court expressed skepticism this morning about a petitioner’s argument that federal court jurisdiction over an arbitration matter under Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 4 on enforcing the submission to the ADR process does not also carry federal jurisdiction over to later FAA sections on confirming and overturning awards.

Today’s arguments in Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, the sole arbitration case on the current term’s docket, appeared to support the Court affirming a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision confirming an arbitration award, rather than sending the case back to state court.

Petitioner’s attorney Daniel L. Geyser, a partner in the Denver and Dallas’s offices of Haynes and Boone, addressed opposition for his FAA interpretation from the bench during this morning’s oral arguments, which were streamed at the Court’s website.

His adversary, Washington, D.C., Williams & Connolly partner Lisa Blatt, told the court that confining federal court jurisdiction to arbitration enforcement requests under Sec. 4’s submission coverage but not the Sec. 9 enforcement provision and the Sec. 10 challenge provision would “decapitate the FAA.”

The argument leaned heavily toward allowing federal court jurisdiction for the enforcement questions, with Geyser facing resistance among the members of the Court during his argument.

The Court presented the question starkly, “Whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA where the only basis for jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute involved a federal question.”

But it also provided a back story on the docket page:

This case presents a clear and intractable conflict regarding an important jurisdictional question under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1-16.

As this Court has repeatedly confirmed, the FAA does not itself confer federal question jurisdiction; federal courts must have an independent jurisdictional basis to entertain matters under the Act. In Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009), this Court held that a federal court, in reviewing a petition to compel arbitration under Section 4 of the Act, may “look through” the petition to decide whether the parties’ underlying dispute gives rise to federal-question jurisdiction. In so holding, the Court focused on the particular language of Section 4, which is not repeated elsewhere in the Act.

After Vaden, the circuits have squarely divided over whether the same “look through” approach also applies to motions to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10. In Quezada v. Bechtel OG & C Constr. Servs. Inc., 946 F.3d 837 (5th Cir. 2020), the Fifth Circuit acknowledged the 3-2 “circuit split,” and a divided panel held that the “look-through” approach applies under Sections 9 and 10. In the proceedings below, the Fifth Circuit declared itself “bound” by that earlier decision, and applied the “look-through” approach to establish jurisdiction. That holding was outcome determinative, and this case is a perfect vehicle for resolving the widespread disagreement over this important threshold question.

The case involves a FINRA arbitration brought by former Louisiana employee of a unit of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. against principals in the firm, which accompanied a federal court suit against the employer, as well as an EEOC claim.  The federal courts backed an arbitration award against the employee and for the principals.

In her attempt to overturn the federal courts’ jurisdiction on enforcement of the claim, the employee seeks to return to her state court claims challenging the award based on a fraud allegation against the principals. For full background, see Bryanna Rainwater, “Next at the Supreme Court: Badgerow’s Attempt to Reevaluate FAA Jurisdiction,” CPR Speaks (Sept. 15) (available here).

Daniel Geyser’s argument on behalf of the petitioner that the so-called look-through approach to analyzing federal court jurisdiction doesn’t apply to every FAA section met swift and strong resistance from the bench.  Justice Clarence Thomas led off questioning asking if the jurisdiction provided by the FAA was done in “a roundabout way” under Geyser’s formulation. The attorney countered that Congress could have put deployed “a free-standing provision that applied globally” instead of the designation about jurisdiction on backing arbitration submission agreements under Section 4.

The discussion led to a disagreement with the justices over the jurisdiction of the federal courts in matters with diversity and matters with federal questions. “In a federal question case,” said Geyser in response to skepticism about the difference from Justice Stephen Breyer, “the pleading before the Court under Section 9 and Section 10 is not the underlying case. It’s the attempt to enforce the arbitration contract. It’s saying, I want the arbitration contract enforced, not ‘I want to adjudicate the federal question.’”

But Breyer persisted, citing Vaden where an underlying matter might be employment or antitrust. “It doesn’t seem to make very much sense to say: Okay, go there, get an injunction” to send a case to arbitration, he said, but “when it comes time to enforce it, you can’t go there.  . . . Why you separate [Section 4] from the rest of it, I can’t get it.”

When Breyer conceded that there were language differences in the statute allowing for enforcement, Geyser agreed, noting, “I’d say that there is radically different language between Section 4 and the other sections.”

Geyser discussed with the Court the prospect of the federal courts having jurisdiction over hundreds of thousands of arbitrations after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned whether the problem was the fact that the case presents “the somewhat unusual situation where this is a federal statute that we have said does not give rise to federal jurisdiction.”

* * *

Respondents’ attorney Lisa Blatt faced more discussion and less resistance from the justices. She opened by noting that “the FAA is structured sequentially to facilitate all stages of arbitration to resolve the same underlying controversy,” and the continuing federal jurisdiction–from the early provisions providing for ensuring submission to arbitration to the later enforcement questions–makes sense.

“Congress presumably did not want federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements at the front end,” said Blatt, “only to see state courts to force do-overs at the back end.”

Justice Elena Kagan challenged Blatt on the lack of textual support for federal jurisdiction in FAA Sections 9 and 10. She countered that the statute’s referral to motions makes it procedural, with more of an inquiry needed for full jurisdiction. “It reads like .  . . a federal  . . . arbitration procedural act,” said Blatt, adding that when the act was passed, “The Federal Rules of Procedure didn’t exist.”

Blatt insisted that the statute provided grounds for the federal courts to decide on enforcing arbitration awards by looking at the underlying action. “You have plenty of textual hooks because you’ve got the word ‘motion,’” she explained, “and courts every day understand that motions aren’t — you know, motions don’t need a free standing.  . . .”

She continued, telling Chief Justice Roberts, “[T]his is the Federal Arbitration Act, so they were obviously thinking about cases that could otherwise be litigated in federal court. Whether that’s just diversity or a federal question, these are federal . . . controversies and these are treated as applications or requests to facilitate the arbitration from cradle to grave.”

In his rebuttal, Daniel Geyser warned that finding that the enforcement and challenge FAA sections carry federal jurisdiction, “you’re expanding federal jurisdiction to decide a bunch of cases that–where there is no advantage to having a federal court spend its expertise and bandwidth looking at cases that the state courts have faithfully handled.”

The transcript to today’s arguments are available on the U.S. Supreme Court website here. The Court is expected to decide the case before the term ends at the end of June.

* * *

The author edits Alternatives for CPR Speaks’ publisher, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.

[End]