Supreme Court Preview:  Monday’s Morgan Argument Expected to Define When a Party Waives Its Contractual Rights, Kicking Off Two Weeks of #Scotus #Arbitration Cases

By Russ Bleemer

Monday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments in Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, are the opening act for two weeks in which the nation’s top Court will take a deep dive into arbitration law and practice.

The Court’s unprecedented 2021-2022 term arbitration docket includes six cases, two of which are consolidated into one argument which also will take place next week.

Morgan involves the extent to which a federal court may defer to an arbitration agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act. 

Following the March 21 Morgan case arguments, and before the calendar turns to April, the Court will hear

  • On Wednesday, March 23, the consolidated arguments, including the U.S. Solicitor General, in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, international cases on the application of 28 U.S.C. § 1782 discovery to overseas arbitration;
  • On Monday, March 28, Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309, an FAA Sec. 1 question, “Whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.”
  • On Wednesday, March 31, Viking River Cruises Inc. v. Moriana, 20-1573, whether the FAA requires enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement providing that an employee cannot raise representative claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act, which, like a class action, allows employees to seek monetary awards on a representative basis on behalf of other employees.      

A Nov. 3 arbitration case, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, awaits decision.  The case is expected to address the limits of federal court jurisdiction on confirming and overturning arbitration awards under the FAA. 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) (available here).

The Court’s calendar with the arguments’ timing is available here; the arguments will be available live, audio only, via www.supremecourt.gov.

The first of this month’s arbitration matters, Morgan, will examine the question whether a defendant’s actions are enough to constitute a waiver of a contractual arbitration, or if the plaintiff must show prejudice to his, her or its case.  The matter is expected to decide a circuit split.

The specific issue will be “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?’”

The plaintiff is a former Taco Bell employee who is arguing that the defendant franchise owner had forfeited its right to arbitrate her wage claims by litigating the case.  An Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision held that the employee was not prejudiced by the franchise owner’s pursuit of litigation before arbitration.

Business groups have filed amicus briefs backing the Taco Bell franchisee.  They include the Washington Legal Foundation, the Restaurant Law Center, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

The petitioner-employee is supported by five amicus briefs. The briefs are from the American Association for Justice; the National Academy of Arbitrators; state attorneys general representing 18 states and the District of Columbia; Public Citizen; and a group of 31 U.S. law professors.  For more on the law professors’ views, see Richard Frankel, “Working with Waiver: Supreme Court to Review Law on When an Employer Drops and then Reinstates Arbitration,” 40 Alternatives 43 (March 2022) (available here). All of the amicus briefs are available on the Supreme Court’s Morgan docket page, linked at the top of this page.

For more on Morgan, 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).

For articles on the individual cases the Court will hear discussed above, use the CPR Speaks search function and search on the case names and/or Supreme Court on the upper right of this page.  For a summary and discussion of all of the cases, and an analysis of the Court’s arbitration caseload, see Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022), and Imre Szalai, “Not Like Other Cases: SCOTUS’s Unique Arbitration Year,” 40 Alternatives 28 (February 2022), both available for free at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK.

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The author edits Alternatives for the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, which is published with John Wiley & Sons in print, on Lexis and Westlaw, and archived in the Wiley Online Library at altnewsletter.com.

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