The U.S. Supreme Court has set the oral argument for Nov. 2 in Badgerow v. Walters, No.20-1143, now the sole remaining arbitration case on the docket for the new term beginning next month.
The issue the nation’s top Court will examine is whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act when the only basis for jurisdiction is a dispute regarding a federal question.
Section 9 deals with confirming an award, and Section 10 provides the limited grounds that can overturn an award and thereby defeat a move to confirm.
Last week, the Court removed the first arbitration case it had taken for the term from its argument schedule and dismissed the case after a party request. The case, Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, et al., Docket No. 20-794, would have examined the parameters of the discretion granted to district courts under 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) to render assistance in gathering evidence for use in “a foreign or international tribunal” by determining whether the statute includes private commercial arbitral tribunals.
For more details on the dismissal on this blog, see Bryanna Rainwater, “Case Dismissed: Supreme Court Lightens Its Arbitration Load as Servotronics Is Removed from 2021-22 Docket,” CPR Speaks (Sept. 8) (available at https://bit.ly/39oFdAx).
The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Badgerow affirmed the district court’s decision that exercised subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s petition to vacate an arbitral award stemming from an employment dispute, denying remand of the issue. Badgerow v. Walters, 975 F.3d 469 (5th Cir. Sept. 15, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/394xUh3).
Petitioner Denise Badgerow–a former employee of REJ Properties Inc., a Louisiana-based financial services firm that was a unit of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc.–signed an agreement to arbitrate any employment disputes with Ameriprise and any of its affiliates.
She was terminated and initiated arbitration against company officials alleging gender discrimination and other Title VII and equal pay claims before a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel. Ameriprise successfully moved to compel arbitration in a separate federal suit and Badgerow added a declaratory judgment claim against Ameriprise to the FINRA arbitration.
Badgerow sought damages against the REJ principals for tortious interference of contract for a violation of Louisiana’s “whistleblower” law. Id. at 471. The FINRA panel dismissed all of Badgerow’s claims against the principals and Ameriprise with prejudice.
In May 2019, Badgerow brought a new Louisiana state court action to vacate the FINRA award that dismissed her complaints, alleging fraud by the principals against the FINRA arbitrators. The principals removed the case to Louisiana’s Eastern U.S. District Court. Badgerow filed a motion to remand, asserting the lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction.
The district court held that there was federal subject matter jurisdiction, and Badgerow appealed the denial of her motion to remand to state court.
The Fifth Circuit relied upon the approach in Vaden v. Discover Bank, in which the Supreme Court adopted the “look through” approach to determining federal jurisdiction in actions that compel arbitration under FAA Section 4. Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009) (available at https://bit.ly/3Ca42MA). Under this approach, a federal court should “look through” the Federal Arbitration Act claims to the “substantive controversy” to determine if they could have been brought in federal court.
Badgerow disagreed with the district court’s four-step analysis for conveying federal jurisdiction in her case because she did not include Ameriprise in her state-court action, but the district court rejected this argument, holding, “’Badgerow cannot deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over an action to vacate the award by stripping off a single state law claim.’” Id.at 474 (quoting the district court opinion).
The Fifth Circuit noted that a close reading of Vaden vindicated the district court’s reasoning. Since Vaden’s rule is “if, save for” the arbitration agreement, a claim could be held in federal court, then there is federal jurisdiction.
The Fifth Circuit agreed that this analysis does not fail in an action to vacate the award by “stripping off a single state law claim.” Id. The court decided that since Badgerow’s claims “all arose from the same common nucleus of operative fact” that “the district court correctly found that the federal claim against Ameriprise in the FINRA arbitration proceeding meant that there was federal subject-matter jurisdiction over the removed petition to vacate the FINRA arbitration dismissal award.” Id.
The case now stands before the Supreme Court, which granted cert on May 17.
In her petition, Badgerow lays out the clear question of “whether Vaden’s ‘look through’ approach applies to motions to enforce or vacate arbitration awards under [FAA] Sections 9 and 10.”
The petitioner noted that there is disagreement among district judges regarding the Vaden analysis as it relates to FAA enforcement of arbitral awards, and that the Fifth Circuit itself divided 2-1 on the Vaden look-through approach for motions to confirm in a case addressed while Badgerow was pending. Quezada v. Bechtel OG & C Constr. Servs. Inc., 946 F.3d 837 (5th Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3lrMZ1X).
The cert petition says that the divisiveness between the courts and the confusion surrounding the FAA language are reasons to question the Fifth Circuit’s decision in asking the Supreme Court to clarify whether Vaden’s approach to federal jurisdiction extends from FAA Section 4 to Sections 9 and 10.
While the steady stream of Supreme Court arbitration cases has generated a concurrent steady stream of regularly appearing parties as amicus curiae, oddly, at this writing, less than two months ahead of arguments, no friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed either on the successful cert petition or the case itself. The case documents, including the party briefs and any future amicus filings, can be found on the Supreme Court docket page at https://bit.ly/3zfSqps.
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The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern.
The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the first arbitration case it had accepted for this fall’s term.
Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, et al., Docket No. 20-794, has been officially removed from the Supreme Court’s docket as of today, with the Oct. 5 opening week oral argument wiped off the schedule. You can see the Court’s order in the docket here.
The dismissal follows the completion of arbitration in London this summer. The U.S. Solicitor General’s office had requested and been granted permission to participate in the oral arguments.
The issue that was awaiting the Supreme Court was whether the discretion granted to district courts in 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) to render assistance in gathering evidence for use in “a foreign or international tribunal” encompasses private commercial arbitral tribunals, as the Fourth and Sixth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have held, or excludes such tribunals without expressing an exclusionary intent, as the Second, Fifth, and, in the case below, the Seventh Circuit, have held. See Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls Royce PLC, No. 19-1847 (7th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3dpNyF4).
Since the Court has declined to hear this case, the future of international private commercial arbitration discovery is still unclear, with pending cases in federal circuit courts.
For more background on the Servotronics history, please see CPR’s coverage:
Cai Phillips-Jones, “United States Submits Amicus Brief in Servotronics International Arbitration Supreme Court Case,” CPR Speaks (July 8) (available here).
Amy Foust, “The Next Arbitration Matter: Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Extent of Foreign Tribunal Evidence Powers,” (March 22) (available here).
“YouTube Analysis: What Happens Next with the 3/22 Servotronics Cert Grant on Foreign Arbitration Evidence,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available here).
“CPR Files Amicus Brief Asking U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Foreign Discovery for Arbitration,” CPR Speaks (Jan. 6) (available here).
John B. Pinney, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (July/August 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/38PDOSk).
John B. Pinney, “Update: The Section 1782 Conflict Intensifies as the International Arbitration Issue Goes to the Supreme Court,” 38 Alternatives 125 (September 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3tbgFCX).
The Court recently scheduled its second–and suddenly, sole–arbitration matter for the new term. Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, will discuss “[w]hether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act when the only basis for jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute involved a federal question.” It will be argued on Nov. 2.
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The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern.
At the three-week session concluding July 16, the commission adopted the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules and the Explanatory Notes to the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules. These rules and notes complement and are intended to be read together with UNCITRAL’s well-known arbitration rules, which are for resolving international disputes and applicable both in administered arbitrations under the auspices of an arbitral institution, as well as in ad hoc arbitrations.
The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules were originally developed as an alternative to other major rule systems. UNCITRAL’s innovative rules were initially viewed with skepticism, but over time, they have been frequently used in investment arbitrations, commercial arbitrations, arbitrations between states, and between states and individuals, such as for the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunals and several bilateral investment treaties. Latham & Watkins Guide to International Arbitration (2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2VeZKU8).
The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules have gone through three versions, in 1976, 2010 (revised to meet the needs of modern business including improvements to procedural efficiency, inclusion of provisions on multi-party arbitration and the development of rules on interim measures; available at https://bit.ly/3i7UrPq), and 2013 (incorporated rules on transparency for investment arbitrations based on treaties; available at https://bit.ly/2UZMEKH). See general background on the rules from UNCITRAL at https://bit.ly/3l6RyjD.
In 2018, UNCITRAL mandated Working Group II to explore ways to improve the efficiency of the arbitral proceedings through streamlining and simplifying procedures, resulting in the drafting of the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules. The goal is to reach a final dispute resolution in a cost- and time-effective manner while ensuring due process and fair treatment for the disputants. (See https://undocs.org/en/A/CN.9/934 for the 2018 statement on expedited rules.)
For coverage of the early drafting process of the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules, see Piotr Wójtowicz & Franco Gevaerd, “How UNCITRAL’s Working Group II on Arbitration Is Analyzing the Field to Help Expedited Processes” 37 Alternatives 90 (June 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/377Nfwg), and Piotr Wójtowicz & Franco Gevaerd, “The Framework: The U.N.’s Working Group II Debates New Expedited Arbitration Rules,” 37 Alternatives 99 (July/August 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3l5OLqS).
Special features in the UNCITRAL expedited arbitration rules include the following:
Disputes under the expedited procedures shall be settled in accordance with the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules as modified by the expedited rules.
The expedited rules shall apply only with express consent by the disputants.
To facilitate speedy constitution of the tribunal, the claimant must include, with its notice of arbitration, the proposal of an appointment authority and the arbitrator. The notice of arbitration constitutes the claimant’s statement of claim. The respondent then has 15 days to file a response to the notice of arbitration. By contrast, under UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, the time to respond is 30 days from the receipt of the notice of arbitration.
When the disputants cannot agree on an appointing authority, any disputant can request that the Permanent Court of Arbitration Secretary-General designate the appointing authority or serve as appointing authority. The PCA Secretary-General has discretion to decline serving as appointing authority and designate another authority if it deems it more appropriate. In this way, the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules have deviated from the default two-step designation/appointment procedure found in the non-expedited UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
The tribunal has discretion in shaping the proceedings, including extending or abridging timeframes (except for award issuance, as discussed in the bullet below) and determining whether hearings will be held or evidence taken. This discretion represents an expansion of the discretion contained in the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
The time period for rendering the award employs a bifurcated approach. If the tribunal considers that it is at risk of not rendering an award within nine months, it shall propose a final extended time limit. If all disputants agree, the extension is considered adopted. If a party objects to the extension, however, any party may make a request that the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules no longer apply to the arbitration. After hearing the disputants, the tribunal may then decide that it will instead conduct the proceedings in accordance with the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, which do not contain the time limits.
The most contentious issue was the last bullet point above regarding the time period for rendering the award. Working Group II spent more than six hours debating on this point during the 54th session, focusing on how to balance the policy interest of promoting a truly expedited process with the goal of ensuring that the result of that process would be enforceable through the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, better known as the New York Convention.
At one point, the U.S. delegation objected vehemently that “[u]sing this approach, as the default in the rules, creates a very concerning precedent for an uncontrolled instrument in our delegation’s experience. . . . That is why we have drafted the compromise language that . . . seeks to bridge the gap between delegations like ours, who are very concerned about adopting a system that will likely produce unknowable awards, and those delegations who primarily are concerned that without a hard stop at nine months, the rules will enable arbitrators who were not very diligent, or who simply procrastinated to continue to take extensions.”
There were more concerns about protecting those with lesser means and bargaining power:
The U.S. delegation noted, “We think that given that these rules may be used by unsophisticated parties because they are expedited, . . . one of the goals is to reach out to parties who might be otherwise deterred from pursuing arbitration because of the cost. . . .”
The Israel delegation point out that “[t]here could be concerns of parties with weaker bargaining powers that would have to be essentially compelled to agree to this. . . .”
While the debate was heated, ultimately the member states drafted an innovative approach to reach a consensus.
The UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules will appear together with the explanatory notes toward the end of the year as an appendix to the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. In the fall, Working Group II will deliberate on rules about early dismissal of frivolous claims that will require modifications to the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. Working Group II will post the final rules, and currently has the drafts, here.
In addition, UNCITRAL is contemplating developing a new framework for adjudication. commonly known as dispute resolution boards, to complement the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. There has been a recurring expression of interest within UNCITRAL member states in the principle of rapid decision common to adjudication in construction projects. The U.S. delegation noted that it hoped that this principle can be adapted to expedite the resolution of disputes in other long-term contracts, or at least to mitigate the impact of those disputes.
UNCITRAL expects to conduct colloquiums to discuss adjudication next spring. With the adoption of the expedited rules, UNCITRAL is taking steps to expand the use of arbitration as a method of dispute resolution available to a wider range of parties.
Thomas W. Walsh, special counsel based in the New York office of Freshfields, who in his arbitration work focuses on UNCITRAL matters and worked on an early draft of the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules, said that the rules “are a welcome example of the arbitration community responding to the needs of the businesses that use arbitration. If parties have a commercial need to expedite the resolution of their dispute, the rules offer a thoughtful, ready-made procedure that they can select to meet that commercial need.”
The UNCITRAL Expedited Rules eliminate many of the obstacles that made arbitration costly and overly time-consuming, and the role of UNCITRAL as a global trend-setter on arbitration means that these new provisions are likely to be used as models worldwide.
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The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings for CPR Speaks as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern. Her articles can be found using the search box on the upper right of this page.
Multiple parties have filed briefs concerning arbitration discovery rules in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court for fall argument, Servotronics v. Rolls Royce, No. 794(see the Court’s official docket at https://bit.ly/3ysbMrL).
In the case, the Court will decide the question of whether federal district courts can assist with obtaining evidence in foreign arbitration cases at the parties’ request. The argument date has not yet been set.
The U.S. Solicitor General’s office in the Justice Department has filed an amicus brief advocating on behalf of the U.S. government for a narrow interpretation of 28 U.S.C. 1782, a law that has created a split among federal circuit courts. The law allows circuit courts to authorize discovery for litigation originating in “foreign tribunals,” including compelling testimony from witnesses residing in the United States.
But circuit courts have not been able to agree about whether the law pertains to arbitration taking place in foreign countries: The Fourth and Sixth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals support court involvement in discovery for these arbitrations under Section 1782, and the Second, Fifth and Seventh Circuits reject this interpretation of the law.
The Fourth and Seventh Circuits both heard the same Servotronics case that is now on the Supreme Court docket. The circuit courts reached opposite conclusions. For background on the cases’ paths and how the current Seventh Circuit case made it to the Supreme Court, see Amy Foust, “The Next Arbitration Matter: Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Extent of Foreign Tribunal Evidence Powers,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available at https://bit.ly/36cp27K), and “YouTube Analysis: What Happens Next with the 3/22 Servotronics Cert Grant on Foreign Arbitration Evidence,” CPR Speaks (March 22) (available at https://bit.ly/3jLbVT3).
CPR, which publishes CPR Speaks, submitted an amicus brief in support of the Servotronics certiorari request in January, which also was the subject of an amicus brief by the Atlanta International Arbitration Society. Since the petition was granted, 11 additional amicus briefs, including the brief of the Solicitor General’s office, have been filed.
Of the group, two state that they do no support either party–those of Prof. Yanbai Andrea Wang, of Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, who asks the Court to clarify the scope of Section 1782, previously interpreted in the Intel case discussed below; and the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce, which discusses the ICC’s international law views.
Two briefs support the petitioner, submitted on behalf of Columbia Law School Prof. George A. Bermann; and Palo Alto, Calif.-based ADR provider Federal Arbitration Inc.
Seven of the briefs support the respondent in seeking a narrow scope for Section 1782 discovery to exclude international arbitrations. In addition to the U.S. government’s brief, they include briefs submitted on behalf of China and Hong Kong-based arbitrators Dr. Xu Guojian, Li Hongji, Zhu Yongrui, Tang Qingyang, Chi Manjiao, Ronald Sum, and Dr. Zhang Guanglei; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable; International Arbitration Center in Tokyo; the General Aviation Manufacturers Association Inc. and the Aerospace Industries Association; Halliburton Co., which is facing a Section 1782 issue in a separate case, and the Institute of International Bankers, a New York City-based industry association of international banks operating in the United States.
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In its brief, the government reviews the history of requests for discovery from foreign parties.
According to the amicus brief, prior to 1855, federal courts did not have the authority to compel a witness to testify in a case involving a foreign state party. In 1855, an act was passed by Congress to remedy this, but in a strange twist this law was subsequently “buried in oblivion” due to “a succession of errors in indexing and revising the statutes” and lost to the courts. A similar law was passed in 1877 and, in 1948, the law was broadened to include discovery for non-state parties.
In 1964, the language in the law was broadened again, applying to “a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal” compared to the previous version’s “any judicial proceeding in any court in a foreign country.” Since then, only one Supreme Court case has discussed the scope of the law, Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004).
The case concerned the distinction between judicial and administrative processes and whether Section 1782 applied to the latter. The Court found it applied. But recently, disagreement has sprung up about whether the “foreign tribunal” language includes arbitrations involving foreign parties. The U.S. government has now taken the position that the law should not apply to private foreign arbitrations.
In its brief, United States argues (1) that such discovery functions were not within the scope of Congress’ intent when it passed 28 U.S.C 1782; (2) that interpreting the law to apply to international commercial arbitrations would create asymmetry with the domestic rules of arbitration incorporated in the Federal Arbitration Act; and (3) such an interpretation would create additional problems if extended to investor-state arbitration.
Noting that previous versions of the law clearly referred to only courts, the government acknowledges that the 1964 revision changed this language from “any judicial proceeding in any court in a foreign country,” to “a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” This change, according to the government, and in contrast to the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation, was “only a measured expansion of the provision’s scope to capture quasi-judicial entities (such as investigating magistrates) and certain intergovernmental bodies (such as state-to-state claims commissions).” As the government points out, at the time the 1964 law was passed, international commercial arbitration was still novel, and thus likely outside Congress’s intent.
The government’s second argument discusses the incongruence of the limited discovery available under the FAA to arbitrators, in contrast to the discovery requests available to parties under Section 1782. Interpreting the law to apply to commercial arbitrations would “[allow] more expansive discovery in foreign disputes than what is permitted domestically,” the government’s amicus brief states.
While the court acknowledges that Section 1782 is not coextensive with domestic discovery rules, the “stake asymmetry” produced by a broad interpretation of the law “should [be taken] into account” in determining the law’s scope.
Finally, the government discusses a particular type of arbitration, investor-state arbitration, which gives investors who have claims against a foreign state in which they held an investment a private remedy for losses allegedly caused by the state. Arbitration in this context replaced a more time-consuming and expensive process, diplomatic protection, involving a government negotiating a resolution on behalf of one of its citizens who has suffered an economic injury.
The solicitor general’s amicus brief argues that investor-state arbitrations would be hampered by additional discovery procedures and “upset settled expectations” of investor and state parties entering contracts.
The U.S. government, in addition to filing a brief, has requested permission from the court to argue the case with the parties this fall The Court has not yet acted on the oral argument request, which is expected to be granted.
Meantime, the underlying arbitration in Servotronics has been conducted in London the week of May 10. If a decision emerges before the Court hears the arguments, the existence of an arbitration award could raise questions of mootness.
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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.
Over the past 30 years, the Art World has become the Art Market. Selling and purchasing art has become Big Business for collectors and investors alike. In a mostly unregulated market, new regulations are emerging on resolving disputes between parties involved in art deals.
Described as the first initiative of its kind in Italy, the regulations promote the use of arbitration and provide an alternatives to the Hague’s Court of Arbitration for Art, or CAfA. Established in 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Art was founded to resolve disputes through alternative dispute resolution throughout the art market. Through CAfA, disputes can be arbitrated or mediated with the help of the Netherlands Arbitration Institute.
Disputes that arise in art parallel commercial transactions, but with niche concerns including issues of cultural and religious sensitivity, confidentiality, and authenticity.
The use of these regulations for art arbitration comes with several upsides. The article linked above highlights a prominent advantage where arbitration is efficient and is “freely accessible”–having an arbitration clause already baked in to provide a jumping off point if a dispute arises out of difficult cultural matters or from the uncertainty of fraudulent works.
Another upside discussed in the article that comes with using arbitration is “guaranteed confidentiality,” because art-market players often are sensitive regarding “reputation and discretion,” and there is a heightened importance of privacy for collectors and dealers.
The goal of the Venice Chamber regulations is also to broaden the use and scope of arbitration to the contemporary art context and go beyond the limited definitions of national legislation. By introducing the regulations, arbitration as a means of alternative dispute resolution is promoted as an efficient and effective way to resolve art sector disputes.
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The author, a J.D. student who will enter her second year this fall at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.
Last week, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued one of the rare rulings addressing the authority of an arbitral institution to make decisions.
In the case, the appeals court considered the authority of an American Arbitration Association administrator to make what the court considered a “gateway” decision under the AAA’s Healthcare Policy Statement and rules rather than allowing that decision to be made by arbitrators.
The 2-1 majority opinion ruled that only an arbitrator could make the decision, not the administrator. That ruling has significant implications for the administrability of due process protocols and policy statements in patient healthcare, consumer and employment disputes.
In Ciccio, et al. v. SmileDirectClub LLC, No. 20-5833 (6th Cir. June 25, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/2U8OqZ8), Senior Circuit Judge David W. McKeague authored the majority Sixth Circuit panel opinion overturning an AAA decision to apply the AAA’s policy against accepting a claim that “implicated various AAA policies that precluded arbitration unless the parties signed a post-dispute arbitration agreement or a court otherwise ordered arbitration.”
The AAA’s Consumer Arbitration Rules, Healthcare Policy Statement and Healthcare Due Process Protocol bar the AAA from arbitrating a patient healthcare dispute unless either (1) all parties have agreed to submit the matter to arbitration after the dispute has arisen or(2) a court has ordered the disputing parties to arbitrate the matter. The AAA Healthcare Policy Statement describes this policy succinctly:
In 2003, the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) announced that it would not administer healthcare arbitrations between individual patients and healthcare service providers that relate to medical services, such as negligence and medical malpractice disputes, unless all parties agreed to submit the matter to arbitration after the dispute arose. . . . However, the AAA will administer disputes between patients and healthcare providers to the extent a court order directs such a dispute to arbitration where the parties’ agreement provides for the AAA’s rules or AAA administration.
The dispute in this case arose out of a false advertising claim brought by plaintiffs and former patients Dena Nigohosian, Dr. Joseph Ciccio, Dr. Arthur Kapit, and Dr. Vishu Raj, and joined by Dana Johnson and others, against SmileDirect, originally in federal court. The U.S. District Court first held that an arbitration agreement in SmileDirect’s customer contract applied and ordered Nigohosian to arbitrate. The other plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed their court claims.
The arbitration clause in question read:
AGREEMENT TO ARBITRATE – I hereby agree that any dispute regarding the products and services offered [b]y SmileDirectClub and/or affiliated dental professionals, including but not limited to medical malpractice disputes, will be determined by submission to arbitration and not [b]y lawsuit filed in any court, except claims within the jurisdiction of Small Claims Court . . . . I agree that the arbitration shall be conducted by a single, neutral arbitrator selected by the parties and shall be resolved using the rules of the American Arbitration Association.
Johnson thereafter filed a class arbitration claim against SmileDirect with the AAA on behalf of consumer claimants who had been SmileDirect patients.
At that point, the AAA itself became involved in deciding whether the class arbitration should proceed in light of AAA policies and rules. An AAA administrator advised the parties that that AAA’s Healthcare Due Process Protocol and Healthcare Policy Statement in the circumstances required healthcare providers and their consumers to sign post-dispute arbitration unless a court order has compelled arbitration, according to the Sixth Circuit opinion:
An AAA administrator informed the parties that AAA’s Healthcare Due Process Protocol and Healthcare Policy Statement applied, which require healthcare providers and their patients to sign an arbitration agreement after a dispute arises in certain cases unless a court order has compelled arbitration. SmileDirect’s counsel asked the AAA administrator to reverse this decision but the AAA administrator maintained his “initial, administrative determination [that] the Protocol [and the Healthcare Policy Statement] appl[y].” . . . SmileDirect’s counsel objected again, noting that the district court had already compelled Nigohosian to arbitrate “whether the claims themselves are arbitrable” and argued that “AAA’s administrative decision to apply the Protocol [and the Healthcare Policy Statement] to these consumer claims is erroneous. ***
The AAA administrator “reaffirm[ed] [his] administrative determination” that the Healthcare Policy Statement applied to Johnson’s claims. . . . He concluded that arbitration could only proceed following a court order (seemingly like the court order already entered for Nigohosian) or a post-dispute arbitration agreement.
Johnson refused to sign a post-dispute agreement consenting to arbitration, while Nigohosian (who was bound by the earlier District Court order compelling arbitration) never initiated arbitration herself. When claimants renewed their court proceedings in the U.S. District Court, however, “SmileDirect responded that they couldn’t rejoin the case because the Agreement required an arbitrator to decide the merits of any dispute, including any gateway issues about whether the dispute was arbitrable.” (Emphasis added.)
The district court, though, decided that SmileDirect and Johnson “got what they bargained for” because the dispute had been “resolved using the rules of the [AAA].” Consequently, the court determined that Johnson could renew the dispute before the judicial forum:
The district court interpreted the Agreement to fully incorporate Rule 1(d), the Consumer Due Process Protocol, and the Healthcare Policy Statement. The court’s interpretation of these rules and policies next led it to conclude that Johnson had discharged his obligations under the Agreement and could “submit [his] dispute to the appropriate court for resolution.” . . . Under the district court’s reasoning, Rule 1(d) incorporates the Consumer Due Process Protocol, which in turn states that AAA has subject-specific policies (incorporating the Healthcare Due Process Protocol and Healthcare Policy Statement by implication), and the Healthcare Policy Statement requires a post-dispute arbitration agreement or a court order. Therefore, the court held that “the AAA process to which the parties mutually agreed ha[d] been completed in Johnson’s case.”
With respect to Nigohosian, however, the Court decided that she was bound by the existing Court order compelling arbitration. The District Court therefore stayed her claims, pending arbitration.
SmileDirect thereafter appealed the decision regarding Johnson to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals did not resolve the substantive arbitrability issue. Rather, Judge McKeague held on behalf of a majority of a divided appellate panel that “The text of the [parties’ arbitration agreement] confirms that the parties didn’t intend to allow an administrator to short-circuit arbitration by refusing to appoint an arbitrator to answer this initial gateway question. Accordingly, we don’t have anything further to say on the matter until and unless a party asks us to review an arbitrator’s decision under 9 U.S.C. § 10.”
To reach this result, the appellate panel started with basic principles in U.S. arbitration jurisprudence that “[w]hether the parties have agreed to arbitrate or whether their agreement covers a particular controversy” are gateway arbitrability questions.” The parties may decide to send these gateway issues to an arbitrator rather than a court, but only upon a showing of “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties did indeed intend to delegate those issues to an arbitrator under the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court’s First Options v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995).
In the Sixth Circuit, like almost all other federal circuit courts, the incorporation of AAA rules authorizing the arbitrator to decide on the scope or validity of the arbitration agreement or the arbitrability of a claim satisfies the First Options standard.
Thus far, the Court of Appeal’s reasoning paralleled the U.S. District Court’s reasoning on gateway arbitration questions. But, stated the McKeague opinion, “What remains is the related question of whether the parties intended to allow an AAA administrator to apply the Healthcare Policy Statement before sending any gateway-arbitrability questions to the arbitrator,” explaining that
The Agreement dictates that “any dispute . . . will be determined by submission to arbitration,” not by litigation, and “that the arbitration shall be conducted by a single, neutral arbitrator selected by the parties.” The parties never got that far here because an AAA administrator “ma[d]e an initial, administrative determination [that] the [Healthcare Policy Statement] applie[d].”
The appeals court read the arbitration agreement between the parties to show that they intended to send gateway questions of arbitrability “exclusively” to an arbitrator, not to an AAA administrator. Senior Circuit Judge McKeague expressed confusion as to the basis relied upon by the AAA administrator to take this decision rather than referring the question to an arbitral panel:
It is unclear what the administrator was doing. There are two ways to view his decision. Perhaps the administrator independently interpreted the Agreement and read it to incorporate the Healthcare Policy Statement, which led the administrator to conclude that the parties did not intend to arbitrate the instant dispute without a post-dispute agreement or court order. Or perhaps the administrator was simply applying AAA’s Healthcare Policy Statement because he concluded that this case concerns healthcare and the AAA follows this policy no matter what a particular agreement says or what particular parties intended.
“Either way,” wrote Judge McKeague, “the end result was contrary to the text of the Agreement and the FAA.” Arbitrators and arbitral administrators “are distinct.” Under AAA instruments, he wrote, administrators do not decide the merits of a dispute.
The opinion notes, “The arbitrator decides the merits of a dispute. And if an administrator could preempt a final merits ruling by an arbitrator, the administrator would effectively run afoul of the provision that administrators ‘cannot overrule or change an arbitrator’s decisions or rulings.’” It continues later:
Under AAA’s rules, an arbitrator and an administrator are distinct. “The [a]dministrator’s role is to manage the administrative aspects of the arbitration, such as the appointment of the arbitrator. . . . [T]he [a]dministrator does not decide the merits of a case or make any rulings on issues such as what documents must be shared with each side.” . . . Unsurprisingly, the administrator helps disputes get to an arbitrator and doesn’t make merits rulings. On the other hand, “[a]rbitrators are neutral and independent decision makers who . . . make the final, binding decision on the dispute. . . . The [a]rbitrator makes all the procedural decisions on a case not made by the administrator.” …. The arbitrator decides the merits of a dispute. And if an administrator could preempt a final merits ruling by an arbitrator, the administrator would effectively run afoul of the provision that administrators “cannot overrule or change an arbitrator’s decisions or rulings.”
Therefore, concluded the Sixth Circuit, “the arbitrability of Johnson’s claim, thus should’ve gone to an arbitrator for a ‘final, binding decision.’”
The appellate court also considered whether the issue of compliance with the AAA’s post-dispute agreement requirement for consumer healthcare arbitrations is a “procedural decision” delegated to an AAA administrator rather than an arbitral panel. The appeals panel stated, “We don’t see how it could be.”
In so deciding, the appellate judges reminded the parties that contract interpretation is a legal question. Procedural decisions, stated the Court of Appeals, are more like administrative aspects of the arbitration such as appointment of arbitrators, location of hearings and fees:
The procedural decisions AAA administrators make, in turn, are more akin to “administrative aspects of the arbitration, such as the appointment of the arbitrator, . . . preliminary decisions about where hearings might take place, and . . . handl[ing] the fees.” *** So it generally wouldn’t make sense to require clear intent to delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator but then allow either arbitrators or administrators to decide that legal question. [Citation and footnote omitted.]
The appellate court distinguished in this regard a Fourth Circuit decision upholding resolution by AAA administrators of a dispute as to how many arbitrators would be appointed, Dockser v. Schwartzberg, 433 F.3d 421 (4th Cir. 2006).
Not only were the clauses in the two disputes different, said the Sixth Circuit majority, but the issue in that latter case was procedural. “Dockser dealt with ‘what kind of arbitration proceeding the parties agreed to,’ whereas here the relevant question is arbitrability—what the Agreement itself means.”
If, instead of interpreting the parties’ arbitration agreement, the AAA was applying its own “sound policy,” then according to Judge McKeague that conduct too would contravene applicable law. Nor did the arbitration agreement grant the AAA administrator the authority to make this policy choice for the parties. The majority opinion states:
Although the AAA may choose for itself which claims it will arbitrate, it is not at liberty to “impose its own view of sound policy” regarding when or how parties should be allowed to arbitrate independent of the parties’ own choices in their contract.
We also see nothing in the Agreement that gives the administrator the right to make this policy choice for the parties. To be sure, the Agreement incorporates the AAA rules, which perhaps could be read to include the AAA’s due process review under Consumer Rule 1(d). And Consumer Rule 53 says that “[t]he arbitrator shall interpret and apply these Rules as they relate to the arbitrator’s powers and duties” but that “[a]ll other Rules shall be interpreted and applied by the AAA.” . . . But Consumer Rules 1(d) and 53 must be read together with the Agreement and the other rules to ascertain the parties’ intent. . . . When an arbitration agreement and its incorporated rules seem to conflict, our job is to find the “best way to harmonize” them. [Emphasis is the court’s.]
“We won’t,” stated the appellate majority, “interpret this agreement to arbitrate to permit Johnson to avoid arbitration.”
Moreover, the appeals panel pointed out that its decision to require an arbitrator to decide the gateway question, rather than an administrator, was not inconsistent with AAA policy. The court’s resulting order would satisfy the AAA Healthcare Policy alternative that the AAA will arbitrate consumer healthcare disputes if so directed by a court order. The opinion notes:
The Healthcare Policy Statement also does not stand in the way of such an appointment. It makes clear that “the AAA will administer disputes between patients and healthcare providers” either when the parties enter into a post-dispute agreement or when “a court order directs such a dispute to arbitration where the parties’ agreement provides for the AAA’s rules or AAA administration.” . . . Our decision will lead to such a court order—seemingly clearing the administrative path. Here, to give effect to both the parties’ agreement that “the arbitration shall be conducted by a single, neutral arbitrator” and that the arbitration “shall be resolved using the rules of the American Arbitration Association,” we can’t read the AAA rules to preclude decision by an arbitrator.
.The Sixth Circuit opinion also drew attention to the fact that the approach taken by the majority will result in a different, narrower judicial review standard by the federal courts–review for vacatur of an arbitral decision rather than de novo review:
The district court effectively reviewed the Agreement de novo. In doing that, the district court relied on a court’s interpretation of the same set of AAA rules and policies to hold that the AAA rules effectively nullified an arbitration agreement. . . . But by agreeing, clearly and unmistakably, to send the arbitrability question to the arbitrator, the parties here bargained for the narrow 9 U.S.C. § 10 review, not de novo review. . . .
This is where the Agreement’s requirement that the dispute would not be determined by litigation comes in. The district court determined the contract-interpretation question, so the dispute was determined by litigation contrary to the intent of the parties. But once an arbitrator interprets the Agreement, any judicial review under 9 U.S.C. § 10 wouldn’t be review of the arbitrability question de novo but under the limited grounds identified (for fraud, corruption, etc.). Because the parties bargained for an arbitrator to interpret the Agreement and for the courts to have a very limited role, it wouldn’t make sense to allow an administrator’s preemptive contract interpretation to be a portal to de novo judicial review.
Circuit Judge Eric L. Clay dissented, noting “I agree with the majority’s statement at the onset of its opinion that “this case is about whether the Agreement incorporates the Healthcare Policy Statement,” even though it then proceeds to repudiate the Healthcare Policy Statement.” The parties, Circuit Judge Clay reasoned, “made their decision to abide by the rules when they signed the contract incorporating rules that included the Healthcare Policy Statement.” He added:
Turning to the plain language of the agreement, the threshold question of what the agreement incorporated is readily apparent: [disputes] shall be resolved using the rules of the American Arbitration Association. . . . As part of the AAA rules, the AAA maintains consumer protocols that ensure a fair process in healthcare disputes. The Healthcare Policy Statement’s incorporation into the agreement was clear to anyone who read the AAA’s rules. The parties made their decision to abide by the rules when they signed the contract incorporating rules that included the Healthcare Policy Statement, but in my colleagues’ view, those rules may simply be disregarded if they interfere with requiring the parties to proceed with the arbitration.
Here, the AAA determined that proceeding to arbitration would violate their due process rules without its mandatory post-dispute agreement. When the parties agreed that the dispute “shall be resolved using the rules of the AAA,” they were aware that those rules called for an administrator to render the AAA’s initial determination regarding the requirements of the organization’s own rules before proceeding to arbitration. That was not an unusual decision, nor a decision out of lockstep with the rules of the AAA. Quite the contrary, that decision followed the process by which the AAA typically administers all of its arbitrations. That provides the “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties intended to have these gateway issues decided in accordance with the AAA’s procedures and policies.
The majority opinion addressed Circuit Judge Clay’s dissent in footnotes 3 and 4. Notably, in footnote 4 the Court of Appeals stated, “we interpret the words of this Agreement in conjunction with AAA’s rules without deference to AAA’s ‘typical’ practice.” The footnotes state:
3The dissent agrees that AAA’s rules specifically assign arbitrability questions to the arbitrator while reserving AAA’s “administrative duties” for the administrator as detailed in the arbitration agreement and the AAA’s rules themselves. . . . Where we differ is whether the AAA rules include an initial arbitrability decision among these “administrative duties.” The dissent points to no rule granting the administrator such authority, but instead locates the authority in the general requirement that “the AAA will administer the arbitration.” . . . Our decision to follow the AAA’s rule granting such authority to an arbitrator doesn’t mean that the parties “contract[ed] the AAA’s administrator out of the process,” but instead means the parties intended the administrator to have the role the AAA’s rules mandate: “to manage the administrative aspects of the arbitration, such as the appointment of the arbitrator, preliminary decisions about where hearings might take place, and handling the fees associated with the arbitration.”
4The dissent suggests that requiring an administrator to determine arbitrability “was not an unusual decision” but is rather “the process by which the AAA typically administers all of its arbitrations”—a fact that “any party doing their due diligence would have seen.” . . . But we interpret the words of this Agreement in conjunction with AAA’s rules without deference to AAA’s “typical” practice. The Agreement or the AAA Rules could grant the administrator that authority, but in this case they do not.
Judge Clay volleyed back at the majority by arguing in his own footnote 1 that “The majority claims that we agree that the AAA’s rules assign arbitrability to the arbitrator, and ‘administrative duties’ to the administrator, but that is not the case. To the contrary, the AAA’s rules do not clearly delineate these roles as the majority alleges. Instead, as stated in the rule cited above, the AAA has the final decision on who administers cases under its rules.”
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Whether one agrees with Senior Circuit Judge McKeague’s opinion on behalf of the majority or with Circuit Judge Clay’s dissent, this ruling has significant implications for many disputes in the U.S. involving healthcare, consumer and employment matters.
The AAA has adopted due process protocols for those areas, as well as making policy statements regarding how the AAA will handle applications for arbitration in many areas. The reasoning by the Ciccio majority could vitiate the authority of an AAA administrator to apply those instruments to decline to accept cases that do not comply with those protocols and policy statements.
Instead, application of those instruments would be allocated to an arbitral panel, resulting in significant delay and expense while the panel is constituted and briefed before a decision on the applicability of due process protocols and policies crystallizes.
Given the dissent, it is worth wondering whether this case is headed toward en banc review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals or will be the subject of a certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panels 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.
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to hear a case that would have covered two issues that are familiar arbitration turf at the nation’s top court—whether rules incorporated into an ADR agreement are a specific-enough designation for the arbitration to go forward, and whether arbitrators can invoke class processes.
The court denied cert in Shivkov v. Artex Risk Solutions Inc., 20-1313, where an appeals court, compelling arbitration, also held that “the availability of class arbitration is a gateway issue that a court must presumptively decide,” but because the agreements “do not clearly and unmistakably delegate that issue to the arbitrator,” and “[b]ecause the Agreements are silent on class arbitration, they do not permit class arbitration.” Shivkov v. Artex Risk Sols. Inc., 974 F.3d 1051 (9th Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3y6e9jL).
The issues presented challenging the Ninth Circuit petition to the Supreme Court by the petitioners—more than 80 individual and business plaintiffs who had filed suit against insurance management companies that set up captive insurance firms for the petitioners that were audited and held liable for unpaid federal taxes—covered the incorporation by reference rules question, and class arbitration. The specific questions presented by the petitioners that the Court declined today were:
1. The parties’ arbitration clause expressly designates the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) as their default dispute-resolution method. The clause did not also specifically mention the AAA Rules themselves, which, according to the AAA, apply whenever parties select a AAA arbitration. Must an agreement that specifies arbitration before the AAA as the default dispute-resolution method also specifically mention the AAA Rules to avoid being considered ambiguous about whether the parties intended to apply the AAA Rules?
2. Under the plain text of the Federal Arbitration Act, courts—not arbitrators—decide gateway issues, such as whether there is an agreement to arbitrate and what controversies does it cover. Procedural questions, however, are reserved for arbitrators. Is the availability of class arbitration a matter for an arbitrator to decide, or for a court to decide?
The Shivkov cert denial isn’t surprising because the incorporation of AAA rules issue that the petitioner attempted to have the Court examine already was rejected, indirectly, in a startling move earlier this term. The Court heard arguments in December in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963 on whether a contract’s delegation agreement sending a matter to arbitration “clearly and unmistakably” designated the case for arbitration because the contract had a carve-out provision from arbitration for injunctions.
But in January, just a month after the oral arguments, the Court dismissed the case as improvidently granted, after justices at the hearing appeared to get stuck on whether the incorporation by reference to the AAA rules was sufficient for the clear and unmistakable delegation to arbitration.
The Court a year ago, in focusing on the Henry Schein contract carve-out language in granting certiorari, had denied a cross petition in the case on the incorporation-by-reference issue. The cross petition had asked the Court to address the AAA rules that encompassed a provision that arbitrators decide arbitrability. That denial appeared to have a hand in the Court’s January dismissal of the carve-out language interpretation issue.
At the same time in Shivkov, on the petitioners’ second issue, there have been attempts to revisit class arbitration at the U.S. Supreme Court periodically since the Court’s recent seminal cases reviewing and restricting arbitrators’ power to use a class process without a contract authorization. See Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (2019); Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564 (2013); Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010).
The Shivkov petitioners contended that the Court has left open the class arbitration determination. They urged the Court to preserve the decision for judges.
For example, last year, the Court declined to hear a case asking whether an arbitrator may compel class arbitration—binding the parties and absent class members—without finding actual consent, instead based only on a finding that the agreement does not unambiguously prohibit class arbitration and should be construed against the drafter. See Cristina Carvajal, “Supreme Court Rejects Decade-Old Class Arbitration Employment Discrimination Case,” CPR Speaks (Oct. 5, 2020) available at https://bit.ly/35WsvHm) (discussing the Court’s second cert denial in the history of Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ)).
The Shivkov petition contended that the agreement to use the AAA means agreeing to the AAA rules, which put the arbitrability question in the arbitration tribunal’s hands–a cousin to the Jock argument, and which achieved the same cert-denied result.
The Ninth Circuit Shivkov decision linked above stands, and the case, at least for now, is headed for arbitration under the AAA rules, with the appeals court, not the arbitration tribunal, determining that there will not be a class process.
Anna Hershenberg, Vice President of Programs and Public Policy & Corporate Counsel, welcomed an online audience of nearly 200 attendees for the CPR Institute’s webinar “What Labor and Employment ADR Will Look Like Under a Biden Administration?” The Feb. 24 webinar was presented jointly by CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee and its Government & ADR Task Force.
This is the first of two CPR Speaks installments with highlights from the discussion.
Hershenberg then turned the program over to Aaron Warshaw, a shareholder in the New York office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, who is chair of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee. Warshaw described the Employment Disputes Committee as “made up of in-house employment counsel, management-side attorneys, employee-side attorneys, and neutrals. Throughout its long history, the committee … [has provided] a platform for all of the stakeholders to come together and explore ways to resolve disputes in employment matters,”.
Warshaw also noted that the committee is currently working on soon-to-be-released administered employment arbitration rules, and a workplace disputes programs. “There is also an active committee currently revising CPR’s Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol,” he said. The release of these projects will be announced at www.cpradr.org and on social media.
Warshaw then introduced the panel moderator, Arthur Pearlstein, who is Director of Arbitration for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, a Washington, D.C.-based independent agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation. He also directs FMCS’s Office of Shared Neutrals and has previously served as the agency’s general counsel.
Pearlstein opened the conversation stating that “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ran a campaign that reflected a closer alignment with organized labor than I think we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Pearlstein pointed out the remarks made by President Biden a week ahead of the CPR program, where the president called himself a “labor guy,” and referred to labor people as “the folks that brung me to the dance.” Pearlstein, however, noted that Biden “did hasten to add, ‘There’s no reason why it’s inconsistent with business-growing either.’”
Pearlstein further said that even though it had been just a month since the inauguration at the time of the panel discussion, already dramatic steps had been taken. He cited the firing of the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel.
The president has also issued a number of executive orders and halted some regulations. “He definitely wants to be seen as a champion of worker rights,” said Pearlstein.
Pearlstein added that Biden backs “the most significant piece of labor legislation since perhaps Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, . . . the PRO Act, that would dramatically change the landscape in the labor relations world in a way that’s very favorable to unions.” See Mark Kantor, “House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions,” CPR Speaks (March 10) (available at https://bit.ly/38u5w87).
Biden also supports the FAIR Act which, if passed, could end mandatory employment arbitration, said Pearlstein, adding that Covid-19 in the workplace and the rights of gig workers are also important administration considerations. See Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1).
Mark Gaston Pearce is a Visiting Professor and Executive Director of the Georgetown University Law Center Workers’ Rights Institute. Formerly a two-term board member and chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Pearce previously taught at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Kathryn Siegel is a shareholder in Littler Mendelsohn’s Chicago office, representing employers in matters of both employment law and labor relations before federal and state courts and federal agencies like the NLRB and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as state agencies.
Mark Kantor started off the conversation by focusing on two general areas:
a) the prospects for legislative change in the Congress for arbitration of employment and labor issues; and
b) the prospects for regulatory measures by independent or executive agencies in the absence of new legislation.
He noted that, in the previous Congress, the legislation passed the House of Representatives by a 225-186 vote–all Democrats plus two Republicans. When it reached the Senate, however, “it went nowhere,” he said. “Not surprising,” he said, under Republican control, “There were no hearings, there were no committee markups, no committee activity, and the FAIR Act certainly never reached the floor of the Senate.”
In the current Congress, however, he noted, “We can expect the FAIR Act to pass the House of Representatives again, and then go to the Senate. Matters in the Senate might be a little different than they were in the last Congress. We can . . . expect committee activity, hearings, possibly a markup, maybe getting the legislation to the floor of the Senate.”
He said that Senate floor challenges exist for the legislation, because substantive measures are subject to a filibuster. Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes.
He added that Republicans are united in their opposition to the FAIR Act as it currently stands. Moreover, trying to avoid the filibuster by altering Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster runs into the problem that there are at least two Democratic Senators who will oppose that: Sen. Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. Therefore, he said, “overriding a filibuster seems highly unlikely.”
That means there are very few formal ways to avoid the filibuster. Some people have suggested that Vice President Harris might simply override a parliamentary ruling that the legislation is outside the scope of budget reconciliation. That is also not likely to go anywhere, because Senators Manchin and Sinema will not support that. Consequently, you don’t have 50 votes out of the Democrats and you’re certainly not going to get any Republican votes to reach the threshold to allow Vice President Harris to make that decision.
Kantor then noted that there could still be other prospects for passage:
Appending the FAIR Act or other legislation to a “must pass” piece of legislation: “That’s exactly how restrictions on arbitration for consumer finance and securities arbitration, and whistleblower protections, was passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Act [in 2010], which did get 60 votes in support, because it was ‘must pass’ legislation,” he said.
Narrow legislation: Kantor noted that during the Feb. 11 hearing, “the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. [Ken Buck, a Republican] from Colorado, did signal an interest in supporting two narrow areas of restriction. One was for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, and the other was to override non-disclosure agreements for those two types of disputes.” Kantor added that Buck’s support sends a signal that Republicans on the Senate side also may be “open to focus targeted legislation, aiming at those two narrow areas.”
Kantor also pointed out that a provision in the National Defense Appropriations Act, which is renewed annually, “prohibits mandatory pre-dispute arbitration for sexual harassment and Title VII claims under procurement contracts in the national defense area and subcontracts for those procurements. That is not controversial in the national defense contracting community.”
But the bottom line here, he said, is that the filibuster will determine whether the FAIR Act or any of the other pieces of legislation like the PRO Act, which contain restrictions on pre-dispute arbitration for employment and labor, have a chance of Senate passage.
On regulatory measures, Kantor pointed out that the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision “set a very high barrier to utilizing preexisting general statutory authority for administrative agencies, independent, or executive agencies. It said that in order to prevail, the claim must show ‘clear and manifest’ intention to displace the Federal Arbitration Act.”
He continued: “Congress would be expected to have specifically addressed preexisting law, such as the Federal Arbitration Act. That meant ‘no’ for the [Fair Labor Standards Act], ‘no’ for the [National Labor Relations Act], and in subsequent court decisions, also ‘no’ for Title VII, [the Americans with Disabilities Act], [and the Age Discrimination in Employment] arguments.”
As a result, he added, one “can’t generally rely on pre-existing labor relations legislation to override mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements.” But Kantor provided two possible avenues agencies could explore in order to not run into an Epic Systems problem. He explained:
One is that you could avoid Epic Systems by focusing on the prohibition of class procedures, and prohibiting a prohibition of class procedures in any forum–that would be litigation and arbitration, and therefore would be nondiscriminatory. Indeed, the Epic Systems decision says, in essence, the Federal Arbitration Act sets up a nondiscrimination approach to whether or not other acts can be utilized to prevent arbitration. If it’s focused only on a fundamental attribute of arbitration, then there might be conflict preemption by the FAA. On the other hand, if it spreads more generally, there might not be.
The second avenue would be to look at nondisclosure agreements as Rep. Buck mentioned during the Feb. 11 hearing. Kantor added that the FAIR Act covers employment, civil rights, class action, antitrust legislation, and consumer disputes. If passed, it would also prohibit pre-dispute joint-action waivers of those disputes in any forum.
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Mark Gaston Pearce’s highlights focused on what is to be expected from the National Labor Relations Board with the Biden Administration.
He then discussed some of the NLRB cases. “There is a lot to be undone by the Trump board since the Trump board did a whole lot of undoing itself,” he said. He explained: “Among those things that the Trump board did was weakening the election reforms that were made in 2015,” said Pearce.
He explained that the Trump board changed union election rules by providing employers an increased ability to challenge and litigate certain issues prior to the election, and increased the length of time between the filing of a petition and the election date. “They were mandating that there should be a certain minimum time period to pass before an election,” he said.
Moreover, the Trump Board “lengthened the time period for an employer to serve a voter list and lengthened the time period for which an election is to be held if there was going to be a challenge to the [NLRB] Regional Director’s decision,” he said. [Among other things, Regional Directors are empowered to administer union elections. See the NLRB’s Organization and Functions, Sec. 203.1 (available at https://bit.ly/3ls48Ij.]
Pearce explained, “All of those provisions and a few more were struck by a [federal] district court judge once [they] went into effect. The basis for . . . striking . . . those provisions was that the board had determined that these actions were strictly procedural, and therefore under the . . . Administrative Procedure Act, they were not obliged to go through the full notice and comment requirements.” The district court decision, however, has been appealed and it is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he said.
Pearce added that it is unlikely a decision will be issued before a new majority is in place. He noted that “it’s very likely that a new majority will withdraw that appeal and those provisions of the new rule will never see the light of the day.”
Pearce said MV Transportation standards–from a 2019 NLRB decision on whether an employer’s unilateral action is permitted by a collective-bargaining agreement—will affect arbitrators. In the case, he explained, the NLRB abandoned a standard requiring the employer to bargain over any material changes to a mandatory subject of bargaining unless the union gave a “clear and unmistakable waiver” of its right to bargain on the changes. The new standard is based on the “contract coverage.”
The “clear and unmistakable waiver” standard, Pearce explained, generally hindered an employer’s ability to make changes, so instead the board adopted the broader contract coverage standard for determining whether unionized employers’ unilateral change in terms and conditions of employment violated the National Labor Relations Act.
Pearce predicted that “MV Transportation will be revisited because the outgrowth . . . has been that unions, fearing that their position would be waived, are negotiating contracts with so many provisos or are likely to negotiate contracts with so many provisos in it that contract negotiations have become fairly untenable.”
He noted, however, that “with respect to arbitrators, there was always going to be an issue of whether or not, in fact, there is truly a contract coverage for the change that is being proposed, and I don’t think parties are going to want to constantly go to arbitration over every little thing that they plan on doing.”
Pearce then discussed recent developments in the area of higher education. He noted that there was a proposed rule that graduate students not be considered as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. He added, however, that it was unlikely for that rule to be adopted as the majority will likely object to such status. He said he predicts that there is going to be an “increase in petitions filed for graduate student bargaining units in the universities.”
“On the other hand,” Pearce explained, “[Last year’s NLRB decision] Bethany College, which reversed [a 2013 board decision,] Pacific Lutheran, . . . has resulted in a policy that has emanated from the courts that religious universities do not have to show much to consider themselves to have a religious bent and direction and therefore exclude faculty from being able to unionize.”
He directed attendees to the recent NLRB General Motors decision. “General Motors changed the standards with respect to offensive speech . . . during the course of protected concerted activity,” he said. Pearce added that cases involving sexist and racist remarks set on the picket line is an area that should not have received protections under the NLRA, though he said he backed the board’s decision in the case.
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Antranik Chekemian is a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.
Yesterday, the proposed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 225-206 vote, with five Republicans voting Yay and one Democrat voting Nay. The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
While much arbitration-related attention in the new Congress has focused on the arbitration-only FAIR Act (for details and links, see Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1)), the PRO Act contains significant provisions that, if finally enacted, would limit employment arbitration.
Most important, the PRO Act would make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to prevent employees requiring arbitration agreements that obligate an employee “not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction.”
Note that the coverage of the proposed PRO Act encompasses both employment contracts of adhesion and individually negotiated employment contracts, as well as covering individual independent contractors. See Section 101(b) of the legislation at the act’s link above.
Section 104 of the PRO Act would override Epic Systems v. Lewis,138 S. Ct. 1612 (May 21)(available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8), with respect to employment arbitration and class proceedings.
According to the accompanying section-by-section analysis released by the House, “ . . . on May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court held in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that … employers may force workers into signing arbitration agreements that waive the right to pursue work-related litigation jointly, collectively or in a class action. This section overturns that decision by explicitly stating that employers may not require employees to waive their right to collective and class action litigation, without regard to union status.” (The analysis is available at https://bit.ly/2OGrKNj).
The ultimate Senate fate of the PRO Act is linked to the fate of the filibuster. As Politico states:
But the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which advanced mostly along party lines, is unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for passage in the narrowly controlled Senate. And already, some union leaders — who hold outsize sway in the Biden administration — are amping up pressure on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster so they can see one of their top priorities enacted.
Eleanor Mueller and Sarah Ferris, “House passes labor overhaul, pitting unions against the filibuster,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/3vbgFEu). For the latest on the limited prospects for overturning the filibuster in the Senate, see Burgess Everett, “Anti-filibuster liberals face a Senate math problem,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/2ObVou0).
The filibuster affects large swaths of proposed legislation coming out of the House of Representatives and the Biden Administration agenda. We can anticipate daily media attention to every word any member of Congress or the administration speaks about the topic for some time to come.
The operative PRO Act text in Sec. 104 overriding Epic Systems reads as follows:
“(e) Notwithstanding chapter 1 of title 9, United States Code (commonly known as the ‘Federal Arbitration Act’), or any other provision of law, it shall be an unfair labor practice under subsection (a)(1) for any employer—
“(1) to enter into or attempt to enforce any agreement, express or implied, whereby prior to a dispute to which the agreement applies, an employee undertakes or promises not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction;
“(2) to coerce an employee into undertaking or promising not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee; or
“(3) to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against an employee for refusing to undertake or promise not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee: Provided, That any agreement that violates this subsection or results from a violation of this subsection shall be to such extent unenforceable and void: Provided further, That this subsection shall not apply to any agreement embodied in or expressly permitted by a contract between an employer and a labor organization.”;
Also, according to the proposal’s section-by-section analysis, PRO Act Section 109(c) would create a private right of action in U.S. federal court if the NLRB fails to pursue a retaliation claim.
(c) Private right to civil action. If the NLRB does not seek an injunction to protect an employee within 60 days of filing a charge for retaliation against the employee’s right to join a union or engage in protected activity, that employee may bring a civil action in federal district court. The district court may award relief available to employees who file a charge before the NLRB.
Yesterday’s hearings have gone viral via fiery words backing the act’s passage by Tim Ryan, D., Ohio, who chided Republicans for failing to support workers. “Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” shouted Ryan in the House chambers, adding, “Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!”
Republican opponents immediately fired back, saying that the bill would hurt workers by hurting business and the economy. For details, see Katie Shepherd, “Tim Ryan berates GOP over labor bill: ‘Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us,’” Washington Post (March 10) (available at http://wapo.st/3bz2YaF).
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Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panels 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. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed to the research.
The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in GE Capital Retail Bank v. Belton, No. 20-481, an arbitration case in a bankruptcy matter. The question presented by petitioner GE Capital, and rejected in this morning’s order list by the Court, was “whether provisions of the Bankruptcy Code providing for a statutorily enforceable discharge of a debtor’s debts impliedly repeal the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.”
The U.S. Bankruptcy Code section in question, 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(2), provides in part:
A discharge in a case under this title— …
(2) operates as an injunction against the commencement or continuation of an action, the employment of process, or an act, to collect, recover or offset any such debt as a personal liability of the debtor, whether or not discharge of such debt is waived[.]
The case, on cert petition from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, suggests a tension between this section of the bankruptcy code and the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that written agreements to arbitrate are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable” (9 U.S.C. §2), and that if there is no issue with the making of the agreement, a court “shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement.” 9 U.S.C. §4.
The underlying dispute was a putative class action related to GE Capital’s efforts to collect debts discharged in bankruptcy. The plaintiffs–the discharged debtors–brought contempt proceedings under § 524 arguing a violation of the injunction against continued recovery. GE Capital moved to have the dispute referred to arbitration.
The case of Respondent Belton and two others similarly situated were addressed in a consolidated decision by the federal bankruptcy court in New York’s Southern District, finding that referring these cases to arbitration would defeat the purpose of seeking bankruptcy protections. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District reversed the bankruptcy court and sent Belton’s case to arbitration.
But around the same time, the Second Circuit decided Anderson v. Credit One Bank, N.A., 884 F.3d 382 (2d Cir. 2018), a case involving similar facts to GE Capital. In Anderson, an appeals panel found an inherent conflict between § 524 and the FAA because the discharge injunction is critical to the bankruptcy code’s purpose; the contempt claim requires the bankruptcy court’s continuing supervision, and denying the court the power to enforce its own injunctions would undermine bankruptcy code enforcement.
In response to a request for reconsideration in view of Anderson, the U.S. District Court reversed itself and denied the motion to compel arbitration. GE Capital appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed the district court.
GE Capital then appealed to the Supreme Court, framing the issue as an implied repeal of the FAA, citing the Court’s support from Epic Systems v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612, 1627 (2018), where the Court rejected a request to have the National Labor Relations Act override the Federal Arbitration Act.
In a response to GE Capital’s request asking the nation’s top court to decline to hear the case, Respondent Belton had argued that the Second Circuit was correct in its analysis of this narrow issue, which is not the subject of any circuit split and did not merit the Court’s attention.
So the Second Circuit decision stands, allowing the respondents to proceed with contempt sanctions against major banks for continuing attempts to recover debts that had been subject of a bankruptcy discharge.
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The author is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.