Lucila Hemmingsen, a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding practicing international commercial and investment arbitration and public international law, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on cutting-edge topics in ADR. The panel focused on arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, new arbitration legislation, an initiative to reduce arbitration’s carbon footprint, and diversity in ADR.
Hemmingsen was joined at the March 4 online #CPRAM22 session by three panelists:
Angela Downes, who is assistant director of experiential education and professor of practice law at University of North Texas Dallas College of Law;
Benjamin Graham, an associate at Williams & Connolly, in Washington, D.C., who focuses on complex commercial litigation and international arbitration. He has represented sovereign states and multinational corporations in investment-treaty disputes before ICSID and commercial disputes before leading arbitral institutions, and
Rachel Gupta, a mediator and arbitrator with her own New York City-based ADR practice, Gupta Dispute Resolutions. She is a mediator for state and federal court ADR panels and is an arbitrator and panelist for CPR, the American Arbitration Association, and FINRA.
Graham and Downes began the discussion by reviewing arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Downes highlighted Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, in which the question concerned whether a delegation provision in an arbitration agreement constitutes clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intend the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability.
Traditionally, courts are presumed to decide whether a dispute is subject to arbitration, phrased as the “question of arbitrability.” But in recent Supreme Court decisions, the Court has looked at the parties’ agreement and allowed the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability if there is clear and unmistakable evidence indicating parties’ intent to delegate the authority to arbitrators.
Panelist Angela Downes said she views the fundamental Henry Schein issue as the drafting of the arbitration agreement, noting that disputes often arise when the agreement or provision lacks clarity. She pointed out that the case, which was dismissed a month after the oral arguments in January 2021 in a one-line opinion in which the Court said that it had “improvidently granted” review in the case, leave the status of delegation agreement still unsettled enough for potential future litigation.
The panel discussed the Congressional backdrop to the bill, which was signed into by President Biden on March 3, the day before the panel discussion. In many employment contracts, employees have been bound by arbitration agreements and prohibited from bringing sexual harassment claims to a court. Arbitration proceedings are generally confidential, and the amount of an arbitral award tends to be lower than the damages rendered by a court. And when parties settle the dispute, employees are usually required to sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, victims of sexual harassment are often silenced.
There are four amendments to the Federal Arbitration Act. First, it does not categorically ban arbitration agreements between employers and employees, but it allows plaintiffs to bring sexual harassment claims to courts. Second, plaintiffs have the option to bring the case individually or on behalf of a class, even if the employer’s arbitration agreement prohibits class arbitration. Third, FAA applicability will be decided by a federal court, not the arbitral tribunal. Finally, the amendments are retroactive.
Gupta pointed out that the bill does not address non-disclosure agreements. Angela Downes said she believed the omission was intended as a compromise to gain bipartisan support for the bill. In addition, many lawmakers and sexual harassment victims view binding arbitration agreements as the cause of the “broken system,” not the non-disclosure agreements.
The new law, the panel suggested, could drastically change employment arbitration practices. As Rachel Gupta commented, it will be interesting to observe if lawmakers intend to make similar amendments to other areas of arbitration, such as consumer class arbitration.
On reducing arbitration’s carbon footprint, Gupta first discussed the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations, founded by U.K. arbitrator Lucy Greenwood in 2019. The Campaign developed a set of Green Protocols to reduce the environmental impact of international arbitrations, such as using electronic correspondence and organizing virtual conferences.
Moderator Hemmingsen shared several changes in international arbitration practice: sending iPads to arbitrators instead of papers; reducing in-person meetings, and using advanced technology to take construction-site photos instead of traveling. She also predicted that more conferences and hearings would be held virtually.
The panelists agreed that promoting diversity among arbitrators and mediators must be a concerted effort from ADR providers, arbitrators, law firms, and clients. Progress in diversity and inclusion is needed to grow the profession and benefit the next generation of ADR practitioners.
* * *
The author, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s retirement announcement last month puts the focus on his replacement, but it also requires looking back at the justice’s record. Serving more than two decades on the Court, he has made important contributions to U.S. jurisprudence on arbitration, in both domestic and international contexts.
Breyer officially retired on Jan. 27, just ahead of the Court’s winter recess. It returns this week, with an opinion expected soon on the one arbitration case argued so far this year, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143 (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)), and four more arbitration arguments slated for next month. See Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six‐Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022) (available on open access at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK).
In 1995, in his second year on the bench, Breyer drafted two frequently cited Federal Arbitration Act opinions. In the first, Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, Inc. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995) (available at https://bit.ly/3uUcJu5), Breyer wrote that the FAA applies to all transactions involving interstate commerce, even if the parties did not contemplate an interstate commerce connection.
The holding endorsed a broad FAA reading—specifically on 9 U. S. C. § 2, which “makes enforceable a written arbitration provision in “a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.”
In First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995) (available at http://bit.ly/2WEXGnF), Breyer set up the general principle that courts, not arbitrators, should decide whether a dispute is subject to arbitration, phrased as the “question of arbitrability.”
To submit questions of arbitrability to arbitration, there must be clear and unmistakable evidence indicating such intent from the parties. As Columbia Law Prof. George Bermann commented, First Options recognizes “the fundamental importance of consent to arbitrate,” and guarantees parties’ rights to an independent judicial determination. See George A. Bermann, “After First Options: Delegation Run Amok,” American Review of International Arbitration (Sep. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3oV54bb).
By contrast, when an issue does not raise a question of arbitrability, it should be presumptively decided by an arbitrator. In Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79 (2002) (available at https://bit.ly/2yiejeh), Justice Breyer wrote that a FINRA time-limit rule for submission to arbitration is a procedural issue that an arbitral tribunal should decide. This approach achieves a balance between respecting arbitrators’ authority and parties’ consent to arbitrate.
Justice Breyer is recognized as an international arbitration authority. As he argued in his 2015 book, “The Court and The World: American Law and the New Global Realities” (Penguin Random House), the Court must look at foreign and international laws in today’s increasingly interdependent world.
Breyer put his philosophy to use in the investment treaty case of BG Group PLC v. Argentina, 572 U.S. 25 (2014) (available at https://bit.ly/3LIfLb8). The matter dealt with an enforcement action of a foreign investment arbitral award. Breyer, writing for the 6-2 Court, held that a treaty precondition to arbitration is a procedural issue that usually leaves the arbitral tribunal to decide, and the court should defer to the tribunal’s decision on that matter.
But the view was expansive. Breyer cited multiple international authorities and wrote that a bilateral investment treaty should not be treated differently from a contract.
Washington, D.C.-based Paul Hastings partner Igor Timofeyev praised the opinion for bringing predictability to the enforcement of investment arbitral awards in the U.S. See Caroline Simson, “Justice Breyer Set Many Standards for Arbitration Community,” Law 360 (Jan. 27) (available at https://bit.ly/3oSQoJO).
Justice Breyer’s arbitration opinions also reflect his often-noted pragmatic streak. He drafted majority opinions on class arbitration, such as Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444 (2003) (available at https://bit.ly/33putSQ) (designating that the decision on the contract in the case about the applicability of class arbitration was for the arbitrators, not the court), and Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3696Cb2) (finding that “Like silence, ambiguity does not provide a sufficient basis to conclude that parties to an arbitration agreement agreed to ‘sacrifice[ ] the principal advantage of arbitration,’” and reaffirming that “courts may not infer consent to participate in class arbitration absent an affirmative ‘contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.’”)
But Justice Breyer also sometimes found himself in the minority. In the seminal consumer arbitration case, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 133 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/3LEpkHV), the Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California arbitration law, which barred class arbitration. While Breyer drafted a dissenting opinion in the case, he upheld and applied Concepcion in his majority decision in DIRECTV Inc. v. Imburgia, 577 U.S. 47 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/3gS8DKQ). He wrote,
No one denies that lower courts must follow this Court’s holding in Concepcion. The fact that Concepcion was a closely divided case, resulting in a decision from which four Justices dissented, has no bearing on that undisputed obligation. Lower court judges are certainly free to note their disagreement with a decision of this Court. But the “Supremacy Clause forbids state courts to dissociate themselves from federal law because of disagreement with its content or a refusal to recognize the superior authority of its source.” . . . The Federal Arbitration Act is a law of the United States, and Concepcion is an authoritative interpretation of that Act. Consequently, the judges of every State must follow it.
For Justice Breyer, “it’s the court’s job to help make government work for real people,” according to a former law clerk. See Richard Wolf, “After 20 Years, Breyer Is High Court’s Raging Pragmatist,” USA Today (Aug. 7, 2014) (available at https://bit.ly/3GTfu1m).
In Breyer’s view, by following judicial precedents, the Court contributes to social stability and allows people to plan their lives. He said, “The law might not be perfect but if you’re changing it all the time people won’t know what to do, and the more you change it the more people will ask to have it changed, and the more the court hears that, the more they’ll change it.” Andrew Chung, “U.S. Justice Breyer Touts Compromise, Democracy, Adherence to Precedent,” Reuters (May 28, 2021) (available at https://reut.rs/3Ju4Wr4).
* * *
The author, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.
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. . . .”
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.
It has become common to report on federal circuit court decisions deferring “who decides” gateway arbitrability issues to arbitrators based on the adoption by contract parties of a set of arbitration rules containing a “competence-competence” clause, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court consistently declining to take on that question.
In DDK Hotels LLC et al v. Williams-Sonoma Inc., et al, No. 20-2748-cv (2d Cir. July 23) (available at https://bit.ly/3zIUIhv), a unanimous three-judge appeals panel concluded that the gateway question of whether a dispute about “prevailing party” fees was arbitrable under a joint venture agreement was “one for the district court, not the arbitrator, to decide.”
The manner in which the U.S. District Court, and then the Second Circuit, reached this conclusion is an interesting approach toward limiting the impact of the rulings in all but one of the circuits (including the Second Circuit) that a “competence-competence” clause in arbitration rules–a provision that the tribunal decides its own jurisdiction as to whether a case is arbitrated–constitutes a “clear and unmistakable” showing that the contract parties intended for gateway arbitrability issues to be decided by the arbitral tribunal.
The core U.S. Federal Arbitration Act (at 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq.) test for allocating gateway issues between courts and arbitral tribunals is well known. Gateway issues are to be decided by the courts unless there is clear and unmistakable evidence that the contracting parties intended to allocate the gateway issue to the arbitrator. Ordinary contract law principles apply to that inquiry.
Writing for the unanimous panel, Second Circuit Senior Judge Robert D. Sack noted, “Courts should not assume that the parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability unless there is ‘clea[r] and unmistakabl[e]’ evidence that they did so. First Options, 514 U.S. at 944 (alterations in original) (quoting AT & T Techs. Inc. v. Commc’ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986)). . . . We ‘apply ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts’ in conducting this inquiry into the parties’ intent. First Options, 514 U.S. at 944.”
Like every other circuit court that has ruled on the question, the Second Circuit has held that “[w]here the parties explicitly incorporate procedural rules that empower an arbitrator to decide issues of arbitrability, that incorporation may serve ‘as clear and unmistakable evidence of the parties’ intent to delegate arbitrability to an arbitrator.’” Citing Contec Corp. v. Remote Sol. Co., 398 F.3d 205, 208 (2d Cir. 2005).
The DDK Hotels appeals court, however, went on to point out a limiting aspect of those decisions: “[C]ontext matters,” such that incorporation of such rules does not per se show satisfaction with the First Options “clear and unmistakable” standard if other aspects of the parties’ agreement create ambiguity as to the requisite intent. Specifically, opinion states,
“We have also advised, however, that in evaluating the import of incorporation of the AAA Rules (or analogous rules) into an arbitration agreement, context matters.
Incorporation of such rules into an arbitration agreement does not, per se, demonstrate clear and unmistakable evidence of the parties’ intent to delegate threshold questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator where other aspects of the contract create ambiguity as to the parties’ intent.“
The appellate panel stated that, “where the arbitration agreement is broad and expresses the intent to arbitrate all aspects of all disputes,” then the First Options test will be met to allocate issues of arbitrability to an arbitrator. If, however, “the arbitration agreement is narrower, vague, or contains exclusionary language” that the parties intended to arbitrate “only a limited subset of disputes,” then “incorporation of rules that empower an arbitrator to decide issues of arbitrability, standing alone, does not suffice to establish the requisite clear and unmistakable inference of intent to arbitrate arbitrability.” (Emphasis added.)
Senior Circuit Judge Sack pointed to a Second Circuit ruling in NASDAQ OMX Grp. Inc. v. UBS Sec. LLC, 770 F.3d 1010, 1031 (2d Cir. 2014), to reinforce this conclusion: “[W]here a broad arbitration clause is subject to a qualifying provision that at least arguably covers the present dispute . . . we have identified ambiguity as to the parties’ intent to have questions of arbitrability . . . decided by an arbitrator.”
The Court of Appeals then applied these principles to the joint venture contract at issue in DDK Hotels. Section 16(b) of the joint venture agreement limited arbitration solely to “Disputed Matters”:
“(b) Arbitration. The parties unconditionally and irrevocably agree that, with the exception of injunctive relief as provided herein, and except as provided in Section 16(c), all Disputed Matters that are not resolved pursuant to the mediation process provided in Section 16(a) may be submitted by either Member to binding arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) for resolution in accordance with the Commercial Arbitration Rules and Mediation Procedures of the AAA then in effect. . . .” (Emphasis added by Court of Appeals.)”
The term “Disputed Matters” was defined in the JV agreement to cover corporate governance “deadlock” issues requiring Board or LLC Member approval or on which the Board was unable to reach agreement.
The “Deadlock” section is a corporate governance mechanism that applies only to “Disputed Matters,” which are defined as matters “requiring Board or Member approval” on which the board is unable to reach agreement.
Looking at that definition and at other provisions of the contract giving content to the term “Disputed Matters,” the Second Circuit found ambiguity as to the parties’ intent.
Payment of prevailing party fees pursuant to Section 21(h) is not on that list, the opinion notes, suggesting that disputes under Section 21(h), on prevailing party fees, may very well fall outside the scope of Section 16’s arbitration provision.
Nothing in Section 21(h), the opinion states, “suggests that such relief [compelling payment of prevailing party fees] is contingent upon board approval; to the contrary, it unambiguously directs the non-prevailing member to pay such costs and fees ‘upon demand.’”
For the Second Circuit, that ambiguity blocked a conclusion that the “competence-competence” provision in AAA Rule R-7(a) clearly allocated the “who decides” gateway decision to the arbitrator. Consequently, under First Options, the gateway decision lay with the courts:
“While the arbitration agreement does indeed incorporate the AAA Rules, which empower the arbitrator to resolve questions of arbitrability, Section 16(b) provides that the AAA Rules ‘apply to such arbitrations as may arise under the [JV] Agreement.’ See NASDAQ OMX, 770 F.3d at 1032; SA.16. Because Section 16(b)’s arbitration clause applies only to ‘Disputed Matters’ not resolved pursuant to the mediation process outlined in Section 16(a), the AAA Rules do not apply ‘until a decision is made as to whether [DDK Hospitality’s supplemental claim] does or does not fall within the intended scope of arbitration[.]’ NASDAQ OMX, 770 F.3d at 1032. In other words, whether the AAA Rules, including Rule 7(a), apply turns on the conditional premise that the dispute falls within the definition of ‘Disputed Matter.’ If it does not, then the AAA Rules do not govern and no delegation of authority to the arbitrator to resolve questions of arbitrability arises. The narrow scope of the arbitration provision therefore obscures the import of the incorporation of the AAA Rules and creates ambiguity as to the parties’ intent to delegate arbitrability to the arbitrator.”
Thus, the Second Circuit held in DDK Hotels that the contractual agreement in the JV agreement limiting arbitration to “Disputed Matters” operated to prevent allocation of the arbitrability decision to the arbitrator under the “clear and unmistakable” First Options test. Accordingly, “[t]he district court therefore correctly determined that it, rather than the arbitrator, should decide whether the supplemental claim [for prevailing party fees] was arbitrable.”
One might reasonably ask how DDK Hotels squares with the unanimous 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524 (2019) (available at http://bit.ly/2YLDkWQ), rejecting a “wholly groundless” basis for declining to forward a gateway question to arbitrators for decision.
In Henry Schein, the Court’s summary does a good job of setting out the core of that ruling:
“Held: The ‘wholly groundless’ exception to arbitrability is inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act and this Court’s precedent. Under the Act, arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms. . . . The parties to such a contract may agree to have an arbitrator decide not only the merits of a particular dispute, but also ‘’gateway’ questions of ‘arbitrability.’’ . . . Therefore, when the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, a court may not override the contract, even if the court thinks that the arbitrability claim is wholly groundless.”
Under the doctrine rejected by the Supreme Court in Henry Schein, the courts would have construed the parties’ contract to determine if the claimant’s arbitrability argument was “wholly groundless.” Even in the face of a “clear and unmistakable” agreement to delegate arbitrability issues to the arbitrator, if the court was satisfied the arbitrability argument was “wholly groundless” under the contract, then the court could determine the arbitrability issue itself instead of referring the gateway question to the arbitrator.
In DDK Hotels, the district court and the Second Circuit again construed the parties’ contract, this time to determine if the parties’ intention to delegate the gateway issue to the arbitrator was ambiguous rather than clear and unmistakable.
To distinguish DDK Hotels from Henry Schein, one must come up with a persuasive explanation for how (i) the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ inquiry into whether the dispute at issue in DDK Hotels arguably fell outside the meaning of the contract term “Disputed Matters” differs from (ii) the judicial inquiry into the contract terms in Henry Schein to determine if the claim of arbitrability was “wholly groundless.”
This is perhaps a task the US Supreme Court declined to take on when it dismissed certiorari in Henry Schein II as improvidently granted earlier this year?
Any volunteers to tackle that job? Please feel free to comment below.
* * *
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.
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to hear a case that presented a persistent arbitration issue: whether the incorporation of a set of arbitration rules that state that an arbitrator decides whether a case goes to arbitration, instead of a court making the arbitrability decision, provides sufficient “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties agreed for the tribunal to make the decision.
It was the second time in eight months that the Court has rejected a significant case on the issue.
Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695, would have analyzed the clear-and-unmistakable evidence standard for delegation to arbitrability from the Court’s First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995) (available at https://bit.ly/39fAwcR).
The question presented by the petitioner, a former employee of two Domino’s franchisers who had a claim against the parent company, was:
In the context of a form employment agreement, is providing that a particular set of rules will govern arbitration proceedings, without more, “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to have the arbitrator decide questions of arbitrability?
Last June, the Court declined to hear the question on arbitrability in a cross-petition in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales Inc., No. 19-1080 (June 15, 2020), while accepting the case on the original cert petition on another, close issue involving the reach of carve-out provisions in arbitration agreements.
In its December arguments in Schein, which awaits decision, the discussion of incorporation by reference on arbitrability arose. See “Schein II: Argument in Review,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2VXfyIa). In its brief in Piersing, the petitioner “acknowledges that [the] Court recently denied certiorari of a cross-petition presenting a similar question,” citing Schein, adding, “however, the question is presented in this case cleanly and as a stand-alone question.”
In Piersing, the petitioner worked as a delivery driver for a franchisee of respondent Domino’s, and later got an employment offer from Carpe Diem, another Washington state Domino’s franchisee. While the petitioner intended to increase his hours and earnings, the first franchisee fired him based on a no-poach clause in his employment agreement.
He eventually brought a U.S. District Court class-action suit against Domino’s alleging that the hiring rules violated, among other things, antitrust laws.
Domino’s sought to compel arbitration of Piersing’s claims based on the arbitration agreement between the employee and Carpe Diem. Domino’s asked for arbitration, according to the Sixth Circuit opinion in the case that was the subject of the cert petition (see Blanton v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, 962 F.3d 842 (6th Cir. 2020) (available at http://bit.ly/3sWDlrg)), “because the agreement’s reference to the AAA rules constituted a delegation clause in that the AAA rules supposedly provide for delegation.”
The district court held that equitable estoppel applies to permit franchiser Domino’s to enforce franchisee Carpe Diem’s agreement against Piersing and, according to the petitioner’s cert petition brief, “that the clause providing the AAA rules would govern any arbitration amounted to ‘clear and unmistakable’ evidence of Piersing’s and Carpe Diem’s intent to delegate questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator.”
Piersing appealed the district court’s decision. Relying on Rent-a-Center, West Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010), and more, the Sixth Circuit held that the incorporation of arbitration rules that permit the arbitrator to resolve questions of arbitrability is sufficient to delegate those questions to the arbitrator.
Piersing’s Supreme Court cert petition brief analyzed the holdings in First Options,Rent-a-Center, West, and the first Henry Schein decision, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524 (2019), which wrestled with the question of and the standard for who decides arbitrability, the tribunal or the court.
Based on these precedents, the petitioner argued that the existing circuit court analysis allowing for incorporation of rules that included arbitrators determining arbitrability wasn’t “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to arbitrate. It emphasized that, particularly for consumers and employees, the cases weren’t sufficiently thorough in light of the First Options standard. The petitioner also noted that the Sixth Circuit’s decision conflicts with the holdings of several state high courts.
Domino’s countered that an agreement incorporating privately promulgated arbitral rules that assign questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator clearly and unmistakably show the parties’ agreement that an arbitrator, not the court, will resolve whether the case is suitable for arbitration.
Domino’s successfully argued for the nation’s top Court to reject the petition and thereby uphold the Sixth Circuit.
An amicus brief in support of the petitioner was filed by Columbia University Law School Prof. George Bermann, who described the issue in the appeal as “a central but unsettled issue of domestic and international arbitration.” Echoing the petitioner, the brief noted the importance of the issue in both Henry Schein Supreme Court cases, but stated that “the delegation question is presented front and center for review in this case.” It also cited the divergence between state and federal court views.
The amicus brief discussed the principle of “competence-competence” in international commercial law—the international equivalent of the arbitrability question under which the tribunal is presumed to be in a position to determine its jurisdiction, and which the Sixth Circuit invoked. Bermann’s brief discussed the concept under the “clear and unmistakable” agreement standard of parties to arbitrate.
The amicus noted that the competence-competence language does not constitute “clear and unmistakable” evidence. “[A]ll modern arbitral procedure rules contain a ‘competence-competence’ clause,” the brief argued, “so that treating such language as clear and unmistakable evidence of a delegation means that parties will almost invariably lose their right to a judicial determination of what this Court has multiple times referred to as the very cornerstone of arbitration, viz. consent to arbitrate.”
Noting the state-federal divide in the interpretation of whether the incorporation of rules satisfies First Options, the brief concluded, “Only this Court can definitively resolve that issue and ensure that parties do not forfeit their right to a judicial determination of arbitrability unless they manifest that intention clearly and unmistakably.”
For more information on the case and an in-depth discussion of the issues involved, see the Supreme Court’s docket page at http://bit.ly/39Zxed1.
* * *
Akande, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.
Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation Editor Russ Bleemer hosts analysis by Prof. Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law, and arbitrator-advocate-amicus brief contributors Richard Faulkner, also of Dallas, and Philip J. Loree Jr. in New York.
Court’s Rejected Cert Request Is Argued Anyway
By Russ Bleemer
Was the U.S. Supreme Court having second thoughts about how it has approached Tuesday’s arbitration case?
Back for its second round of arguments at the Court after a decision just last year, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, returned to explore the issue, “Whether a provision in an arbitration agreement that exempts certain claims from arbitration negates an otherwise clear and unmistakable delegation of questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator.”
Schein’s attorney, Kannon K. Shanmugam, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, argued that the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in deciding not to compel arbitration in the case, misapplied the historical presumption of arbitrability.
He also emphasized that “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties delegated the matter to arbitration puts the initial question of arbitrability to an arbitrator, even with the carveout for injunctions.
The appeals court had said that clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties wanted to arbitrate existed, but not to arbitrate the injunctive relief—a drafting issue that justified sending the case to the courts.
In his counterargument, respondent attorney Daniel L. Geyser, of Dallas’s Alexander Dubose & Jefferson, countered with, among other things, a focus on the delegation to arbitration by the parties.
That focus produced an usual argument. It wasn’t because many of the justices also focused on the particulars of the clause delegating the matter to arbitration. In fact, Geyser and Archer and White had cross-petitioned the Court to take on the issue of the delegation clause’s incorporation by reference of arbitration rules.
The Court granted certiorari on June 15 on Shanmugam and Henry Schein’s issue on the sweep of the injunction carveout. But the Court rejected the cross petition on delegation and incorporation of rules.
Yet at times, the rejected clause delegation issue was the argument’s primary focus.
“I want you to assume that we are not going to decide the question that you wanted us to decide in the cross-petition,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. during Geyser’s argument. “And if we make that assumption, I really don’t know how to answer the question that we granted review on because it does seem to turn on the degree of the delegation to the arbitrator of the power to decide whether the arbitrator can decide.”
Alito wasn’t the only one.
Archer and White had persisted with the question in its brief in the case even after the cert denial. More significantly, the failed cross-petition or the delegation clause itself was raised directly or in passing by nearly every one of the nine justices, who argued the case in an online broadcast, as has become the custom in the pandemic since May.
The cert grant, and simultaneous cert denial, made sense on paper. The Fifth Circuit had said the delegation was valid, putting the focus on the appellate court’s interpretation that the carveout for injunctions preceded the arbitrator’s work and had to be decided by a court.
But even Shanmugam’s argument on behalf of the petitioner anticipated the presence of his adversaries’ rejected issue. Before facing a single question, Shanmugam took on the cert denial himself, noting that 12 circuit courts agree that a delegation clause incorporating rules is sufficient.
The contract in the matter incorporated American Arbitration Association rules that give arbitrability decisions to the arbitrator.
Shanmugam opened his argument on behalf of petitioners Henry Schein stating that the Fifth Circuit review hierarchy was wrong for two reasons. “First, a delegation is simply an antecedent agreement that is subject to the rules governing arbitration agreements more generally,” he said, continuing, “Second, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitration agreements are resolved in favor of arbitration.”
If that arbitration presumption had been applied correctly, he argued, a carveout that doesn’t speak specifically to the delegation to an arbitrator cannot interfere with the overall delegation of a case to an arbitrator. “The Court should stick to the question it agreed to decide,” advised Shanmugam on behalf of Henry Schein, “and it should decide that question in petitioner’s favor.”
The argument highlights below are based on the audio feed of the case, available on the Supreme Court’s webpage at https://bit.ly/3m2RCxz, and the transcript, also on the Court’s site at https://bit.ly/3a6xDMv. For background on the case, including links to key documents and the 2019 Supreme Court decision in the same matter, see “Supreme Court Argument Preview: Looking Ahead to Round 2 on Schein and Arbitrability,” CPR Speaks blog (Dec. 3) (available at https://bit.ly/2VyD1z6) (The CPR Speaks link also contains information on the participants in the accompanying YouTube video discussion, conducted on Tuesday, Dec. 8.).
* * *
The Supreme Court generally seemed to agree with Kannon Shanmugam’s opening words, but still returned to the delegation and rules’ incorporation questions almost as much as the Fifth Circuit’s denial of arbitration.
“They don’t want arbitrators deciding this,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in opening the questioning, referring to the presence of the contract clause carveout sending injunctions to court, adding, “Why would they want arbitrators to decide who gets to decide it?”
Shanmugam said that the Fifth Circuit divided the responsibility of who decides between the court and the arbitrator, while the contract was a clear delegation of the case to arbitration. The result of the appeals court opinion was negating that arbitration intention because of the carveout sending the case to court instead.
He returned repeatedly to a need to assert the presumption of arbitrability in viewing the parties’ arbitration clause and the context for the carveout.
The contract clause states, “Any dispute arising under or related to this Agreement (except for actions seeking injunctive relief and disputes related to trademarks, trade secrets, or other intellectual property . . .), shall be resolved by binding arbitration in accordance with the arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association [the “AAA”].”
Justice Clarence Thomas focused on the delegation clause, asking Shanmugam to walk the Court through its use in the case. “I don’t see the word ‘delegation’ at all or a verb ‘delegate’ at all,” said Thomas.
Shanmugam replied that the Supreme Court “has never required magic words on the face of the agreement. Instead, all that the Court has said is that you have to have clear and unmistakable evidence. And under ordinary objective principles of contract formation, the incorporation of a document [referring to the arbitration agreement’s AAA rules referral] suffices in order to render that document part of the contract.”
Borrowing from labor law and referencing key Supreme Court precedents, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that the presumption of arbitration still requires a deciding court to judge the scope of that arbitration. Shanmugam said that the delegation is “a kind of miniature contract formation,” that contemplates whether there was “a meeting of the minds that the arbitrator should decide questions concerning the scope of the arbitration agreement.”
The incorporation of the AAA rules, he said, was sufficient under ordinary contract formation principles.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Henry Schein’s attorney about the basis for the presumption for arbitration. Shanmugam replied it rested in the Federal Arbitration Act’s Section 2, as well as “flowing from the policy underlying the arbitration act as a whole.” He added, “if I were pressed, I would say it’s probably ultimately a matter of federal common law” as well as emanating from statute.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor returned immediately to the cross-petition on the delegation agreement’s incorporation of rules by reference, and said that the Henry Schein brief conceded that the Court could reach the issue to decide the case. She questioned whether the delegation to arbitration was clear for the injunction and all other issues.
Echoing the Fifth Circuit, Sotomayor agreed there was a clear delegation, but suggested she found ambiguity on the injunction’s decision maker. Shanmugam said that the appeals court incorrectly considered the presumption for arbitrability. Even with an unclear scope of arbitration, he explained, the Fifth Circuit should have applied a presumption that the case was to be arbitrated once it found that valid delegation.
Justice Elena Kagan was focused on the injunction carveout, posing a hypothetical change in the contract wording, and concluding, “if you have something which at least arguably seeks injunctive relief, the court should deal with the question of whether it does and then should go on to decide the issue.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch pressed Shanmugam on the point discussed with Alito on a statutory basis for the presumption for arbitration. The Henry Schein attorney stuck to FAA Section 2.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh retraced Shanmugam’s argument points with the attorney, and asked about “real world” contracting situations–“how people draft these contracts, what they expect, my understanding was that the question of who decides arbitrability, the who-decides question, is almost never divided between a court and an arbitrator because that would be almost nonsensical in the real world because you need one person to decide, and it’s either going to be the court or the arbitrator, not both the court and the arbitrator.”
Though the question initially ignored the existence of the injunction carveout, Shanmugam quickly agreed. “That’s correct. And I’m aware of no examples of such a division.” Kavanaugh responded, “Right. Nor am I.”
Then, Kavanaugh tackled the contract carveout in the case sending the injunction to the court, noting that every contract has them. “And so, if that alone means the Court decides what is arbitrable, then the Court will always decide arbitrability and really eradicate the idea that arbitrators can ever decide arbitrability,” he said.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett also restated Shanmugam’s argument, acknowledging the cross-petition issue’s denial and accepting the delegation to the AAA rules as sending arbitrability to the arbitrator. But echoing Shanmugam, she indicated that it would be nonsensical “to carve up arbitrability questions.” She continued, “If that’s true, why isn’t that reason to interpret this clause as not being a clear and unmistakable delegation of all questions of arbitrability?”
“As a matter of contract formation,” concluded Shanmugam, focusing on the presumption of arbitration, “there is an agreement to arbitrate arbitrability. At that point, Justice Barrett, everything else that we’re talking about is a question of interpretation. It’s a question of the scope of the delegation.”
Shanmugam summarized his argument for the Court, once again directing his attack on the delegation argument incorporating the AAA rules. He noted that the “[r]espondent is really asking the Court to decide this case based on a different question, the incorporation question. And that would be a bold strategy in any case, but I would submit it’s a particularly bold strategy here because Respondent asked the Court to decide that question at the cert stage, and the Court seemingly consciously made the decision not to add it.”
He again asked the Court to avoid the issue it already declined to hear, noting, “All that the Court need do in this case is to hold that the court of appeals’ actual reasoning is inconsistent with this Court’s decisions applying familiar Federal Arbitration Act principles.”
* * *
Respondent attorney Daniel Geyser immediately attacked the delegation and incorporation points on behalf of his client Archer and White in his opening statement. “It is simply not plausible that anyone would recognize this issue and choose to resolve it by relying on an oblique reference to the AAA rules rather than a simple, explicit sentence delegating the gateway issue,” he told the justices in his opening statement.
He added that the injunction falls within the carveout from arbitration, and therefore isn’t subject to arbitration under the American Arbitration Association rules. “It makes no difference what those rules say because the condition for activating them is unmet,” he said.
Using a hypothetical and invoking Justice Kavanaugh’s discussion, Chief Justice Roberts began questioning Daniel Geyser by asking why the carveout’s arbitrability should be treated differently than arbitrability issues in an arbitration contract with no express carveout.
“[N]ormally,” replied Geyser, “when parties include an express delegation provision, it’s unconditional and it’s categorical. It’s not like what you have here.”
Roberts asked Geyser to leave the AAA rules’ delegation out of his answer. “I think that’s what we tried to do when we denied cert on that question,” said the chief justice.
Geyser countered that the default is that the court decides the arbitrability issue. He said, “The only time an arbitrator decides whether a dispute falls within the scope of the agreement is if there is, in fact, a delegation provision.”
Geyser suggested the problem was drafting: “We absolutely concede that if the exception is limited solely to the scope of arbitration and there is a separate unconditional delegation provision, that the arbitrator gets to make that determination. “
He continued on the theme, telling Justice Thomas that phrasing matters, and the Court should focus on the delegation and the wording of exceptions. He said Archer and White would lose if there was a second sentence that said that arbitrator shall decide arbitrability—“an express unconditional delegation of the issue of arbitrability to the arbitrator.”
Geyser continued: “[U]nless there’s clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties wanted the arbitrator to decide arbitrability, then the default is with the court, and the court has to first identify a delegation agreement and identify any limits to that delegation agreement. “
Thomas was skeptical. He noted that Geyser’s construction limits an arbitrator’s authority on arbitrability after it had been granted by the contract. “I don’t know how you can have it both ways,” said Thomas, “You [can’t] say he has the authority, and in these limited circumstances, he doesn’t.”
Geyser countered that the Court has “never” issued a “binary rule.” He said, “Parties are perfectly free under the Federal Arbitration Act to delegate some issues to arbitration and to delegate some arbitrability issues to arbitration.”
Facing Justice Alito’s concerns about the posture of the case, Geyser said the Court, in the face of the question of whether there was a clear and unmistakable delegation to arbitration of arbitrability, “could dismiss the case as improvidently granted,” or request additional briefing, though he quickly added that he thought the case was fully briefed.
But he also explained to Alito that he believed even in the face of a clear delegation, a plain-text reading of the agreement shows that the carveout for injunctions removes the case from the arbitrator. “[It’s] the most straightforward way to affirm in this case,” he said.
Justice Sotomayor said that Geyser’s argument falls short because of a clear delegation to the AAA rule for arbitrability matters. Geyser countered that the delegation was limited by the injunction carveout.
In response to Justice Kagan’s questioning, Dan Geyser said that court decision for the gateway-to-arbitration issues is “traditionally what parties expect.” He continued, “It provides a critical judicial safeguard and it avoids the situation where the arbitrator is deciding the scope of his or her own jurisdiction.”
He added that the FAA backed delegating “certain issues but not others to the arbitrator.” He urged the Court to support the requirement that “unless parties clearly and unmistakably override the strong presumption in favor of courts acting as gatekeepers, that Congress imagined in the Federal Arbitration Act, in Sections 3 and 4, that, in fact, the courts keep that gateway role.”
Justice Kavanaugh returned to the purpose of contracting, saying he had a problem with Geyser’s conception that contracting parties divvy up arbitrable matters and court matters. “[T]hat’s just not how it works in the real world, nor could it [realistically] work that way in the real world,” he said.
Kavanaugh asked Geyser if the justice’s interpretation was wrong. “In the real world,” Geyser replied, “parties sometimes do limit a delegation. They might say that the court decides whether class arbitration is appropriate. And parties are perfectly free to do that.”
He told Cavanaugh, “I don’t see any way to read the actual text of this agreement to say that the carveout wouldn’t include a carveout to the AAA rules.”
Geyser conceded to Justice Barrett that his client would lose if the Court does not agree that there was no clear and unmistakable delegation to arbitration and declines “to get into the question that we denied cert on, [and instead] assume[s] that incorporating the AAA rules by reference is enough to constitute a clear and unmistakable delegation. . . .”
* * *
Dan Geyser began his summation on behalf of respondent Archer and White noting, “[W]e apologize for trying to get the Court back into an issue that maybe it doesn’t wish to address.” He warned against “a profoundly atextual construction of the plain text of this agreement,” and said, “I think it would be very difficult to construe this language in a sensible way without getting into the delegation.”
In his rebuttal, Henry Schein attorney Kannon Shanmugam urged the Court to reverse the Fifth Circuit, noting, “[I]t’s one thing to say that parties may want to divide up responsibility for different types of questions of arbitrability such as who is subject to the arbitration agreement or whether a class action waiver is valid, but as I’ve pointed out in my earlier colloquy with Justice Kavanaugh, we are not aware of any actual agreement in the real world that divides up responsibility for a particular question of arbitrability and in particular the paramount question of the scope of the arbitration agreement.”
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning agreed to hear a new arbitration petition on an old case.
The Court granted cert today on the issue of “Whether a provision in an arbitration agreement that exempts certain claims from arbitration negates an otherwise clear and unmistakable delegation of questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator.”
The case, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, is expected to be scheduled in the Court’s 2020-2021 term beginning in October. The Court’s docket page is available at https://bit.ly/30L3gX4.
The issue will be on the delegation agreement in the arbitration contract in a case the Court saw and decided last year, Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524 (Jan. 8, 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2CXAgPw).
The new case, which comes at the request of New York-based health care supplier Schein, will likely center on whether the arbitration agreement’s exclusion of injunctive relief from an arbitrator decision in favor of a court overrides the agreement’s delegation to an arbitrator a decision on whether the matter should be arbitrated.
But that’s also only half the Court’s arbitration story today. It also denied a cross petition in the case by Texas dental supply company Archer & White Sales on two more arbitration issues that still could still work their way into the decision or, at the least, are guaranteed to see more litigation in state and circuit courts.
The cross-petition cert denied issues were
(1)Whether an arbitration agreement that identifies a set of arbitration rules to apply if there is arbitration clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrator disputes about whether the parties agreed to arbitrate in the first place; and
(2) whether an arbitrator or a court decides whether a nonsignatory to an arbitration agreement can enforce the arbitration agreement through equitable estoppel.
A question related to the latter issue already appeared just this month in the Court’s decision in an international arbitration case, GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USALLC, et al., No. 18-1048 (available at https://bit.ly/2XogerH) (see a CPR Speaks article and video analysis at https://bit.ly/2U1QrDs).
When the Court first decided Schein in January 2019, it reversed the Fifth Circuit and unanimously held that under the Federal Arbitration Act, an arbitrator, not the court, should determine the threshold question of arbitrability—whether an arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute—when the parties have clearly and unmistakably delegated that question to an arbitrator via delegation agreement, even if the argument for arbitrability is “wholly groundless.” See Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. at 526 (Jan. 8, 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2CXAgPw).
The case was remanded to the Fifth Circuit to determine whether the parties’ contract contained a delegation agreement, sending the determination of arbitrability to a tribunal rather than a court, and satisfied the Supreme Court’s “clear and unmistakable” intent standard established in First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995) (available at https://www.oyez.org/cases/1994/94-560).
Rule 7(a) of the AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules, which the parties incorporated into their contract in the case, explicitly gives the arbitrator power to determine his or her own jurisdiction as well as the arbitrability of any claim or counterclaim. (available at https://www.adr.org/Rules).
Following circuit precedent, the Fifth Circuit noted that by incorporating the AAA’s rules, the parties had indeed entered into a delegation agreement for at least some disputes. But in its remand, the Fifth Circuit also found an explicit “carve-out” exception in the contract for disputes, like the one at hand, seeking injunctive relief.
The appeals court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s denial of Schein’s motion to compel arbitration. Archer & White Sales, Inc. v. Henry Schein, Inc., 935 F.3d 274 (5th Cir. 2019) (available at http://bit.ly/33Cb78g).
Schein petitioned the Supreme Court again to challenge that decision. That’s the case and the issue the Court agreed to hear today, while Archer & White’s conditional cross-petition issues were not accepted.
For more on the case and an in-depth discussion of the issues involved, see Philip J. Loree Jr., CPR Speaks, “Schein Returns: Scotus’s Arbitration Remand Is Now Back at the Court” (Feb. 19, 2020) (available at http://bit.ly/3bQXQgl); Richard D. Faulkner & Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein’s Remand Decision: Should Scotus Review the Provider Rule Incorporation-by-Reference Issue?” 38 Alternatives 70 (May 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2C6Ksap), and Richard D. Faulkner & Philip J. Loree Jr., “Why the U.S. Supreme Court Should Review Whether Arbitrability May Be Incorporated by Reference,” 38 Alternatives 87 (June 2020) (available athttps://bit.ly/2YB0zVj).
* * *
Bleemer edits Alternatives at altnewsletter.com for the CPR Institute. Cameron, a second-year Fordham University School of Law student, is a CPR Institute 2020 Summer Intern.
The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to hear Rams Football Co., et al.v. St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Auth., No. 19-672, a case involving a prominent question in the arbitration field.
Rams Football is a Missouri state appeals court case on arbitrability and the so-called delegation clause—the arcane lawyers’ law on who gets to decide whether a case is decided by arbitrators or the courts.
The case had been listed for Friday Court conferences, according to Scotusblog, at least eight times this before the Court turned it down at Friday’s conference, and noted the denial in this morning’s order list.
The CPR Speaks blog discussed Rams Football at length in David Chung, “Under Consideration: The Supreme Court May Be Ready to Tackle Arbitrability–Again” (March 23) (available at https://bit.ly/2wx0Nmf).
The Supreme Court set out the law on delegation clauses in First Options v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 (1995) (available at http://bit.ly/2WEXGnF)—a case argued and won by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. when he was a Washington, D.C., partner in Hogan & Hartson—which held that courts should review arbitrability and should not assume that the parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability unless there is clear and unmistakable evidence that they did so.
And the standard has been elusive ever since.
Problems with arbitrability may be growing. In addition to the Rams Football case, last year’s Supreme Court decision on the subject, Henry Schein, Inc., et al. v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., 139 S.Ct. 524 (2019) (available at http://bit.ly/2YLDkWQ), was remanded, reheard, decided, and is back before the Court on basically the same issue.
In last year’s decision, the Court held unanimously that parties to a contract have the ultimate say in whether to have an arbitrator or a court resolve disputes on questions of arbitrability. Schein’s main holding was that a court couldn’t refuse to enforce arbitration because it believed the claims for arbitration were “wholly groundless”; it sent the case back on remand to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the remand decision about the delegation clause is back before the Court for cert consideration.
So far as it is known, the new Schein has not yet made it to the Court’s conference table. For more on Schein, see Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein Returns: Scotus’s Arbitration Remand Is Now Back at the Court,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 19) (available at http://bit.ly/3bQXQgl).
See also, Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein’s Remand Decision Goes Back to the Supreme Court. What’s Next?” 38 Alternatives 54 (April 2020) (available https://bit.ly/3aYy7Sg), and Richard D. Faulkner & Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein’s Remand Decision: Should Scotus Review the Provider Rule Incorporation-by-Reference Issue?” 38 Alternatives 70 (May 2020) (available at http://altnewsletter.com/ on May 1).
Late last month, an appellate court in Florida in a split decision trashed the concept of incorporating by a reference to American Arbitration Association rules as “clear and convincing evidence” of parties agreeing to an Internet app clickthrough contract as sending the arbitrability decision to an arbitrator. Doe and Doe v. Natt and Airbnb Inc., Case No. 2D19-1383 (Fla. 2d DCA March 25) (available at https://bit.ly/3byW6r6).
The Rams issue, according to the team’s cert request petition was
Whether the Federal Arbitration Act permits a court to refuse to enforce the terms of an arbitration agreement assigning questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator if those terms would be enforceable under ordinary state-law contract principles in a non-arbitration context.
For now, the Missouri Court of Appeals decision affirming a trial court’s decision denying arbitration and sending the case to trial stands, and the case is remanded to trial.
* * *
Scotusblog’s case page, available at https://bit.ly/2QANwjk, contains the Rams’ cert petition, the respondent’s brief in opposition, and the Rams’ reply.
A Fifth Circuit case on whether a matter was correctly sent to arbitration was distributed for conference at the U.S. Supreme Court for the fifth time over the past two months on Friday, March 20, so the Court could consider hearing it.
The case didn’t appear on this morning’s order list, but that fact alone may be indicative of a lot more arbitration at the nation’s top court.
Any arbitration case before the Court would gain notice on its own in the ADR world. But the new petition for certiorari is even more noteworthy because the Court had appeared to have decided the issue just a little more than a year ago in its previous term. Henry Schein, Inc., et al. v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., 139 S.Ct. 524 (2019) (available at http://bit.ly/2YLDkWQ), the Court held unanimously that parties to a contract have the ultimate say in whether to have an arbitrator or a court resolve disputes on questions of arbitrability.
But Schein’s main holding was that a court couldn’t refuse to enforce arbitration because it believed the claims for arbitration were “wholly groundless,” and the nation’s top court sent the case back on remand to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The remand order was a step before actual arbitration, however. The Court asked the Fifth Circuit to decide whether the contract’s delegation clause really pointed to an arbitrator deciding arbitrability.
The appeals panel looked at the contract again and said it didn’t, and found the decision was for the courts, again.
And the defense petitioned the Supreme Court to hear Schein, an appeal that was filed at the end of January and has not yet made it to a Court conference. See Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein Returns: Scotus’s Arbitration Remand Is Now Back at the Court,” (Feb. 19) (available at https://bit.ly/2U8ZumI); see also, Philip J. Loree Jr., “Schein’s Remand Decision Goes Back to the Supreme Court. What’s Next?” 38 Alternatives 54 (April 2020) (available next week at altnewsletter.com and on Lexis & Westlaw; CPR Institute membership access after logging in at www.cpradr.org/news-publications/alternatives).
But while Schein was being relitigated, at the same time and on the same issue about the extent of the reach of the clause that delegates arbitration decision making, The Rams Football Co. LLCv. St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Auth., No. 19-672, already was in front of the Court for consideration on whether it should be heard.
Closely mirroring Schein, the Rams issue, according to the team’s cert request petition is
Whether the Federal Arbitration Act permits a court to refuse to enforce the terms of an arbitration agreement assigning questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator if those terms would be enforceable under ordinary state-law contract principles in a non-arbitration context.
The case has made it to conference stage, repeatedly, without a denial or a “cert granted” or, indeed, any procedure other than rescheduling. The cert petition is dated Nov. 21, 2019, and the counsel of record is Paul Clement, a Washington, D.C., partner in Kirkland & Ellis who is a frequent participant in Supreme Court cases who, according to the Above the Law blog, argued his 101st case at the Court early this month. See “Neil Gorsuch’s Frustration With Kirkland & Ellis Partner Paul Clement On Full Display,” Above the Law (March 4) (available at https://bit.ly/39dZS7A).
The Court had denied a stay in the case in October without comment.
Despite a government shutdown, including much of the judicial branch, the Court, after canceling oral arguments indefinitely, has continued its normal business of opinion writing and conferences, out of which come its orders, including cases it agrees to hear, and cases it denies. The Court’s Friday conference resulted in an order list earlier today, but Rams was not mentioned and should be back for consideration in the next conference, scheduled for Friday, March 27, with the latest version of Schein waiting to be listed.
The case is about a dispute between the NFL’s Rams, and three Missouri government entities, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the City of St. Louis, and the County of St. Louis.
The dispute is over an agreement on the Rams’ use of the former Edward Jones Dome stadium in St. Louis. The team departed for Anaheim, Calif., after the 2015 season amidst a storm of controversy over owner E. Stanley Kroenke’s remarks about St. Louis’s viability as an NFL-hosting city. The Rams sought arbitration over whether it should pay damages in the wake of the team’s move to become the Los Angeles Rams for the second time in the team’s existence.
The agreement included an arbitration clause that incorporated terms by reference, stating that all disputes would be conducted “in accordance with the most applicable then existing rules of the American Arbitration Association.” Those rules send the question of who decides whether a case should be arbitrated to an arbitrator, not a court.
The petitioner, the Rams, asserts that the key Missouri appellate court decision in a series of cases that include rulings by the state supreme court, should have simply “‘respect[ed] the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract’ by recognizing that it has ‘no power to decide the arbitrability issue.’” Petition for Writ of Certiorari citing Henry Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 528 (brief available at https://bit.ly/2U85jAG).
The Rams’ petition claims the “clear and unmistakable” test of whether the parties intended for an arbitrator, rather than a court, to decide whether an arbitration agreement should be arbitrated was too strict. It contends the standard applied by the appellate court violated “an application of equal-footing principles,” which the Supreme Court requires under the Federal Arbitration Act—that is, that arbitration contracts are treated the same as other contracts.
While the Rams contend the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate under the then-existing AAA rule, the petition argues that the incorporation of the rule sending the arbitrability question to the arbitrator should have been recognized by state court to keep the arbitration contract on an equal footing with other contract principles.
The state respondents strongly dispute that the Missouri appellate court ignored the Court’s equal-footing principle. It also asserted the parties could have never unequivocally agreed to arbitrate the issue because the AAA rule did not have the arbitrability provision when they signed the contract.
While conceding the applicable version of AAA rule confers power to the arbitrators to decide arbitrability, the respondents claim the incorporation principle is irrelevant to the case. Instead, they argue that “[p]ursuant to fundamental Missouri contract law, the parties must agree to all essential terms of an agreement at the time of contracting.” (Respondent’s Brief in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari (available at https://bit.ly/2U8ZumI).
Thus, “there must be an actual agreement to delegate at the time of contracting.” Id.
Despite the respondents’ denial of a division among federal and state courts on the applicable standard, the Rams’ petition claims that some state courts, including Missouri, are requiring an extraordinary degree of clarity for the “clear and unmistakable” test, which the petition says is contrary to how every federal court addresses the issue.
The petitioner urges that the Court provide guidance regarding the clear and unmistakable test, which it says is critical since the respondents’ position not only defies the FAA’s equal footing principle but also has been the subject of repeated requests for Court clarification, citing four cases the Court declined to hear between 2014 and 2018. The petition also notes that the situation has seen “every federal court resisting special rules disfavoring arbitration and only state courts on the anti-arbitration side of the dispute.”
Scotusblog’s case page, available at https://bit.ly/2QANwjk, contains the Rams’ cert petition, the respondent’s brief in opposition, and the Rams’ reply
* * *
The author is a CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern. Alternatives’ editor Russ Bleemer assisted with the research.