Friday, April 26, 2013

Class Arbitration?

Recently, because of a split of authority, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument on whether an arbitrator exceeded his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act in determining parties agreed to authorize class arbitration using broad contractual language. Justices apparently expressed an unwillingness to create a special standard for reviewing class arbitration decisions for this particular result. Cases like Stolt-Nielsen and Concepcion established a presumption of no consent to class arbitration without a clear meeting of the minds. However, the Court repeatedly gives a highly deferential standard of review to decisions by arbitrators, preventing most inquiries into the merits of an arbitrator’s award. There are generally very limited grounds for vacating an arbitration award. To argue the arbitrator exceeded his power requires manifest disregard of the law or clearly governing legal principle. Still, the Court appeared skeptical of the capability of arbitrators to handle class actions, even questioning incentive. In this case, the class involved some 20,000 doctors. Inquiries into arbitrator compensation and experience went unanswered, since that information is non-public. Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act in 1925 to encourage litigants to settle disputes without resorting to litigation. Should the Court rule for business here, arbitration of class actions could squelch these cases before they become high stakes gambles. See docket- Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter and discussion here- and article here-