Friday, July 1, 2022

SCOTUS Arbitration Decisions

As this tumultous term comes to a close, a pair of recent employment case rulings has given some to insight into the future of the U.S. Supreme Court's direction on arbitration which has been pretty firm as of late. Traditionally, the Court has relied upon precendent and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in enforcing the right to arbitrate as contractual in nature and upholding those agreements. More recently, the Court is reversing decisions that apply even-handed rules to the FAA. In Morgan v. Sundance, a unanimous Court rejected the two-part test applied by most federal circuits in evaluating whether a party has waived its right to compel enforcement of an arbitration agreement. Under that test, waiver would be found only if a party acted in a manner inconsistent with its arbitration rights and that inconsistency caused prejudice to the other side. The principal justification for requiring prejudice was federal policy favoring arbitration. Finding that the usual test for contractual waiver typically requires only inconsistent conduct, the Court held it improper to add a prejudice requirement onto the waiver analysis just for arbitration agreements. The text of the FAA makes clear that courts are not to create arbitration-specific procedural rules. In Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, eight of nine justices agreed with the result relying in part on a severability provision in the arbitration agreement to narrow an otherwise invalid wholesale waiver of state Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims. This suggests that whether courts will compel arbitration of individual PAGA claims may turn on the specific language of the arbitration agreement at issue. The lone dissent came from Justice Thomas, who long has viewed the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to cases in state courts. The FAA also can preempt rules “that are generally applicable as a formal matter” but have the effect of making arbitration agreements ineffective because they are inherently inconsistent with arbitration. Such rules would include those that would require a party to arbitrate on a class basis or not at all. See decisions-- and and more here-- and