Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

Supreme Court Further Restricts Class Arbitration Finding It Must be Unambiguously Authorized

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella held that courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis. Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varella involved an employee who had filed a class action against his employer. Lamps Plus responded by seeking to compel arbitration on an individual rather than a classwide basis. The district court dismissed the case and compelled arbitration, but on a class basis. Lamps Plus appealed, and the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning hinged on the fact that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous about the availability of class arbitration. The Ninth Circuit thus distinguished Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662 (2010), arguing that in Stolt-Nielsen the parties had stipulated that the agreement was silent about class arbitration, whereas the parties had no such stipulation in Lamps Plus. Because the Ninth Circuit held that the agreement was ambiguous, the appellate court turned to California’s contra proferentem rule and held that this state law contract principle required the court to interpret...

Accepting the Risks of Arbitration Clauses: The Southern District of New York Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Allowing Class-Wide Arbitration

Accepting the Risks of Arbitration Clauses: The Southern District of New York Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Allowing Class-Wide Arbitration

On January 2, 2019, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in Wells Fargo Advisors LLC v. Tucker, declined to vacate an arbitrator’s clause construction award, which construed the parties’ arbitration agreement as permitting class-wide arbitration. Importantly, prior decisions from the SDNY and Second Circuit concluded the parties’ arbitration agreement clearly and unmistakably expressed the parties’ intent that an arbitrator should decide the gateway issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration. Having delegated that authority to the arbitrator, the District Court found no basis in law to overturn that clause construction award. The two prior decisions in this matter, addressing the issue of who should decide whether an agreement permits class arbitration, align well with the United States Supreme Court’s January 9, 2019 holding in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. There—resolving a circuit split—the High Court held that when the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, a court may not override the contract, and possesses no power to decide the arbitrability issue, even if the court believes the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is “wholly groundless.” The clause construction award in Wells Fargo Advisors LLC arose out...