Moving to Compel Arbitration in Federal Court

Compel Arbitration
Motion to Compel Arbitration

This Article is designed to provide a litigant with the basis in law to file a motion to compel arbitration in Federal Court where a party to an arbitration agreement has refused to honor the agreement to arbitrate or has filed a lawsuit in court instead of initiating arbitration.

The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. (the “FAA”), governs the enforcement of arbitration agreements.  9 U.S.C. §§ 1-2; Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 398 U.S. 395, 402 (1967).  The FAA established a national public policy favoring arbitration.  AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1745 (2011)).  An arbitration agreement is enforceable under the FAA if it is in writing, relates to a commercial or maritime transaction, and manifests an agreement between the parties to arbitrate a dispute. 9 U.S.C § 1.  Contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” are not covered by the FAA.  Id.

One of the primary purposes of the FAA is to ensure enforcement of private arbitration agreements according to their own terms.  Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l. Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 682 (2010).  In determining whether the FAA applies to an arbitration agreement, courts must weigh facts in accordance with the “liberal” policy favoring arbitration.  Cecala v. Moore, 982 F.Supp. 609 (N.D. Ill. 1997).  All doubts whether a dispute is arbitrable must be resolved in favor of arbitration.  Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983); Javitch v. First Union Securities, Inc., 315 F.3d 619, 624 (6th Cir. 2003); Riley Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Anchor Glass Container Corp., 157 F.3d 775 (10th Cir. 1998).  “[T]he preeminent concern of Congress in passing the [FAA] was to enforce private agreements into which the parties [have] entered, a concern which requires that we rigorously enforce agreements to arbitrate.”  Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 221, 105 S.Ct. 1238, 1242-43 (1985); Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 625-26 (1985).  “[A]ny doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration, whether the problem at hand is the construction of the contract language itself or an allegation of waiver, delay, or a like defense to arbitrability.” Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp, 460 U.S. at 24-25.  Consequently, “as with any other contract, the parties’ intentions control, but those intentions are generously construed as to issues of arbitrability.”  Mitsubishi, 473 U.S. at 627 (emphasis added).

The FAA “leaves no place for the exercise of discretion” if there is a valid, applicable agreement, so arbitration must be compelled even if some claims are subject to arbitration and some are not and the maintenance of separate proceedings may be inefficient.  Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 217-18, 105 S.Ct. 1238, 1241 (1985).  The U.S. Supreme Court has explained the importance of enforcing arbitration agreements thusly:

[A]rbitration is a matter of contract. See Rent–A–Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S.Ct. 2772, 2776, 177 L.Ed.2d 403 (2010). And consistent with that text, courts must “rigorously enforce” arbitration agreements according to their terms, Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 221, 105 S.Ct. 1238, 84 L.Ed.2d 158 (1985), including terms that “specify with whom [the parties] choose to arbitrate their disputes,” Stolt–Nielsen, supra, at 683, 130 S.Ct. 1758, and “the rules under which that arbitration will be conducted,” Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 479, 109 S.Ct. 1248, 103 L.Ed.2d 488 (1989).

Am. Exp. Co. v. Italian Colors Rest., 133 S. Ct. 2304, 2308–09, 186 L. Ed. 2d 417 (2013).

In cases where the low threshold is met and the FAA applies, a court has no discretion and must apply the FAA on arbitrability issues; state law may not preclude the enforcement of the arbitration agreement in question.  First Citizens Mun. Corp. v. Pershing Div. of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp., 546 F.Supp. 884, 887 (D.C. Ga. 1982).  Under U.S. Supreme Court precedents, state laws mooting or limiting contractual agreements to arbitrate must yield to the pro-arbitration public policy set forth in the FAA.  See Doctor’s Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 116 S.Ct. 1652 (1996) (invalidating a Montana law that required an arbitration provision to be underlined, in caps, and on the first page of a contract to be valid, because such law was in conflict with the FAA).

When faced with a motion to compel arbitration, the Court may not evaluate the merits of the underlying dispute but must rather simply determine arbitrability of the agreement.  In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Mktg., Sales Practices and Prod. Liab. Litig., 838 F. Supp. 2d 967, 973 (C.D. Cal. 2012).  Thus, the only preconditions for enforcement of an arbitration agreement are that (1) a valid agreement to arbitrate exists between the parties, and (2) the specific dispute falls within the substantive scope of that agreement.  9 U.S.C. § 2; see also Germaine Music v. Universal Songs of Polygram, 275 F.Supp.2d 1288, 1296 (D. Nev. 2003); Javitch v. First Union Securities, Inc., 315 F.3d 619, 624 (6th Cir. 2003); First Citizens Mun. Corp. v. Pershing Div. of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp., 546 F.Supp. 884, 887 (D.C. Ga. 1982); Douglass v. Pflueger Hawaii, Inc., 110 Hawai’i 520, 530, 135 P.3d 129, 139 (Hawaii 2006).

The question of whether there is a valid arbitration agreement is determined under the general contract law principles of the relevant state.  See FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 2; Doctor’s Assocs., Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 686–87, (1996); Perry v. Thomas, 482 U.S. 483, 492 n. 9, (1987); Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, Inc. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 281, 115 S.Ct. 834, 843 (1995); RUAA, Official Comments (Prefatory Note).  The only federal requirement in this regard is that a state may not have special arbitration rules; such principles must be the same ones that govern all contracts generally.  Doctor’s Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 687, 116 S.Ct. 1652, 1656 (1996); Allied-Bruce Terminix, 513 U.S. at 281, 115 S.Ct. at 843; RUAA, Official Comments (Prefatory Note).



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