United States Supreme Court Limits Class Arbitration

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After Lamps Plus, employers will have a strong argument to avoid class arbitration unless they clearly agree to do so.

May 13, 2019
Jeffrey K. Brown & Raymond J. Nhan - Payne & Fears

On April 24, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") bars orders requiring class arbitration when an agreement is ambiguous about the availability of such a procedure. Lamps Plus v. Varela, 587 U.S. __ , 2019 WL 1780275, (2019). In Lamps Plus, the Court clarified a 2010 case in which it held that a court may not compel arbitration on a class-wide basis when an agreement is silent on the availability of class arbitration. Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animal Feeds Int'l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 687 (2012).

In Lamps Plus, a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court explained that because the FAA envisions the use of traditional individualized arbitration, a party cannot be forced under the FAA to submit to class arbitration unless the parties explicitly agreed to do so. Because class arbitration does not share the benefits of traditional arbitration -- lower costs, greater efficiency and speed, and the parties' choice of a neutral -- the FAA requires more than an "ambiguous" agreement to show that the parties bound themselves to arbitrate on a class-wide basis. Unlike individualized arbitration, or even traditional class actions, class arbitration raises serious due process concerns because absent class members will have limited judicial review. Based on these critical differences between individual and class arbitration, the Court reiterated in Lamps Plus 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."

Reprinted courtesy of Jeffrey K. Brown, Payne & Fears and Raymond J. Nhan, Payne & Fears
Mr. Brown may be contacted at jkb@paynefears.com
Mr. Nhan may be contacted at rjn@paynefears.com



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