In a post in Lex Arbitri blog, one of us had noted that there has been significant number of dissents in many of the landmark cases decided by the US Supreme Court on arbitration. Even in AT & T v. Concepcion, the subject of analysis, the USSC held in favour of AT & T with a wafer-thin majority of five judges (with four dissenting). In this post, we summarize a portion of the majority judgement.
Case: AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion
Court: US Supreme Court
Judgement Date: 27.04.2011
Majority: Scalia, J., Roberts, CJ., Kennedy, Thomas, & Alito, JJ. (Thomas, J. concurring)
Dissent: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor & Kagan, JJ.
For facts, see this post.
Whether State Laws invalidating arbitration agreements prohibiting class arbitration procedures are unenforceable as per the Federal Arbitration Act?
The majority opinion is summarized below:
- Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act provides that “a written provision in a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction... shall be void, irrevocable and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law, or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” This provision reflects the liberal federal policy favouring arbitration and the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract. The reason why the FAA allows parties to structure their arbitration agreement is to allow efficient, streamlined procedures, tailored for a particular dispute.
- The latter part of Section 2 also provides that an arbitration agreement could be invalidated on grounds such as fraud, duress and unconscionability but not by defences that apply to arbitration. In other words, an arbitration agreement could be declared invalid on grounds by which contracts could be declared invalid.
- California Law provides that courts may refuse enforcement of a contract that is unconscionable at the time of its making or the courts may, instead, limit the applicability of such unconscionable clause.
- Californian Law classifies most class action waivers in consumer contracts as unconscionable (“Discover Bank Rule”). In the Discover Bank case, the Californian Supreme Court held that a class action waiver in a consumer contract is unconscionable:
- If the waiver is found in a consumer contract of adhesion where disputes between contracting parties involve small amounts of damages, and
- If there is an allegation that the party with the superior bargaining power has made out a scheme to deliberately cheat large number of consumers.