CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘FAA’

The Supreme Court Weighs in on Arbitrability, But Questions Remain

Posted on: January 31st, 2019

By: Ted Peters

As reflected in a prior article, the United States Supreme Court recently agreed to take another look at the issue of arbitrability. In the case of Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., the Fifth Circuit concluded that the court, and not an arbitrator, had the power to decide the threshold issue of arbitrability. In its ruling, the circuit court embraced the “wholly groundless” argument, concluding that submission of the dispute to the arbitrator was unnecessary because the assertion of arbitrability was “wholly groundless.” This decision underscored the ongoing split of authority among the lower courts wherein some courts, but not all, recognize the “wholly groundless” exception. On appeal, the appellants sought to have the Supreme Court reject the exception as inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), the purpose of which is “to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”

On January 8, 2019, newly appointed Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court vacating and remanding the Firth Circuit’s decision. Writing for a unanimous court, Kavanaugh determined that the “wholly groundless” exception to the general rule that courts must enforce contracts that delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator is inconsistent with the FAA and Supreme Court precedent. Not surprisingly, the opinion revisited a number of prior cases in which the Court repeatedly held that the “agreement to arbitrate a gateway issue is simply an additional… agreement the party seeking arbitration asks the federal court to enforce, and the [FAA] operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other.” (Opinion at p. 4, quoting Rent-A-Center, 561 U.S. 63, 70 (2010)). Kavanaugh noted that the Court had frequently rejected the argument that a claim of frivolity can derail the parties’ agreement to vest questions of arbitrability with an arbitrator and not a court. Citing Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960), Kavanaugh stated: “A court has ‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’ because the ‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’”

On January 15, 2019, the Court issued a ruling in yet another case involving arbitration, New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court. In an 8-0 decision (Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of the case), the high court affirmed the First Circuit’s determination that a court should determine whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s Section 1 exclusion for disputes involving the “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers applies before ordering arbitration. Unlike Henry Schein, which addressed the delegation of “gateway” questions of arbitrability, New Prime Inc. involved the judicial assessment of a statutorily based objection to arbitration.

But wait… there’s (one) more: Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, Dkt. No. 17-988. That case, argued on October 29, 2018, addresses whether the FAA forecloses a state-law interpretation of an arbitration agreement that would authorize class arbitration based solely on general language commonly used in arbitration agreements. An opinion is expected at any time.

Coming full circle, it is fairly clear that the high court seems to remain firm in its embrace of arbitration agreements without permitting judicial meddling, provided there is “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties affirmatively agree to delegate the decision of arbitrability to the arbitrator. (Henry Schein at p. 6, citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944). Yet, at the same time, the Justices appear receptive to judicial involvement as long as there is a reasonable statutory basis for it.

The takeaway? Parties to arbitration agreements should rest confident in their ability to affirmatively delegate disputes to arbitration provided that the statutory framework upon which arbitration is based leaves no basis for judicial tinkering. This may provide solace for some, but for many it leaves unanswered questions along with the risks and costs associated with uncertainty.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

High Court OKs Employers’ Use of Class Waivers

Posted on: May 23rd, 2018

By: Paul Derrick

Class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), says the U.S. Supreme Court in a much-anticipated decision.

The Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision resolves a circuit split on whether class or collective action waivers contained in employment arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). By a 5-4 margin, the Court ruled that, under the FAA, arbitration agreements providing for individualized proceedings, rather than class or collective actions, are enforceable.

Arbitration agreements that require employees to pursue work-related claims in arbitration, rather than in court, have long been enforced pursuant to the FAA. Six years ago, however, the National Labor Relations Board decided that employers violate the NLRA when they require employees, as a condition of employment, to agree that they will resolve workplace disputes individually pursuant to an arbitration provision containing a class or collective action waiver.

The Supreme Court’s opinion makes it clear that the Board and various courts were wrong in believing that the NLRA trumps the FAA.  It noted that that nothing in a class or collective action waiver interferes with an employee’s right to participate in a union or engage in collective bargaining.

So, what does the Court’s ruling mean for employers right now?

First, they should look at their arbitration agreements and consider modifying them to include class action waivers if they are not already included.

Second, they should consider including an arbitration agreement and class waiver provision as part of their onboarding paperwork (but remember such clauses should not be included within the text of an employee handbook).

Finally, employers should expect that there is more litigation yet to come as employees and unions angle for ways to get around the Supreme Court’s decision.  Especially in states such California, there are other avenues by which employees can still maintain class and collective actions as a means of redressing their workplace disputes.  Despite these anticipated end-run attempts, employers should rest better knowing that the Supreme Court has explicitly approved the use of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

If you have any questions or would like more information about this or any other labor law issue, please contact Paul Derrick at [email protected].

Employee Claim is Scattered, Smothered, and Covered by Waffle House Arbitration Agreement

Posted on: October 19th, 2017

By: Brad Adler and Will Collins

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case not only reinforced that state law permits the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to control arbitration agreements, but also illustrated that state law broadly interprets and defines claims arising from employment when determining whether a claim is covered by an arbitration agreement. In Waffle House, Inc. v. Pavesi, 2017 Ga. App. LEXIS 442, No. A17A1281 (October 4, 2017) the Georgia Court of Appeals held that an employee’s personal injury claims for negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of a co-worker were all covered claims subject to mandatory arbitration under the arbitration agreement signed by the employee because: (1) the agreement showed intent to be governed by the FAA and that intent was not destroyed by merely referencing that the agreement is governed by Georgia law; and (2) the agreement covered the claims arising out of employment and, under Georgia law, this language is interpreted broadly such that “nothing more than a causal connection is required to show that a claim arose out of that relationship.”

In October of 2015, the Waffle House franchise where the complainant, Brian Mikeals, worked was re-purchased from the franchisee by Waffle House, Inc. At that time, all employees were required to re-apply for non-probationary employment and complete on-boarding paperwork, including an arbitration agreement. Mikeals entered into the arbitration agreement on November 6, 2015 and again on November 14, 2015, due to a problem in the Waffle House computer system requiring employees to complete the paperwork for a second time.

In December of 2015, Mikeals suffered a severe injury at work after a co-worker placed an illegal substance in his drink. After Mikeals’ court appointed guardian initiated this suit, Waffle House filed an emergency motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion; however, the Court of Appeals reversed.

First, where the agreement stated that it “should be construed in a manner consistent with the principles and provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act … [T]his Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of Georgia” the Court of Appeals found that the language demonstrated the parties’ intent to be bound by the FAA. Contrary to the trial court, the Court of Appeals concluded that the passing reference to a Georgia choice of law provision did not transform the intent of the parties to be subject to the Georgia Arbitration Code. Instead, the court emphasized that Georgia law permits the parties to agree to arbitrate claims and elect that such arbitration will be governed by the FAA.

Second, the court reinforced the broad application and coverage of claims arising from an employment relationship. Here, the arbitration agreement covered all claims “arising out of any aspect of or pertaining in any way to [Mikaels’] employment” and included specific language listing tort claims as covered. Before even discussing that the claims in this case were tort claims that the agreement expressly covers, the court emphasized that it has a long history of broadly including claims arising from a special relationship, requiring “nothing more than a causal connection . . . to show that a claim arose out of that relationship.” According to the court, the only claims that do not arise out of an employment relationship are those “which do not have any relationship to an employee’s work or relationship to the employer.” So, the bottom line is that this decision reinforces the need to be deliberate and wise in drafting an arbitration clause and further highlights a tendency in many courts to view an arbitration provision with a wide lens.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Brad Adler at [email protected] or Will Collins at [email protected].

Drones Regulation Deadline Missed by FAA

Posted on: October 2nd, 2015

By: Wayne Melnick

In the recent past, I blogged a series of articles regarding the possible legal and insurance ramifications of law enforcement drone usage. These included blogs on risk questions related to government drone usage how drones can be used to capture tough to obtain data, and North Dakota becoming the first state to legalize the less lethal use of force by drones.

As noted in the first blog, the Department of Justice was considering enacting guidelines for such use. In 2012, Congress instructed the FAA to integrate drones into US airspace. The Congressional deadline for the issuance of these regulations was on September 30, 2015. However, the FAA failed to issue the guidelines in question. Although preliminary rules for small commercial drones were proposed by the FAA in February, those rules have not been finalized.

What does this mean? It means that the use and operation of drones, both by governments and commercial businesses, remains a rocky, unsettled area of the law and that those entities using such devices do so at high risk. We will continue to monitor the regulation process. However, the original recommendation remains: Any time there is new technology that is emerging, it is imperative for both the insurer and the insured to review their current policy language to determine what is, and just as importantly, what is not, included in coverage.

 

Insurance Drones: Using Modern Technology to Capture Tough-to-Obtain Data

Posted on: October 9th, 2014

By: Wayne S. Melnick

Last year, I blogged on the possible legal and insurance ramifications of law enforcement drone usage.  The topic of drone-usage in the insurance world again came to the forefront of news when last week USAA asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test drone aircraft for use in future claims assessments.

According to this article, the San Antonio-based insurance company who specializes in coverage for military families “wants to begin testing small, unmanned aircraft systems that can record data over areas that have been damaged as the result of a natural disaster.”  According to Alan Krapf, president of USAA’s property and casualty insurance group, “We’re constantly seeking ways to better serve our members, especially during catastrophes, when getting into neighborhoods immediately after can be dangerous to human life, and applying new technologies is one way we can do that.”

The use of the drones is obvious in that not only could the drones be used to survey large areas affected by natural disaster, but it could also to allow the viewing of otherwise hard to get to areas – such as viewing rooftops suffering hail damage or other property damage claims.  USAA says it has teamed up with Texas A&M University in School Station and Robotocists With no Borders to study how to use drones for its insurance organization.  According to Kathleen Swain, USAA employees underwriter and FAA-rated business pilot and flight instructor, quoted in this article, “We believe this investigation can lead to safer, quicker and far more economical claims service for our members and their communities.  This research could lead to market breakthroughs that assist make an very hard time for individuals a minor simpler.”

The use of drones continues to be a new frontier in insurance examination.  How much expansion will be allowed is, at least for the time-being, subject to FAA approval.  It is expected that as new and creative uses for this tool becomes available, that insurers will continue to seek further expansion of drones use in investigating claims.