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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Class Waiver in Arbitration Agreement

In Arbitration, Class Waiver on June 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm
American Express Co. shipping receipt, New Yor...

American Express Co. shipping receipt, New York City to St. Louis, MO (August 6, 1853) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a five-to-three decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12-133, 570 U.S. __ (June 20, 2013).  At issue was whether a contractual waiver of class arbitration is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) when the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.  The Court held that it was.

“Respondents argue that requiring them to litigate their claims individually—as they contracted to do—would contravene the policies of the antitrust laws. But the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim.”  Slip Op. at 4.

Nor does congressional approval of Rule 23 establish an entitlement to class proceedings for the vindication of statutory rights. . . . One might respond, perhaps, that federal law secures a nonwaivable opportunity to vindicate federal policies by satisfying the procedural strictures of Rule 23 or invoking some other informal class mechanism in arbitration. But we have already rejected that proposition in AT&T Mobility, 563 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9).

Slip Op. at 5.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, also rejected the argument that “Enforcing the waiver of class arbitration bars effective vindication, respondents contend, because they have no economic incentive to pursue their antitrust claims individually in arbitration.”  Id.

[T]he fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy. See 681 F. 3d, at 147 (Jacobs, C. J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc).  The class-action waiver merely limits arbitration to the two contracting parties. It no more eliminates those parties’ right to pursue their statutory remedy than did federal law before its adoption of the class action for legal relief in 1938, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C., p. 864 (1938 ed., Supp V); 7A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1752, p. 18 (3d ed.2005). Or, to put it differently, the individual suit that was considered adequate to assure “effective vindication”of a federal right before adoption of class-action procedures did not suddenly become “ineffective vindication” upon their adoption.

Id. at 7.

By CHARLES JUNG

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