Lawyers who assume that the arbitration provisions within their carefully drafted agreements will be enforced may have to re-examine these assumptions. Within the space of less than one month, the Justices waded into three civil matters that dealt with the constant re-arrangement of the deck chairs and fine tuning of the parties’ rights and obligations relating to the application of the Federal Arbitration Act leaving those who practice with less than crystal clear guidance about how to proceed.
On May 23, 2022, in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., SCOTUS, in a unanimous decision, ruled, contrary to the current positions of 9 of the 11 Circuits, that the requirement by the 8th Circuit that a showing that the other side has been prejudiced by a delay is not required for a party that has proceeded with litigation to be deemed to have waived its contractual right to arbitrate. Although the Opinion was only nine (9) pages, the beginning, middle and end focused on one seeming objective of lesser ultimate important; that Courts may not establish law relating to the enforcement of arbitration agreements solely in order to protect the sanctity of arbitration agreements under the FAA. To quote: “… federal courts may not create arbitration-specific variants of federal procedural rules, like those concerning waiver, based on the FAA’s ‘policy favoring arbitration.’ If an ordinary procedural rule – whether of waiver or forfeiture or what-have you – would counsel against enforcement of an arbitration contract, then so be it. The federal policy is about treating arbitration contracts like others, not about fostering arbitration.”Continue Reading