In their 2013 concurrence in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, questioned whether absent class members “will be bound by the arbitrator’s ultimate resolution of th[e] dispute” in a class arbitration. Justice Alito suggested that where an arbitration agreement provides “no reason to think that the absent class members ever agreed to class arbitration,” an affirmative answer was unlikely. He posited that “an arbitrator’s erroneous interpretation of contracts that do not authorize class arbitration cannot bind someone who has not authorized the arbitrator to make that determination.” Taken to its logical end, Justice Alito’s rationale would support an argument that class arbitrations should be limited to adjudicating only the claims of class members who affirmatively opt in to the class arbitration proceedings.Read More
By Andrew C. Glass, Robert W. Sparkes, III, Roger L. Smerage, and Elma Delic
In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind ruling, the District Court for the Southern District of New York recently concluded that a federal district court has the authority to vacate an arbitrator’s class certification award based on the due process rights of absent class members. That this potentially ground-breaking decision arose from the long-standing litigation in Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc. is no surprise. Over the course of a decade in Jock, the district court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have rendered multiple decisions addressing the proper role of a court in reviewing an arbitrator’s authority to determine whether parties have agreed to class arbitration. In the latest decision, the district court became the first court to apply Justice Alito’s concurrence in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter to strike down an arbitrator’s ruling. The Jock court determined that, absent an express class arbitration provision in each putative class member’s arbitration agreement, an arbitrator does not have the authority to bind absent class members to a class judgment—even if they signed the same form of arbitration agreement as the named plaintiffs. As discussed below, this novel decision could have significant implications.
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