Wednesday, January 28, 2009

arbitration - class action - no stay as to plaintiffs whose contracts do not have arbitration clause

Mendez, et al. v. Puerto Rican International Companies - 3d Cir. - January 26, 2009

The issue for resolution is whether a defendant who is entitled to arbitrate an issue which it has with one plaintiff in a suit can insist on a mandatory stay of litigation of issues it has with other plaintiffs who are not committed to arbitrate those issues. We conclude that Section 3 was not intended to mandate curtailment of the litigation rights of anyone who has not agreed to arbitrate any of the issues before the court.

We acknowledge at the outset that Section 3 can be read literally to confer a right to a mandatory stay in the context of this case. Section 3 is an integral part of a statutory scheme, however, and reading it in the context of the FAA as a whole, we decline to attribute that intent to Congress.

The purpose of the FAA is to render agreements to arbitrate fully enforceable. 9 U.S.C. § 2 (a contract to arbitrate “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract”). The purpose of Section 3, in particular, is to guarantee that a party who has secured the agreement of another to arbitrate rather than litigate a dispute will reap the full benefits of its bargain. In short, the “liberal policy ‘favoring arbitration agreements . . . is at bottom a policy guaranteeing the enforcement of private contractual arrangements.’”

Accordingly, “under the FAA, ‘a court may compel a party to arbitrate where that party has entered into a written agreement to arbitrate that covers the dispute.’” Because Congress thus limited the rights it created in the FAA to situations involving corresponding obligations voluntarily assumed by another, we decline appellants’ invitation to interpret Section 3 in a way that would mandate the imposition of a material burden on a party’s right to litigate claims it has not agreed to arbitrate.

While Section 3, as appellants read it, would postpone rather than eliminate a party’s right to litigate its claims against another, it would nevertheless defer that right for the duration of a proceeding over which the constrained party has no control and would deprive the Court of any discretion to consider the impact of that delay on that party. We find no persuasive evidence in the FAA for sanctioning such a burden.