Arbitration of Shareholder Claims: Why Change is Not Always a Measure of Progress
43 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2008 Last revised: 17 Sep 2009
Two Blue Ribbon business advisory panels have recently proposed arbitration to remedy the problems endemic to shareholder class action litigation. Critics have long assailed shareholder litigation as harmful to firms without conferring a corresponding benefit upon shareholders or the public. Contemporary criticism has focused on the circularity of the remedy in shareholder suits and the charge that even the potential for shareholder litigation harms the competitive edge of the U.S. financial markets. We contend that even accepting these criticisms at face value, arbitration is not the solution. The lure of arbitration as a panacea to cure the ills of litigation is based upon myths concerning modern arbitral realities. First, arbitrators apply substantive and undefined principles of fairness and equity rather than legal rules. Such decisions, once made, are virtually insulated from judicial review. While historically such a system constituted an efficient dispute resolution system between homogenous members of trade groups, modern consumer arbitration rarely takes place between those with any common understanding of applicable norms other than the law. Second, there is a hidden societal cost to moving to an arbitration system to redress securities law claims. Experience teaches us that mandatory arbitration causes the law to atrophy. This trend would be exacerbated in shareholder litigation, which is often based upon implied causes of action, that by their nature depend upon transparent judicial interpretation. Third, modern arbitration will not cure the ills of class action litigation. Arbitration today is no longer particularly quick or efficient in that it has incorporated many of the procedural appendages such as discovery that are common in litigation. However, the procedural protections against the most vexatious lawsuits against corporations would not operate in the world of arbitration. This danger would be intensified if class action arbitrations were allowed. This essay will critique the proposals calling for arbitration of shareholder claims and conclude that arbitration is not an attractive alternative to litigation.
Keywords: arbitration, corporations, securities, class action, litigation
JEL Classification: K22, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation