The Federal Arbitration Act as Procedural Reform
88 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2014 Last revised: 23 Jul 2019
Date Written: April 7, 2014
Recent Supreme Court decisions such as American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 133 S. Ct. 2304 (2013), and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), represent dramatic developments with implications that extend far beyond the arbitration context. These decisions are a product of what the author refers to as the “contract model” of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Heretofore largely unquestioned, the contract model posits the FAA’s original and dominant purpose as the promotion of private ordering in dispute resolution free from state regulation. The model has, in turn, helped courts and commentators to claim that the FAA requires arbitration agreements to be enforced strictly “according to their terms” — that is, without regard to the way those agreements might compromise procedural values (such as when they preclude class-wide relief).
This Article questions both the descriptive accuracy and normative persuasiveness of the contract model. It will argue that when placed in their proper historical context, the FAA’s text and legislative history appear equally consistent (if not more so) with a purpose to improve upon the widely-discussed procedural failings of the courts circa 1925. From this standpoint, the FAA can be understood as an offshoot of ongoing efforts at the time to reform procedure in the federal courts — efforts spearheaded by figures such as Roscoe Pound and Charles E. Clark and that eventually culminated in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 1938. The FAA, in short, is arguably a species of procedural reform.
These insights lead the author to propose a “procedural reform” model of the FAA, one that he contends is both more faithful to the statute’s history (legislative and otherwise) and more adept at answering the difficult questions that confront arbitration law in the age of “contract procedure.” The author considers two recent examples to illustrate.
Keywords: arbitration, dispute resolution, ADR, FAA, American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter, Supreme Court, contracts, civil procedure, Roscoe Pound, procedural reform, arbitration reform, legal history
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