Denial Of Arbitration Reversed Where Trial Court Failed To Hold Trial To Resolve Disputed Questions Of Fact

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The Tenth Circuit has pointedly reversed a trial court’s decision to deny arbitration, based on the fact that the lower court failed to hold a trial (as required by the FAA) when disputed questions of fact surrounding the parties’ oral agreement remained. The case was brought as a class action against a propane gas company for overcharging customers. Despite multiple rounds of lengthy discovery, factual questions remained regarding the content of conversations between the parties, and when the “last act” of contract formation occurred for purposes of determining choice of state contract law. The Tenth Circuit concluded: “Summary-judgment-like motions practice may be a permissible and expedient way to resolve arbitrability questions when it’s clear no material disputes of fact exist and only legal questions remain. But when factual disputes may determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, the way to resolve them isn’t by round after round of discovery and motions practice. It is by proceeding summarily to trial. That is the procedure the [FAA] requires and the parties should have undertaken a long time ago – and it is the procedure they must follow now.” Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, L.P., Case No. 13-3061 (10th Cir. April 8, 2014).

Topics:  Arbitration, Arbitration Agreements, Federal Arbitration Act

Published In: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Updates, Civil Procedure Updates, General Business Updates, Energy & Utilities Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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