Massachusetts Supreme Court Holds That Courts May Invalidate Certain Arbitration Agreements With Class Action Waivers

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On June 12, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that courts may invalidate an arbitration agreement that includes a class action waiver where the plaintiff demonstrates that his or her claim effectively cannot be pursued in individual arbitration. Feeney v. Dell, Inc., No. SJC-11133, 2013 WL 2479603 (Mass. Jun. 12, 2013). In this case, the court determined that the plaintiffs could not effectively pursue their statutory claim under the individual claim arbitration process given the complexity of their claims and the small amounts of individual damages. The SJC therefore affirmed the trial court’s order invalidating the agreement. According to the SJC, the Supreme Court’s holding in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), left open the possibility that an arbitration agreement may be invalidated if the agreement effectively prevents the claimant from vindicating his or her statutory cause of action. Still, the SJC’s decision arguably conflicts with several decisions in the federal courts of appeal that question that the continuing vitality of the “vindication of rights” doctrine following Concepcion. The decision also addresses an issue currently before the Supreme Court in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12-133 (S. Ct. argument heard Feb. 27, 2013).