Eleventh Cir. Applies Sutter To Affirm Class Arbitration; Ninth Cir. Applies Concepcion To Preempt Montana Law

by Stinson Leonard Street - Arbitration Nation

74 SU1HXzEwOTkuanBnWithin weeks of its issuance, SCOTUS’s Sutter decision is already making an impact on other cases. Both the Eleventh Circuit and the D.C. Court of Appeals cite Sutter repeatedly in recent decisions that refuse to vacate arbitration awards.  Of course, new decisions are not the only ones that reverberate: Concepcion, a 2011 decision, was just applied by the Ninth Circuit to preempt Montana case law on contracts of adhesion.


In Southern Commc’n Servs., Inc. v. Thomas, __ F.3d __, 2013 WL 3481467 (11th Cir. July 12, 2013), the court affirmed an arbitrator’s decision to allow a class action.  The plaintiffs are mobile phone consumers who allege they were charged unlawful penalties for canceling phone service.  Under the Wireless Industry Arbitration Rules of the AAA, an arbitrator found the arbitration clause allowed class actions and certified the class.  The wireless provider then moved to vacate that determination in federal court, claiming the arbitrator exceeded his authority and refused to apply the law.  The court, however, carefully applied the language of the recent Sutter decision and said that because the arbitrator engaged with the contract’s language and the parties’ intent, his construction of the contract must be upheld.

The D.C. Court of Appeals also cited Sutter recently in refusing to vacate an arbitration award.  In Wolf v. Sprenger + Lang, PLLC, __ A.3d. __, 2013 WL 3466348 (D.C. Ct. App. July 11, 2013), two attorneys sought to vacate an arbitration award against them in a fight over attorneys’ fees.  They argued the arbitrator exceeded his powers by addressing an issue outside the scope of the arbitration and by basing his award on notions of ethics instead of the co-counsel agreement.  In its analysis, the court summarized that the “‘sole question’ before the court in a challenge [that an arbitrator exceeded his power] is ‘whether the arbitrator (even arguably) interpreted the parties’ contract,’” citing Sutter.  Given that limited question, and the fact that the court said there was “no doubt” the arbitrator reached his decisions after interpreting the parties’ co-counsel agreement, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion to vacate.


In a ruling that applies Concepcion in a new context, the Ninth Circuit just struck down Montana case law finding many arbitration agreements void as against public policy.  Mortensen v. Bresnan Commc’ns, LLC, __ F.3d. __, 2013 WL 3491415 (9th Cir. July 15, 2013), a putative class of Montana internet service subscribers asserted claims against the internet provider, based on the provider’s decision to allow an advertising company to create profiles of subscribers based on their internet usage and target them with “preference-sensitive advertising.”  The provider moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied the motion under Montana law (even after considering application of Concepcion).

The Ninth Circuit reversed.  It found the Montana state law at issue was preempted by the FAA, even though it was ostensibly generally applicable contract law and not specific to arbitration.  The rule at issue said that provisions within contracts of adhesion are void as against public policy if they are not “in the reasonable expectations of both parties when contracting.”  Applying that rule, Montana has found that arbitration agreements in contracts of adhesion are void (because they waive parties’ right to trial by jury and access to court) unless they are explained to and initialed by consumers.  The court found that doctrine disproportinoally affects arbitration agreements and is therefore preempted by the FAA under the reasoning set forth in Concepcion.

The Ninth Circuit repeatedly distances itself from the result by noting that it is simply applying Supreme Court mandates.  For example: “Montana has an interest in protecting its consumers from unfair agreements, particularly those that force waiver of fundamental rights without notice.  But the Supreme Court in Concepcion told us to hold that the FAA preempts all laws that have a disproportional impact on arbitration agreements.”  It feels like making a promise while crossing your fingers behind your back.

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.

© Stinson Leonard Street - Arbitration Nation | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stinson Leonard Street - Arbitration Nation

Stinson Leonard Street - Arbitration Nation on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.