Ninth Circuit Affirms Denial of DIRECTV’s Motion To Compel Arbitration, Creating Circuit Split on Procedure for Determining Scope of Arbitration Agreements

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The plaintiff had filed a class action alleging that DIRECTV made calls to his cell phone in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. DIRECTV attempted to compel arbitration by relying on an agreement that the plaintiff had signed with AT&T Mobility, which had become an affiliate of DIRECTV subsequent to the formation of the agreement. The agreement included an arbitration clause extending to “all disputes and claims between” the plaintiff and AT&T Mobility, “includ[ing], but … not limited to … claims arising out of or relating to any aspect of the relationship between” them. As defined in the contract, AT&T Mobility also included its “affiliates.”

The Ninth Circuit explained that the proper procedure for interpreting the arbitration agreement at issue was first to determine whether a valid agreement was formed between the plaintiff and the party attempting to compel arbitration, i.e., DIRECTV. Relying on California law, the Ninth Circuit approved the district court’s holding that, at the time of the arbitration agreement, the reasonable expectation of the parties would not have considered DIRECTV to be included as an affiliate of AT&T Mobility. The Fourth Circuit, in contrast, would have determined whether the arbitration agreement was formed between the plaintiff and the party named in the arbitration agreement (AT&T Mobility), and then would have determined whether the scope of that agreement would include the party seeking to compel arbitration (DIRECTV).

The Ninth Circuit supported its view by reasoning that its approach avoids an “absurd result,” which it must avoid under the California rules of contract interpretation. In so doing, the court distinguished the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lamps Plus decision, which held that the “contra proferentem” rule of contract interpretation was preempted by the FAA.

Revitch v. DIRECTV, LLC, Case No. 18-16823 (9th Cir. Sept. 30, 2020).

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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