SDNY Declines to Adopt Collateral Attack Doctrine, Grants Motion to Compel Arbitration

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Petitioners Credit Suisse AG and Lara Warner sought to permanently stay an arbitration commenced by respondent Colleen Graham, who cross-moved to compel the arbitration. The petitioners claimed the proceeding was an impermissible “collateral attack” on a prior, related arbitration in which Graham’s claims against different parties were dismissed. As it relates to the second arbitration against the petitioners, there was no dispute as to whether Graham’s claims were subject to arbitration, nor that any threshold arbitrability questions were to be decided by an arbitrator. In deciding the petitioners’ motion, the court therefore started from the baseline that Graham’s motion to compel must be granted, absent a valid basis to stay.

The petitioners argued the issues raised in Graham’s arbitration against them were already resolved in the first arbitration, pointing to several cases in which courts found a second arbitration could not collaterally attack the final determination made in a first arbitration. According to the petitioners, the “collateral attack doctrine” is not a question or arbitrability, but rather a legal question to be decided by a court. But the court disagreed and declined to adopt the collateral attack doctrine. Under the FAA, the court explained, its role is to decide whether an arbitration falls within the terms of a valid arbitration agreement, not whether it is estopped by a prior arbitration. If, as here, an arbitration falls within a valid arbitration agreement, the court found it is well established that any threshold procedural questions about the arbitration “are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” The court found its role was even more limited here, as the parties specifically agreed to delegate any gateway issues to the arbitrator. Comparing the petitioners’ “collateral attack” argument to the res judicata argument raised and rejected in a 2015 Second Circuit decision, the court ruled that the preclusive effect of Graham’s first arbitration, if any, should be decided by the arbitrator in the second arbitration. Graham’s motion to compel arbitration was thus granted, and the petitioners’ motion to stay was denied.

Credit Suisse AG v. Graham, No. 1:21-cv-00951 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 7, 2021)

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