No Group Hugs: The Supreme Court Says “Yes” to Class Action Arbitration Waivers

By Andrew Glass and Robert Sparkes III

The Supreme Court’s ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion continues the Court’s string of arbitration decisions bringing greater clarity to what has been a cloudy subject.  In this decision, the Court addresses the question of whether businesses can enforce class action waivers in their consumer arbitration agreements, answering unequivocally “yes.” Indeed, the decision is an important victory for businesses, and is likely to help businesses avoid the costs of what are more often than not meritless class lawsuits.

The Concepcion decision finds its roots in the Court’s recent decision in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds International Corporation. There, the Court established the principle that parties cannot be forced to submit to class-wide arbitration unless they have actually agreed to do so. In Stolt-Nielsen the Court did not have the occasion to address whether parties can expressly waive arbitration on a class-wide basis. Now, applying Stolt-Nielsen to express class action arbitration waivers, Concepcion finds the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) invalidates state law aimed at barring such waivers. State law is preempted by the FAA where it presents “an obstacle” to accomplishing Congress’s objective of promoting the efficiency of arbitration.

The telecommunications, consumer credit and finance, and sales industries, as well as other businesses that offer consumer services, are likely to benefit from the lower costs of individual arbitration. AT&T contends that consumers will also benefit from the streamlined procedures offered by arbitration.

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