November 12, 2019 Articles

Consent to Class Arbitration Cannot Be Ambiguous or Silent

Unless it is clear that the parties agreed to class arbitration, an arbitration will not precede as class arbitration, the Supreme Court emphasized in Lamps Plus. Inc. v. Varela.

By Angela Foster

Although it would seem obvious that a court cannot compel class arbitration unless the parties specifically agreed to class arbitration, the Supreme Court of the United States found the need to emphasize this point. In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (April 24, 2019), the Supreme Court held that even when an arbitration agreement is ambiguous as to the availability of class arbitration, rather than merely silent, class arbitration is not available. So why is this conclusion so different than other holdings?

During the 2018–2019 term, the Supreme Court heard three arbitration cases and rendered unanimous decisions soon after arguments in all except Lamps Plus v. Varela. Rather, in Lamps Plus, the Court rendered a 5–4 split opinion over the application of state contract rules and federal laws to arbitration agreements, with each of the liberal justices dissenting.

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