Litigants and attorneys often assume—wrongly—that arbitration proceedings are completely confidential. In fact, there are many ways that private arbitration proceedings can become subject to public scrutiny.
Nearly a decade ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Group, L.P., held that for an arbitration agreement to be enforceable, it had to contain an explicit waiver of the parties’ right to seek access to court. According to a recent New Jersey Appellate Division opinion, that long-standing rule has been qualified to reflect the relative sophistication of the parties involved in the dispute. In County of Passaic v. Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc. d/b/a Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the Appellate Division considered a contract between the County and the entity that managed the County’s self-funded benefits plan. Following the County’s institution of a breach of contract lawsuit, Horizon successfully moved to compel arbitration based upon a clause in the parties’ agreement that required “[i]n the event of any dispute between the parties to this Agreement arising under its terms, the parties shall submit the dispute to binding arbitration under the commercial rules of the American Arbitration Association.” The clause in question contained no explicit waiver of court access. Consequently, the County appealed the decision, arguing for that very reason, the arbitration clause was unenforceable.
The Court has started the week with three decisions emphasizing textual readings, two of them unanimous and a third drawing Justice Kagan into the majority with the Court’s six nominal jurisprudential conservatives.
There has been a good deal of recent attention given to the Supreme Court's so-called "shadow docket," a term that refers generally to the Court's (conservative majority's) issuing brief orders and unsigned opinions resolving procedural motions in a way that effectively disposes of cases, but without their having been fully briefed and argued.
The Court has decided the latest in a series of important cases interpreting the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U. S. C. §§ 1 et seq.
On March 31, in Badgerow v. Walters, by an 8-1 majority (opinion written by Justice Kagan, and a lone dissent by Justice Breyer), the Court reversed an order of the Fifth Circuit and held that the federal courts do not have authority to “look through” an arbitration dispute for a federal question that would establish jurisdiction to confirm or deny an arbitral award.
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