Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co.
As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
In 2020 Union Pacific Railroad announced a change to its employee attendance policy. Several regional branches of the union opposed the change and sought an order under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151a (RLA), requiring Union Pacific to submit the change to collective bargaining. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; the claim belonged in arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and granted Union Pacific’s motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 for the frivolous appeal. For the second time in three years, the Brotherhood has pressed a position squarely foreclosed by settled law. The union’s challenge to the revised policy amounted to a “minor dispute” subject to mandatory arbitration under the RLA. Given the parties’ course of dealing over workplace attendance requirements, there was a clear pattern and practice of Union Pacific modifying its policies many times over many years without subjecting changes to collective bargaining, which provided the railroad with a nonfrivolous justification to unilaterally modify its attendance policy. That reality made this dispute a minor one subject to resolution through mandatory arbitration. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Taylor
The Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U.S.C. 107(a), provides economic opportunities by granting blind persons priority to operate vending facilities at certain government properties. When a blind vendor, Belsha, was awarded certain vending operations in Racine County, Wisconsin, a different blind vendor, Taylor, became unhappy and challenged the award. The Act is administered by state licensing agencies; Taylor’s challenge traveled first through Wisconsin’s regulatory process. Although Taylor achieved some success through the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, she commenced federal administrative proceedings with the Secretary of Education. An arbitration panel awarded Taylor money damages and a permanent vending machine services contract for a site in Racine.The district court vacated the arbitration decision, ruling that there were no material deficiencies in the choice of Belsha for the Racine site, that the arbitration panel’s key factual findings were not supported by substantial evidence, and the arbitration panel’s ultimate conclusion was arbitrary and capricious. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The arbitration panel mistakenly substituted the APA standard of review for the burden of proof of a disappointed vendor under the Act. View "Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Taylor" on Justia Law
Matlin v. Spin Master Corp.
In 1997, Plaintiffs co-founded Gray Matter Holdings. A 1999 Withdrawal Agreement with Gray Matter entitled Plaintiffs to royalties on the sales of “Key Products.” In 2003, Gray Matter sold some assets to Swimways. After that sale, Plaintiffs took Gray Matter to arbitration four times over their royalty rights. The third arbitration determined that Gray Matter did not transfer its royalty obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement to Swimways but only transferred its intellectual property rights; Gray Matter, not Swimways, remained responsible for any royalty compensation owed to Plaintiffs. The fourth arbitration found no evidence to support Plaintiffs’ claim that Swimways tendered fraudulent filings to the Patent and Trademark Office regarding the intellectual property rights in the Key Products and that all intellectual property rights in the Key Products at issue had been transferred to Swimways.Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that they were entitled to royalties for the Key Products and that Swimways tendered the alleged fraudulent filings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint and the imposition of $271,926.92 in sanctions. The claims were barred by principles of res judicata and the arbitrations were “binding and final” under the Withdrawal Agreement. An accounting showed that attorneys and staff spent 273.1 hours, charging an average rate of about $1,000 per hour, preparing the motions to dismiss and for sanctions. View "Matlin v. Spin Master Corp." on Justia Law
Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC
An aircraft engine caught fire during testing in South Carolina. Rolls-Royce had manufactured and sold the engine to Boeing for incorporation into a 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Boeing demanded compensation from Rolls-Royce. In 2017, the companies settled for $12 million. Rolls-Royce then sought indemnification from Servotronics, the manufacturer of a valve. Under a long-term agreement between Rolls-Royce and Servotronics, any dispute not resolved through negotiation or mediation must be submitted to binding arbitration in England, under the rules of the Chartered Institute of Arbiters (CIArb). Rolls-Royce initiated arbitration with the CIArb. Servotronics filed an ex parte application in the Northern District of Illinois, seeking a subpoena compelling Boeing to produce documents for use in the London arbitration. The subpoena was issued, then quashed.The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Rolls-Royce. A district court may order a person within the district to give testimony or produce documents “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal,” 28 U.S.C. 1782(a). Section 1782(a) does not authorize the district court to compel discovery for use in a private foreign arbitration. View "Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC" on Justia Law
Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc.
Grubhub, an online and mobile food-ordering and delivery marketplace, considers its delivery drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees. The plaintiffs alleged, in separate suits, that Grubhub violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them overtime but each plaintiff had signed a “Delivery Service Provider Agreement” that required them to submit to arbitration for “any and all claims” arising out of their relationship with Grubhub. Grubhub moved to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs responded that their Grubhub contracts were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Section 1 of the FAA provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1. Both district courts compelled arbitration.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FAA carves out a narrow exception to the obligation of federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements. To show that they fall within this exception, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate that the interstate movement of goods was a central part of the job description of the class of workers to which they belong. They did not even try to do that. View "Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Standard Security Life Insurance Co. of New York v. FCE Benefit Administrators, Inc.
FCE administered health insurance policies underwritten by the Insurers. After a few years, the Insurers became dissatisfied with FCE’s performance and invoked the Agreement’s arbitration clause. In Phase I of the arbitration, the arbitrators awarded the Insurers damages of more than five million dollars. The Insurers attempted to confirm this award under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 9, but the district court concluded that the case was not yet ripe for adjudication. The arbitrators had not yet resolved all matters that had been submitted to them. In Phase II, the arbitrators denied the Insurers’ remaining claim for reimbursement of excessive administrative fees and FCE’s counterclaim for lost profits.The district court confirmed the arbitration results in their entirety. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court rejected FCE’s arguments that the Phase II Award superseded the Phase I Award such that the district court could confirm only the Phase II Award; that part of the Phase I Award must be vacated because the arbitrators exceeded their authority by hearing and deciding the Insurers’ indemnification claims; and that it was reversible error for the court to confirm the portion of the Phase I Award labeled as damages for “embezzlement.” View "Standard Security Life Insurance Co. of New York v. FCE Benefit Administrators, Inc." on Justia Law
Depuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Orthola, Inc.
DePuy manufactures medical instruments. Its Los Angeles area exclusive distributor was OrthoLA. The agreement included an arbitration provision. When that distribution arrangement ended, OrthoLA sued in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging tort and contract claims. DePuy moved, unsuccessfully, to refer those claims to arbitration. DePuy appealed and filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association. Three days later, DePuy filed this suit in the federal district court in Indianapolis, seeking an order compelling arbitration and an injunction against the state court proceedings.The district court stayed the case, pending the resolution of the California action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The lawsuits are parallel by any definition. Evaluating the “exceptional circumstances,” the court reasoned that the risk of splintering this litigation was great: functionally identical suits in two places creates a high risk of inconsistent results and wasteful duplication. The California courts were the first to take jurisdiction; that litigation is well along the road to resolution. The state courts are co-equal partners with the federal courts in protecting federal rights. The court speculated that “DePuy’s decision to open a second front in its effort to obtain arbitration just three days after it filed its appeal in the California courts was at best opportunistic and at worst manipulative.” View "Depuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Orthola, Inc." on Justia Law
Brickstructures, Inc. v. Coaster Dynamix, Inc.
Brickstructures and Coaster executed a fill‐in‐the‐blank joint venture agreement to design a roller coaster kit, compatible with LEGOs. Many of the blanks went unfilled. The agreement contained an arbitration clause. They successfully released one product but the relationship fizzled. Coaster independently launched another LEGO‐compatible kit, without any credit to Brickstructures. Brickstructures sued, claiming that Coaster breached the agreement and its fiduciary duties and violated the Lanham Act. Coaster moved to dismiss, arguing that the arrangement was not an enforceable contract. The court dismissed the complaint for a jurisdictional defect. An amendment cured that issue. Coaster again moved to dismiss, arguing that the amended complaint did not allege a binding joint venture or, alternatively, that arbitration was the exclusive forum for the claims. Brickstructures demanded that Coaster withdraw the arbitration arguments, claiming Coaster waived them by not advancing them in its first motion. Coaster formally withdrew those arguments. The court found that the amended complaint adequately alleged a binding agreement. Coaster then moved to compel arbitration.The court found that Coaster waived arbitration, rejecting an argument that it was reasonable to abandon an arbitration demand in acquiescence to Brickstructures’s threat to seek sanctions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. "Having put the arbitration card on the table and then taken it back, Coaster was not permitted to play that card again." A court has the discretion to allow recission of a waiver of the right to arbitrate only in “abnormal” circumstances, View "Brickstructures, Inc. v. Coaster Dynamix, Inc." on Justia Law
INTL FCStone Financial Inc. v. Farmer
Defendants, commodities futures investors, maintained trading accounts with FCStone, a clearing firm that handled the confirmation, settlement, and delivery of transactions. In 2018, extraordinary volatility in the natural gas market wiped out the defendants’ account balances with FCStone, leaving some defendants in debt. The defendants alleged Commodity Exchange Act violations against FCStone and initiated arbitration proceedings before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FCStone sought a declaratory judgment, claiming the parties must arbitrate their disputes before the National Futures Association (NFA), and that FINRA lacks jurisdiction over the underlying disputes. The district court ruled for FCStone, ordered arbitration and designated an arbitration forum, then stayed the case to address related issues, including the arbitration venue. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 or the Federal Arbitration Act, ” 9 U.S.C. 16(a)(3). The district court’s decisions were non-final and no exception to the rule of finality applies. The court rejected an argument that the order amounted to an injunction prohibiting FINRA arbitration. A pro‐arbitration decision, coupled with a stay (rather than a dismissal) of the suit, is not appealable. The court noted that the district court did not decide whether the parties’ arbitration agreements relinquished defendants’ purported rights to FINRA arbitration. View "INTL FCStone Financial Inc. v. Farmer" on Justia Law