Blawgletter thinks we can all agree that the U.S. Supreme Court has done few favors in the last decade or two for what the folks at the American Law Institute call "aggregate litigation" — mainly class actions. What with Dukes (no class for women who work at Wal-Mart) and Concepcion (no class for AT&T wireless customers) in the last term, the chances for getting and keeping a class just keep on dwindling.
The term before that gave us a judicial jab at class arbitration in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int'l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010). The Court there ruled that arbitrators can't order arbitration on a class basis unless the parties agree to arbitrate on a class basis. We said at the time that after Stolt-Nielsen arbitrators "will have no choice but to deny almost all class certification requests."
Today, the Third Circuit begged to differ. The panel held that an arbitrator did not exceed his powers when he found a contractual basis for making the parties arbitrate on a class basis. (The dispute concerned how much pay a health plan owed doctors.) He saw the grounding for class arbitration in these words:
No civil action concerning any dispute arising under this Agreement shall be instituted before any court, and all such disputes shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration in New Jersey, pursuant to the Rules of the American Aabitration Association with one arbitrator.
Sutter v. Oxford Health Plans LLC, No. 11-1773 (3d Cir. Apr. 3, 2012). We'll let you read the opinion for the thought process that went into the arbitrator's ruling and the panel's upholding of it. But it has a lot to do with the vast leeway arbitrators have in deciding cases.