In a recent per curiam opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court reminded state courts that the Federal Arbitration Act is “the supreme Law of the Land” and they must abide by the Supreme Court’s opinions interpreting that law. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ignored Supreme Court precedent, which holds that a court has authority to decide the validity of an arbitration clause, but that the validity of the contract is left to the arbitrator to decide once the arbitration clause is deemed valid. Improperly assuming the role of arbitrator, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared a noncompetition agreement that included a valid arbitration clause to be “void and unenforceable against Oklahoma’s public policy,” elevating Oklahoma law over the FAA. Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard, No. 11-1377, 586 U.S. __ (U.S. Nov. 26, 2012).

Accepting an opportunity to provide further guidance with respect to class arbitrations, the Supreme Court has also granted certiorari in an arbitration case decided by the Second Circuit to decide “[w]hether the Federal Arbitration Act permits courts, invoking the ‘federal substantive law of arbitrability,’ to invalidate arbitration agreements on the ground that they do not permit class arbitration of a federal law claim.” As profiled in a prior post, the Second Circuit held that arbitration agreements that do not provide for class arbitration are unenforceable if the claimant can demonstrate that “the cost of . . . individually arbitrating their dispute . . . would be prohibitive.” It will be intertesting to see whether the Court decides this case on a narrow statement of the issue or uses it to provide broader principled guidance for post-Concepcion cases. In re American Express Merchants’ Litigation, No. 12-133 (U.S. Nov. 9, 2012).