On July 13, 2016, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit panel held that an arbitration clause is not waived simply because a party failed to raise a futile argument. The case arose out of a putative class action alleging over $50 million in untrebled damages relating to purported overcharges of fees stemming from the recording of deeds and mortgage instruments. The case was pending in the District of New Jersey, where strong precedent suggested that a motion to compel bipolar arbitration—that is individual, rather than class-wide—would have been futile. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011), where the Court found that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted state laws that had previously prohibited a party from compelling bipolar arbitrations, the defendants notified the plaintiffs that they would be seeking to compel arbitration of this kind. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted the motion.
On appeal, the Third Circuit found that “futility can excuse the delayed invocation of the defense of arbitration.” Examining what other federal courts had held previously, the Third Circuit panel, over a strong dissent, held that “[w]hy would we require a party to make a futile gesture to prevent waiver when we do not require such gestures in other scenarios?” The panel went on to state that the correct test is whether it was almost certain that a motion to compel arbitration would have been denied. Finding that test satisfied in these circumstances, the panel found that because defendants demanded bipolar arbitration less than a month after Concepcion, the plaintiffs were not prejudiced and affirmed the district court’s order compelling the case to individual arbitration.
Chassen v. Fidelity National Financial, Inc., Case No. 15-3789 (3d Cir. July 13, 2016).