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Legal Memorandum: Arbitrability of a Claim

Issue: Who determines whether a claim is arbitrable in the Third Circuit?

Area of Law: Alternative Dispute Resolution, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Question of arbitrability; Arbitration provision
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 243 F. Supp. 2d 334; 341 F.3d 256; 324 F.3d 212; 388 U.S. 395
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 10/01/2006

The gateway or threshold questions of whether the parties entered into a valid arbitration agreement and, if so, whether their dispute falls within the language of the arbitration agreement are questions for a court, not an arbitrator, to resolve.  See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395 (1967) (the court decides whether there is a valid agreement to arbitrate); Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (“[A] gateway dispute about whether the parties are bound by a given arbitration clause raises a ‘question of arbitrability’ for a court to decide.”); Spinetti v. Serv. Corp. Int’l, 324 F.3d 212, 216 n.1 (3d Cir. 2003) (a public policy argument is one that the court, not arbitrator, should consider in deciding whether an arbitration agreement is valid and enforceable); Plaskett v. Bechtel Int’l, Inc., 243 F. Supp. 2d 334, 340 (D.V.I. 2003) (“The Court’s role is to determine whether an arbitration provision or a term of such provision is unconscionable in light of all the material facts.”).  The court, not the arbitrator, “‘must still ascertain whether the parties entered a valid agreement to arbitrate.'”  Johnson v. HOVENSA LLC, No. 670/2003, slip. op. at 1-2 (V.I. Super. Ct. Aug. 23, 2006) (quoting Alexander v. Anthony International, L.P., 341 F.3d 256, 264 (3d Cir. 2003)).

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