Door swings shut on a “gateway arbitration”

1.  In 2002, Douglas opened a checking account with Union Planters Bank and signed a signature card with an arbitration provision.  That clause included a “delegation provision,” delegating the question of a dispute’s arbitrability to an arbitrator.  She closed the account a year later.  Douglas v. Regions Bank, No. 12-60877 (July 7, 2014).

2.  In 2007, Douglas was injured in a car accident, after which she brought suit against her lawyer and his bank for allegedly embezzling her settlement funds.  That bank – Regions Bank – had acquired Union Planters in a 2005 transaction.

3.  Regions Bank moved to compel arbitration.  The district court denied the motion on a “successor-in-interest” theory that Douglas did not defend on appeal.  She argued that the delegation provision was not relevant to this dispute, and the Fifth Circuit agreed, adopting a standard under which Douglas would “only . . . bind herself to arbitrate gateway questions of arbitrability if the argument that the dispute falls within the scope of the agreement is not wholly groundless.”  A dissent argued that this test was foreclosed by recent Supreme Court authority on related issues about an arbitrator’s authority.

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