In this case, the question presented was whether a court or an arbitrator should determine whether an arbitration agreement authorizes class arbitration. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet resolved this issue. Several circuit courts of appeal have considered this issue, but this was the first time it was presented in the Eighth Circuit.
The Eighth Circuit held that courts, not arbitrators, should answer the “who decides” question when the arbitration agreement at issue is silent on the subject, joining the Third, Fourth, and Sixth Circuits. In so holding, the court concluded that the question of “who decides” is a substantive question of arbitrability rather than a preliminary procedural question. Therefore, according to the Eighth Circuit, courts are the proper authority to answer the question, whereas arbitrators decide preliminary procedural questions. The Eighth Circuit noted that courts must play a threshold role to determine whether parties have submitted a particular dispute to arbitration because such issues presumptively lie with the courts. The Eighth Circuit also expressed some concerns about class arbitration, including the loss of confidentiality, due process concerns, and the lack of appellate review. Thus, the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s order denying plaintiff-appellant’s motion for summary judgment because the district court erred when concluding that the question of class arbitration was procedural rather than substantive. The court also remanded to the district court to determine whether there was a contractual basis for class arbitration.