Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter - Oral Argument - March 25, 2013

Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

Media for Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 10, 2013 in Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2013 in Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Case 12-135, Oxford Health Plans v. Florida.

Mr. Waxman?

Seth P. Waxman:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In Stolt-Nielsen, this Court held first that a party may not be compelled to submit to arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so; and second, that because class arbitration changes the nature of arbitration to such a degree that it cannot be presumed that parties consented to class arbitration simply by agreeing to submit their disputes to an arbitrator.

That precisely describes this case.

The agreement commits the parties to submit their disputes to arbitration and says nothing about class arbitration.

There is no extrinsic evidence suggesting that the parties ever considered such a prospect, and there is no background principle of State law that favors it.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But -- about the parties never considering it, when this case was in the New Jersey courts, Oxford explained -- this is in the red brief at page 27 that's quoting Oxford's counsel then, that

"the arbitrator has the power to ascertain whether the parties contemplated class arbitration in their agreements. "

A power in the arbitrator that Oxford does not contest.

Does it -- that seems to be a recognition by Oxford that -- that class arbitration was contemplated.

Seth P. Waxman:

Well, Justice Ginsburg, two things.

First of all, if you look at page 10 -- or page 14, footnote 7 of our yellow brief, you'll see all of the references made in the advocacy before the State court judge by my -- my brother here, not recognizing repeatedly that what Oxford was asking for was a dismissal and a transfer to individual arbitration -- bilateral arbitration.

There was no mistake whatsoever in the New Jersey State courts that Oxford's position was that--

Sonia Sotomayor:

Mr. Waxman--

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Finish your answer.

Seth P. Waxman:

--Yes -- that bilateral arbitration was what was requested, and -- but there was similarly no dispute that both parties -- certainly Oxford took the position based on an understanding of New Jersey law at the time, because this Court hadn't decided class action question, that the decision would be submitted in the first instance to the arbitrator as it was in Stolt-Nielsen.

Yes, Justice Sotomayor.

I apologize.

Sonia Sotomayor:

--That's my question.

Did you never -- you never argued that it was beyond the power of the arbitrator to decide this question, did you?

Seth P. Waxman:

In the first instance, no.

Sonia Sotomayor:

And do you take the position that this is a -- always an arbitrator's question when all disputes are supposed to be submitted, or was just -- was there just a mistake here?

Seth P. Waxman:

Well, I think there was a mistake here.

I think it was -- it was understandable in light of the state of the law in 2002.

But we--

Sonia Sotomayor:

So why should we rewrite our standard of review to accommodate your client's error?

Because that's really what you're asking us to do.

Seth P. Waxman:

--I'm--

Sonia Sotomayor:

More than once we have said an error of law or fact is not a basis to say that an arbitrator exceeded his or her powers.