Rent-A-Center, W., Inc. v. Jackson

Citation130 S.Ct. 2772,561 U.S. 63,177 L.Ed.2d 403
Decision Date21 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. 09–497.,09–497.
PartiesRENT–A–CENTER, WEST, INC., Petitioner, v. Antonio JACKSON.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Robert F. Friedman

, Dallas, TX, for Petitioner.

Ian E. Silverberg

, Reno, NV, for Respondent.

Michael T. Garone

, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., Portland, OR, Ronald D. DeMoss, Andrew Trusevich, Mary Harokopus, Plano, TX, Robert F. Friedman, Edward F. Berbarie, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Dallas, TX, Henry D. Lederman, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Walnut Creek, CA, Carter G. Phillips, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Ian E. Silverberg

, Del Hardy, Hardy & Associates, Reno, NV, Scott L. Nelson, Deepak Gupta Public Citizen Litigation Group, Washington, D.C., F. Paul Bland, Jr., Matthew Wessler, Amy Radon, Melanie Hirsch, Public Justice, P.C., Washington, D.C., Arthur H. Bryant, Leslie A. Bailey, Leslie N. Brueckner, Public Justice, P.C., Oakland, CA, for Respondent.Opinion

Justice SCALIA

delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider whether, under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1

–16, a district court may decide a claim that an arbitration agreement is unconscionable, where the agreement explicitly assigns that decision to the arbitrator.


On February 1, 2007, the respondent here, Antonio Jackson, filed an employment-discrimination suit under Rev. Stat. § 1977, 42 U.S.C. § 1981

, against his former employer in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The defendant and petitioner here, Rent–A–Center, West, Inc., filed a motion under the FAA to dismiss or stay the proceedings, 9 U.S.C. § 3, and to compel arbitration, § 4. Rent–A–Center argued that the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims (Agreement), which Jackson signed on February 24, 2003 as a condition of his employment there, precluded Jackson from pursuing his claims in court. The Agreement provided for arbitration of all “past, present or future” disputes arising out of Jackson's employment with Rent–A–Center, including “claims for discrimination” and “claims for violation of any federal ... law.” App. 29–30. It also provided that [t]he Arbitrator, and not any federal, state, or local court or agency, shall have exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the interpretation, applicability, enforceability or formation of this Agreement including, but not limited to any claim that all or any part of this Agreement is void or voidable.” Id., at 34.

Jackson opposed the motion on the ground that “the arbitration agreement in question is clearly unenforceable in that it is unconscionable” under Nevada law. Id., at 40. Rent–A–Center responded that Jackson's unconscionability claim was not properly before the court because Jackson had expressly agreed that the arbitrator would have exclusive authority to resolve any dispute about the enforceability of the Agreement. It also disputed the merits of Jackson's unconscionability claims.

The District Court granted Rent–A–Center's motion to dismiss the proceedings and to compel arbitration. The court found that the Agreement “clearly and unmistakenly [sic] gives the arbitrator exclusive authority to decide whether the Agreement is enforceable, App. to Pet. for Cert. 4a. (quoting Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 83, 123 S.Ct. 588, 154 L.Ed.2d 491 (2002)

), and, because Jackson challenged the validity of the Agreement as a whole, the issue was for the arbitrator, App. to Pet. for Cert. 4a (citing Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 444–445, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 163 L.Ed.2d 1038 (2006)

). The court noted that even if it were to examine the merits of Jackson's unconscionability claims, it would have rejected the claim that the agreement to split arbitration fees was substantively unconscionable under Nevada law. It did not address Jackson's procedural or other substantive unconscionability arguments.

Without oral argument, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. 581 F.3d 912 (2009)

. The court reversed on the question of who (the court or arbitrator) had the authority to decide whether the Agreement is enforceable. It noted that “Jackson does not dispute that the language of the Agreement clearly assigns the arbitrability determination to the arbitrator,” but held that where “a party challenges an arbitration agreement as unconscionable, and thus asserts that he could not meaningfully assent to the agreement, the threshold question of unconscionability is for the court.” Id., at 917.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's alternative conclusion that the fee-sharing provision was not substantively unconscionable and remanded for consideration of Jackson's other unconscionability arguments. Id., at 919–920, and n. 3. Judge Hall dissented on the ground that “the question of the arbitration agreement's validity should have gone to the arbitrator, as the parties ‘clearly and unmistakably provide[d] in their agreement.” Id., at 921.

We granted certiorari, 558 U.S. 1142, 130 S.Ct. 1133, 175 L.Ed.2d 941 (2010)



The FAA reflects the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract. Section 2

, the “primary substantive provision of the Act,” Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983), provides:

“A written provision in ... a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract ... shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2


The FAA thereby places arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts, Buckeye, supra, at 443, 126 S.Ct. 1204,

and requires courts to enforce them according to their terms, Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ.,

489 U.S. 468, 478, 109 S.Ct. 1248, 103 L.Ed.2d 488 (1989). Like other contracts, however, they may be invalidated by “generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability.” Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 687, 116 S.Ct. 1652, 134 L.Ed.2d 902 (1996).

The Act also establishes procedures by which federal courts implement § 2

's substantive rule. Under § 3, a party may apply to a federal court for a stay of the trial of an action “upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration.” Under § 4, a party “aggrieved” by the failure of another party “to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration” may petition a federal court “for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.” The court “shall” order arbitration “upon being satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue.” Ibid.

The Agreement here contains multiple “written provision[s] to “settle by arbitration a controversy,” § 2

. Two are relevant to our discussion. First, the section titled “Claims Covered By The Agreement” provides for arbitration of all “past, present or future” disputes arising out of Jackson's employment with Rent–A–Center. App. 29. Second, the section titled “Arbitration Procedures” provides that [t]he Arbitrator ... shall have exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the ... enforceability ... of this Agreement including, but not limited to any claim that all or any part of this Agreement is void or voidable.” Id., at 32, 34. The current “controversy” between the parties is whether the Agreement is unconscionable. It is the second provision, which delegates resolution of that controversy to the arbitrator, that Rent–A–Center seeks to enforce. Adopting the terminology used by the parties, we will refer to it as the delegation provision.

The delegation provision is an agreement to arbitrate threshold issues concerning the arbitration agreement. We have recognized that parties can agree to arbitrate “gateway ” questions of “arbitrability,” such as whether the parties have agreed to arbitrate or whether their agreement covers a particular controversy. See, e.g., Howsam, 537 U.S., at 83–85, 123 S.Ct. 588;

Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 452, 123 S.Ct. 2402, 156 L.Ed.2d 414 (2003) (plurality opinion). This line of cases merely reflects the principle that arbitration is a matter of contract.1 SEE FIrst options of ChicaGO, inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.s. 938, 943, 115 S.Ct. 1920, 131 L.Ed.2d 985 (1995)

. An agreement to arbitrate a gateway issue is simply an additional, antecedent agreement the party seeking arbitration asks the federal court to enforce, and the FAA operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other. The additional agreement is valid under § 2

“save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract,” and federal courts can enforce the agreement by staying federal litigation under § 3 and compelling arbitration under § 4. The question before us, then, is whether the delegation provision is valid under § 2.


There are two types of validity challenges under § 2

: “One type challenges specifically the validity of the agreement to arbitrate,” and [t]he other challenges the contract as a whole, either on a ground that directly affects the entire agreement (e.g., the agreement was fraudulently induced), or on the ground that the illegality of one of the contract's provisions renders the whole contract invalid.” Buckeye, 546 U.S., at 444, 126 S.Ct. 1204. In a line of cases neither party has asked us to overrule, we held that only the first type of challenge is relevant to a court's determination whether the arbitration agreement at issue is enforceable.2 See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 403–404, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d...

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