Once Arbitration Compelled, District Court Lacks Ability to Stay It — The Question Is for the Arbitrator

C. Stay Pending a Decision from the Supreme Court

Smith v. ServiceMaster Holding Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71661 (W.D. Tenn. May 21, 2013):

Defendants assert that "this Court should stay the arbitration until the Supreme Court clarifies the standard of review for vacating [arbitration] clause construction awards." (ECF No. 153-1 at 24.) Defendants state that the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Sutter to resolve the circuit split on this issue. (Id.) [Note: Sutter was argued May 25, 2013.] Plaintiffs assert that there is no circuit split on this issue as the cases cited by Defendant, Reed and Sutter, differ in their application of law to facts but do not differ in their interpretations of Stolt-Nielsen. (ECF No. 155 at 18-20.)

This Court, however, does not have the authority to stay the arbitration pending the outcome of Sutter. While the Motion to Vacate is properly before this Court pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), the question of whether to stay arbitration is not properly before this Court because this Court only has the discretionary power to stay a case "as an incident to its power to control its own docket." See Clinton, 520 U.S. at 706 (emphasis added); see also Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 677 F. Supp. 2d 661, 667 & n.2 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (noting that it is unclear whether a district court has the authority to stay class-action proceedings pending litigation). Because this Court has already compelled arbitration, the determination of whether to stay the arbitration should be made by the Arbitrator pursuant to his powers under the FAA and the arbitration agreement entered into by the parties. See Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84, 123 S. Ct. 588, 154 L. Ed. 2d 491 (2002) ("Thus procedural questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide." (quoting John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557, 84 S. Ct. 909, 11 L. Ed. 2d 898 (1964)) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 738 F. Supp. 2d 445, 450 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) ("[T]he Court sees no reason not to permit the arbitrator to determine in the first instance whether to stay the class arbitration proceeding . . . ."); see also Bandler v. Charter One Bank, 59 A.3d 157, 159 (Vt. 2012) (noting that the arbitrator had granted a stay of the arbitration pending the outcome of Stolt-Nielsen upon motion of the defendant).

Even if this matter were properly before this Court, the Court would not stay the arbitration pending the outcome of Sutter. As previously stated, the decision whether to grant a stay is discretionary, Gray, 628 F.3d at 785, and the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that they will "suffer irreparable injury if the case moves forward, and that the nonmoving party will not be injured by a stay." Int'l Bhd. Of Elec. Workers, 1989 U.S. App. LEXIS 10266, at *9. In the instant case, Defendants have not put forth any facts demonstrating that they will "suffer irreparable injury" if a stay is not granted. Additionally, a stay would result in the unnecessary delay of the arbitration process to the disadvantage of the non-moving party and would not necessarily simplify the issues before the Arbitrator. See Jock, 677 F. Supp. 2d at 667- 68 ("Delay is the bane of the American legal system, and this Court is loath to contribute to further delay."). As a result, Defendants would not have met their burden in showing that a stay is warranted.

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