December 21, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Federal Arbitration Act Requires Trial to Resolve Disputes Regarding Whether Arbitration Agreement Existed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, L.P. on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

The dispute in this case was whether an agreement to arbitrate existed. It was not clear if the parties opted for or against arbitration, and the parties moved their dispute to district court, where extensive discovery and motions practice occurred. Almost a year and half after Ferrellgas filed its motion to compel arbitration, the court issued an order in which it found that material disputes of fact still prevented it from saying for certain whether or not the parties had agreed to arbitrate. But rather than proceeding to resolve the conflicting factual accounts through trial as the Federal Arbitration Act requires, the court erroneously entered an order denying arbitration outright.

The Tenth Circuit ruled that there were still disputed issues of material fact that had to be resolved in the trial court, and that the case should proceed summarily to trial. It was remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

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