Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79 (2002)

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OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

HOWSAM, individually and as trustee for the E. RICHARD HOWSAM, JR., IRREVOCABLE LIFE INSURANCE TRUST DATED MAY 14, 1982 v. DEAN WITTER REYNOLDS, INC.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 01-800. Argued October 9, 2002—Decided December 10, 2002

Per respondent Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc.'s standard client agreement, petitioner Howsam chose to arbitrate her dispute with the company before the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). NASD's Code of Arbitration Procedure 10304 states that no dispute "shall be eligible for submission . . . where six (6) years have elapsed from the occurrence or event giving rise to the . . . dispute." Dean Witter filed this suit, asking the Federal District Court to declare the dispute ineligible for arbitration because it was more than six years old and seeking an injunction to prohibit Howsam from proceeding in arbitration. The court dismissed the action, stating that the NASD arbitrator should interpret and apply the NASD rule. In reversing, the Tenth Circuit found that the rule's application presented a question of the underlying dispute's "arbitrability"; and the presumption is that a court will ordinarily decide an arbitrability question.

Held: An NASD arbitrator should apply the time limit rule to the underlying dispute. Pp. 83-86.

(a) "[A]rbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit." Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U. S. 574, 582. The question whether parties have submitted a particular dispute to arbitration, i. e., the "question of arbitrability," is "an issue for judicial determination [u]nless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise." AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U. S. 643, 649. The phrase "question of arbitrability" has a limited scope, applicable in the kind of narrow circumstance where contracting parties would likely have expected a court to have decided the gateway matter. But the phrase is not applicable in other kinds of general circumstance where parties would likely expect that an arbitrator would decide the question—" 'procedural' questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition," John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U. S. 543, 557, and "allegation[s] of waiver, delay, or a like

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