Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 2 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 444 (2003)


holding is flawed on its own terms; that court neither said nor implied that it would have authorized class arbitration had the parties' arbitration agreement forbidden it. Whether Green Tree is right about the contracts presents a disputed issue of contract interpretation. The contracts say that disputes "shall be resolved . . . by one arbitrator selected by us [Green Tree] with consent of you [Green Tree's customer]." The class arbitrator was "selected by" Green Tree "with consent of" Green Tree's customers, the named plaintiffs. And insofar as the other class members agreed to proceed in class arbitration, they consented as well. Green Tree did not independently select this arbitrator to arbitrate its dispute with the other class members, but whether the contracts contain such a requirement is not decided by the literal contract terms. Whether "selected by [Green Tree]" means "selected by [Green Tree] to arbitrate this dispute and no other (even identical) dispute with another customer" is the question at issue: Do the contracts forbid class arbitration? Given the broad authority they elsewhere bestow upon the arbitrator, the answer is not completely obvious. The parties agreed to submit to the arbitrator "[a]ll disputes, claims, or controversies arising from or relating to this contract or the relationships which result from this contract." And the dispute about what the arbitration contracts mean is a dispute "relating to this contract" and the resulting "relation-ships." Hence the parties seem to have agreed that an arbitrator, not a judge, would answer the relevant question, and any doubt about the " 'scope of arbitrable issues' " should be resolved " 'in favor of arbitration.' " Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U. S. 614, 626. The question here does not fall into the limited circumstances where courts assume that the parties intended courts, not arbitrators, to decide a particular arbitration-related matter, as it concerns neither the arbitration clause's validity nor its applicability to the underlying dispute. The relevant question here is what kind of arbitration proceeding the parties agreed to, which does not concern a state statute or judicial procedures, cf. Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U. S. 468, but rather contract interpretation and arbitration procedures. Arbitrators are well situated to answer that question. Pp. 450-453.

(b) With respect to the question whether the contracts forbid class arbitration, the parties have not yet obtained the arbitration decision that their contracts foresee. Regarding Bazzle plaintiffs, the State Supreme Court wrote that the trial court issued an order granting class certification and the arbitrator subsequently administered class arbitration proceedings without the trial court's further involvement. As for Lackey plaintiffs, the arbitrator decided to certify the class after the trial court had determined that the identical contract in the Bazzle case


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