Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 8 (2003)

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

Opinion of Breyer, J.

arbitrator chosen to arbitrate the initial, named customer's dispute.

We do not believe, however, that the contracts' language is as clear as The Chief Justice believes. 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.

Of course, Green Tree did not independently select this arbitrator to arbitrate its disputes with the other class members. But whether the contracts contain this additional requirement is a question that the literal terms of the contracts do not decide. The contracts simply say (I) "selected by us [Green Tree]." And that is literally what occurred. The contracts do not say (II) "selected by us [Green Tree] to arbitrate this dispute and no other (even identical) dispute with another customer." The question whether (I) in fact implicitly means (II) is the question at issue: Do the contracts forbid class arbitration? Given the broad authority the contracts elsewhere bestow upon the arbitrator, see, e. g., App. to Pet. for Cert. 110a (the contracts grant to the arbitrator "all powers," including certain equitable powers "provided by the law and the contract"), the answer to this question is not completely obvious.

At the same time, we cannot automatically accept the South Carolina Supreme Court's resolution of this contract-interpretation question. Under the terms of the parties' contracts, the question—whether the agreement forbids class arbitration—is for the arbitrator to decide. 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." Ibid. (emphasis added). And the dispute about what the arbitration contract in each case means (i. e., whether it forbids the use of class arbitration procedures) is a dispute "relating to this contract" and the resulting "relationships." Hence the


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