Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 10 (2003)

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

Opinion of Breyer, J.

Junior Univ., 489 U. S. 468, 474-476 (1989). It concerns contract interpretation and arbitration procedures. Arbitrators are well situated to answer that question. Given these considerations, along with the arbitration contracts' sweeping language concerning the scope of the questions committed to arbitration, this matter of contract interpretation should be for the arbitrator, not the courts, to decide. Cf. Howsam, supra, at 83 (finding for roughly similar reasons that the arbitrator should determine a certain procedural "gateway matter").


With respect to this underlying question—whether the arbitration contracts forbid class arbitration—the parties have not yet obtained the arbitration decision that their contracts foresee. As far as concerns the Bazzle plaintiffs, the South Carolina Supreme Court wrote that the "trial court" issued "an order granting class certification" and the arbitrator subsequently "administered" class arbitration proceedings "without further involvement of the trial court." 351 S. C., at 250-251, 569 S. E. 2d, at 352. Green Tree adds that "the class arbitration was imposed on the parties and the arbitrator by the South Carolina trial court." Brief for Petitioner 30. Respondents now deny that this was so, Brief for Respondents 13, but we can find no convincing record support for that denial.

As far as concerns the Lackey plaintiffs, what happened in arbitration is less clear. On the one hand, the Lackey arbitrator (the same individual who later arbitrated the Bazzle dispute) wrote: "I determined that a class action should proceed in arbitration based upon my careful review of the broadly drafted arbitration clause prepared by Green Tree." App. to Pet. for Cert. 84a (emphasis added). And respondents suggested at oral argument that the arbitrator's decision was independently made. Tr. of Oral Arg. 39.

On the other hand, the Lackey arbitrator decided this question after the South Carolina trial court had determined


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