News Release

December 21, 2023
ALF Argues That Arbitration Act’s “Transportation Worker” Exemption Is Narrow

Question Presented:

To be exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, must a class of workers that is actively engaged in interstate transportation also be employed by a company in the transportation industry?
Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) mandates that arbitration agreements “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable.” 9 U.S.C § 2. Section 1 of the FAA, however, exempts “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C § 1.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, No. 23-51, to address the scope of this exemption, which was enacted almost 100 years ago. More specifically, the Court will decide whether the phrase “any other class of workers engaged [in] interstate commerce” is limited to transportation workers employed by common carriers, i.e., companies whose principal business is interstate transportation, or also includes workers—such as the Petitioner bakery truck drivers in Bissonnette—whose employers’ principal business is not interstate transportation.

ALF was pleased to jointly file an amicus brief on this issue with the DRI Center for Law and Public Policy. ALF Executive Vice President Larry Ebner chairs The Center, which is the think tank and advocacy voice of DRI, a community of 16,000 lawyers who represent business in civil litigation. Larry assisted Sarah Spencer, who authored the brief. Sarah is a member of The Center’s Amicus Committee, and is part of a growing cadre of appellate attorneys who have provided pro bono drafting assistance to ALF under Larry’s guidance. DRI CEO Dean Martinez is a member of ALF’s Board of Directors.

The amicus brief argues that the FAA § 1 exemption is narrow, that it is limited to common carrier employees who actually are engaged in interstate transportation activities. To support this interpretation, the brief delves into the historical context underlying the FAA’s enactment in 1925, when interstate commerce was largely limited to merchant shipping and railroads. As the brief argues, when Congress enacted the FAA’s broad mandate that courts enforce private-party arbitration agreements as an efficient and less costly alternative to litigation, it only intended to exempt employees of common carriers. The exemption does not apply to workers who drive trucks for companies such as bakeries, which are not common carriers.
Media Contact: Larry Ebner | Tel: 202-349-1421
About the Atlantic Legal Foundation

For more than 46 years, the Atlantic Legal Foundation, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm, has advocated in the Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals, and state appellate courts for individual liberty, free enterprise, property rights, limited & responsible government, sound science in judicial & regulatory proceedings, and effective education, including parental rights and school choice.
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