As Public Citizen has documented in several reports, Americans regularly sign consumer contracts—such as contracts to open a bank account, buy a cell phone, or receive a credit card—providing that in the event of a dispute between the individual and the corporation, the individual cannot insist on having her day in court but must instead submit to binding mandatory arbitration. Forced arbitration often benefits corporations at the expense of consumers by limiting opportunities to learn the facts of the case, appeal rights, and other structural protections. For years, District of Columbia law did not allow immediate appeals of a trial court’s decision to compel arbitration, which meant that the party opposing arbitration (usually a consumer) could be kicked out of court without an appeal.
In 2007, Public Citizen successfully lobbied the D.C. Council to change the law and permit appeals of orders compelling arbitration. This case raises the issue whether the D.C. Council had the power to do this. A panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals initially ruled in July 2011 that a decision compelling arbitration could not be made immediately appealable, but the court subsequently decided to rehear the case before the full court. In its amicus brief on rehearing, filed in September 2011, Public Citizen argued that an order compelling arbitration fits comfortably within the category of orders that the D.C. courts have previously recognized as immediately appealable. In February 2012, the full Court of Appeals announced it was deadlocked and therefore declined to reinstate the panel opinion, leaving intact the D.C. law for which Public Citizen had lobbied.