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Swift Transportation Co. v. Van Dusen

In this case, truck drivers who were employed by the Swift Transportation Company sued Swift, claiming that it had violated wage and hour laws in various ways. Swift claimed that the drivers were not employees but “independent contractors” and it sought to compel them to arbitrate their claims individually rather than proceed in court. A federal district court compelled arbitration, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ultimately reversed. The court held that because the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) does not apply to arbitration agreements contained in transportation workers’ employment agreements, the lower court first had to decide whether the plaintiffs were employees or independent contractors before it could compel arbitration under the FAA. Swift filed a petition for certiorari, arguing that because the agreements provide that the arbitrator is supposed to determine questions of “arbitrability,” the court was required to compel arbitration of the issue whether the FAA requires arbitration. Public Citizen assisted counsel for the plaintiffs in preparing a brief in opposition to the petition, pointing out that the Supreme Court’s decisions make clear that the FAA cannot require arbitration of any issue in a case to which it does not apply, and that a court must therefore determine whether a case falls within the FAA’s exception for employment agreements before it can compel arbitration under the FAA. The court denied the petition.