Congress established Amtrak as a governmental corporation to provide passenger rail services to travelers throughout the nation. In 2018, passengers took more than 31 million trips on Amtrak. Amtrak is substantially owned and controlled by the federal government. As a U.S.-owned and controlled corporation, Amtrak must abide by the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.
In 2019, Amtrak added an “Arbitration Agreement” to its terms and conditions of service. The Arbitration Agreement requires ticket purchasers and rail passengers to submit claims against Amtrak to binding arbitration before a private arbitrator, thereby preventing them from litigating their claims in federal court. The Agreement also requires that claims be arbitrated on an individual basis, which prevents ticket purchasers and passengers from participating in class actions or representative actions.
In January 2020, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit on behalf of Robert Weissman and Patrick Llewellyn, two past and prospective Amtrak passengers, to challenge Amtrak’s decision to impose an arbitration requirement as a condition of rail travel. The complaint alleges that Amtrak lacks authority from Congress to impose the arbitration requirement. The complaint also alleges that Amtrak’s arbitration requirement violates the Constitution because it abridges the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to petition courts for a redress of grievances, it wrongly requires plaintiffs’ to give up their rights to have disputes with Amtrak adjudicated by an Article III judge, and it undermines the role of the judicial branch in the constitutional separation of powers. In February 2020, Amtrak filed a motion to dismiss, and in March 2020, we filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. On July 31, 2020, the district court dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court concluded that the presence of an undesired arbitration clause in Amtrak’s terms and conditions did not involve a concrete impairment of a protected interest sufficient to confer standing.