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Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (US 20–1573 6/15/22) FAA Preemption/PAGA 

River Boat Anchored in AmsterdamThe question for decision is whether the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq., preempts a rule of California law that invalidates contractual waivers of the right to assert representative claims under California’s Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, Cal. Lab. Code §2698 et seq. PAGA enlists employees as private attorneys general to enforce California labor law. By its terms, PAGA authorizes any “aggrieved employee” to initiate an action against a former employer “on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees” to obtain civil penalties that previously could have been recovered only by the State in an enforcement action brought by California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). California precedent holds that a PAGA suit is a “ ‘representative action’ ” in which the employee plaintiff sues as an “ ‘agent or proxy’ ” of the State. Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348, 380. California precedent also interprets the statute to contain what is effectively a rule of claim joinder—allowing a party to unite multiple claims against an opposing party in a single action. An employee with PAGA standing may “seek any civil penalties the state can, including penalties for violations involving employees other than the PAGA litigant herself.” ZB, N. A. v. Superior Court, 8 Cal. 5th 175, 185.

Respondent Angie Moriana filed a PAGA action against her former employer Viking River Cruises, alleging a California Labor Code violation. She also asserted a wide array of other violations allegedly sustained by other Viking employees. Moriana’s employment contract with Viking contained a mandatory arbitration agreement. Important here, that agreement contained both a “Class Action Waiver”—providing that the parties could not bring any dispute as a class, collective, or representative action under PAGA—and a severability clause—specifying that if the waiver was found invalid, such a dispute would presumptively be litigated in court. Under the severability clause, any “portion” of the waiver that remained valid would be “enforced in arbitration.” Viking moved to compel arbitration of Moriana’s individual PAGA claim and to dismiss her other PAGA claims. Applying California’s Iskanian precedent, the California courts denied that motion, holding that categorical waivers of PAGA standing are contrary to California policy and that PAGA claims cannot be split into arbitrable “individual” claims and nonarbitrable “representative” claims. This Court granted certiorari to decide whether the FAA preempts the California rule.

Held: The FAA preempts the rule of Iskanian insofar as it precludes division of PAGA actions into individual and non-individual claims through an agreement to arbitrate through an agreement to arbitrate. Pp. 7–21. (a) Based on the principle that “[a]rbitration is strictly ‘a matter of consent,’ ” Granite Rock Co. v. Teamsters, 561 U. S. 287, 299, this Court has held that “a party may not be compelled under the FAA to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so,” Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662, 684. Because class-action arbitration mandates procedural changes that are inconsistent with the individualized and informal mode of bilateral arbitration contemplated by the FAA, see AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. 333, 347, class procedures cannot be imposed by state law without presenting unwilling parties with an unacceptable choice between being compelled to arbitrate using such procedures and forgoing arbitration all together. Viking contends that the Court’s FAA precedents require enforcement of contractual provisions waiving the right to bring PAGA actions because PAGA creates a form of class or collective proceeding. If this is correct, Iskanian’s prohibition on PAGA waivers presents parties with an impermissible choice: Either arbitrate disputes using a form of class procedures, or do not arbitrate at all. Moriana maintains that any conflict between Iskanian and the FAA is illusory because PAGA creates nothing more than a substantive cause of action.

This Court disagrees with both characterizations of the statute. Moriana’s premise that PAGA creates a unitary private cause of action is irreconcilable with the structure of the statute and the ordinary legal meaning of the word “claim.” A PAGA action asserting multiple violations under California’s Labor Code affecting a range of different employees does not constitute “a single claim” in even the broadest possible sense. Viking’s position, on the other hand, elides important structural differences between PAGA actions and class actions. A class-action plaintiff can raise a multitude of claims because he or she represents a multitude of absent individuals; a PAGA plaintiff, by contrast, represents a single principal, the LWDA, that has a multitude of claims. As a result, PAGA suits exhibit virtually none of the procedural characteristics of class actions.

This Court’s FAA precedents treat bilateral arbitration as the prototype of the individualized and informal form of arbitration protected from undue state interference by the FAA. See, e.g., Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 584 U. S. ___, ___. Viking posits that a proceeding is “bilateral” only if it involves two and only two parties and “is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U. S. 338, 348. Thus, Iskanian’s prohibition on PAGA waivers is inconsistent with the FAA because PAGA creates an intrinsically representational form of action and Iskanian requires parties either to arbitrate in that format or forgo arbitration altogether.

This Court disagrees. Nothing in the FAA establishes a categorical rule mandating enforcement of waivers of standing to assert claims on behalf of absent principals. Non-class representative actions in which a single agent litigates on behalf of a single principal necessarily deviate from the strict ideal of bilateral dispute resolution posited by Viking, but this Court has never held that the FAA imposes a duty on States to render all forms of representative standing waivable by contract or that such suits deviate from the norm of bilateral arbitration. Unlike procedures distinctive to multiparty litigation, single-principal, single-agent representative actions are “bilateral” in two registers: They involve the rights of only the absent real party in interest and the defendant, and litigation need only be conducted by the agent-plaintiff and the defendant. Nothing in this Court’s precedent suggests that in enacting the FAA, Congress intended to require States to reshape their agency law governing who can assert claims on behalf of whom to ensure that parties will never have to arbitrate disputes in a proceeding that deviates from bilateral arbitration in the strictest sense. Pp. 7–17.

(b) PAGA’s built-in mechanism of claim joinder is in conflict with the FAA. Iskanian’s prohibition on contractual division of PAGA actions into constituent claims unduly circumscribes the freedom of parties to determine “the issues subject to arbitration” and “the rules by which they will arbitrate,” Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 587 U. S. ____, ____, and does so in a way that violates the fundamental principle that “arbitration is a matter of consent,” Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U. S., at 684. For that reason, state law cannot condition the enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate on the availability of a procedural mechanism that would permit a party to expand the scope of the anticipated arbitration by introducing claims that the parties did not jointly agree to arbitrate. A state rule imposing an expansive rule of joinder in the arbitral context would defeat the ability of parties to control which claims are subject to arbitration by permitting parties to superadd new claims to the proceeding, regardless of whether the agreement committed those claims to arbitration. When made compulsory by way of Iskanian, PAGA’s joinder rule functions in exactly this way. The effect is to coerce parties into withholding PAGA claims from arbitration. Iskanian’s indivisibility rule effectively coerces parties to opt for a judicial forum rather than “forgo[ing] the procedural rigor and appellate review of the courts to realize the benefits of private dispute resolution.” Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U. S., at 685. Pp. 17–19.

(c) Under this Courts holding, Iskanian’s prohibition on wholesale waivers of PAGA claims is not preempted by the FAA. But Iskanian’s rule that PAGA actions cannot be divided into individual and non-individual claims is preempted, so Viking was entitled to compel arbitration of Moriana’s individual claim. PAGA provides no mechanism to enable a court to adjudicate non-individual PAGA claims once an individual claim has been committed to a separate proceeding. And under PAGA’s standing requirement, a plaintiff has standing to maintain non-individual PAGA claims in an action only by virtue of also maintaining an individual claim in that action. As a result, Moriana would lack statutory standing to maintain her non-individual claims in court, and the correct course was to dismiss her remaining claims. Pp. 20–21.

Reversed and remanded.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined, in which ROBERTS, C. J., joined as to Parts I and III, and in which KAVANAUGH and BARRETT, JJ., joined as to Part III. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a concurring opinion. BARRETT, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which KAVANAUGH, J., joined, and in which ROBERTS, C. J, joined as to all but the footnote. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.