In a proceeding under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to determine if a dispute must be arbitrated, a federal district court performs a more limited function than in a plenary civil action. On an application to stay an action allegedly referable to arbitration, the court decides only if “the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under [a written arbitration] agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 3. On a petition to compel arbitration, the court decides only whether “ the making of the agreement for arbitration or  the failure to comply therewith” are in issue. 9 U.S.C. § 4. If the court is satisfied that the two matters are not in issue, it must direct the parties to arbitrate in accordance with the agreement. But if either matter is in issue, the court must proceed summarily to trial. Id.
Is there such a thing as an arbitration joke? Here is a test. Two plaintiffs walk into a court, claiming that each was wrongfully terminated by a bank (UBS). The bank moves to compel arbitration by plaintiff one; and it moves to dismiss the judicial claim of plaintiff two because that plaintiff had already brought his claim in an arbitration that he commenced. The Court finds that both plaintiffs are bound by arbitration agreements with UBS and that their claims are within the scope of the arbitration clauses. The punchline: “the court denies UBS’s motion to dismiss [plaintiff two’s] claims and to compel arbitration of [plaintiff one’s] claims.” See Zoller v. UBS Secs. LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44170 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2018) (emphasis added).
Arbitration is a creature of contract. So is the law concerning contracts with an arbitration clause the same as the law concerning any other contract? Almost. One must always bear in mind the “separability” or “independence” of the arbitration agreement — the autonomy principle.