Whats Motion to Compel Arbitration?

A motion to compel arbitration is a request made to a court to enforce an arbitration agreement and require the parties to resolve their dispute through arbitration instead of litigation. Arbitration is a method of alternative dispute resolution where a neutral third party (an arbitrator) reviews the facts and arguments presented by each side and makes a binding decision to resolve the conflict.

Filing a motion to compel arbitration is a common legal procedure used when one party to a contract tries to avoid the arbitration clause and brings a lawsuit instead. The party seeking to enforce arbitration can ask the court to issue an order compelling the other side to submit to the arbitration process laid out in their agreement.

When is a Motion to Compel Arbitration Used?

There are several scenarios where one party may file a motion to compel the other party to participate in arbitration:

  • If a lawsuit is filed relating to a matter that the parties agreed to arbitrate. The defendant can file a motion requesting the court to dismiss the lawsuit and require arbitration per the agreement.
  • If one party refuses to voluntarily submit to arbitration after there is a dispute. The other party can file a motion asking the court to compel participation in arbitration.
  • If there is disagreement over the scope of the arbitration clause and whether a certain claim falls under it. One side can file a motion to clarify that the claim must be arbitrated.
  • If one party fails to appoint an arbitrator or participate in forming the arbitration panel. A motion can compel cooperation in the arbitration process.
  • If one party argues the arbitration agreement is invalid or unenforceable altogether. A motion to compel may be needed to request the court uphold the validity of the agreement.

The key purpose of the motion is to enforce the contractual rights of a party seeking arbitration when the other side does not voluntarily adhere to the arbitration clause. It allows the court to require participation in arbitration if the agreement is deemed enforceable.

What Makes Arbitration Agreements Enforceable?

For a motion to compel arbitration to be successful, the underlying arbitration agreement must be valid and enforceable under state contract law. The party requesting arbitration bears the burden of proving the arbitration clause is legally binding.

In general, arbitration clauses are enforceable if they meet the following requirements:

  • Existence of agreement: There must be a valid contract between the parties that contains an arbitration provision. The contract as a whole must meet normal requirements for legal enforceability.
  • Adequate notice: The contract must provide reasonable notice that claims will be settled through arbitration rather than court litigation. This is satisfied if the arbitration clause is clearly labeled and not hidden.
  • Mutual assent: Both parties must indicate their agreement to the terms of the contract through a signature, electronic click, or another form of assent. Silence or inaction is generally insufficient.
  • Adequate consideration: For the contract as a whole to be valid, it must be supported by mutual consideration – a benefit or exchange of promises having legal value. Arbitration clauses within larger contracts are typically enforceable.
  • Scope of arbitration clause: The claims in dispute must reasonably fall within the scope of the arbitration provision. The clause cannot seek to arbitrarily limit statutory rights.
  • No fraud, duress, or unconscionability: There must be no defects in contract formation such as one party compelling another to agree under duress or unfair tactics.

If these standards are met, courts will typically enforce the arbitration agreement and require parties to resolve covered disputes through arbitration.

What Must Be Included in a Motion to Compel Arbitration?

A motion to compel arbitration brings the arbitration issue before the court and provides support for why arbitration should be ordered. The motion should include:

Identification of the Parties

  • Clearly identify the names of the parties to the lawsuit and their relationship to the arbitration agreement. Explain which party is making the motion requesting arbitration.

Description of the Lawsuit

  • Provide background on the existing lawsuit sought to be stayed or dismissed through the motion to compel arbitration. Identify the court where it was filed, the claims raised, and the relief requested.

Summary of the Arbitration Agreement

  • Attach a full copy of the agreement containing the arbitration clause and explain key provisions including the scope of arbitrable claims. Highlight language in the clause showing the intent for arbitration.

Argument for Enforcing Arbitration

  • Describe how the arbitration agreement is valid and enforceable under state contract law. Argue why claims raised in the lawsuit fall clearly within the scope of the arbitration clause.

Request for Relief

  • Specifically request the court to issue an order compelling arbitration and staying or dismissing court proceedings. Ask the court to enforce the contractual obligation to arbitrate.

Certification of Conferral

  • Include a statement certifying that the moving party made a good faith effort to confer with the opposing party about the request for arbitration prior to filing the motion.

Following these guidelines helps present a clear record to the court justifying why arbitration should be compelled according to the agreement.

What is the Standard for Ruling on a Motion to Compel Arbitration?

When considering a motion to compel arbitration, the court will apply a summary judgment-like standard to determine if arbitration should be ordered. This involves the following steps:

Look to State Contract Law

The judge will first examine the arbitration clause under applicable state contract law governing all contracts. The party seeking arbitration must prove an enforceable arbitration agreement exists under state law principles.

Review Arbitrability of Claims

Next, the court will assess whether the claims raised in the lawsuit fall within the scope of the arbitration clause. If claims are clearly excluded from arbitration coverage, the motion may be denied as to those claims.

Favor Arbitration When Ambiguous

Any ambiguities are generally resolved in favor of arbitration when the arbitration agreement is otherwise enforceable. Courts cannot refuse to compel arbitration because they find the underlying claim lacking merit.

Hold an Evidentiary Hearing If Needed

If material disputes of fact exist, the court may hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve contested issues affecting the validity and scope of the arbitration agreement before ruling.

Issue Order Compelling Arbitration

If these standards are met after review, the court will issue an order compelling the parties to submit to their contractual arbitration obligations. This seeks to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms.

What Happens After a Motion to Compel Arbitration is Granted?

Once a motion to compel arbitration is granted, the lawsuit is stayed or dismissed and the dispute shifts to the arbitration process. The arbitration clause governs the procedural mechanics of selecting arbitrators, scheduling hearings, conducting discovery, presenting evidence, making the award, and other details.

Key events following an order compelling arbitration include:

  • Selection of Arbitrator: The arbitration panel is chosen pursuant to the agreement. This may involve one arbitrator or a three-member panel.
  • Pre-Hearing Conferences: The arbitrator and parties may hold preliminary conferences to organize and schedule the arbitration process.
  • Discovery: Less formal discovery takes place compared to litigation as agreed by the parties. Requests for documents, depositions, and other information is handled through the arbitrator.
  • Arbitration Hearings: The arbitrator presides over private hearings where each side presents arguments, witness testimony, and evidence supporting their position.
  • Arbitration Award: The arbitrator makes a final decision and issues a binding award resolving the dispute in favor of one party. This decision can only be appealed on very limited grounds.
  • Court Confirmation: The winning party can seek court confirmation to convert the arbitration award into an enforceable court judgment.

Overall, the process shifts from court litigation to private arbitration proceedings once arbitration is compelled. This upholds the contractual intent of the parties expressed in their agreement's arbitration clause.

What Happens if a Party Refuses to Participate in Arbitration?

If the responding party refuses to cooperate with arbitration even after a motion to compel is granted, the moving party can ask the court to intervene. Through its contempt power, the court can impose various penalties for the failure to follow the order compelling arbitration.

Potential sanctions imposed by the court for refusal to arbitrate include:

  • Monetary fines payable to the court
  • Reimbursement of the other party's attorneys fees and costs spent addressing the noncompliance
  • Entering an order that matters submitted to arbitration are deemed admitted or claims made therein are abandonded
  • Holding the refusing party in contempt of court, subject to jail time in severe cases
  • Vacating any court order made in favor of the refusing party
  • Striking pleadings or defenses filed by the refusing party
  • Entering default judgment against the refusing party as a sanction

These kinds of stiff contempt sanctions provide courts with leverage to enforce compliance with orders compelling arbitration. Parties who agree to arbitrate give up their right to pursue relief through litigation and can face penalties for breaching their obligation to resolve disputes through arbitration.

Can a Motion to Compel Arbitration Be Appealed?

Orders granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration are immediately appealable. The availability of an interlocutory appeal differs from most pre-trial rulings which cannot be appealed until after final judgment.

The reason is that an order compelling arbitration effectively ends court proceedings in favor of an arbitral forum. Denying arbitration has the same effect of preventing court proceedings from halting. So these orders are definitive enough to warrant immediate appeal rather than waiting until the lawsuit ends.

The appeal only challenges the arbitrability ruling itself. The party appealing must show the order compelling or denying arbitration was made improperly under the law. Appeals challenging the merits of the underlying claim have to wait until the arbitration proceedings conclude.

After the arbitration process and award, limited statutory grounds exist to appeal the decision itself. But immediate appeal is available from a ruling on a motion to compel arbitration given the significance of switching forums.


A motion to compel arbitration is an important procedural vehicle for enforcing contractual arbitration rights. When parties agree to arbitrate disputes but one side seeks recourse through litigation instead, the other side can invoke the arbitration clause by compelling compliance through court order. Compelling arbitration upholds the bargained-for method of alternative dispute resolution selected in the parties' agreement. Robust legal remedies exist to mandate participation in arbitration when a valid arbitration agreement covering the claims exists.

Summarizing key takeaways:

  • Motions to compel arbitration are used when one party files a lawsuit despite an arbitration agreement. The goal is to enforce the contractual obligation to arbitrate.
  • Arbitration clauses are enforceable if they meet general contractual requirements like mutual assent and adequate consideration.
  • A valid motion must identify the parties, describe the lawsuit, attach the arbitration agreement, argue for its enforceability, and request the court order arbitration.
  • Courts favor arbitration when construing ambiguous clauses, applying a summary judgment-like standard of review.
  • Once arbitration is compelled, litigation is stayed and the dispute shifts to private arbitration procedures managed by the arbitrator.
  • Refusing court-ordered arbitration risks significant contempt sanctions, though appeal of the arbitrability ruling itself is available.

Understanding the motion to compel arbitration process provides useful insight into enforcing alternative dispute resolution rights. Parties that agree to arbitrate waive access to the courts and must follow through on resolving applicable conflicts as contractually promised.


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