After careful consideration of the dozens of scholarship applications we received from students who we believe represent the top of their class, DC Law is pleased to announce the 2019 winner of the DC Law Scholarship. The $2,000 award goes to Sara Adams of Emory University School of Law! Congratulations Sara!
Sara is involved with many extracurricular activities including Emory University School of Law litigation society and is a symposium editor for the Emory Law Journal and an Assistant Director with the school’s Student Legal Services. Sara’s also involved within her local community. She is a dog walker for PAWS Atlanta Animal Shelter as well as an Instructor for Know Your Rights.
The DC Law Scholarship was created to give back to the legal community by helping one deserving law student pay for their tuition costs. Eligible applicants must be enrolled at an accredited law school in the U.S. and have a 3.5 or higher GPA. All applicants were asked to write a 500-600 word original essay answering the question, “What is today’s biggest threat to our right to a civil jury trial?”
Sara has graciously agreed to have us to publish her well-written essay. We invite you to read it below.
“A man buys a car on credit under a specific agreement, but is forced to comply with different financing terms because the sales company backdated the contract.¹ A woman uses an online hotel booking site that claims to offer the lowest prices, but the site may actually be engaged in price fixing.² A group of employees seeks to band together over mutual workplace issues and take collective action against their employer.³ However, none of the people in these scenarios can take their civil case to trial by jury, though it is a right protected by the 7th amendment, because all were unknowingly subject to arbitration clauses.
The demise of the right to a civil jury trial looms large in the modern legal landscape. Unfortunately, because a complex web of intertwined causes and conflicting priorities combine to create this danger, no easy solution emerges. However, one cause does stand out as particularly threatening and worthy of attention— the rise in alternative dispute resolution and, in particular, mandatory arbitration clauses. These clauses are why the people in the real-life examples above were prohibited from exercising their rights and denied access to the courts, even though they were never aware that they had agreed to such a limitation.
One of the most concerning aspects of mandatory arbitration is the overwhelming support and protection it has received from the federal government. Since its’ passage in 1925, the Federal Arbitration Act has been liberally interpreted to favor outcomes including arbitration. These interpretations have led to a problematic presumption that arbitration agreements are inherently enforceable. The policy behind this presumption seeks to reduce the burden on court dockets by allowing cases to be diverted to alternative resolution whenever possible. While this is a valid concern, it should not come at the expense of individual rights. In light of this tension, lawmakers proposed a bill seeking to level out the playing field in disputes over arbitration agreements called the Arbitration Fairness Act. However, Congress has refused to pass every version of this act since it was first introduced in 2011, signifying the continued dominance of company demands over a person’s right to take their case to trial.
In a seminal case in the history of mandatory arbitration clauses, the Supreme Court enforced their use against employees (and by extension, consumers).4 Following this decision, the use of form contracts containing mandatory arbitration provisions skyrocketed, as companies were now confidently armed with the knowledge that those provisions would be upheld.5 Those on the other side of these contracts rarely understand what they are giving up, or that they are giving up anything at all. They are offered no other options or opportunity to negotiate the arbitration terms that often strongly favor the company.
Mandatory arbitration clauses are increasingly implemented in a world where they can become binding with something as simple as the click of a button. With that click (or a signature, or a credit card swipe), the right to resolve future issues in a civil jury trial can be forfeited entirely without negotiation or even knowledge on the part of the forfeiter. Because these powerful clauses are promoted and defended by overcrowded courts and an efficiency-focused federal government, they will undeniably continue to rise in popularity and continue to eat away at the fundamental right to civil jury trials.”
1 Vasquez v. Greene Motors, Inc., 214 Cal. App. 4th 1172 (2013)
2 In re : Online Travel Co. (OTC) Hotel Booking Antitrust Litig., 953 F. Supp. 2d 713 (N.D. Tex. 2013)
3 Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018)
4 Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20 (1991)
5 Allstar Homes, Inc. v. Waters, 711 So. 2d 924 (1997)