I field a lot of good procedural questions about how arbitration pleadings should be styled. Some of them are answered within the text of the FAA, but many of them leave clerks of court and practitioners scratching their heads and getting creative. I will address one of those common questions today: is a motion to compel arbitration a sufficient “answer” under Rule 12? Short answer: yes.
The Tenth Circuit addressed this issue and gave a clear answer, with authority that others can use:
“[a] defendant in a pending lawsuit may file a petition or motion to compel arbitration in lieu of an answer to the complaint,” Jay A. Grenig, Alternative Dispute Resolution § 23:3 at 574 (3d ed.2005)—as procedural summaries in arbitration cases uncontroversially reflect, see, e.g., Green Tree Fin. Corp. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 83, 121 S.Ct. 513, 148 L.Ed.2d 373 (2000); Davis v. S. Energy Homes, Inc., 305 F.3d 1268, 1270 (11th Cir.2002). And, as [defendant] points out, requiring a party to file an answer denying material allegations in the complaint and asserting potential affirmative defenses—in short, formally and substantively engaging in the merits of the litigation—in order to enforce its right not to litigate is a non-sequitur.
Lamkin v. Morinda Properties Weight Parcel, LLC, 440 Fed.Appx. 604, 607-08 (10th Cir. 2011).
Other courts have implicitly noted that a motion to compel arbitration, pursuant to Sections 3 or 4 of the FAA, may be filed instead of an answer that responds to the substance of a plaintiff’s complaint. E.g., Tuttle v. Sallie Mae, Inc., 2014 WL 545379, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 11, 2014); MQDC, Inc. v. Steadfast Ins. Co., 2013 WL 6388624, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 6, 2013); Whaley v. T-Mobile, Inc., 2013 WL 5155342, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 12, 2013).
Therefore, if you are (or represent) a defendant who is served with a federal lawsuit, and the dispute is covered by an arbitration clause, you have two choices:
1) file a substantive answer within 21 days, which raises arbitration as an affirmative defense, with a motion to compel arbitration following soon after; or
2) file a motion to compel arbitration in lieu of any substantive answer (obviously, still within the 21 days).