BADGEROW v. WALTERS et al.
Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit
No. 20–1143. Argued November 2, 2021—Decided March 31, 2022
The Federal Arbitration Act authorizes a party to an arbitration agreement to petition a federal court for various forms of relief. But the Act’s authorization of such petitions does not itself create the subject-matter jurisdiction necessary for a federal court to resolve them. Rather, the federal court must have an “independent jurisdictional basis” to do so. Hall Street Associates, L. L. C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U. S. 576, 582. In Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U. S. 49, this Court assessed whether there was a jurisdictional basis to decide an FAA Section 4 petition to compel arbitration by means of examining the parties’ underlying dispute. The Court reasoned that specific language in Section 4 instructed a federal court to “look through” the petition to the “underlying substantive controversy.” Id., at 62. If the dispute underlying a Section 4 petition falls within the court’s jurisdiction—for example, by presenting a federal question—then the court may rule on the petition to compel arbitration.
In this case, the question presented is whether that same “look-through” approach to jurisdiction applies to applications to confirm or vacate arbitral awards under Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA. Petitioner Denise Badgerow initiated an arbitration proceeding against her employer’s principals (collectively, Walters), alleging that she was unlawfully terminated. After arbitrators dismissed Badgerow’s claims, she filed suit in Louisiana state court to vacate the arbitral award. Walters removed the case to Federal District Court and applied to confirm the award. Badgerow then moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that the federal court lacked jurisdiction to resolve the parties’ requests—under Sections 10 and 9 of the FAA, respectively—to vacate or confirm the award. The District Court applied Vaden’s look-through approach, finding jurisdiction in the federal-law claims contained in Badgerow’s underlying employment action. The District Court acknowledged that Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA lack the distinctive text on which Vaden relied, but it applied the look-through approach anyway so that “consistent jurisdictional principles” would govern all kinds of FAA applications. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Held: Vaden’s “look-through” approach to determining federal jurisdiction does not apply to requests to confirm or vacate arbitral awards under Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA. Pp. 4–16.
(a) Congress has granted federal district courts jurisdiction over two main kinds of cases: suits between citizens of different States as to any matter valued at more than $75,000 (diversity cases), 28 U. S. C. §1332(a), and suits “arising under” federal law (federal-question cases), §1331. Normally, a court has federal-question jurisdiction whenever federal law authorizes an action. But because this Court has held that the FAA’s provisions do not themselves support federal jurisdiction, a federal court must find an independent basis for jurisdiction to resolve an arbitral dispute. In this case, neither application reveals a jurisdictional basis on its face. So to find an independent basis for jurisdiction, the District Court had to look through the Section 9 and 10 applications to the underlying substantive dispute, where a federal-law claim satisfying §1331 indeed exists.
In Vaden, this Court approved the look-through approach for a Section 4 petition by relying on that section’s express language. That language provides that a party to an arbitration agreement may petition for an order to compel arbitration in a “United States district court which, save for [the arbitration] agreement, would have jurisdiction” over “the controversy between the parties.” “The phrase ‘save for [the arbitration] agreement,’ ” the Court stated, “indicates that the district court should assume the absence of the arbitration agreement and determine whether [the court] ‘would have jurisdiction . . .’ without it” by looking through to the “underlying substantive controversy” between the parties. 556 U. S., at 62.
Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA contain none of the statutory language on which Vaden relied. So under ordinary principles of statutory construction, the look-through method should not apply. “[W]hen Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act,” this Court generally takes the choice to be deliberate. Collins v. Yellen, 594 U. S. ___, ___. That holds true for jurisdictional questions, as federal “district courts may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory basis.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U. S. 546, 552. Because a statutory basis for look-through jurisdiction is lacking in Sections 9 and 10, the Court cannot reach the same result here as in Vaden. Pp. 4–9.
(b) Walters presents a two-part argument to justify exercising jurisdiction here. Walters first claims that Section 4’s language does not authorize look-through jurisdiction, but is only a capacious venue provision designed to give applicants a broad choice among federal courts possessing jurisdiction. Walters next construes Section 6—which requires any FAA application to “be made and heard in the manner provided by law for the making and hearing of motions”—to provide the basis for an FAA-wide look-through rule.
Walters’s reading of Section 4 does not comport with how Vaden understood Section 4 or with the actual text of that provision, which never mentions venue, and refers only to jurisdiction. And Walters’s Section 6 argument fares no better. Courts do not possess jurisdiction to decide ordinary motions by virtue of the look-through method. So Congress would not have prescribed that method by telling courts, as Section 6 does, to treat FAA applications like motions. Pp. 9–12.
(c) Walters also makes several policy arguments preaching the virtues of adopting look-through as a uniform jurisdictional rule. Walters claims that a uniform rule will promote “administrative simplicity”; that the look-through approach will be “easier to apply” than a test grounding jurisdiction on the face of the FAA application itself; and that the look-through rule will provide federal courts with more comprehensive control over the arbitration process. Brief for Respondents 27, 28. But “[e]ven the most formidable policy arguments cannot overcome a clear statutory directive.” BP p.l.c. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 593 U. S. ___, ___. And anyway, Walters oversells the superiority of his proposal. First, uniformity in and of itself provides no real advantage here because courts can easily tell whether to apply look-through or the normal jurisdictional rules. Second, the use of those ordinary rules, in the context of arbitration applications, is hardly beyond judicial capacity. And third, there are good reasons why state, rather than federal, courts should handle applications like the ones in this case. Pp. 12–16.
975 F. 3d 469, reversed and remanded.
Kagan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion.