State contract law governs arbitration agreements.
The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)
The FAA provides, in relevant part:
A written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.
See 9 U.S.C. § 2 (West 2009); Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 2772, 2776, 177 L.Ed.2d 403 (2010), quoting Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983). The above provision has been described as reflecting both a "liberal federal policy favoring arbitration," and the "fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract." See AT&T Mobility LLC v. Conception, ___ U.S. ___,131 S.Ct. 1740, 1745, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011) citing Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, 460 U.S. at 24, 103 S.Ct. at 927 and Rent-A-Center, ___ U.S. at ___, 130 S.Ct. at 2776. "The FAA thereby places arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts, and requires courts to enforce them according to their terms." Rent-A-Center, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 2776 (internal citations omitted); citing Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 443, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 163 L.Ed.2d 1038 (2006) and Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 478, 109 S.Ct. 1248, 103 L.Ed.2d 488 (1989).
An agreement to arbitrate is a contract, the relation of the parties is contractual, and the rights and liabilities of the parties are controlled by the law of contracts. As such, a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which she has not agreed to submit. See AT&T Mobility LLC, 131 S.Ct. at 1740 ( (arbitration is a creature of contract; a person can be compelled to arbitrate a dispute only if, to the extent that, and in the manner which, he has agreed so to do). Because arbitration is based on a contractual relationship, a party who has not consented cannot not be forced to arbitrate a dispute. Since arbitration is generally a matter of contract, the FAA requires courts to honor parties' expectations. 9 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq.; AT&T Mobility LLC, 131 S.Ct. at 1740.
Texas Law — Formation of Contracts
When determining the validity of arbitration agreements that are subject to the FAA, we apply ordinary state law contract principles that govern the formation of contracts. In re Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., 195 S.W.3d 672, 676 (Tex. 2006), citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944, 115 S.Ct. 1920, 131 L.Ed.2d 985 (1995); In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 166 S.W.3d 732, 738 (Tex. 2005). The party attempting to compel arbitration must show that the arbitration agreement meets all requisite contract elements. J.M. Davidson, Inc., 128 S.W.3d at 228.
The following elements are required for the formation of a valid and binding contract: (1) an offer; (2) acceptance in strict compliance with the terms of the offer; (3) a meeting of the minds; (4) each party's consent to the term; and (5) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Cessna Aircraft Co. v. Aircraft Network, L.L.C., 213 S.W.3d 455, 465 (Tex.App.-Dallas 2006, pet. denied). Like other contracts, an agreement to arbitrate must be supported by consideration. In re Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., 195 S.W.3d at 676; In re AdvancePCS Health L.P., 172 S.W.3d 603, 607 (Tex. 2005)(per curiam).
Mutual Promises and Consideration
Mutual, reciprocal promises which bind both parties may constitute consideration for a contract. Texas Custom Pools, Inc. v. Clayton, 293 S.W.3d 299, 309 (Tex.App.-El Paso 2009, no pet.). In the case of a stand-alone arbitration agreement, both sides are required to enter into binding promises to arbitrate. In re AdvancePCS, 172 S.W.3d at 607; see also In re 24R, Inc., 324 S.W.3d 564, 566 (Tex. 2010)(mutual promises to submit a dispute to arbitration are sufficient consideration to support an arbitration agreement); see also In re Halliburton Co., 80 S.W.3d at 569-70 and J.M. Davidson, Inc., 128 S.W.3d at 228 (cases noting that when mutual promises to submit employment disputes to arbitration bind both parties to their promises to arbitrate, sufficient consideration exists to support an arbitration agreement between the employer and the at-will employee.)
A promise which does not bind the promisor, as when the promisor retains the option to discontinue performance, is illusory. In re 24R, Inc., 324 S.W.3d 564, 567 (Tex. 2010), citing Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d 844, 849 (Tex. 2009); see also J.M. Davidson, Inc., 128 S.W.3d at 228; Light v. Centel Cellular Co., 883 S.W.2d 642, 645 (Tex. 1994)(employer's promises were illusory because they were dependent upon at-will employee's period of continued employment; thus, employer could avoid performance by terminating at-will employee's employment while the employee was bound to her promise whether or not she remained employed). Consequently, when a purported bilateral contract is supported only by illusory promises, there is no contract. In re 24R, Inc., 324 S.W.3d at 567, citing Vanegas v. American Energy Services, 302 S.W.3d 299, 302 (Tex. 2009), quoting Light, 883 S.W.2d at 644-45.
However, where an employer cannot avoid its promise to arbitrate by amending a termination provision or terminating it altogether, the dispute resolution plan is not illusory. See J.M. Davidson, Inc., 128 S.W.3d at 228; In re Polymerica, LLC, 296 S.W.3d 74, 76 (Tex. 2009); see also In re Halliburton Co., 80 S.W.3d at 569-70 (when mutual promises to submit employment disputes to arbitration bind both parties to their promises to arbitrate, sufficient consideration exists to support an arbitration agreement between the employer and the at-will employee.)
SOURCE: EL PASO COURT OF APPEALS - 08-11-00091-CV – 4/25/2012