The Supreme Court heard argument in the second iteration of Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., Case No. 19-963, (Henry Schein II) on December 8, 2020, which was broadcast live on CSPAN and is available here. During the course of the argument and questioning, the Court made clear that it was only considering a narrow question: Assume that the contract generally says that an arbitrator decides if a particular dispute must be arbitrated, rather than be litigated in a court. Also assume that the contract says claims for injunctive relief are not subject to arbitration. The parties to the contract have a dispute, and they disagree on whether the dispute seeks injunctive relief. Who decides this threshold dispute—an arbitrator or a court? (For more background on this case, see our pre-argument discussion on the issues presented.)
The question presented to the Court in Henry Schein II seems to be one of pure contract interpretation, which makes it an odd choice for the Court to hear. The Court is ostensibly deciding whether the carve-out for injunctive relief claims in this contract limits just the scope of arbitration or also limits the scope of the contract’s delegation to the arbitrator to decide the threshold issues of arbitrability. Yet, the oral argument revealed a few themes that indicate some of the broader implications of this litigation.