US Supreme Court Faults Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Application of “generalia specialibus non derogant”

November 26th, 2012

Of course,  generalia specialibus non derogant  means “the general does not detract from the specific.”

I am willing to bet money that Justice Scalia, author of the canonical book on statutory canons, had something to do with this discussion in  Nitro-Lift Technologies, L. L. C. v. Howard.

The state court reasoned that Oklahoma’s statute “ad­ dressing the validity of covenants not to compete, must govern over the more general statute favoring arbitration.” 273 P. 3d, at 26, n. 21. But the ancient interpretive principle that the specific governs the general (generalia specialibus non derogant) applies only to conflict between laws of equivalent dignity. Where a specific statute, for example, conflicts with a general constitutional provision, the latter governs. And the same is true where a specific state statute conflicts with a general federal statute. There is no general-specific exception to the Supremacy Clause, U. S. Const. Art. VI, cl. 2. “‘[W]hen state law prohibits outright the arbitration of a particular type of claim, the analysis is straightforward: The conflicting rule is displaced by the FAA.’” Marmet Health Care Center, Inc. v. Brown, 565 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2012) (per curiam) (slip op., at 3–4) (quoting AT&T Mobility LLC, supra, at ___–___ (slip op., at 6–7)). Hence, it is for the arbitrator to decide in the first instance whether the covenants not to compete are valid as a matter of applicable state law. See Buckeye, 546 U. S., at 445–446.

I wonder if this case will be cited in the next edition of Reading Law. (Does anyone actually have a copy? What does it say about this canon? I refuse to buy a Kindle for $40!).

And the Court threw in a citation to a progressive bugaboo, AT&T v. Concepion:

The state court insisted that its “[own] jurisprudence controls this issue” and permits review of a “contract submitted to arbitration where one party assert[s] that the underlying agreement [is] void and unenforceable.” 273 P. 3d, at 26. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court must abide by the FAA, which is “the supreme Law of the Land,” U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2, and by the opinions of this Court interpreting that law. “It is this Court’s responsibility to say what a statute means, and once the Court has spoken, it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law.” Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U. S. 298, 312 (1994). Our cases hold that the FAA forecloses pre­ cisely this type of “judicial hostility towards arbitration.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 8).

In other words, we mean it state courts! Enforce the FAA!