Supreme Court Rules that FAA Requires Courts to Stay Cases Subject to Arbitration

Business, News

by | May 17, 2024

In a decisive opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, holding that §3 the FAA does not permit a court to dismiss a case when a party requests a stay pending arbitration.

Key Points of the Majority Opinion

  1. Mandatory Stay Requirement: The Court emphasized the plain language of §3, which states that the court “shall on the application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had by the terms of the agreement.” Justice Sotomayor underscored that “shall” creates an obligation, leaving no room for judicial discretion.
  2. Statutory Interpretation: The Court rejected the respondents’ argument that “stay” could be interpreted to include “dismiss,” clarifying that “stay” traditionally means a temporary suspension of proceedings, not a conclusive termination.
  3. Preservation of Jurisdiction: The decision highlights that staying a case ensures the parties can return to federal court if arbitration fails to resolve the dispute. Dismissing the case would deprive them of this option, contrary to the FAA’s structure and purpose.
  4. Congressional Intent: The ruling aligns with Congress’s intent in the FAA to facilitate the swift and efficient move from litigation to arbitration without unnecessary procedural hurdles. Allowing dismissals could lead to complications and additional costs, undermining this objective.


The Smith v. Spizzirri ruling has significant implications for the enforcement of arbitration agreements:

  1. Uniform Application: This decision resolves the Circuit split, ensuring uniform application of the FAA across federal courts. Courts must now stay proceedings when a dispute is subject to arbitration and a stay is requested.
  2. Clarity for Litigants: The ruling provides clarity for litigants, confirming that they can expect a stay rather than dismissal, preserving their right to return to court if necessary.
  3. Efficiency in Arbitration: By mandating stays, the Court’s decision supports the FAA’s goal of efficient arbitration processes, reducing potential delays and complications that could arise from dismissals.


The Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Spizzirri reinforces the mandatory nature of stays under §3 of the FAA, guiding federal courts and litigants. The ruling underscores the Court’s commitment to upholding the statutory text and ensuring the efficient resolution of arbitrable disputes, marking a significant development in arbitration law.


  • Jaklin Guyumjyan

    Jaklin’s work focuses on business litigation and transactional matters, as well as assisting on family law and employment matters.

    View all posts