Our article currently has the title, Arbitration by Combat. Here is the article proposal that we submitted:
Trial by combat is a popular method of dispute resolution in the Game of Thrones universe. The trials of Tyrion Lannister and Sandor Clegane stand as some of the most defining moments of the series. However, as the series vividly illustrates through Oberyn Martell’s duel with Gregor Clegane, trial by combat can pose mortal dangers for combatants not endowed with the protection of the god R’hllor. Furthermore, as Tyrion Lannister’s prosecution by the Iron Throne demonstrates, trial by combat can often lead to unjust results.
Trial by combat was also a common method for resolving disputes in medieval Europe. Trials by combat were subject to numerous procedural rules and were often (but not always) less violent than the disputes in Game of Thrones. But trial by combat has since been rejected as an unjust and barbaric ritual.
The concerns surrounding trial by combat as a means of dispute resolution raise several interesting questions: can agreements to arbitrate disputes by means of a trial by combat be enforced in the United States? And if these “arbitration by combat” provisions are enforceable, what form of combat would be permitted under existing law? The more restrained historic form of trial by combat or the Game of Thrones variety?The topic of this paper should not be too much of a surprise to regular readers of this blog. Trial by combat has always fascinated me, and you can find my previous posts on the subject here and here.
In this article, we seek to answer these questions by examining how arbitration by combat agreements might implicate state and federal laws in the United States. First, we explore whether such agreements would run afoul of state laws barring contracts that are unconscionable or against public policy. We argue that savvy drafters of arbitration by combat provisions should avoid the gory proceedings in the Game of Thrones universe. But arbitration by combat based on historic practices may survive judicial review.
Second, we examine whether state regulation of arbitration by combat provisions would be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act’s protections for arbitration agreements. In particular, we analyze whether the Act would protect an arbitration by combat agreement against state interference, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent expansion of the Act’s reach in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 321 (2011).
We argue that while Game of Thrones–style arbitration by combat may violate state contract laws, arbitration by combat that conforms to historic practices may find more success. We also conclude that there is a strong argument that an arbitration by combat procedure falls under the protection of the Federal Arbitration Act, provided it satisfies certain “fundamental attributes of arbitration” identified in Concepcion. That is, the combat would have to be informal, speedily resolved, and relatively inexpensive to conduct. Hence, state safety regulations of combat proceedings – while permissible – would be preempted to the extent they interfere with such characteristics.
I must confess, however, that I am not well-versed in the Game of Thrones literature. Fortunately, my coauthor, Raj Shah, has extensive expertise in that area (as well as in the area of researching and writing about the Federal Arbitration Act). While Raj, like myself, has not published on the subject of Game of Thrones before, he has published a critical race perspective on U.S. standing doctrine in the UCLA Law Review, which you can find here.
As is the case with any post or paper I have announced on this blog, comments and criticism from readers are welcome. Our deadline for completing the full paper is December 19.