Arbitration is a common form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which parties agree to resolve a dispute by submitting it to one or more neutral decision-makers, or arbitrators, for decision. Arbitration consists of a formal hearing, similar to a trial, where the parties are represented by legal counsel and present evidence and testimony. The parties usually have the option to choose the decision-makers.
In Wisconsin, arbitration is governed by the Wisconsin Arbitration Act, which is found in Chapter 788 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Among other things, the Wisconsin Arbitration Act states that an arbitration clause in a contract is valid, irrevocable and enforceable unless certain grounds exist to invalidate the contract. However, a few disputes, including certain disputes over employment contracts, petroleum storage tank remediation and state employment relation matters, are exempt from this rule.
In a dispute governed by a contract containing an arbitration agreement, the Wisconsin Arbitration Act requires Wisconsin courts to send the parties to arbitration, instead of trial, pursuant to the terms of their contract. If a party seeking arbitration has failed to live up to its obligations under the contract containing the arbitration agreement, however, the court may choose whether or not to stay litigation so that the arbitration may proceed.
The Federal Arbitration Act contains a similar rule that “a written provision in any … contract” that indicates an intent to settle contract-related disputes by arbitration “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”
In addition, federal courts may refer civil actions and bankruptcy adversary proceedings to arbitration if the parties consent. Both federal districts in Wisconsin have rules governing arbitration and other forms of ADR. Federal constitutional claims, some civil rights claims and claims involving damages over $150,000 cannot be sent to arbitration from federal court, however.