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McCormick v. America Online, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 29, 2018

ALETHIA LEE MCCORMICK, Administrator for the Estate of Alvin Moore, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
AMERICA ONLINE, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: September 27, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Gerald Bruce Lee, District Judge. (1:16-cv-01561-GBL-MSN)

         ARGUED:

          Stephen J. van Stempvoort, MILLER JOHNSON, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Michael W. Stark, MCGUIREWOODS LLP, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Tennille J. Checkovich, MCGUIREWOODS LLP, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER, KING, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

          NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge

         This case presents the question of how subject-matter jurisdiction over a motion to vacate or modify an arbitration award under § 10 or § 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. §§ 10, 11, is to be determined. The Federal Arbitration Act, which provides for the enforceability of arbitration agreements and specifies procedures for conducting arbitrations and enforcing arbitration awards, does not itself provide an independent jurisdictional basis for disputes under the Act. And while the Supreme Court in Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009), held that jurisdiction over a § 4 petition to compel arbitration is determined by the nature of the underlying dispute, the statutory language on which the Court relied to reach that conclusion is absent from § 10 and § 11. Moreover, there is a split of authority among the courts of appeals regarding how such jurisdiction over § 10 and § 11 motions is to be determined.

         We conclude that the better reasoned approach for determining subject-matter jurisdiction over § 10 and § 11 motions is to look to the nature of the underlying claim in dispute, just as is done with respect to § 4 petitions to compel arbitration. Thus, if the underlying claim is one that otherwise could be litigated in federal court, the § 10 or § 11 motion can likewise be resolved in federal court.

         In this case, the plaintiff, who arbitrated a claim that arose under a federal statute, sought to vacate or modify the arbitration award by filing a motion in the district court under §§ 10 and 11 of the FAA, and for jurisdiction, he invoked both 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal-question jurisdiction) and § 1332 (diversity jurisdiction). The district court dismissed the proceeding because the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate the jurisdictional amount for diversity jurisdiction. It did not address the plaintiff's invocation of federal-question jurisdiction. Applying the approach we adopt herein, we conclude that the district court had federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the plaintiff's underlying claim arose under federal law. We thus vacate the district court's order of dismissal and remand for resolution of the plaintiff's motion.

         I

         In October 2014, the Statesboro Police Department in Statesboro, Georgia, reported to America Online, Inc. ("AOL"), [1] an online service provider, that it was "investigating an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury that requires disclosure without delay of the following records relating to the emergency." It referred to a threatening email that was sent from the address "mooreal77@aol.com" and requested "data information" for the month of October 2014, as well as "subscriber information" for that account. After AOL complied with the Police Department's request, Alvin Moore, the subscriber for that address, complained to AOL that it had violated its privacy policy, as well as Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (known as the Stored Communications Act), 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., by providing information about him without a warrant, a ...


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