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Berkshire Hathaway Affiliate Seeks Supreme Court Intervention in Real Estate Arbitration Dispute

 |  February 6, 2024
A brokerage affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway has petitioned the US Supreme Court to resolve a critical question regarding arbitration within real estate contracts.
This move comes in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling last fall, which catalyzed a $1.8 billion trial verdict in an antitrust class action lawsuit in Missouri, challenging longstanding regulations set by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) based in Chicago, reported Reuters.

HomeServices, a real estate brokerage entity, asserted in its filing that it should have been shielded from trial proceedings, contending that the involved sellers had previously agreed to resolve disputes through arbitration, circumventing the courtroom. This lawsuit, which originated from the contentious NAR regulations mandating home sellers to compensate the buyer’s broker, has triggered a wave of legal challenges across the nation.

“Our appeal is rooted in the principles of the Federal Arbitration Act, which clearly mandates that arbitration agreements be honored as they are written,” a spokesperson for HomeServices emphasized in a statement.

The crux of the lawsuit revolved around the real estate industry’s practice necessitating sellers to pay commissions to buyer’s agents, allegedly fostering an environment where agents steer clients towards properties with higher commissions, oftentimes ranging between 5% to 6%. Commissions, traditionally, are divided between agents representing sellers and buyers.

HomeServices contended that sellers had indeed consented to arbitrate claims arising from the listing of residential properties for sale. However, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September, prior to the trial, that the judge presiding over the Missouri case, rather than an arbitrator, should determine the applicability of arbitration to the contractual dispute.

The brokerage firm lamented the appeals court’s decision, characterizing it as an “erroneous” move that exposed HomeServices to an unwarranted class trial. Furthermore, the company asserted that federal courts are grappling with inconsistencies regarding the allocation of authority to decide which claims fall under the purview of arbitration.

In light of these developments, HomeServices urged the Supreme Court to expedite its intervention, advocating for resolution of the arbitration dispute before any appeals are made concerning the staggering $1.8 billion verdict. Throughout the legal proceedings, HomeServices and other defendants have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Source: Reuters