There is a developing body of case law in Illinois dealing with the effect of arbitration clauses on a plaintiff's ability to prosecute a class action. The latest case is Ervin v. Nokia, No. 5-04-0057 (5th Dist. 6/22/04).
In Ervin, the plaintiff filed a class action against Nokia and AT&T for alleged defects in a Nokia cell phone. AT&T was able to get out of the lawsuit by arguing its agreement with plaintiff included an arbitration clause. After the trial court granted AT&T's motion to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration, Nokia argued that it should also be allowed to enforce AT&T's arbitration clause, even though it was not a party to the agreement. The trial court rejected Nokia's argument.
In affirming, the Fifth District disagreed with the three theories advanced by Nokia: (a) that Nokia should be allowed to enforce the arbitration agreement as AT&T's alleged agent; (b) that Nokia should be allowed to enforce the arbitration agreement as a third-party beneficiary; and (c) that Nokia should be allowed to benefit from the arbitration agreement under a doctrine of equitable estoppel.