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Americo Part II: Sometimes Hard Cases Make Good Law

September 3rd, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

 

Introduction

On August 5, 2014 we critiqued (here) the Texas Supreme Court’s June 20, 2014 decision in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, ___ S.W.3d __, No. 12-0739, slip op. (Tex. June 20, 2014), which held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”) had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See slip op. at 10.   

The Americo award was not a legitimate by product of the parties’ arbitration agreement, and so, ruled the majority, it had to be vacated. The majority resisted a temptation that the four dissenting Justices apparently could not: “interpreting” the parties’ agreement in a hyper-technical fashion to justify confirming the award, even though that outcome, as desirable as it might otherwise seem, would have required the majority to reach a conclusion about party intent that was, at best, implausible.

Make no mistake about it, the Texas Supreme Court was faced with a tough case, and we think the majority made the right call.  Had a similar issue been presented in a garden-variety contract interpretation case, we doubt it would have been such a tough case and would not be particularly surprised if the outcome would have been unanimous, not split.

What made the case so tough was that this was not only an arbitration case, but one where the interpretive issue was justiciable only at the post-award stage. The law says that should make so difference and that, in any event, subject to a few special arbitration-law rules, the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) requires courts to put arbitration agreements on the same footing as all other contracts. But in post-award practice there a number of objective and subjective considerations that not infrequently result in courts reaching decisions in favor of confirming awards based on very doubtful, and sometimes, as here, implausible, conclusions about party intent.

That did not happen in Americo, and strange as it may seem, the majority’s decision that the award had to be vacated was a very pro-arbitration decision. A majority of the Justices enforced the parties’ arbitration agreement, which is the whole point of the FAA. And by doing so, they made arbitration all the more an attractive alternative to litigation.

Today’s post examines in greater detail what transpired in Americo, including the reasoning the majority and dissent articulated in support of their conclusions, and concludes with a few parting observations.  Continue Reading »

Gateway Keeping: The Third Circuit Joins the Sixth in Holding that Courts get to Decide whether Parties Consented to Class Arbitration

August 28th, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consent to Class Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Practice and Procedure, Stay of Litigation, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064 (2013) considered whether an arbitrator exceeded his powers under Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10(a)(4) by finding that a fairly run-of-the-mill arbitration agreement authorized class arbitration. Applying the deferential, manifest-disregard-of-the-agreement outcome-review standard authorized by FAA Section 10(a)(4), the Court upheld an arbitrator’s determination that an arbitration agreement authorized class arbitration because the arbitrator had, at least arguably, interpreted the arbitration agreement, albeit in a highly creative and doubtful way. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum posts here, here, here & here.)

In a footnote, the Court explained that it “would face a different issue if Oxford had argued below that the availability of class arbitration is a so-called ‘question of arbitrability.’” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. The Court said that Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 680 (2010), “made clear that this Court has not yet decided” whether class-arbitration-consent presents a question of arbitrability. But “Oxford agreed that the arbitrator should determine whether its contract with Sutter authorized class procedures[,]” and “Oxford submitted that issue to arbitrator not once, but twice—and the second time after Stolt-Nielsen flagged that it might be a question of arbitrability.” 133 S. Ct. at 2068 n.2. (emphasis added)

Had Oxford opted to request the Supreme Court to determine whether class- arbitration consent presented a question of arbitrability, and had the Court determined that it was such a question, then the Court would have determined independently—that is, without deferring to the arbitrator’s decision—whether the parties consented to class arbitration. See BG Group plc v. Republic of Argentina, No. 12-138, slip op. at 6 (U.S. March 5, 2014); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 543 U.S. 938, 942 (1995). And we doubt that a majority of the Supreme Court would have upheld the Oxford award had it reviewed the class-arbitration-consent determination de novo. See, e.g., Oxford, 133 S. Ct. at 2071 (Alito, J., concurring) (“If we were reviewing the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract de novo, we would have little trouble concluding that he improperly inferred “[a]n implicit agreement to authorize class-action arbitration … from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.”) (quoting Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 685).  

Those who have been tracking developments in class and consolidated arbitration since the turn of this century no doubt recall that, after a plurality of the Court determined in Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 452-53 (2003), that a class-arbitration-consent-related dispute did not present a question of arbitrability, but merely a procedural question, parties began to submit routinely and unreservedly class-arbitration-consent questions to arbitration.

But after Stolt-Nielsen, and, no doubt with renewed vigor after Oxford, class arbitration opponents began to argue that class-arbitration-consent presented a question of arbitrability for the Court to decide. And U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals are beginning to rule on those challenges.

The first one to do so was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Crockett, 734 F.3d 594 (6th Cir. 2013), where the Court in November 2013 held “that the question whether an arbitration agreement permits classwide arbitration is a gateway matter, which is reserved for judicial determination unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise.” 734 F.2d at 599 (quotation and citation omitted).

The second, and most recent Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the issue, was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Opalinski v. Robert Half Int’l Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 12-4444, slip op. (3rd Cir. July 30, 2014), which on July 30, 2014 “join[ed] the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in holding that.  .  .  “the availability of” class arbitration “is a substantive gateway question rather than a procedural one[,]” and thus “is a question of arbitrability.” Slip op. at 15, 16-17.  The Court’s decision turned on “the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences of that determination for both [a] whose claims are subject to arbitration[;] and [b] the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” Slip op. at 15 (emphasis added). Where, as in Opalinski, the arbitration agreement did not “mention” class arbitration, the Court “believ[ed] the parties would have expected a court, not an arbitrator, to determine the availability of class arbitration[,]” and that was “especially so given the critical differences between individual and class arbitration and the significant consequences” of the class-arbitration-consent determination as respects “whose claims are subject to arbitration and the type of controversy to be arbitrated.” slip op. at 16-17.

The Third Circuit’s Opalinski decision, like the Sixth Circuit’s in Reed Elsevier, is well reasoned and reaches the conclusion we likewise think is required by the Supreme Court’s long-line of arbitrability jurisprudence, and by its post-Bazzle class-arbitration cases, beginning with Stolt-Nielsen. We suspect that other circuits will, for largely the same reasons, that class-arbitration-consent presents a question of arbitrability.

Let’s have a look at what transpired in Opalinski.  .  .  . Continue Reading »

Faithful to the “First Principle” of Arbitration Law, the Texas Supreme Court Shores up the “Cornerstone of the Arbitral Process”

August 5th, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Introduction  

Anyone versed in arbitration-law basics knows that “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted). That is the “first principle” of arbitration law (the “First Principle”) set forth in the Steelworkers’ Trilogy.[1] See, e.g., Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 295 & n.7, 294 n.6 (2010); AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U. S. 643, 648 (1986).

The First Principle is integrally intertwined with “the central or primary purpose of the [Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)][,]” which is “to ensure that  private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.” Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 679 (citations and quotations omitted). To “enforce” an arbitration agreement “courts and arbitrators must give effect to the contractual rights and expectations of the parties.” Id. When courts do not give effect to the parties’ contractual rights and expectations, they violate the First Principle.

Courts and arbitrators are supposed to apply the First Principle faithfully and rigorously whenever  they interpret or apply material arbitration-agreement-terms, and in “doing so [they] must  not lose sight of the purpose of the exercise: to give effect to the intent of the parties.” See Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 679-81. And if that admonition applies with special force in any particular context, it would be in the interpretation and enforcement of arbitrator selection and qualification provisions.

Arbitrator selection provisions are what Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner once dubbed the “cornerstone” of the parties’ agreement: “Selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.” Lefkovitz v. Wagner, 395 F.3d 773, 780 (2005) (Posner, J.); see, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 5 (“If in the agreement provision be made for a method of naming or appointing an arbitrator or arbitrators or an umpire, such method shall be followed.  .  .  .”); Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Art. V(1)(d), June 10, 1958, 21 U.S.T. 2519, T.I.A.S. No. 6997 (a/k/a the “New York Convention”) (implemented by 9 U.S.C. §§ 201, et. seq.) (award subject to challenge where “[t]he composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties”); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668, 670 (one of the FAA’s “rules of fundamental importance” is parties “may choose who will resolve specific disputes”) (emphasis added; citations omitted); Encyclopaedia Universalis S.A. v. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., 403 F.3d 85, 91-92 (2d Cir. 2005) (vacating award by panel not convened in accordance with parties’ agreement); Cargill Rice, Inc. v. Empresa Nicaraguense Dealimentos Basicos, 25 F.3d 223, 226 (4th Cir. 1994) (same); Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc. v. Garage Employees Union, 791 F.2d 22, 25 (2d Cir. 1986) (same).

Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer

On June 20, 2014, a divided Texas Supreme Court in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, ___ S.W.3d __, No. 12-0739, slip op. (Tex. June 20, 2014), adhered to and correctly applied the First Principle by holding that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement.  Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”) had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See Slip op. at 10. Continue Reading »

LinkedIn’s Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group is now over 3,660 Members Strong!

July 2nd, 2014 ADR Social Media, Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

On May 19, 2009 the Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum, Karl Bayer’s Disputing blog, Don Philbin Jr., Robert Bear and others formed a LinkedIn group called the Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group. On May 21, 2009 we reported (here) that the group had “29 members with diverse backgrounds, all of whom are interested in commercial and industry ADR.” On October 28, 2010, we reported that the group was “now 1,008 members strong and is growing by the week.  Many different industries are represented, including the insurance and reinsurance industry.  The group enables members to share information; discuss and debate issues.  .  .; and network with others in the domestic and international ADR community.” (See here.)

Today the group has more than 3,660 members, and continues to discuss actively issues pertaining to domestic and international ADR, and continues to feature a distinguished and internationally-diverse membership of arbitrators, mediators, business people, attorneys, law professors, students, and other persons interested in ADR.

The group is co-managed by Don Philbin, Jr.Karl Bayer, Robert Bear and Philip J. Loree Jr. We welcome new members, and encourage (but do not require) active participation. The only requirement for membership is a bona fide interest in ADR.  The group is not a forum for, and does not permit, advertising or blatant self-promotion, so our members need not be concerned about being subject to sales pitches and the like.

If you are already a member of LinkedIn, please click here to apply for membership in the group.  If you are not a LinkedIn member, click here, and you will be guided through the process of creating a profile (which does not need to be completed in one step).  Once your profile is started, and you have a user name and password, you can apply for membership in the group (which entails no more than clicking on a button).  Joining LinkedIn is free, as is joining the group.

We hope you’ll join up!

 

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: I Received an Arbitration Award in my Favor but my Adversary Refuses to Pay it. What can I do?

June 14th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Final Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Favorable arbitration awards are wonderful things, but they are not self-enforcing. Sometimes the other side voluntarily complies, but if not, there is really not much of anything the arbitrator can do to help.

Arbitrators are not judges and thus do not have the authority to garnish wages, seize property,  foreclose on encumbered property, freeze bank accounts, impose contempt sanctions and so forth. Parties can delegate to arbitrators broad adjudicatory and remedial authority, but that is relevant only to the nature and scope of their awards, and does not confer power on the arbitrators to enforce their awards coercively.

Apart from its potential preclusive effect in subsequent litigation, an arbitration award stands on the same footing as any other privately prepared legal document, such as a contract. It may be intended by the arbitrators and at least one of the parties to have legal effect, but it is up to a court to say what legal effect it has, and,  if necessary, to implement that legal effect through coercive enforcement. A judgment, by contrast, is an official decree that not only can be coercively enforced through subsequent summary proceedings in the same or other courts (including courts in other states and federal judicial districts), but is, to some extent, self-enforcing. A judgment, for example, can ordinarily be filed as a lien on real property, and applicable state or federal law may, for example, authorize attorneys to avail their clients of certain judgment-enforcement-related remedies without prior judicial authorization.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck; it means you need a court to enter judgment on the award, that is, to “confirm” it. Once an award has been reduced to judgment, it can be enforced to the same extent as any other judgment. See, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 13 (Under Federal Arbitration Act, judgment on award “shall have the same force and effect, in all respects, as, and be subject to all the provisions of law relating to, a judgment in an action; and it may be enforced as if it had been rendered in an action in the court in which it is entered”); Fla. Stat. § 682.15(1)( “The judgment may be recorded, docketed, and enforced as any other judgment in a civil action.”); N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7514(a) (“A judgment shall be entered upon the confirmation of an award.”).

The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), and most or all state arbitration statutes, authorize courts to confirm awards in summary proceedings. State arbitration-law rules, procedures, limitation periods and the like vary from state to state and frequently from the FAA, and state courts may apply them to FAA-governed awards (provided doing so does not frustrate the purposes and objectives of the FAA).

But let’s keep things simple, and take a brief look at the FAA’s requirements for confirmation applicable in federal court when there is no prior pending action related to the arbitration, and  there are no issues concerning federal subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, sufficiency or service of process, venue (i.e., whether suit should have been brought in another federal judicial district) or the applicability of the FAA.  We’ll also discuss how applications to confirm are supposed to be summary proceedings, why timing of an application is important, and how courts go about deciding them. Continue Reading »

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Can I Appeal an Arbitration Award in Court?

May 21st, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Introduction

When a party is on the wrong end of an arbitration award that he, she or it thinks is fundamentally unfair, tainted by impropriety, or disconnected from the agreement the arbitrator was supposed to interpret and apply, the first question that comes to mind is whether there might be some form of recourse available. In court,  the usual avenue of relief from an adverse judgment or order is an appeal.

Can a losing party to an arbitration award governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) appeal it in court? Since private arbitration is an alternative to public, government-sponsored court litigation, since the court system plays an important role in enforcing arbitration agreements, since both arbitration and court litigation share at least some of the same attributes and since in the U.S. procedural due process and the primacy of the rule of law are as dear to us as baseball and apple pie, it is natural to assume that one should be able to appeal an adverse arbitration award.

But one cannot—in any meaningful sense of the word—“appeal” an arbitration award to a court. In court litigation an appeal involves judicial review by an appellate court under which a panel of judges reviews trial-court rulings on questions of law independently—that is, as if the appellate court were deciding the question for itself in the first instance. The appellate court reviews the trial court’s findings of fact on a “clearly erroneous” or “clear error” standard of review, that is, paying a certain degree of deference to the finder of fact (the jury or trial judge). While appellate review thus does not involve a retrial on the merits, it is broad and searching, particularly where outcomes turn solely on questions of law.

The FAA does not authorize courts to review arbitration awards under an appellate standard of review, even if the parties consent to a court applying such a standard. Parties can agree before or after a dispute arises to an arbitration procedure that empowers another arbitrator or panel of arbitrators to review an award under an appellate or some other standard of review, but arbitration awards are subject to very limited and deferential review by courts and then only on a few narrow grounds.

The FAA Award-Enforcement Process

The FAA award enforcement process permits either party to make an application to vacate, modify or correct an award, or an application to “confirm” it, that is, enter judgment on it. Since the deadline for applying to vacate, modify or correct an award is considerably shorter than that for confirming an award, in many cases, parties who are seeking relief from the award make the initial application. If a putative challenging party does not timely seek relief, and the other party seeks confirmation after the expiration of the deadline for making an application to vacate, modify or correct the award, then the challenging party is time-barred from asserting grounds for vacatur or modification, even simply as affirmative defenses to confirmation. (See, e.g., L. Reins. & Arb. Law Forum post here.)

Let’s assume a party makes a timely motion to vacate an award. What will likely then happen is the other party will cross-move to confirm the award. The burden on the party seeking confirmation is pretty modest. Generally the party moving to confirm will need to show that the parties: (a) agreed to arbitrate; (b) consented to entry of judgment on the award; (c) appointed an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators; and (d) submitted the dispute to the arbitrators, who issued the award. The award is presumed valid and the court does not review its outcome or substance.

Once the modest prerequisites for confirmation have been established by a properly supported petition or motion to confirm an award, then the court “must grant” confirmation “unless the award is vacated, modified or corrected” under FAA Sections 10 or 11. 9 U.S.C. § 9. Thus, apart from those relatively rare cases where a party can show that the parties never agreed to arbitrate at all (and that the challenging party did not waive that defense), or perhaps never even impliedly consented to entry of judgment on the award, the only grounds on which the losing party can oppose confirmation are those set forth in Section 10 and 11.

The only exception might be if the award interprets the contract in a way that causes it to violate a well-defined and explicit public policy, or if the remedy the arbitrator awards violates the criminal law or requires one of the parties to do so. For example, one would not expect a court to enter judgment on an award that purported to authorize the prevailing party to inflict bodily harm on the losing party or vice-versa. That principle is simply an application of the contract-law rule that courts will not enforce contracts that violate public policy. See, generally, W. R. Grace & Co. v. Rubber Workers, 461 U.S. 757, 766 (1983); United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, 743 F.3d 1310, 1315 (10th Cir. 2014).

Continue Reading »

Re Colorado Energy Management, LLC v. Lea Power Partners, LLC: Another Appellate Division holds Construction Arbitration Award should be Vacated, but this time for Good Reason

May 10th, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitrator Vacancy, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Construction Industry Arbitration, Functus Officio, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York State Courts, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Introduction

In our recent post on the Merion Construction case (here), we were pretty critical of New Jersey’s Superior Court, Appellate Division, for reversing a trial court decision confirming a modified arbitration award, finding it should have been vacated and the original award confirmed. Today’s post takes a brief look at a decision by another state’s Appellate Division—New York’s Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department—which held that another construction-industry award should be vacated.

In Merion Construction the New Jersey Appellate Division thought the arbitrator had no authority to correct his award to reflect the rulings he intended to make on two issues the parties had submitted to him. Re Colorado Management, LLC v. Lea Power Partners, LLC , ___ A.D.3d ___, ___, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 01253 at 1-3 (1st Dep’t Feb. 20, 2014), held that a final arbitration award had to be vacated because the arbitrator had no authority to rule upon an issue that was not presented to him in light of the parties’ submissions and a ruling made in the same proceeding by a predecessor arbitrator.

While Merion Construction got an “F,” Colorado Management gets at least an “A-,” and perhaps even an “A.” Continue Reading »

The Tenth Tells us Time (Usually) Waits for No One: United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc.

May 7th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, labor arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Introduction

Arbitration is supposed to be a speedy alternative to litigation, and that is supposed to be true as respects commercial or employment arbitration governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) and labor arbitration arising under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151, et. seq., or Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act (a/k/a the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”)), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Arbitration awards are generally presumed to be valid, which puts the burden on challengers to establish their invalidity, at least provided the challenging party entered into a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement with the defending party.

Adjudicating a non-frivolous award challenge usually takes time, and if the challenge turns out to be valid, an order vacating the award does not usually resolve the underlying dispute, which, absent a settlement, must be resolved through further ADR or judicial proceedings. Delay is inevitable and delay undermines arbitration’s ability to compete with litigation.

The FAA and most or all state arbitration statutes try to minimize delay by not only by restricting t he scope of judicial review of awards, but also by imposing short limitation periods for vacating awards—for example, three months under the FAA and 90 days under many state arbitration statutes. See 9 U.S.C. § 12; see, e.g., N.Y. Civ. Prac. L.& R. § 7511(a); Fla. Stat. § 682.13(2); Wash. Rev. Code § 7.04A.230(2). Some state statutes impose shorter periods. See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-420(b) (30 days); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 251, § 12(b) (30 days); but see Cal. Code Civ. P. § 1288 (100 days).

By contrast, a motion or petition to confirm an award is usually subject to a longer statute of limitations. Cases governed by Chapter 1 of the FAA (e.g., domestic arbitrations between domestic parties), for example, are subject to a one-year limitation period. See 9 U.S.C. § 9.

Under the FAA, and presumably under many or most state arbitration statutes, if a party does not bring a timely petition to vacate, and the other moves to confirm after the time period for vacating an award has elapsed, then the challenging party cannot raise grounds for vacatur as defenses to confirmation, even if it does not seek an order vacating the award. See, e.g., Florasynth, Inc. v. Pickholz, 750 F.2d 171, 175-76 (2d Cir. 1984) (FAA); Kutch v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 960 P.2d 93, 97-98 (Colo. 1998) (Colorado law); but see Lyden v. Bell, 232 A.D.2d 562, 563 (2d Dep’t 1996) (Where a confirmation proceeding “is commenced after the 90-day period, but within the one-year period. . . .[,] a party may, by cross motion to vacate, oppose the petition for confirmation on any of the grounds in CPLR 7511 even though his time to commence a separate proceeding to vacate or modify under CPLR 7511(a) has expired.”) (citations omitted) (New York law); 1000 Second Avenue Corp. v. Pauline Rose Trust, 171 A.D.2d 429, 430 (1st Dep’t 1991) (“an aggrieved party may wait to challenge an award until the opposing party has moved for its confirmation”) (New York law).

In United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc., No. 12-1409, slip op. (10th Cir. Feb. 28, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reminds us that the same rules apply to LMRA Section 301 labor-arbitration-award enforcement actions. Section 301 does not specify limitation periods for vacating arbitration awards, and as a general rule, courts “borrow” the most analogous state statute of limitations. See, e.g., Local 802, Assoc. Mus. of N.Y. v. Parker Meridien Hotel, 145 F.3d at 88-89 (2d Cir. 1998). In King Soopers the Tenth Circuit borrowed Colorado’s 90-day statute of limitations for vacating an award.[1]

King Soopers might be looked at as a refresher course in how important it is to act quickly and decisively when one finds oneself at the wrong end of an arbitration award that might not meet the modest criteria for summary confirmation or enforcement. While roughly nine years elapsed between the date the employee filed the grievance and the date the arbitrator issued the award, the Court, reversing the district court’s decision to the contrary, held (quite correctly) that King Sooper’s just-over-90-day delay in asserting grounds to vacate the award foreclosed it from opposing the union’s suit to enforce the award. Continue Reading »

No Good Deed Should Go Unpunished: Functus Officio and Merion Constr. Mgt., LLC v. Kemron Environmental Serv., Inc.—Part I

May 3rd, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Construction Industry Arbitration, Final Awards, Functus Officio, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New Jersey State Courts, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Uncategorized 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Courts usually err in favor of not vacating awards in close cases. As a result, Courts usually vacate awards only where there is a very clear, fundamental disconnect between the award and the parties’ arbitration agreement. Vacating an award in those circumstances enforces the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, which is exactly what the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and state arbitration codes are supposed to do. (See, e.g., L. Reins. & Arb. L. Forum post here.)

Today’s case, Merion Constr. Mgt., LLC v. Kemron Environmental Serv., Inc., No. A-2428-12T4, slip op. (N.J. App. Div. March 13, 2014), involved two disputed awards: the original arbitration award (the “Original Award”) and a subsequent, modified award (the “Modified Award”). The arbitrator (the “Arbitrator”) issued the Modified Award to correct a mistake in the Original Award, which had inadvertently omitted items of claimed damage that one of the parties had requested the Arbitrator to award. The Arbitrator said he intended to include those damage items in the Original Award. The Modified Award thus accurately reflected the parties’ agreement and submission and the Original Award did not.

Which Award should have been confirmed? Relying on the functus officio doctrine, and an American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) Rule concerning arbitral modification and correction of awards, the intermediate state appellate court reversed a trial court judgment confirming the Modified Award, and held that the Original Award should have been confirmed.

A few years back the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court prefaced one his opinions with the following truism: “People make mistakes. Even administrators of ERISA plans.” Conkright v. Frommert, 559 U.S. 506, 509 (2010) (Roberts, C.J.). Had Merion Construction been decided correctly, then the New Jersey appellate court might have prefaced its opinion with a similar truism: “People make mistakes. Even arbitrators.” But based on how the case was decided a more fitting preface would have been: “No good deed should go unpunished. Even those perpetrated by arbitrators.” Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

April 27th, 2014 Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Claims, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Part III.C

Does New York Law on Implied or Constructive Conditions

Provide a Basis for Stronghold’s Conclusion?

 

New York’s six-year statute of limitations for breach of contract does not begin to run until the obligee has satisfied all express conditions to the obligor’s duty to perform. (See Parts I and II.) Part III.B explained why we believe the Second Circuit in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co. did not correctly interpret and apply New York law when it concluded that a garden-variety notice-of-loss provision in an excess-of-loss reinsurance contract was an express condition to the extent it required the cedent to notify reinsurers of paid-loss claims and demand payment. That (we believe) erroneous conclusion enabled the Second Circuit to hold that the cedent’s breach-of-contract claims were not barred by New York’s six-year statute of limitations, even though they were based on settlements the cedent had concluded with its insureds more than six-years before the cedent commenced its action. (See Part III.A.)

At the conclusion of Part III.B we raised the question whether Stronghold might make sense under the law of implied or constructive conditions, that is, if we were to interpret it as having construed the notice-of-loss provision as an implied or constructive condition. But Stronghold fails even if it is reconceptualized that way.  Continue Reading »