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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 »

ROM Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co.: Can Parties Agree State Arbitration Law Governs their Arbitration even if the Federal Arbitration Act Applies?

April 15th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, Stay of Arbitration, United States Supreme Court No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Introduction

The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”)’s ordinarily trumps state-law rules of arbitrability in state- and federal-court  disputes involving agreements falling under it.  But what happens when parties to an FAA-governed arbitration agreement have agreed that state law governs their agreement, or the enforcement of their agreement?

Odd as it may seem, the FAA allows parties to agree that state-law rules of arbitrability govern if the parties unambiguously agree that they govern, even if the result is that an issue subject to arbitration under the FAA is excluded from arbitration because of the parties’ choice of state arbitration law. That holds true so long as enforcing the parties’ choice of law does not “stand[] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives” of the FAA. See Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 58-64 (1995); Volt Information Sciences, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U. S. 468, 474-78 (1989); Diamond Waterproofing Sys., Inc. v. 55 Liberty Owners Corp., 4 N.Y.3d 247, 252-53 (2005); see, generally, Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, __, 130 S. Ct. 1758,1773-74 (2010). Because the whole point of the FAA is to promote arbitration by enforcing the parties’ arbitration agreement according to its terms, and because parties are free to clearly exclude issues from the scope of their arbitration agreement, giving effect to a applying a state-law rule of arbitrability does not contravene the FAA or its purposes and objectives. See Stolt-Nielsen, 130 S. Ct. at 1773 (“[W]e have said on numerous occasions that the central or primary purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”), 1774 (“Underscoring the consensual nature of private dispute resolution, we have held that parties are generally free to structure their arbitration agreements as they see fit[].  .  .  .  [and] may agree to limit the issues they choose to arbitrate.  .  .  .”) (quotations and citations omitted); Volt, 489 U.S. at 476-78.

In Re Rom Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co., ___ A.D.3d ___, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 01546 (1st Dep’t March 11, 2014).  New York’s Appellate Division, First Department (New York’s intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction over New York and Bronx Counties (i.e., New York City’s Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx)), succinctly demonstrated how the parties’ unambiguous agreement to apply state-law arbitrability rules can narrow the issues that the parties would have been required to submit to arbitration had FAA rules of arbitrability applied. Continue Reading »

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

April 12th, 2014 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 2 Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Part III.B

Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold: Did the Court Correctly Apply New York Law?

Welcome to Part III.B of our multi-part reinsurance statute of limitations feature. (Links to previous installments are listed at the end of this post.)

If you’ve been following this series, then you already know that under New York law, the six-year statute of limitations begins to run on a reinsurance claim once it is settled and the cedent has the right to demand payment. This is the general rule that applies to other contracts of indemnity, including insurance contracts, but it is subject to an exception: when an insurance or reinsurance contract expressly conditions the reinsurer’s duty to perform its obligations on the presentation of a claim, the statute of limitations generally does not begin to run any earlier than the date the cedent presents the claim.

In Part III.A we summarized the facts and holding of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996), which concluded that a garden-variety notice of loss provision in a reinsurance contact was an express condition to the extent that it required notice of paid loss, which the Court seemed to think was more important to reinsurers than prompt notice of the original insureds’ reported losses losses and their development over time.  Stronghold essentially created an express condition out of whole cloth by placing a strained interpretation on a timely notice provision identical in all material respects to one that New York’s highest court, in North River Ins. Co. v. Unigard Sec. Ins. Co., 79 N.Y.2d 576 (1992) (“Unigard I”), had held was not an express condition. And it relied on that interpretation to justify delaying the accrual of the statute of limitations on claims that were settled more than six-years before the Cedent commenced its action against the Reinsurers.

This Part III.B explains why we believe Stronghold misconstrued the notice provision, misapprehended its purpose and misapplied New York law on express conditions. Continue Reading »

Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: Does a Petition to Vacate an FAA-Governed Award Timely Commenced in State Court Become Time-Barred Simply Because it is Removed to Federal Court?

April 6th, 2014 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, FAA Preemption of State Law, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, United States Supreme Court No Comments » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Part I

Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, No. 3:13-cv-636-J-34 (MCR), slip op. (M.D. Fla. March 5, 2014), is one of those deceptively complex cases. The petitioner, successor trustee of a family trust (the “Trustee”), timely commenced under the Florida Arbitration Code (the “FAC”) in Florida state court  a petition to vacate an arbitration award by filing it within the 90-day period allowed by state law, but did not serve it until a few days after the three-month period required to vacate an award under Section 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) had elapsed. Compare Fla. Stat. §§ 682.13(2) & 682.17 with 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 10 & 12.[1]. The petition requested an order vacating the award under both the FAA and the FAC, which allows service to be effected after expiration of the 90-day filing deadline. See Fla. Stat. §§ 682.13 & 682.17.

The respondent, a well-known securities broker-dealer (the “Broker-Dealer”), removed the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida based on the court’s diversity jurisdiction. In federal court the Broker-Dealer argued that the petition was time-barred because service was not effected within the FAA Section 12’s three-month deadline. The district court agreed and dismissed the petition as time-barred.

The district court apparently thought that, once a court determines that an arbitration agreement falls within the scope of the FAA, all of its provisions—whether substantive, procedural or a combination of the two—supersede their state law counterparts if they conflict in any way with them, irrespective of whether the conflict frustrates the purposes and objectives of the FAA. The court also seems to have thought that the state of Florida could not, independently from the FAA, declare an arbitration agreement falling under the FAA to be valid, irrevocable and enforceable under Florida substantive arbitration law, and enforce that arbitration agreement through Florida’s own statutory, summary procedures that are, for the most part, identical to those provided by the FAA, and, in any event, do not frustrate the purposes and objectives of the FAA.

Belz is deceptively complex because at first glance the case seems relatively straightforward: (a) the FAA applied to the arbitration agreement and award; (b) the FAA’s three-month statute of limitations for vacating an award is not tolled until service is effected; (c) the court determined service was not timely under the FAA; (d) the FAC’s statute of limitations, which requires only that an application for vacatur be filed within the 90-day period, did not apply because the FAA applied; and (d) therefore, the application to vacate was untimely.

But in Belz there was an “elephant in the room,” albeit one well-camouflaged by its inherent complexity: federalism—a principle reflected in the text of the FAA, in the Continue Reading »