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 »