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The Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide III: Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation – Gateway Questions about Whether Arbitration Should Proceed (Part I)

January 29th, 2020 Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Authority of Arbitrators, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Fraud, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Rescission and Reformation, Separability, Severability 2 Comments »
Arbitration Law | Gateway Questions | Arbitrability

This third instalment of the Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide concerns pre-award litigation under the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA” or the “Federal Arbitration Act”) and focuses on so-called “gateway” disputes about whether arbitration should proceed.

What is the Difference between Pre-Award and Post-Award Litigation under the Federal Arbitration Act?

The Federal Arbitration Act contains certain remedial provisions that are designed to address specific problems that arise before an arbitrator or arbitration panel makes a final award on matters submitted (or allegedly submitted) to arbitration. The litigation these provisions authorize is “pre-award” FAA litigation. Other provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act apply only to arbitration awards. The litigation those other provisions authorize is “post-award” FAA litigation.

Sections 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the FAA, concerning stays of litigation in favor of arbitration, motions to compel arbitration, the appointment of arbitrators, and the enforcement of subpoenas issued by arbitrators. They therefore pertain to pre-award FAA litigation.

Section 8 allows a party to invoke the Court’s admiralty jurisdiction “by libel and seizure of the vessel or other property of the other party. . . ,” and subsequently to obtain an order directing parties to proceed to arbitration, with the court “retain[ing] jurisdiction to enter its decree upon the award. . . .” Section 8 thus authorizes both pre-award and post-award relief, albeit only in cases falling under the admiralty jurisdiction.    

Sections 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, which concern motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards, pertain to post-award FAA litigation.

What are Gateway Questions?

A “gateway” question is one which “determine[s] whether the underlying controversy will proceed to arbitration on the merits.” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 83 (2002). Disputes raising gateway questions arise when one party fails or refuses to proceed to arbitration or asserts that it is not required to proceed to arbitration on the merits.

For example, suppose A and B, parties to a contract containing an FAA-governed  arbitration agreement find themselves embroiled in a dispute. A thinks the arbitration agreement does not require it to submit the dispute to arbitration but B disagrees.

A accordingly commences litigation in a federal district court, which has subject matter jurisdiction because the parties are citizens of different states and the amount of A claim against B exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs. 

B moves the court under FAA Section 3 to stay litigation in favor of arbitration, and under Section 4 to compel arbitration. 9 U.S.C. §§ 3 & 4.

The dispute between A and B over whether B is required to arbitrate the dispute presents a gateway question because it will determine whether A’s and B’s dispute on the merits will proceed to arbitration.

Who Decides Gateway Questions?

Some gateway questions are for the courts, with the answer determining whether the Court directs the parties to proceed to arbitration on the merits. Other gateway questions are for the for the arbitrator (or arbitration panel), and the Court simply directs the parties to submit their gateway question to arbitration, the arbitrator decides the question, and, if the answer to the gateway question is that arbitration on the merits may proceed, then the arbitrator decides the merits.

Whether or not a court or an arbitrator decides a particular gateway question depends on whether or not the question is a “question of arbitrability.”

The term “question of arbitrability” is a term of art. The Federal Arbitration Act embodies and implements a federal policy in favor of arbitration, applicable in both state and federal courts. See, e.g., Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard, 133 S. Ct. 500, 501 (2012). But arbitration’s “first principle” is that arbitration is “strictly a matter of consent,” Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 1415-16 (2019) (citation and quotations omitted), and “a party cannot be required to submit to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.” Steelworkers v. Warrior Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960); see also First Options of Chicago v. Kaplan, 543 U.S. 938, 942-943 (1995); Howsam, 537 U.S. at 83.

Courts presume that the question “whether the parties have submitted a particular dispute to arbitration” to be a “question of arbitrability,” which is for the Court to decide unless the parties “clearly and unmistakably” agree otherwise. Howsam, 537 U.S. at 83 (quotations and citations omitted).

This, however, is an “interpretive rule” that is narrower than might first appear. Howsam, 537 U.S. at 83. The Supreme Court has said “[l]inguistically speaking, one might call any potentially dispositive gateway question a “question of arbitrability,” but “for purposes of applying the interpretive rule, the phrase ‘question of arbitrability’ has a far more limited scope.” Howsam, 537 U.S. at 83.

The term “question of arbitrability” is “applicable in the kind of narrow circumstance where contracting parties would likely have expected a court to have decided the gateway matter, where they are not likely to have thought that they  had agreed that an arbitrator would do so, and consequently, where reference of the gateway dispute to the court avoids the risk of forcing parties to arbitrate a matter that they may well have not agreed to arbitrate.” Howsam, 537 U.S. at 83-84.

Questions of arbitrability thus turn on whether: (a) the dispute is legally capable of resolution by arbitration; (b) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular controversy or type of controversy; (c) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (d) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. See Howsam, 537 U.S. at 84 (citing examples and cases); Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524, 530 (2019) (“To be sure, before referring a dispute to an arbitrator, the court determines whether a valid arbitration agreement exists.”); Compucredit Corp. v. Greenwood, 565 U.S. 95, 104 (2012) (finding federal statutory claims arbitrable “[b]ecause the [statute] is silent on whether claims under the [statute] can proceed in an arbitra[l] forum, [and accordingly] the FAA requires the arbitration agreement to be enforced according to its terms”); Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 296-97, 299, 303 (2010) (“[O]ur precedents hold that courts should order arbitration of a dispute only where the court is satisfied that neither the formation of the parties’ arbitration agreement nor (absent a valid provision specifically committing such disputes to an arbitrator) its enforceability or applicability to the dispute is in issue.”)

But not every question about what a party agreed to arbitrate is, within Howsam’s interpretive rule, a “question of arbitrability” presumptively for the court to decide. The term “question of arbitrability” is “not applicable in other kinds of general circumstance where parties would likely expect that an arbitrator would decide the gateway matter.” Howsam, 537 U.S. at 84 (emphasis in original).

One such “general circumstance” concerns “procedural questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition,” which are “presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” Howsam, 537 U.S. at 84 (emphasis in original) (quotations and citation omitted). Likewise, “allegation[s] of waiver, delay and like defenses to arbitrability[,]” are presumptively for the arbitrator. See Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983); Howsam, 537 U.S. at 84.

Gateway questions concerning conditions precedent and other “prerequisites” to arbitration, “such as time limits, notice, laches, estoppel, and other conditions precedent to an obligation to arbitrate” are also presumptively for arbitrators, not courts. See Howsam, 537 U.S. at 84-85 (emphasis deleted; quotations omitted) (quoting Revised Uniform Arbitration Act of 2000 (“RUAA”) § 6(c), and comment 2, 7 U.L.A. 12-13 (Supp. 2002)).

While Howsam distinguishes between “questions of arbitrability” and questions which are not questions of arbitrability, sometimes courts distinguish between “issues of “substantive arbitrability,” which are presumptively for the Court, and “issues of procedural arbitrability,” which are presumptively for the arbitrators to decide. See Howsam, 537 U.S. at 85 (quoting RUAA § 6, comment 2, 7 U.L.A. 13) (quotations omitted).  

How do Parties Clearly and Unmistakably Agree to Submit Questions of Arbitrability to Arbitrators?

The presumption that courts get to decide arbitrability questions can be rebutted if the parties clearly and unmistakably submitted (or agreed to submit) those questions to arbitrators. See First Options, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944-45 (1995). As a practical matter that means the party seeking to arbitrate an arbitrability question must show that the parties: (a) unambiguously agreed to submit questions of arbitrability (or questions concerning the arbitrators’ “jurisdiction”) to the arbitrators; or (b) during an arbitration unreservedly  submitted to the arbitrator an arbitrability question to arbitration. See First Options, 543 U.S. at 944-46.

Unreservedly submitting a question to the arbitrator means that both parties argue the merits of the arbitrability question to the arbitrator without either party informing the arbitrator that it believes it did not agree to submit the arbitrability question to the arbitrator and that any decision the arbitrator makes on that issue will be subject to independent (non-deferential) review by a court on a motion to vacate the award. First Options, 543 U.S. at 944-46.

Suppose the Court has compelled Parties A and B from our earlier hypothetical to arbitrate their breach of contract claim, which arises out of B’s alleged breach of Contract 1. During the arbitration Party A requests that the arbitrator determine whether Party B breached not only Contract 1, but a different contract, Contract 2, which does not contain an arbitration agreement. B argues to the arbitrator that it did not agree to arbitrate A’s claim for alleged breach of Contract 2, and that, in any event, it did not agree to arbitrate arbitrability questions, which are for the Court to decide.

Under those facts, Party A did not unreservedly submit to the arbitrator arbitrability questions because it argued that the arbitrator did not have the authority to decide arbitrability questions. If the arbitrator decides that Party A agreed to arbitrate claims arising out of A’s breach of Contract 2, then Party A should be entitled to independent (non-deferential) review of the arbitrability question by the Court on a motion to vacate the arbitration award. See First Options, 543 U.S. at 944-46.

That said, A would have been well-advised not only to argue that the arbitrator had no authority to resolve arbitrability questions, but to explicitly advise the arbitrator in writing that all of its arguments concerning the arbitrability of the Contract 2 breach claim, and the arbitrator’s power to decide arbitrability questions, were made under a full reservation of A’s rights to obtain independent, judicial review of those questions.   

Now suppose the same basic scenario, except that A does not argue that the arbitrator has no authority to decide arbitrability questions, and clearly and unmistakably represents to the arbitrator that it is submitting the merits of the arbitrability question for a final and binding determination by the arbitrator, without reservation of any right it might otherwise have to independent judicial review of that question. Under that scenario, A will have unreservedly submitted the arbitrability question to arbitration and will not be entitled to independent review upon a timely motion to vacate the award.

While the notion of agreeing to arbitrate arbitrability questions may seem odd to the uninitiated (which is why the clear and unmistakable requirement exists in the first place), such agreements are not uncommon. For example, an unambiguous agreement to arbitrate according to an arbitration-provider’s rules that clearly provide for arbitration of arbitrability questions generally will satisfy the clear and unmistakable requirement.  See, e.g., Dish Network L.L.C. v. Ray, 900 F.3d 1240, 1245-46 (10th Cir. 2018); Contec Corp. v. Remote Solution, Co., 398 F.3d 205, 208 (2d Cir.2005); Apollo Computer, Inc. v. Berg, 886 F.2d 469, 473 (1st Cir.1989). The rules of leading arbitration providers provide that arbitrators decide such questions. See, e.g., American Arbitration Association, Commercial Rules and Mediation Procedures, Including Procedures for Large, Complex Commercial Disputes, R. 7(a); JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures, R 11(c); International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”) 2007 Non-Administered Arbitration Rules, R. 8.

Agreements to arbitrate arbitrability questions are often referred to as “Delegation Provisions” or “Delegation Agreements.” (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts hereherehere, and here.)

Typically, a “Delegation Provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Are there any Arbitrability Disputes that Courts Decide when the Contract at Issue Clearly and Unmistakably Provides for the Arbitrator to Decide Questions of Arbitrability?

Yes. But to understand why, when, and to what extent that is so, we need to understand that: (a) typically a clear and unmistakable Delegation Agreement or Delegation Provision is part of the parties’ arbitration agreement; (b) the arbitration agreement, and the Delegation Agreement it contains, is also, in turn, ordinarily part of a larger agreement; and (c) the Federal Arbitration Act doctrine of “separability” requires Courts to consider each of those three agreements as separate and independent from the other two. See Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 70-75 (2010) Buckeye Check Cashing v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 448-49 (2006); Prima Paint v. Flood Conklin, 388 U.S. 395, 403-04, 406-07 (1967).

Within this “separability” framework, Courts always decide whether a Delegation Agreement was formed and exists. See Henry Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 530.

Ordinarily, that does not present problems from the standpoint of the separability doctrine. For example, suppose A signs a contract under which B undertakes to perform services for A. The contract contains an arbitration agreement as well as a Delegation Agreement. But the contract is signed by C, purportedly as agent for B, not by B itself. As it turns out, B never authorized C to sign the contract on its behalf, and C did not have apparent or inherent authority to sign for B.

B (understandably) does not perform the contract, and A demands arbitration against B. B refuses to arbitrate, contending that it never entered into the contract because C was not authorized to act on B’s behalf.

A then brings an action in court seeking to compel B to arbitrate, B asserts it is not obligated to arbitrate because it never agreed to do so, and A contends that, in any event, the Court must compel arbitration of the issue whether the contract exists because of the Delegation Agreement in the contract C signed. B counters that just as it never agreed to the arbitration agreement, so too, it never agreed to the Delegation Agreement.

In this hypothetical, B wins—the Court would determine whether C was authorized to act on behalf of B, and would presumably conclude that A and B never entered into a contract, let alone an arbitration or Delegation Agreement.

Courts also decide whether a Delegation Agreement is valid, but only when the challenge to the Delegation Agreement relates specifically to the Delegation Agreement itself, not just the contract containing the arbitration and Delegation Agreements, and not just the arbitration agreement containing the Delegation Agreement. See Rent-a-Center, 561 U.S. at 70-75.

Suppose C was authorized to act on behalf of B, but further suppose that C made fraudulent representations to A about B’s qualifications, experience, and ability to perform the services that B undertook to perform for A. A entered into the contract, reasonably and justifiably relying on C’s false representations, which were made on behalf B.

A discovers the fraud and sues B, seeking rescission of the contract. A demands arbitration but B says it is not required to arbitrate because if A prevails on the rescission claim, then it means the arbitration and Delegation Agreements will also be rescinded, and the arbitrator’s conclusion will demonstrate that she had no authority to decide the matter in the first place.

This time A wins. Under the doctrine of separability the contract itself is separate from its arbitration and delegation agreements. See Buckeye Check Cashing, 546 U.S. at 448-49; Prima Paint, 388 U.S. at 403-04, 406-07. Because the alleged fraud does not specifically relate to the arbitration agreement, and because the arbitration agreement is at least arguably broad enough to encompass the fraud claim, the Court will direct the parties to arbitrate the rescission claim. See 546 U.S. at 448-49; 388 U.S. at 406-07.

Now let’s change the facts yet again. This time A demands arbitration against B and B resists arbitration on the ground that the arbitration agreement is unconscionable on state law grounds because it limits the number of depositions that may be taken. A counters that the unconscionability claim directed at the arbitration agreement is a question of arbitrability that, under the Delegation Agreement, must be submitted to the arbitrator for decision. B does not contend that the Delegation Agreement itself is unconscionable because the arbitration agreement limits deposition discovery.

A wins again. Under the doctrine of separability the Delegation Agreement is separate from the arbitration agreement and, consequently, a challenge to the validity of the arbitration clause, which does not specifically relate to the delegation agreement, does not affect the parties’ obligations to arbitrate arbitrability. See Rent-a-Center, 561 U.S. at 70-75.

While the arbitration agreement limits deposition discovery, B did not (and probably could not) demonstrate that the arbitration agreement’s limits on deposition discovery would provide an independent basis for finding the Delegation Agreement unconscionable. To show that the unconscionability argument was specifically directed at the Delegation Agreement, B would have had to demonstrate not only that the limits on deposition discovery applied to arbitrability determinations made under the Delegation Agreements, but that it was unconscionable for A to have required B to agree to allow the arbitrator to make arbitrability determinations with only limited deposition discovery. See Rent-a-Center, 561 U.S. at 71-75.

It is one thing to argue that such a limitation on deposition discovery might be unconscionable in an agreement to arbitrate factbound disputes on the merits, but it is another to argue that the same principle applies equally to a agreement to arbitrate arbitrability disputes, which courts commonly decide without the need for deposition discovery. See Rent-a-Center, 561 U.S. at 71-75.

More to come….

In Part II of “Gateway Disputes about Whether Arbitration Should Proceed” we will begin by addressing the question, “What is the presumption of arbitrability?”  

Please note. . .

This guide, including the instalments that will follow in later posts, and prior instalments, is not designed to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law. It is designed simply to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will help educate them about the legal challenges they may face and how engaging a skilled, trustworthy, and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Nor is it a “do-it-yourself” guide for persons who represent themselves pro se, whether they are forced to do so by financial circumstances or whether they voluntarily elect to do so.

If you want or require arbitration-related legal advice, or representation by an attorney in an arbitration or in litigation about arbitration, then you should contact an experienced and skilled attorney with a solid background in arbitration law.

About the Author

Philip J. Loree Jr. is a partner and founding member of Loree & Loree. He has nearly 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitrations and litigations.

Loree & Loree represents private and government-owned-or-controlled business organizations, and persons acting in their individual or representative capacities, and frequently serves as co-counsel, local counsel or legal adviser to other domestic and international law firms requiring assistance or support.

Loree & Loree was recently selected by Expertise.com out of a group of 1,763 persons or firms reviewed to be one of Expertise.com’s top 18 “Arbitrators & Mediators” in New York City for 2019, and now for 2020. (See here and here.)

You can contact Phil Loree Jr. at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING NOTICE: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Photo Acknowledgment

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Delegation Agreements, Separability, Schein II, and the October 2019 Edition of CPR Alternatives

November 12th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Contract Interpretation, Delegation Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Practice and Procedure, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Delegation Provision

There have been a number of important cases decided in 2019 concerning the application and effect of “delegation provisions”—clear and unmistakable agreements to arbitrate arbitrability issues. Delegation provisions, which we’ll refer to as “delegation agreements,” are not a recent phenomenon, and are quite common, especially in administered arbitration, where consent to applicable arbitration rules typically includes clear and unmistakable consent to arbitrate arbitrability. But there’s been a good deal of judicial controversy this year over whether delegation agreements should, in certain circumstances, be given the full force and effect that they deserve.  

We think that delegation provisions should ordinarily be enforced as written and according to their terms. When Courts interpret and apply delegation agreements, they should, consistent with Rent-a-Center West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010), consider those agreements to be separate and independent from the arbitration agreements in which they are contained.

Much of the controversy has centered on whether terms of the arbitration agreement should define or circumscribe the scope of the delegation agreement and even effectively negate it. Consequently, certain courts have conflated the question of who gets to decide whether an issue is arbitrable with the separate question of what the outcome of the arbitrability dispute should be, irrespective of who decides it. 

The SCOTUS Schein Decision and The Fifth Circuit’s Schein II Decision on Remand

The first significant delegation-agreement development this year came on

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Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?

April 27th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?
Arbitrability Question 5 | Delegation Clause | Delegation Provision

Parties can, and frequently do, agree to include in their contract a so-called
“Delegation Provision” that clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrators questions of arbitrability. (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, here, and here.) Questions of arbitrability include questions concerning: (a) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular disputes or categories of disputes; (b) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (c) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Who Gets to Decide whether the Parties Entered into a Delegation Provision?

Federal Arbitration Act  | Who Gets to Decide? | Delegation Provision

Suppose that Agent A, without the knowledge and consent of Party A, purports to bind Party A to a written contract with Party B, which includes a broad arbitration agreement that expressly incorporates by reference, and makes part of the purported contract, the 2018 version of CPR’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules. Party B and Agent A deal with each other concerning the subject matter of the contract, and a dispute arises.

Party B demands arbitration of the dispute, and serves an arbitration demand on Party A, who is understandably surprised at being named a party in an arbitration proceeding concerning a purported agreement of which it had no knowledge, objects to the arbitration demand, and Party B commences an action to compel arbitration.

In the proceeding to compel arbitration, Party A argues that Agent A had no actual or apparent authority to bind it to the agreement that contained the arbitration agreement. Party B responds that because the Delegation Clause made part of the agreement requires arbitration of issues concerning the “existence” of the arbitration agreement, Party A must arbitrate the issue of whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement.

Must Party A arbitrate the issue whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement because the agreement contains a Delegation Provision? If the only consideration were the text of Rule 8.1, then the answer would be “yes.”

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Delegation Provisions: SCOTUS Says Courts Must Compel Arbitration of Even “Wholly-Groundless” Arbitrability Disputes

January 16th, 2019 American Arbitration Association, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Exceeding Powers, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Stay of Litigation, United States Supreme Court 3 Comments »
Wholly Groundless 1

Arbitrability questions are ordinarily for courts to decide, but parties may, by way of a “delegation provision,” clearly and unmistakably agree to submit them to arbitration. See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995); Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S. Ct. 2772, 2777 (2010). (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.)

But suppose parties to a delegation provision disagree about whether they are required to arbitrate a dispute, yet their contract clearly excludes the dispute from arbitration. Can a Court preemptively decide the merits of an arbitrability question delegated to the arbitrators, and refuse to compel arbitration of the arbitrability question, if the Court decides that the argument for arbitration of the underlying dispute is wholly groundless?

Some federal courts have held that a federal court can, despite a clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, refuse to compel arbitration of a “wholly groundless” arbitrability question, but others have held that the FAA requires Courts to refer to arbitration even “wholly groundless” arbitrability questions. Compare Simply Wireless, Inc. v. T-Mobile US, Inc., 877 F. 3d 522 (4th Cir. 2017); Douglas v. Regions Bank, 757 F. 3d 460 (5th Cir. 2014); Turi v. Main Street Adoption Servs., LLP, 633 F. 3d 496 (6th Cir. 2011); Qualcomm, Inc. v. Nokia Corp., 466 F. 3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2006), with Belnap v. Iasis Healthcare, 844 F. 3d 1272 (10th Cir. 2017); Jones v. Waffle House, Inc., 866 F. 3d 1257 (11th 2017); Douglas, 757 F. 3d, at 464 (Dennis, J., dissenting).

On January 8, 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, held that where parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability disputes, courts must compel arbitration even if the argument in favor of arbitration is “wholly groundless.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8 (January 8, 2019).

Wholly Groundless Exception 2

The Court said that “[t]he [FAA] does not contain a ‘wholly groundless’ exception, and we are not at liberty to rewrite the statute….” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. “When,” said the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8.

Facts and Procedural History

Wholly Groundless Exception 3

Schein was a dispute between a dental equipment manufacturer and a distributor. The parties’ contract contained an arbitration agreement, which required arbitration of “[a]ny dispute arising under or related to [the Parties’] Agreement (except for actions seeking injunctive relief and disputes related to trademarks, trade secrets, or other intellectual property of [the manufacturer]….” Slip op. at 2. Arbitration was to be “in accordance with the arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association [(the “AAA”)].” Slip op. at 2.

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SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

May 20th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Provider Rules, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

Introduction: Remedial Powers of Arbitrators under the Federal Arbitration Act

yay-1617269-digital2copy_edited-1

The third issue the Armstrong Panel addressed was: “What jurisdiction, if any, does this Tribunal have to award sanctions?” This was a question of the Panel’s remedial authority — assuming the Panel had the authority to decide the dispute, what remedies were the arbitrators authorized to award?

The Panel determined that Armstrong had committed fraud and testified falsely, and had by those unlawful means procured the Settlement Agreement and Consent Award. All else equal, had the Armstrong Parties testified truthfully, and been prepared to do so from the outset of the dispute, then presumably the Armstrong Parties: (a) would not have claimed the $7.5 million in prize money; or (b) would have submitted to arbitration the question whether the Armstrong Parties’ use of performance enhancing drugs barred them from recovering the prize money under their contracts with the SCA Parties. If the Armstrong Parties chose option (a) above, then the SCA Parties would not have incurred any time or money costs dealing with the Armstrong Parties’ Claims. Had the Armstrong Parties chosen option (b), then the SCA Parties’ time and money costs would likely have been pretty modest, and in any event, nowhere near what they turned out to be.

Given that the Panel identified a breach of duty that caused harm, the next question from the standpoint of the merits was: what (if anything) should be the remedy? The SCA parties apparently argued that the Panel should grant a sanctions remedy, which the Panel apparently viewed as serving both deterrent and compensatory purposes.

Where, as here, an arbitration panel that has the authority to resolve a dispute is considering what relief (if any) it should award to the prevailing party, that raises a remedial authority question: what remedies have the parties authorized the Panel to award? Under a broad arbitration agreement, remedial authority questions are typically not controversial, for parties ordinarily tend to seek standard remedies: damages, declaratory relief or traditional forms of equitable relief (such as rescission or reformation).  One party asks for the relief in its submission in the arbitrators and the other party doesn’t object because there is no reason to do so.

But where other non-standard forms of relief are requested—and particularly where the parties’ contract express a clear intent to limit remedial powers—then remedial authority can become more controversial.

The Armstrong Arbitration involved a claim for sanctions arising in unusual circumstances. While the parties’ contracts did not purport to limit the Panel’s remedial authority, the Armstrong Parties challenged the Panel’s authority to award sanctions and the Panel addressed that challenge in a reasoned award.

This segment of our Armstrong-Award Anatomy series focuses exclusively on whether the Panel had the authority to make an award of sanctions. It reviews the general rules concerning arbitrator remedial authority, considers the standard of review that a court reviewing the award will presumably apply if the Armstrong Parties contest the Panel’s remedial authority in court, discusses the Panel’s analysis and conclusions concerning sanctions and explains why we think it unlikely that a court will find that the Panel exceeded its authority by making an award of sanctions.

Our next Armstrong Arbitration Award Anatomy segment will address the related—but analytically distinct—issue whether the Panel had the authority to make a $10,000,000.00 sanctions award in the circumstances.

General Rules Governing Arbitrator Remedial Authority

yay-974131-e1425250054241As a general rule, where the parties have agreed to require each other to submit to arbitration a broad range of a disputes that might arise out of or relate to their legal relationship, the law presumes they intended to confer equally broad remedial powers on the arbitrators. See, e.g., ReliaStar Life Ins. Co. v. EMC Nat’l Life Co., 564 F.3d 81, 86-87 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing cases). Sometimes, arbitration-provider rules—such as Rule 47 of the American Arbitration Association Commercial Rules (formerly Rule 43)—expressly confer broad remedial authority on arbitrators. Rule 47, for example, states: Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

May 19th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Class Arbitration, Contract Interpretation, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

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On March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration rule that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend to require parties to appoint only neutral arbitrators—that is, arbitrators that are both impartial and independent.

Five Justices of the nine-member Texas Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because 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 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-12776482As reported here and here, the losing party requested Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

On Monday, May 18, 2015, SCOTUS denied the petition for certiorari.  (You can access the Court’s May 18, 2015 Order List here.)

On Monday May 4, 2015, SCOTUS also denied the petition for certiorari in another Federal Arbitration Act case, Jupiter Medical Center, Inc. v. Visiting Nurse Assoc., No. 14-944, which was decided by the Florida Supreme Court. (You can access the Court’s May 4, 2015 Order List here.) Jupiter Medical Center, like Americo, concerned a post-award challenge under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, and also like Americo, was decided by a state supreme court. In Jupiter Medical, however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the post-award challenge.

yay-5257980-digitalSupreme Court watchers interested in arbitration cases will have to get their fix next term from DIRECTV v. Imburgia, which we discussed here. Will SCOTUS hold that the California intermediate Court did not give effect to the presumption of arbitrability? Will SCOTUS go even further and explain that, just as a statute cannot be interpreted “‘to destroy itself,'” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1748 (2011) (quoting  American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Central Office Telephone, Inc., 524 U.S. 214, 227-228 (1998) (quotation omitted)), so too cannot state law contract interpretation rules be applied in a way that would destroy an arbitration agreement to which the Federal Arbitration Act applies? Cf. Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468,  (1989) (“The question remains whether, assuming the choice-of-law clause meant what the Court of Appeal found it to mean, application of Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Ann. § 1281.2(c) is nonetheless pre-empted by the FAA to the extent it is used to stay arbitration under this contract involving interstate commerce.  .  .  . [because] “it would undermine the goals and policies of the FAA.”)

Stay tuned for DIRECTV.  .  .  .

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to image 2 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.

All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

May 12th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Evident Partiality, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts Comments Off on All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

yay-677327-digitalOn March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration principle that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend that appointed arbitrators must be neutral.

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 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 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-34842-e1424841353823The losing party is requesting Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

At this week’s May 14, 2015 conference, the Court will presumably decide whether or not to grant certiorari.

In our March 28, 2015 post (here) we argued  that Americo‘s unique facts make it poor candidate for certiorari. At the time the parties agreed to arbitrate, the AAA rules “provided that ‘[u]nless the parties agree otherwise, an arbitrator selected unilaterally by one party is a party-appointed arbitrator and not subject to disqualification pursuant to Section 19.'” 440 S.W.3d at 23 (quoting AAA Commercial Rule § 12 (1996)). Section 19 permitted the AAA to disqualify neutral arbitrators for partiality, but, under Section 12, absent an agreement to the contrary, party-appointed arbitrators were not subject to disqualification under Rule 19. When the AAA Rules were amended to reverse the traditional presumption about partiality of party-appointed arbitrators, the Rules were also amended to authorize the AAA to determine whether party-appointed arbitrators were neutral.

yay-8590418-digitalThis is one of those (relatively rare) cases where a question of arbitrability—that is, whether the parties agreed to delegate to the AAA the authority to make a final and binding determination on whether a party-appointed arbitrator may be disqualified—is intertwined so inextricably with the merits of the dispute alleged to be arbitrable that, for all intents and purposes, the arbitrability and merits questions are identical. In other words, the AAA’s authority to disqualify turns on whether the parties agreed to neutral or non-neutral party-appointed arbitrators–the precise issue the petition claims the AAA should itself decide. In situations like these, the court cannot abdicate its duty to determine arbitrability, even if that means deciding some or all of the disputes that are alleged to be arbitrable. See, generally, Litton Financial Printing Div. v. National Labor Relations Board, 501 U.S. 190, 208-09 (1991).

Of course, the Supreme Court may believe otherwise, or may have other reasons for wanting  to grant certiorari.  But in any event, we’ll probably know by Monday, May 18, 2015 whether the Court will take the case.

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to images 1 and 3 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.

The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

April 21st, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Captive Insurance Companies, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Practice and Procedure, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

Part II

Analysis of the Pool Re Decision

If you read Part I you know the arbitration program in PoolRe case was, to put it mildly, inadequate to meet the needs of the multi-party, multi-contract dispute that arose out of the parties’ legal relationships. Perhaps the saving grace is that the both the district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the award, which is what Sections 5 and 10 of the  Federal Arbitration Act require.

yay-12688786 - WavebreakmediaThe Fifth Circuit addressed whether the district court erred by: (a) vacating the arbitration award on the ground the arbitrator exceeded his powers; (b) vacating the entire award; and (c) denying the motion to compel arbitration of the Phase II Claims. Finding no error, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in its entirety.

The District Court Correctly Concluded that the Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers

 

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The Fifth Circuit held that the arbitrator exceeded his powers because the Arbitrator: (a) was not properly appointed under the terms of the Reinsurance Agreement’s arbitrator selection provisions, which required him to be “selected by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance;” and (b) decided the dispute under the American Arbitration Association’s rules when the Reinsurance Agreement required arbitration under International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) Rules.

Arbitrator not Selected as Required by the Reinsurance Agreement’s Arbitrator Selection Provisions

 

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The district court held vacatur was required  because the Arbitrator “was not ‘the actual decisionmaker that [PoolRe and the Captives] selected as an integral part of their agreement.'” Slip op. at 9 (quoting district court). The Fifth Circuit held that “the district court properly vacated the arbitrator’s award with regard to the claims against PoolRe[,]” because the Arbitrator “was appointed in the manner provided in the [Engagement Agreement’s] Billing Guidelines — to which PoolRe was not a party — but was appointed in a manner contrary to that provided in the Reinsurance Agreements between PoolRe and the Captives, which required ‘select[ion] by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Capstone Entities “submitted [their] original arbitration demand to [the Arbitrator][,]” but “PoolRe,” said the Court, “only intervened in that arbitration after [the  Anguilla Financial Services Commission] notified Pool Re that no Director of Insurance existed.” Slip op. at 10-11. The Arbitrator thus “had not been ‘selected according to the contract specified method’.  .  .  when he  decided the dispute between Pool Re and the Captives.” Slip op. at 11 (quoting Bulko v. Morgan Stanley DW Inc., 450 F.3d 622, 625 ((5th Cir. 2006)).

The Fifth Circuit’s decision is fully consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act, under which “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). Courts are supposed to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, and among the most important terms of an arbitration agreement are those concerning arbitrator selection. See Lefkovitz v. Wagner, 395 F.3d 773, 780 (2005) (Posner, J.) (“Selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.”); 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).

Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers by Deciding the Disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules Rather than under the ICC Rules

 

 

The Fifth Circuit also held that the Arbitrator exceeded his powers by deciding the disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules because the Reinsurance Agreements required “all disputes [to] ‘be submitted for biding, final, and nonappealable arbitration to the [ICC] under and in accordance with its then prevailing ICC Rules of Arbitration.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Court explained that it “interpret[s] clauses providing for arbitration in accordance with a particular set of rules as forum selection clauses.” Slip op. at 10-11 (quotation and citations omitted). And “[i]f the parties’ agreement specifies that the laws and procedures of a particular forums shall govern any arbitration between them, that forum-selection clause  is an important part of the arbitration agreement, and, therefore, the court need not compel arbitration in a substitute forum if the designated forum becomes unavailable.” Slip op. at 11 (quotations and citations omitted). By applying the “the AAA rules [instead  of the ICC Rules] to the dispute[,]” the Arbitrator “acted contrary to an express contractual provision,” and therefore exceeded his powers within the meaning of Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act. Slip op. at 11 (quotation, citation and brackets omitted). Continue Reading »

The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?!

April 17th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Captive Insurance Companies, Confirmation of Awards, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Dispute Risk - Frequency and Severity, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Federal Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?!

Part I: PoolRe Introduction and Background

 Introduction

yay-4463438-digitalArbitration offers rough justice on the merits. Arbitrators have broad discretion not only in deciding the dispute but in fashioning remedies. Skilled, experienced and responsible arbitrators can cut through all sorts of legal and contractual “red tape” to resolve a dispute, applying just enough gloss on the law and the contract to make things work in a businesslike fashion while remaining true to the “essence of the agreement.”  Applied just so, that kind of rough justice is sometimes exactly what the parties need to make their agreement work, and in some cases, preserve (or even improve) their commercial relationship going forward. And it is not something that Court adjudication necessarily—or even ordinarily—can achieve.

But rough justice does not govern whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, who’s bound by an arbitration agreement and whether the parties agreed to delegate authority to a particular arbitrator or to follow a particular method of arbitrator selection as set forth in the parties’ agreement. Those questions are governed principally by state contract law and—particularly when multiple agreements and multiple parties are involved, or the question concerns whether an arbitrator was validly appointed—they frequently must be decided by courts, even if some or all of the parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration.

Details, Details.  .  .

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Details always matter, but they are all the more important when a dispute will presumably be decided under state contract law rules and principles by a decision maker whose decisions—unlike those of an arbitrator—are often subject to independent review by an appellate court. Courts generally do not (or at least are not supposed to) substitute rough justice, pragmatism or equity in place of contract law, which is not always so flexible. The casebooks are littered with examples where doing so might arguably have achieved a more desirable outcome but doing so could not be squared with contract rules and principals in a way that befitted higher-court precedent and the circumstances apparently did not warrant departure from precedent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in PoolRe Ins. Corp. v. Organizational Strategies, Inc., No. 14-20433, slip op. (5th Cir. April 7, 2015), is a case where the parties apparently lost sight of some important details in their apparent haste to do a deal that unfortunately went sour. Then, an arbitrator appointed under one of the contracts compounded the problem by making an award that could not even arguably be squared with the clear terms of one of the contracts’ arbitration agreements.

 

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The parties that were probably best positioned to ensure that the arbitration agreements in the various service-provider and reinsurance contracts probably lost the most, and perhaps to some extent at least, there’s some poetic justice to that. They claimed the clients breached their service contracts, the clients said the service providers breached the contracts and independent legal duties and the arbitrator ruled in favor of the service providers. The district court, as we’ll see, properly vacated the award and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  Now the parties are essentially back at square one, albeit much worse for the wear in terms of legal expenses and protracted delay.

The facts and procedural history of the case is somewhat complex, but critically important. Not only do they drive the outcome but they read like a primer on what not to do when attempting to devise a cost-effective arbitration program for disputes that may involve multiple parties and interrelated and interdependent contracts. And they demonstrate pretty starkly some of the consequences that parties can suffer when: (a) they do not properly structure their agreement; and (b) end up with an arbitrator who is not be as savvy as he or she might otherwise be about scope of authority (or simply makes a bad call about it).

We do not mean to suggest that the Arbitrator in this case was in any way incompetent or otherwise blameworthy. To err is human, and even if the arbitrator had made the best permissible decision possible under the circumstances, the parties would still be exposed to the consequences of  having not properly structured their arbitration agreements. The arbitrator’s missteps certainly exacerbated the problem, but such things are foreseeable risks that the parties could have managed by, for example, agreeing to an arbitration agreement that was drafted in simple, unambiguous  terms governing what is supposed to happen in the event of a multi-contract, multi-party dispute like the one at issue. Such disputes were foreseeable, as they are in any relatively complex transaction involving multiple parties and multiple interrelated contracts.

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The mess that is described in the balance of this post could have  been avoided had some or all of the parties: (a) understood that their dispute resolution system needed the attention of a skilled and experienced arbitration lawyer; and (b) were willing to invest the modest sum needed to make that possible. Apparently the parties did not appreciate the risks they faced or, if they did, they made a conscious decision to ignore them, perhaps finding it preferable to avoid paying a few extra thousand dollars up front, roll the dice and hope that all would turn out well (and certainly not as it did).

Perhaps one might wonder what the odds were that an underlying dispute like the one at issue would arise. Nobody knows the precise answer, of course, but we’d have to say there was a meaningful risk in view of the nature and structure of the transaction. And given the rather obvious and dramatic disparity between the two arbitration agreements, the risk that Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings would be necessary was likewise meaningful and fairly easy to foresee.

Suppose the risk was 1 in 6—that is, there was approximately a 17% chance that the parties would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend at least an additional year or more embroiled in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation centered on issues collateral to the merits. If we’re talking about a single round roll of a single die, with the idea being to avoid one possible outcome (represented by a whole number ranging from one to six), then that’s about as minimal a risk as could be measured (since there are only six possible outcomes). It also happens to be the same risk one would accept were one to play a round of Russian Roulette with a six-round revolver and a single bullet.

The point is that it is not just a matter of assessing the odds; severity of potential outcomes obviously drives risk assessment and management decisions as well. Most responsible corporate officers and directors aren’t going to take on a Russian-Roulette type risk (i.e., a “bet-the-company” risk) unless they have no choice, and if they must take the risk, they do what they reasonably can to minimize the odds the undesirable outcome will materialize and to mitigate any loss incurred if it does.

Here, the outcome that could have been avoided was very costly—though presumably not a death knell for either party— whereas the cost of substantially decreasing the likelihood of that outcome would probably have been less than a percentage point of the loss.

What would you have done?

Continue Reading »

United States Supreme Court Requests Response to Petition for Certiorari in Texas Party-Appointed Arbitrator Qualification Case

March 28th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Contract Interpretation, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Arbitration Law, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on United States Supreme Court Requests Response to Petition for Certiorari in Texas Party-Appointed Arbitrator Qualification Case

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On June 20, 2014 the Texas Supreme Court held in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014), that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration principle that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend that appointed arbitrators must be neutral.

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 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 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

The losing party has petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court should determine whether the Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. Continue Reading »