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The Federal Arbitration Act: a Businessperson’s FAQ Guide

January 15th, 2020 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Arbitration Risks, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Repeat Players, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration No Comments »
Federal Arbitration Act | Text Added

This is the first in a series of posts that will pose and answer several important questions about the Federal Arbitration Act (the “Federal Arbitration Act” or “FAA”), and FAA practice and procedure. The Federal Arbitration Act is the federal statute that governs arbitration agreements that “affect commerce,” making them irrevocable, valid and enforceable to the same extent as contracts generally. It provides for the expedited enforcement (including the challenge) of arbitration awards, empowers arbitrators to issue hearing subpoenas that are enforceable in court against third parties, and authorizes Courts in appropriate circumstances to compel arbitration, stay litigation, and appoint arbitrators.

Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, and the many court decisions construing it, constitute the main body of arbitration law governing arbitration agreements in contracts “affecting commerce.” That body of arbitration law also includes state law governing contracts generally as well as state arbitration law, where applicable. More on that another day.

Before addressing specific FAQs, we review why arbitration law is important and what small businesses can do to help protect themselves in today’s challenging arbitration environment. We next provide an overview of Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, summarizing its provisions.

This guide, including the instalments that will follow in later posts, 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 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.

Why is Federal Arbitration Act Arbitration Law Important and How can Small Businesses Protect Themselves in Today’s Challenging Arbitration Environment?

Arbitration can be a very effective way of resolving a wide range of disputes arising out of many legal and commercial relationships. It can benefit the parties if they make informed decisions about agreeing to it, craft their agreement accordingly, invest ample time and resources into the dispute-resolution process, proactively manage it, and make reasonable strategic and tactical decisions aimed at maximizing the odds of a beneficial outcome. It can benefit the courts and the general public by shifting to the private sector dispute-resolution costs that the public-sector (funded by tax payers) would otherwise bear.

Arbitration is not a perfect form of dispute resolution (and none is, including court litigation). That is so even when: (a) parties carefully draft their arbitration agreements and arbitrate in good faith; and (b) arbitrators, arbitration service providers and courts do their best to ensure the integrity, reliability, and cost-efficiency of the process and otherwise strive to protect the legitimate contractual expectations of the parties.

But at least over the last few decades or so, arbitration has, in the eyes of many, become a less attractive alternative to court litigation than it was intended to be, could be, and once was. One reason for the decline is because courts and arbitrators do not always enforce arbitration agreements in a way most likely to promote arbitration, even though they may believe in good faith that their decisions make arbitration a more attractive alternative to litigation.

The Arbitration Cottage Industry: Repeat Players versus Outsiders

Yet another reason is that arbitration has evolved into a cottage industry consisting of arbitration providers; and professional arbitrators (whether affiliated or not with one or more arbitration providers or arbitration societies). This industry serves (or is supposed to serve) relatively large businesses as well as smaller businesses, individuals, and consumers.

But it is a business that frequently pits repeat playersbusinesses which frequently use an arbitration provider’s services, usually because they regularly appoint in their arbitration agreements the arbitration provider as administratoragainst outsidersbusinesses or individuals who find themselves in an arbitrations administered by an arbitration provider before which they do not find themselves on a regular basis, usually because they either do not regularly appoint the arbitration provider as administrator in their arbitration agreements, or because they do not ordinarily agree to arbitrate in the first place.

Repeat players generate more revenue for arbitration providers and their stable of arbitrators over time than do outsiders. In theory that shouldn’t matter, for at least ostensibly, providers and arbitrators offer the market neutral dispute resolution services that are not supposed to favor repeat players, outsiders, or anyone else.

But economic realities can make that ostensible goal difficult to achieve in practice, even for exceedingly-well-intentioned providers and arbitrators. Those economic realities suggest an actual or potential conflict of interestthat is, a conflict between the provider’s and arbitrator’s interest in neutrality and their interest in an arbitration outcome that will not dissuade the repeat player from continuing regularly to use the provider’s services.

Businesses, particularly smaller business that are not arbitration provider repeat players, thus may find themselves in a challenging environment, one in which they probably did not anticipate being when they agreed to arbitrate. They are outsiders in an arbitration system that may be administered by an organization, and presided over by one or more arbitrators, who may consciously or unconsciously habor, or at least labor under, institutional predispositions that could tip the scales in favor of the repeat player and against the outsider.  

The potential for such free-floating institutional bias or predisposition ordinarily will not, without more, support an argument that the arbitrator has a material conflict of interest. The reasons that is so are, for present purposes, beyond the scope of this post, but irrespective of whether arbitration law provides or should provide any relief from such a conflict, the economic realities described pose risks for outsiders, whose odds of success on the merits might not be what they would otherwise be if the tables were turned, and they, not their adversaries, were the repeat players.

Outsiders who find themselves in arbitration disputes with repeat players need all the help they can get.

Arbitration Law: Limited Relief, Arcane Rules, and Traps for the Unwary

The nature of arbitration law itself poses other challenges with which businesses (including repeat players) must grapple. Arbitration law authorizes courts to provide only very limited relief to parties who claim to be the victims of arbitration-agreement violations, whether committed by arbitrators or by an adverse party.

To make matters worse it is not unusual for certain judges to interpret and apply arbitration law in a way that makes it all the more difficult to obtain relief, even when granting that relief would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration as an attractive alternative to litigation, which is the main objective of arbitration law.

For example, courts will sometimes confirm arbitration awards that should have been vacated even though the facts reveal that the arbitrators egregiously violated the parties’ arbitration agreement by exceeding their powers, being guilty of fraud, corruption, or evident partiality, or committing prejudicial procedural misconduct. Courts seem conciously or unconsciously to go out of their way to avoid recognizing such grave improprieties, perhaps because the public might perceive the outcome – a vacated arbitration award and an arbitration do over – as disfavoring arbitration. And that is so even though vacatur would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration by enforcing the parties’ arbitration agreement and protecting reasonable expectations of fundamental fairness.

The same kind of scenario may play out in the context of a pre-arbitration dispute about compelling arbitration and staying litigation pending arbitration. Believing in good faith that they are promoting arbitration, and perhaps desiring an outcome that appears to favor arbitration—such as one that compels arbitration and stays litigation pending arbitration—Courts sometimes determine persons have consented to arbitration in circumstances where a comprehensive examination of the facts and applicable law may indicate otherwise.

Arbitration law doctrines, rules, and procedures remain somewhat arcane even though arbitration disputes and arbitration-related litigation are fairly common. Consequently, outcomes and rationales are often counterintuitive, unless the lawyer has thorough knowledge of and experience with arbitration law. We’ll discuss some examples in later posts.

Even apart from that, arbitation law’s procedural rules are fraught with traps for the wary, which are, among other things, designed to encourage early forfeiture of defenses that might otherwise be raised in FAA litigation. Most, if not all, of these rules nevertheless serve purposes which at least arguably promote arbitration as a viable alternative to litigation. If your attorney doesn’t know the rules well or doesn’t follow them, then your interests may be in jeopordy.

Protecting your Interests in Arbitration and Arbitration-Related Litigation

How can you best protect your interests in the seemingly informal, but sometimes covertly hostile, arbitration environment? First, you must make sure that you are represented by an attorney who has abundent knowledge of and experience in arbitration law and in representing parties in arbitrations and in FAA litigation.

This can make a huge difference – the author has, over the years, encountered situations where another lawyer did not, for example, detect or adequately preserve for judicial review issues that may otherwise have provided a basis for vacating an adverse award. As a consequence, these parties lost the race before it even started, and ended up being saddled with arbitration awards that, in a more perfect world, they may have been able to vacate.  Needless to say, situations like this are far less likely to occur if experienced arbitration counsel been involved from the start.

If you are already represented by an attorney in your arbitration, but find yourself facing challenging FAA enforcement litigation, or the prospect of such litigation, then your interests are best suited by hiring skilled and experienced counsel who regularly handle such litigation. Depending on the circumstances, your own needs, and other considerations, you may wish to retain a new lawyer to handle the FAA litigation, while continuing to retain your current lawyer for purposes of handling the merits of the underlying arbitration (but making sure the FAA litigation lawyer is consulted at each step along the way to help preserve and enhance the record for future FAA litigation).

Second, you should work closely with that attorney, advising him or her of all matters pertinent to your claims and defenses, including matters that may be peculiar to your particular business or industry, including customs, practice, and usage. Always be an active part of your case and work only with attorneys who allow and encourage you to do that.  

Third, you should keep yourself informed about arbitration-law related matters, as well as the legal rules and principles that bear on the merits of your case. This series of posts addresses numerous basic questions concerning the Federal Arbitration Act, and thus should be a useful educational aid for that purpose.

An Overview of the Federal Arbitration Act and its Provisions

The judicial and arbitral enforcement of arbitration agreements that affect interstate commerce is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), a statute first enacted in 1925 as the “United States Arbitration Act.” As originally enacted, the FAA consisted of 15 provisions, section 14 of which Congress repealed in 1947, renumbering as Section 14 former Section 15.

In 1970 Congress designated those remaining 14 provisions as “Chapter 1” of the FAA, and added a “Chapter 2,” which consists of various provisions implementing and enabling the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (a/k/a the “New York Convention”).

In 1988 Congress added two additional provisions to Chapter 1 of the FAA, Sections 15 and 16. In 1990 Congress added to the FAA a Chapter 3, which consists of provisions implementing and enabling the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (a/k/a the “Panama Convention”).

The majority of U.S. domestic arbitration disputes are decided under Chapter One of the FAA, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. Of these 16 relatively sparse statutory provisions, Sections 1 through 14 have been on the statute books in largely the same form for about 95 years.

The provisions of Chapter One have not only been on the books for nearly 100 years, but they are fairly sparse, and certainly do not even come close to addressing expressly and comprehensively all of the many issues that may arise concerning the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards.

Out of necessity, a robust body of judicial interpretations and applications of the provisions has arisen to attempt to address these problems. These interpretations and applications of the FAA often vary from one circuit court of appeals to the next, and the U.S. Supreme Court has, on many occasions over the last four decades (and even before) stepped in to resolve such circuit splits and attempt to make FAA law more uniform by developing and implementing various FAA rules and principals, a number of which were first created in cases arising out of Labor Management and Relations Act (“LMRA”)-governed labor arbitration cases.

But before delving into any of the gory details, let’s look at the domestic, commercial arbitration-law outline that Chapter One of the FAA provides. Our starting point is Section 2, which is sometimes referred to as the FAA’s “enforcement command.” 

The Federal Arbitration Act’s Enforcement Command: Section 2

Section 2 of the FAA is the provision that declares that arbitration agreements falling within its scope are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

It also tells us what arbitration agreements fall within the scope of Section 2 and the other provisions of FAA Chapter One: (a) “[a] written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof [;] or [(b)] an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract, transaction, or refusal. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

Section 2’s scope provision therefore, and as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, applies to written pre-dispute arbitration agreements in: (a) “maritime contract[s]” (“Maritime Contracts”); or (b) “contract[s] evidencing a transaction involving commerce. . . .” (“Contracts Affecting Commerce”). It also applies to written post-dispute arbitration agreements “to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such [Maritime Contracts or Contracts Affecting Commerce], or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 273-282 (1995); Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 55-58 (2003). As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Section 2’s use of the “word ‘involving,’ like ‘affecting,’ signals an intent to exercise Congress’ commerce power to the full.” Allied-Bruce, 513 U.S. at 277. More on that another day.

Under Section 2, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524, 529 (2019).  Section 2 also “requires courts to place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with all other contracts.” Kindred Nursing Centers Ltd. P’ship v. Clark, 137 S. Ct. 1421, 1424 (2017) (quotations and  citations omitted).    

Section 1 of the FAA : Definitions and an Exemption

Section 1 of the FAA provides some definitions and exempts from the FAA a fairly limited universe of agreements that would otherwise fall within the scope of the Act. See 9 U.S.C. § 1. As respects the exemption, Section 1 provides that “nothing [in the FAA] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1.

According to the United States Supreme Court, the exemption applies “only” to “contracts of employment of transportation workers.” Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 119 (2001). But those “contracts of employment” include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee relationship, but also contracts establishing independent contractor relationships. New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532, 539-41, 544 (2019).

The Rest of the FAA

The other provisions of Chapter 1 implement the enforcement command by lending judicial support to the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards. These are briefly summarized below:

  • Section 3 – Requires courts to stay litigation in favor of arbitration.
  • Section 4 – Provides for courts to compel arbitration.
  • Section 5 – Provides for courts to appoint arbitrators when there has been a default in the arbitrator selection process.
  • Section 6 – Provides that motion practice rules apply to applications made under the FAA, thereby expediting the judicial disposition of such applications. 
  • Section 7 – Provides for the judicial enforcement of certain arbitration subpoenas.
  • Section 8 – Provides that where the basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction is admiralty, then “the party claiming to be aggrieved may begin his proceeding [under the FAA]…by libel and seizure of the vessel or other property….” 9 U.S.C. § 8.
  • Section 9 – Provides for courts to confirm arbitration awards, that is, enter judgment upon them.
  • Section 10 – Authorizes courts to vacate arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 11 – Authorizes courts to modify or correct arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 12 – Provides rules concerning the service of a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an award, including a three-month time limit.
  • Section 13 – Specifies papers that must be filed with the clerk on motions to confirm, vacate, modify, or correct awards and provides that judgment entered on orders on such motions has the same force and effect of any other judgment entered by the court.
  • Section 14 – Specifies that agreements made as of the FAA’s 1925 effective date are subject to the FAA.
  • Section 15 – Provides that “Enforcement of arbitral agreements, confirmation of arbitral awards, and execution upon judgments based on orders confirming such awards shall not be refused on the basis of the Act of State doctrine.”
  • Section 16 – Specifies when appeals may be taken from orders made under the FAA, and authorizing appeals from final decisions with respect to arbitration.

More to follow in future posts. . . .

You might also be interested in the following posts here, here, here, here, and here.

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Can a Party Obtain Post-Judgment Relief from a Confirmed Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud?

May 26th, 2015 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Asbestos-Related Claims, Bad Faith, Confirmation of Awards, Corruption or Undue Means, Definition of Occurrence, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Final Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Comments Off on Can a Party Obtain Post-Judgment Relief from a Confirmed Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud?

Introduction

Relief from an Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud

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Section 10(a)(1) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes Courts to vacate arbitration awards that were “procured by fraud, corruption or undue means.”  9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). (For a discussion of Section 10(a)(1), see L. Reins. & Arb. Law Forum post here.) But a motion to vacate an arbitration award procured by fraud (or otherwise) is subject to a strict three-month deadline, and Section 10, unlike certain of its state-law counterparts, does not provide for tolling of the three-month deadline on the ground the challenging party did not know or have reason to know it had grounds to allege the arbitration award was procured by fraud. Compare 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1) with 2000 Revised Uniform Arbitration Act § 23(b) (Uniform Law Comm’n 2000) (If “the [movant] alleges that the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or other undue means, [then, in that].  .  .   case the [motion] must be made within 90 days after the ground is known or by the exercise of reasonable care would have been known by the [movant].”);  1955 Uniform Arbitration Act § 12(b) (Uniform Law Comm’n 1955) ( “[I]f predicated upon corruption, fraud or other undue means, [the motion to vacate] shall be made within ninety days after such grounds are known or should have been known.”).

Once an award has been confirmed, it has the same force and effect as any other judgment of the court. See 9 U.S.C. § 13. Federal Rule Civ. P. 60(b) provides that “[o]n motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or
proceeding for the following reasons:.  .  .  (3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party.  .  .  .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c) provides that “[a] motion under Rule 60(b) must be made within a reasonable time—and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) [i.e., fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct] no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c).

So can a challenging party obtain relief from a confirmation judgment if: (a) an award-challenging party contends the Court entered judgment oin an arbitration award procured by fraud; (b) by extension, the judgment confirming the award was itself procured by fraud; (c) the award-challenging party did not know or have reason to know it was at the wrong end of an arbitration award procured by fraud until after the three-month statute of limitations for vacating an award had elapsed; and (d) the award-challenging party makes a timely motion for post-judgment relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)? According to a district court judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the answer is “no.”

 

Arrowood Indem. Co. v. Equitas Insurance Ltd., No. 13-cv-7680 (DLC), slip op. (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2015)

No Post-Judgment Relief from Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud (Alleged or Otherwise)

Background

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Arrowood arose out of an excess-of-loss treaty Arrowood’s predecessor(s) in interest had entered into with Underwriters at Lloyd’s in the 1960s. The terms of the treaty were apparently part of, or incorporated into, a “Global Slip,” which the Court, without much elaboration, described as “a complex contractual  reinsurance program.” The Global Slip was first negotiated in 1966 and effective January 1, 1967 through December 31, 1968. It was apparently renewed a number of times thereafter, though the court does not say for what period or periods. The renewal agreements were “substantially similar” although they “contain[ed] new contractual language.” Slip op. at 2.

The Global Slip covered (apparently among other things) losses in excess of $1 million incurred under Arrowood’s casualty insurance policies under three different types of coverage. At issue was “Common Cause Coverage,” which covered losses arising out of an “occurrences” during the contract term, provided the occurrence or occurrences were the “probable common cause or causes” of more than one claim under the policies. The Global Slip also contained a “First Advised” clause, which said that “this Contract does not cover any claim or claims arising from a common cause, which are not first advised during the period of this Contract.”

yay-1299629-digitalLike so many other liability insurers, Arrowood began receiving, adjusting and settling asbestos bodily injury claims beginning in the 1980s. Underwriters at Lloyd’s London insisted that Arrowood present its asbestos reinsurance claims on a per claimant per exposure-year basis, absorbing one $1 million retention each year against the total asbestos claim liabilities allocated to that year under the Underwriters’ per claimant per exposure-year allocation methodology.

In 2008 Arrowood, after reviewing the contract language, stopped using exclusively the Underwriters-prescribed asbestos personal-injury claim reinsurance allocation methodology, which it had followed for almost 25 years, and began presenting a number of claims under the Common Cause Coverage provision of the Global Slip . Because those claims were not, “first advised” in the years 1967 or 1968, the Underwriters denied them.

The Arbitration and Confirmation Proceedings

One of the parties demanded arbitration in October 2010, and a tripartite panel was appointed. The Underwriters argued, among other things, that: (a) the parties’s 25-year course of dealing evidenced a binding agreement on how asbestos claims would be presented to the Underwriters; (b) some claims fell exclusively under employer’s liability coverage; and (c) Common Cause Coverage  did not apply because the requirements of the First Advised Clause were not satisfied. Continue Reading »

What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

May 5th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Awards, ERISA, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, MPPAA Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Comments Off on What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

 Fourth Circuit Says Proceeding to Overturn ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Dispute Arbitration Award is Commenced by Filing a Complaint—not a Federal Arbitration Act Application, Petition or Motion

Introduction

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“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce ), Brazil (1985)

Dystopian-future bureaucratic procedure may be one thing, but federal court litigation procedure is quite another—not because of where we might or might not be if we don’t follow it—but simply because not following it can have disastrous consequences. That is true in spades in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation, where proceedings to enforce arbitration agreements and awards are governed by a strange amalgam of procedural rules derived from the Federal Arbitration Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and district court local rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, 2, 3, 6(c), 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 43(c) & 81(a)(6)(B); 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13; see, e.g., IFC Interconsult v. Safeguard Int’l Partners, 438 F.3d 298, 308-09 (3rd Cir. 2006); Productos Mercantiles Industriales, S.A.  v. Faberge USA, Inc., 23 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1994).

On April 21, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided Freight Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 557 Pension Fund v. Penske Logistics LLC,  ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1464, slip op. (4th Cir. April 21, 2015), a case that helps illustrate the risks associated with assuming that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s liberal pleading and amendment rules apply to applications for relief under the Federal Arbitration Act. As it turns out, the appellant did nothing wrong by assuming that the Federal Arbitration Act’s procedural rules did not trump Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because the case fell under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), and the district court erred by interpreting the MPPAA to require compliance with Federal Arbitration Act litigation procedure rules.

The MPPAA was enacted to strengthen the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”)’s provisions designed to protect multi-employer pension plans (i.e., collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, which are generally participants in the same industry).  It features a mandatory arbitration requirement applicable to disputes about collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, including disputes about an employer’s withdrawal liability—that is the amount an employer must contribute to  the fund when it stops participating in it.

It requires a party seeking judicial review of an award to do so in 30-days and, as we’ll see, it contains a provision that at first glance appears to make the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedure rules applicable to judicial review of an MPPAA arbitration award. The Court held that under the MPPAA, the Federal Arbitration Act governed only arbitration procedure, not litigation procedure, and that accordingly, the award challenger’s amended complaint related back to the timely-filed original one.

yay-608942-digitalEndingFreight Drivers illustrates how important compliance with Federal Arbitration Act procedures can be, especially given the short limitation periods applicable to motions to confirm, vacate, modify and correct awards.  Had the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedures applied, then the plaintiff’s “amended complaint” might have been deemed time-barred on the ground that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)’s relation-back provisions apply to pleadings only, and under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Federal Arbitration Act, the amended complaint had to be deemed to be a motion, not a pleading. As we’ll see, that’s what the district court concluded, and the Fourth Circuit decided the case on the sole ground that the Federal Arbitration Act did not apply to MPPAA litigation procedure. 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?! (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 »

Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part III.A: Arbitration RIsks—Outcome Risk  

November 26th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Bad Faith, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Dispute Risk - Frequency and Severity, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk Comments Off on Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part III.A: Arbitration RIsks—Outcome Risk  

Arbitration Risks—Outcome Risk

Introduction

Our last segment of our B-2-B arbitration series (here) wrapped up discussion of the structural characteristics of arbitration agreements. Now that we’ve covered  the nature and purpose of arbitration, and the structure of arbitration agreements, let’s consider some of the risks an agreement to arbitration can pose to a small or medium-sized business.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll focus on five types of risk associated with agreeing to arbitrate disputes:

  1. “Outcome risk;”
  2. “Fail-Safe risk;”
  3. “Bleak House risk;”
  4. “Counterparty risk;” and
  5. “Integrity risk.”

These are not necessarily the only types of risk one assumes in arbitration, but they are among the more significant ones. There are ways to help hedge against these risks and perhaps even lessen the frequency and severity of their manifestation, but for present purposes, let’s briefly discuss each, starting with outcome risk. Continue Reading »