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Archive for the ‘Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration’ Category

Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog Posts on Final Arbitration Awards

December 30th, 2014 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Functus Officio, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Loree & Loree Arbitration-Law Blogs, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog Posts on Final Arbitration Awards

Back when we began posting in 2009 we published a “Nuts & Bolts”  series post about final arbitration awards, which you can read here. Interestingly, enough, that post, according to Google Analytics statistics, is one of the (if not the) most popular post we’ve ever published.

That may seem a bit strange, but it’s really not. Whether or not an arbitration award is a final arbitration award bears on a number of important issues, including whether the award can be confirmed, vacated, modified or corrected, and whether it is a decision that the arbitrators have the authority to revisit. And whether or not an arbitration award can be confirmed, vacated, modified or corrected before the conclusion of an ongoing arbitration proceeding has obvious time-bar consequences in light of the short limitation periods for confirming, vacating, modifying and correcting awards: to avoid forfeiture, it may be necessary to commence post-award Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings before the arbitration proceeding has concluded. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum posts here & here.)

Given the recent launch of  the Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog, and the need to start posting what we hope will be interesting and useful material, we decided to kick-off with the finality topic. Earlier today we published the first  segment of the series Federal Arbitration Act Finality: Is this Arbitration Decision a Final Award, An Interim Final Award, a Partial Award, a Partial Final Award or. . . What??, which you can read here.

That post outlines the topic and describes a hypothetical arbitration that gives rise to five types of awards and rulings, four of which are issued prior to the award that concludes the arbitration. Future posts  will discuss whether or not each type of award is, or may in some circumstances be, a final arbitration award for  purposes of Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act.

Another thing we’ll discuss will be the affect, if any, of Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010) on the final award issue. Of all the many issues discussed in the Stolt-Nielsen case the one we hear relatively little commentary about is the Supreme Court’s rejection of the dissent’s argument that the class-arbitration consent award was not ripe for judicial review.  See 559 U.S. at 667 n.2. As part of the Federal Arbitration Act Litigation Procedure Blog final-award series, we’ll consider that aspect of the Supreme Court’s ruling and its relevance to the question whether a partial award can be a partial final award if the parties consent.

And unless we  somehow feel compelled  to publish yet another post this year, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!

Philip J. Loree Jr.

 

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 »

Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part II.B.2(C): Other Structural Aspects of Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements—Who will the Arbitrators be?  

November 13th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part II.B.2(C): Other Structural Aspects of Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements—Who will the Arbitrators be?  

In Part II.B.2(A) we identified three key structural aspects of pre-dispute B-2-B arbitration, and discussed the first two in that and a subsequent post. This Part II.B.2(C) wraps up our discussion of arbitration-agreement structure by briefly examining a topic that is at least as important as the scope of the agreement: who the decision makers will be and how they will be selected.

As one renowned jurist put it, “selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.”[1] Arbitration allows the parties considerable input into the selection of who the decision makers will be, something that can make it a very attractive alternative to litigation for one or both of the parties. Parties who do not opt out of the court system are left with the luck of draw.

Savvy users of arbitration—and for that matter, most persons with dispute resolution experience in judicial or arbitral forums or both—know that decision makers, whether randomly assigned or selected, are not fungible commodities. Were they fungible, let alone commodities, there would likely be little or no controversy surrounding appointments to the United States Supreme Court.

But differences in judicial philosophy do not have to be based on so-called “liberal,” “moderate” or “conservative” views to be important, and perhaps even outcome-determinative. For example, the composition of a three-judge appellate panel can in many cases significantly influence the outcome of an appeal in many civil cases involving any number of legal and policy issues that are not the subject of discussion, let alone controversy, in the mainstream media.

Presumably many lawyers who argue appeals before three-judge panels (including the author) would scream “halleluiah!” had they the opportunity to select even one member of a three-judge appeals panel—or even if each party got to select one, leaving those two to select a third.

But time and time again, we see situations where parties who could have that opportunity—in the arbitration context, that is— had they negotiated it, or who could have at least participated meaningfully in the selection of one or more arbitrators had they exercised their contract rights with due diligence, end up having little if any meaningful input into the selection process. That type of lost opportunity usually redounds to their detriment, especially when their counterparts not only negotiate arbitrator selection provisions that suit their purposes, but also fully and wisely exercise their arbitrator selection rights. Continue Reading »

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Do Arbitrators Necessarily Exceed their Powers by Making an Award that Conflicts with the Unambiguous Terms of the Parties’ Agreement?

November 11th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Do Arbitrators Necessarily Exceed their Powers by Making an Award that Conflicts with the Unambiguous Terms of the Parties’ Agreement?

We’ve addressed on many occasions the Enterprise WheelStolt-Nielsen/Oxford contract-based outcome review standard, which permits courts to vacate awards when they do not “draw their essence” from the parties’ agreement. Under that standard the “sole question is whether the arbitrators (even arguably) interpreted the parties’ contract, not whether [they] got its meaning right or wrong.” See Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064, 2068 (2013) (parenthetical in original). (See, e.g.,  Loree Reins. & Arb. L. F. posts here, here, here, here, here & here.)

While exceedingly deferential, the standard is not toothless. Arbitration awards that disregard or contravene the clear and unmistakable terms of a contract are subject to vacatur under it. See Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 676 (panel had “no occasion to ascertain the parties’ intention in the present case because the parties were in complete agreement regarding their intent.”) (quotation omitted); United Paperworkers v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987) (“The arbitrator may not ignore the plain language of the contract. . . .”). That’s because an arbitrator who makes an award that lacks “any contractual basis” has not even arguably interpreted the contract, and therefore has strayed from his or her task. See Oxford, 133 S. Ct. at 2069 (distinguishing Stolt-Nielsen); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668-69, 672; Misco, 484 U.S. at 38.

An arbitrator whose award contradicts the unambiguous provisions of the parties’ contract may—but will not necessarily—exceed her powers. The answer depends on what the agreement says, what the award says and whether the award is at least arguably grounded in the agreement.

Whether or not a contract or contract term is “ambiguous” depends on whether it is reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning. See, e.g., White v. Continental Cas. Co., 9 N.Y.3d 264, 267 (2007); Greenfield v. Philles Records, 98 N.Y.2d 562, 570-71 (2002). When a contract is unambiguous, a court can interpret it as a matter of law; if it is ambiguous, its meaning is a question of fact for trial.

Can the Interpretation of the Arbitrators be “Unreasonable,” yet still Colorable or Plausible?

The legal standard for lack of ambiguity is that there be only one “reasonable” interpretation of the contract terms, not that there are no other at least barely plausible or barely colorable interpretations of what the contract might mean. In probably the majority of contract interpretation cases concerning alleged contract ambiguity, each litigant supports its position with good-faith, reasonable arguments for why the disputed contract terms are allegedly susceptible to one or more than one meaning. Whenever courts determine that a contract is unambiguous, that conclusion necessarily means that the losing party’s interpretation of the contract is unreasonable as a matter of law. Continue Reading »

What Happens when Arbitrators Exceed Clear Limitations on their Authority?

October 24th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What Happens when Arbitrators Exceed Clear Limitations on their Authority?

One advantage of arbitration is that parties can define and delineate the scope of disputes they agree to submit to arbitration, the basis on which disputes  can or must be resolved and the scope of the arbitrator’s remedial powers. If parties impose clear limits on an arbitrator’s authority (usually by expressly excluding certain matters from arbitration or expressly providing that an arbitrator cannot or must grant certain remedies), then courts and arbitrators are supposed to enforce those limitations. See, e.g., Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 680-81 (2010).

Far too frequently, parties simply agree to a broad arbitration agreement that places no limitations on arbitral power, and when they end up on the wrong-end of an award they didn’t expect, they discover to their dismay that they have no judicial remedy. Whether or not they understood that at the time they agreed to arbitrate is, of course, irrelevant. The only relevant consideration is whether their agreement could be reasonably construed to grant the arbitrator that authority, even if it could also be reasonably construed to withhold it. See, e.g., Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 62 (1995) (“when a court interprets such provisions in an agreement covered by the FAA, due regard must be given to the federal policy favoring arbitration, and ambiguities as to the scope of the arbitration clause itself resolved in favor of arbitration”) (quotation and citation omitted).

But suppose the parties take the time to consider whether they desire to limit arbitral authority, and their arbitration agreement unambiguously expresses an intention to limit arbitral authority to resolve certain disputes or impose certain remedies, or to expressly require that the arbitrators grant certain types of relief, such as fee shifting to a prevailing party. Should a court vacate the award if the arbitrator does not abide by the parties’ unambiguously expressed intentions?  Continue Reading »

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

June 14th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Final Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: I Received an Arbitration Award in my Favor but my Adversary Refuses to Pay it. What can I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 21st, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Can I Appeal an Arbitration Award in Court?

Introduction

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

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

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

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

The FAA Award-Enforcement Process

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading »

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

April 15th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, Stay of Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on ROM Management Reinsurance Mgt. Co. v. Continental Ins. Co.: Can Parties Agree State Arbitration Law Governs their Arbitration even if the Federal Arbitration Act Applies?

Introduction

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

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

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

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

April 6th, 2014 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, FAA Preemption of State Law, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, Statute of Limitations, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Belz v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: Does a Petition to Vacate an FAA-Governed Award Timely Commenced in State Court Become Time-Barred Simply Because it is Removed to Federal Court?

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

How to Make Arbitration Work for Your Business

September 2nd, 2010 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration Comments Off on How to Make Arbitration Work for Your Business

On September 1, 2010 Gina Passarella of the Philadelphia Legal Intelligencer published an excellent article entitled, “Litigators Losing Love of Arbitration Argue for Trials.”  She quotes prominent, Philadelphia-based litigators, all of whom were critical of arbitration as a supposedly speedy and less expensive alternative to adjudication.  On the same day Ms. Passarella’s article was quoted and elaborated upon in Ashby Jones’ article in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog entitled, “Has Arbitration Become More Burdensome than Litigation?”  Both articles were tweeted and retweeted about on Twitter, and posted in certain LinkedIn groups.

The criticism of arbitration expressed in these articles is not new.  For years people (including I) have said that arbitration can be as expensive or more so than litigation.  People have repeatedly complained about how arbitration has become more like “arbigation,” and how Federal Arbitration Act satellite litigation has proliferated.  Or they criticize arbitrators for substituting rough justice for reasoned, legal analysis.  And so on. 

If you are a business person, or someone at a business whose responsibilities include drafting or approving contracts, you might throw up your hands and declare that your business will never, ever even think about agreeing to arbitrate.  But we think that you would be far better off giving more thought to what it is you desire from a system of dispute resolution, and how best to achieve your goals. 

The criticism expressed in the articles, and in the past, is generally valid, albeit misdirected.  It is directed at “arbitration,” as if arbitration was an institution unto itself, imposed on us by the legal system or perhaps by divine order.   

But, at least in B-2-B contracts negotiated at arms’-length, “arbitration” is not something imposed on the parties; it is something the parties impose on themselves.  We, the parties, are the architects of our own dispute resolution system.  If it turns out we designed or agreed to something reminiscent of Charles Dickens’  Bleak House, we should not blame the non-existent institution “arbitration.”  We should blame ourselves, or, more accurately, whomever drafted or approved the Dickensian arbitration agreement. 

The problems we sometimes associate with arbitration could be avoided if parties would give more thought to the type of dispute resolution they desire, and how any particular arbitration agreement — or agreement to administered arbitration under a set of arbitration provider rules — will likely be interpreted, and by whom.  Perhaps the best thing about arbitration is that parties have a lot of leeway not only to select the decisionmakers for their dispute, but also to design and structure the arbitration so that it suits their needs, and proceeds with as much or as little pre-hearing fanfare as the parties desire.  Within some basic limits, parties can structure their agreement as they see fit, and that can be something from which businesses can reap benefits. 

But many parties apparently are not aware of the extent to which arbitration can be tailored to fit particular situations, or simply do not consider the prospect of a future arbitration to be important enough to invest some modest time and effort into considering what is likely to transpire in the event of a dispute.  The problem is compounded by contract drafters, including attorneys, that simply do not have the requisite arbitration, litigation and arbitration-law experience to make informed judgments about whether the agreement they have drafted is likely to suit the parties’ dispute resolution needs.  I have been involved in a number of arbitrations that would have proceeded more expeditiously, efficiently and effectively had they been conducted pursuant to a well-drafted arbitration agreement, instead of one that was apparently selected without a lot of thought given to the type of proceeding the agreement authorized, and whether it was what the parties wanted.  We have all heard horror stories about arbitrations that would not have been so horrifying had the parties placed some limits on how the proceedings were to be conducted.  

The solution to the problem is relatively easy and not very costly.  Hire an arbitration lawyer with litigation, arbitration and arbitration-law experience to help you draft an effective arbitration agreeement that suits your needs and goals.  Depending on the scope of the project, only a few hours of the lawyer’s time may be needed.  And the return on the modest investment could be substantial in the event a dispute ever arises under the contract.

Your arbitration lawyer should initially focus on finding out from you what you desire from your dispute resolution system, and what it is about court adjudication you wish to avoid.  Depending on what your goals are, he or she may recommend that you opt for court adjudication and perhaps add choice-of-forum and choice-of-law clauses to your contract.  Or he or she may conclude that arbitration can further your goals, and help you draft an arbitration agreement designed to achieve them. 

So if you or your employer or business negotiates contracts with others, and you want more out of dispute resolution than ordinary court adjudication is likely to provide, hire an arbitration lawyer with litigation, arbitration and arbitration-law experience to help guide you along.  You probably won’t incur much in the way of legal fees, and you will be able to take better control of your own dispute-resolution destiny.