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Confluence of the Arcane: Headings Clauses, Arbitration Law and Reinsurance

November 28th, 2016 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Contract Interpretation, Reinsurance Contracts, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Confluence of the Arcane: Headings Clauses, Arbitration Law and Reinsurance

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Introduction

A Headings Clause typically provides that contract provision headings and captions are for reference purposes only, and do not negate, modify or otherwise affect the provisions to which they relate. While arguments can be made for or against Headings Clauses, they are fairly common in commercial contracts.

Contract dispute outcomes rarely turn on the interpretation or application of these clauses. But on November 16, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided Infrassure, Ltd. v. First Mutual Trasp. Assur. Co., No. 16-306, slip op. (2d Cir. 2016) (summary order), which not only turned on the meaning and application of a headings clause, but did so in the context of an arbitration-law dispute in a reinsurance case. A confluence of the arcane, indeed!

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Infrassure: Background

Infrassure was a dispute between the parties to a facultative reinsurance contract. The facultative reinsurance contract (the “Certificate”) contained two different arbitration clauses. One was in the body of the pre-printed contract (the “Form Arbitration Clause”). The other was in Endorsement No. 2 (the “Endorsement No. 2 Arbitration Clause”). Endorsement No. 2 was titled “LONDON ARBITRATION AND GOVERNING LAW (UK AND BERMUDA INSURERS ONLY).”

The Form Arbitration Clause provided for arbitration of “any dispute arising out of the interpretation, performance or breach of this Certificate.” It designated a specific set of arbitration rules to govern the arbitration, and provided that “[a]ll arbitrators will be disinterested active or former officers of insurance or reinsurance companies.”

The Endorsement No. 2 Arbitration Clause provided for arbitration of “[a]ny dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this agreement or the breach, termination or invalidity thereof,” and prescribed different arbitration rules. It did not require arbitrators to be active or former officers of insurance or reinsurance companies.

Which Arbitration Clause Applies?

The parties disputed which arbitration clause applied. Reinsurer Infrassure, Ltd. (“Infrassure” or the “Reinsurer”), argued for the Form Arbitration Clause, with its more stringent arbitrator qualification requirements. Cedent First Mutual Transportation Assurance Company (“First Mutual” or the  “Cedent”), a New York State captive insurer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, apparently wanted to appoint (or nominate) arbitrators or arbitrator candidates who were not current or former officers or directors of insurance or reinsurance companies. It therefore argued that the Endorsement 2 Arbitration Clause applied.

Infrassure, which is a Swiss company, argued that the Endorsement No. 2 Arbitration Clause did not apply because the title of the endorsement contained the parenthetical limitation “(UK and Bermuda Insurers only)” (the “Parenthetical Limitation”). It asserted in the alternative that the Endorsement No. 2 Arbitration Clause should be construed to impose the same arbitrator qualification criteria as the Form Arbitration Clause imposed.

The Headings Clause

Headings ClauseFirst Mutual argued that the Certificate’s headings clause (the “Headings Clause,” which the Court refers to as the “Titles Clause”) rendered inapplicable the Parenthetical Limitation. The Headings Clause stated: “The several titles of the various paragraphs of this Certificate (and endorsements … attached hereto) are inserted solely for convenience of reference and will not be deemed in any way to limit or affect the provisions to which they relate.”

“This argument [was] thin,” observed the Court, but a reported opinion was in order, because the dispute “requires us to construe wording that apparently has not been construed before, and that is in a contract that may share features with other standard forms and endorsements.” Slip op. at 4.

Court Holds that Headings Clause did Not Strip the U.K.-and-Bermuda-Insurer-only Limitation on the Scope of Endorsement No. 2

The Court, in an opinion by Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs (an esteemed member of the reinsurance bar before he was appointed to the Second Circuit), held that the Headings Clause was “unambiguous,” but did not negate the Parenthetical Limitation, even though that limitation appeared in the heading or title of Endorsement No. 2.

The Parenthetical Limitation, said the Court, “is not part of the title itself, though it shares the same line and bolded format.” The Heading Clause’s “purpose.  .  .  is not to strip away an express indication as to the context in which a particular provision operative, but to ensure that the text of a provision is not discounted or altered by the words of its  heading.” Slip op. at 4.

Court finds Further Support for its Conclusion by Applying First Mutual’s Heading Clause Interpretation to other Contract Provisions

The Court found confirmation of the accuracy of its conclusion “by consulting other [Certificate] provisions,” including “critical” ones, which would “would have no meaning at all if the Titles Clause were mechanically applied.” Id.

To illustrate, the Court referred to paragraph 14 of the Certificate, which, states:

Program Policy Limits

Various as per the attached schedule.

Id. (emphasis in original)

The Court observed that applying the Ceding Company’s interpretation of the Headings Clause to Paragraph 14 would reduce that paragraph to “the cryptic provision, ‘Various as per the attached schedule.’” Id. The “heading ‘Program Policy Limits,’ instructs the reader that the phrase ‘Various as per the attached schedule refers to program policy limits, as opposed to some other concern of the reinsurance agreement.” Id. That heading, said the Court, does not purport to contradict, alter or otherwise ambiguate the text that follows, but explains what the otherwise contextually ambiguous (indeed, meaningless) text was intended to mean in the context of the whole contract.

According to the Court, “other provisions beside Paragraph 14 likewise would be rendered meaningless if the [Headings Clause] were applied in the way pressed by First Mutual.” Slip op. at 4.

Given the Court’s holding, it was unnecessary to consider Infrassure’s alternative argument that the arbitrator selection provisions of the Form Arbitration Agreement should be made part of the Endorsement No. 2 Arbitration Agreement. All the Court had to say about this argument was “we need not reach [it], which  is just as well for well for Infrassure.” Slip op. at 5.

 

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. The Yay Images abbreviations of the photographer’s name for each of the three images, in order of their appearance, are:

Image 1: VIPDesignUSA

Image 2: steheap

Image 3: speedfighter

 

 

 

No Good Deed Should Go Unpunished: Functus Officio and Merion Constr. Mgt., LLC v. Kemron Environmental Serv., Inc.—Part I

May 3rd, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Construction Industry Arbitration, Final Awards, Functus Officio, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New Jersey State Courts, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Uncategorized Comments Off on No Good Deed Should Go Unpunished: Functus Officio and Merion Constr. Mgt., LLC v. Kemron Environmental Serv., Inc.—Part I

Courts usually err in favor of not vacating awards in close cases. As a result, Courts usually vacate awards only where there is a very clear, fundamental disconnect between the award and the parties’ arbitration agreement. Vacating an award in those circumstances enforces the parties’ agreement to arbitrate, which is exactly what the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and state arbitration codes are supposed to do. (See, e.g., L. Reins. & Arb. L. Forum post here.)

Today’s case, Merion Constr. Mgt., LLC v. Kemron Environmental Serv., Inc., No. A-2428-12T4, slip op. (N.J. App. Div. March 13, 2014), involved two disputed awards: the original arbitration award (the “Original Award”) and a subsequent, modified award (the “Modified Award”). The arbitrator (the “Arbitrator”) issued the Modified Award to correct a mistake in the Original Award, which had inadvertently omitted items of claimed damage that one of the parties had requested the Arbitrator to award. The Arbitrator said he intended to include those damage items in the Original Award. The Modified Award thus accurately reflected the parties’ agreement and submission and the Original Award did not.

Which Award should have been confirmed? Relying on the functus officio doctrine, and an American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) Rule concerning arbitral modification and correction of awards, the intermediate state appellate court reversed a trial court judgment confirming the Modified Award, and held that the Original Award should have been confirmed.

A few years back the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court prefaced one his opinions with the following truism: “People make mistakes. Even administrators of ERISA plans.” Conkright v. Frommert, 559 U.S. 506, 509 (2010) (Roberts, C.J.). Had Merion Construction been decided correctly, then the New Jersey appellate court might have prefaced its opinion with a similar truism: “People make mistakes. Even arbitrators.” But based on how the case was decided a more fitting preface would have been: “No good deed should go unpunished. Even those perpetrated by arbitrators.” Continue Reading »

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Publishes Philip J. Loree Jr.’s October 2010 Article on Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

October 7th, 2010 Uncategorized Comments Off on International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Publishes Philip J. Loree Jr.’s October 2010 Article on Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The October 2010 issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, the excellent newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (”CPR”), featured an article I wrote on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 08–1214 (June 24, 2010).  The article is entitled “Despite Granite Rock’s Procedural Dodge, Court Issues A Straightforward Decision on Bargaining Agreements,” 28 Alternatives 175 (October 2010).   

The article discusses Granite Rock in detail, and argues, among other things, that:

the Court deliberately dodged consideration of an important factor in the case — a signed contract that potentially could have answered the question — by reflexively applying a procedural rule that forced the court to put the fact aside, instead of remanding for proper consideration.

.  .  .  . 

The tradeoff the Court made when it elevated institutional concerns over deciding a case based on its undisputed facts was not a fair one.  While the Court pointed out that consideration of the belatedly raised argument would have resulted in the Court ruling for the first time on an issue not considered by the Ninth Circuit, and perhaps not one fully briefed, that justification presupposes that consideration of the retroactive CBA would have required intensive analysis of a controversial issue.

But there was no real controversy here.  The plain terms of a fully executed contract clearly and unambiguously contravened the key assumption on which the majority opinion rested:  that there was a formation-date dispute. 

28 Alternatives at 175 & 178.  

The article is the second of a two-part series.  The first part discussed and critically analyzed the Supreme Court’s decision in Rent-A-Center, West Inc. v. Jackson, No. 09-497 (June 21, 2010).  That part was entitled “Rent-A-Center‘s Roadmap Extends Beyond Contracts.  .  .  To Congress and the Supreme Court’s New Term,” 28 Alternatives 154 (September 2010) (blogged here). 

Alternatives also recently published two other articles I wrote earlier this year, both of which were featured as cover stories:  “Stolt-Nielsen Delivers a New FAA Rule — And then Federalizes the Law of Contracts,” 28 Alternatives 121 (June 2010), and “It’s Time for Doctrines:  The Supreme Court Wrestles with ‘Severablility’ and the ‘Clear and Unmistakable Standard,” 28 Alternatives 73 (March 2010) (blogged here and here).

Alternatives is a subscription-only publication. Subscription information is available at this page, as well as at the publisher’s, John Wiley & Sons’s, website here.

I would like once again to take this opportunity to thank CPR, and Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, for their kind assistance and support in featuring my articles.   CPR is one of the most prestigious ADR organizations in the United States, and, as I have said before, Russ is a very intelligent, dedicated and professional editor with whom it is a pleasure to work.

A Very Brief Look at the Arbitration-Related Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act

July 30th, 2010 Uncategorized Comments Off on A Very Brief Look at the Arbitration-Related Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act

On July 21, 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) (here).  Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act created the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (the “Bureau”), which has jurisdiction over consumer contracts for the sale of financial products and services. 

Section 1028 of the Dodd-Frank Act directs the Bureau to study mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration in contracts under its jurisdiction and report back to Congress.  The agency will then be authorized to either ban or regulate pre-dispute arbitration clauses in contracts under its jurisdiction, provided that the “Bureau finds that such prohibition or imposition of conditions or limitations is in the public interest and for the protection of consumers.”  The Bureau’s findings must “be consistent” with its study. 

Section 921 of the Dodd-Frank Act likewise authorizes the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to “prohibit, or impose conditions or limitations on the use of, agreements that require customers or clients of any broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer to arbitrate any future dispute between them arising under the Federal securities laws, the rules and regulations hereunder, or the rules of a self-regulatory organization if it finds that such prohibition, imposition of conditions, or limitations are in the public interest and for the protection of investors.’’ Section 921 also authorizes the SEC to ban or regulate pre-dispute arbitration in contracts between “customers or clients of any investment adviser.” 

In addition, Section 1414 of the Dodd-Frank bans pre-dispute arbitration in residential mortgages and home-equity loans, and Section 922 renders unenforceable pre-dispute agreements to arbitrate whistleblower claims.

How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

June 4th, 2010 Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Reinsurance Arbitration, Uncategorized, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

Part III

A.   Introduction

In Part I (here) we explained why the standard for challenging an award based on its outcome is important in reinsurance arbitration practice.  And, after briefly reviewing pre-Stolt-Nielsen law on outcome-based standards of review, we explained how Stolt-Nielsen has established for the lower courts a fairly searching standard of review.  Part II (here) explored the legal and practical implications of that standard of review.    

This Part III turns to the other key area that will likely change because of Stolt-Nielsen:  Consolidated reinsurance-arbitration practice. 

As most reinsurance practitioners know, there is a brief history relevant to this subject and that will be the focus of this post.  For to fully understand the implications of Stolt-Nielsen on consolidated reinsurance-arbitration practice, it is necessary to understand how the pre-Stolt-Nielsen practice evolved. 

Parts IV (here) and V (here, here and here) will address how Stolt-Nielsen will likely change consolidated reinsurance-arbitration practice, and what the implications of those changes are to the industry.  Continue Reading »

Richard Faulkner and Philip J. Loree Jr. Quoted in Business Insurance on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson

May 8th, 2010 Uncategorized Comments Off on Richard Faulkner and Philip J. Loree Jr. Quoted in Business Insurance on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson

Our friend Richard Faulkner, a partner in the Richardson, Texas law firm of Blume Faulkner, P.L.L.C., I, and others were quoted in a Business Insurance article on the Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson case pending in the United States Supreme Court.  The article is available here

Richard’s quote was “The 9th Circuit’s decision flies in the face of virtually every well-reasoned decision on arbitrability and jurisdiction[.]”  I could not agree with him more. 

For those of you that do not know Richard, he has decades of experience in the arbitration, mediation and ADR fields and is a contributing author to Elkouri & Elkouri, How Arbitration Works (6th Ed.).   His practice includes acting as a neutral arbitrator or mediator, serving on construction dispute boards, and representing clients in domestic and international arbitration-law-related matters.   Recently he represented Dub Herring Ford Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. before the United States Supreme Court as an amicus curiae in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., which was decided on April 27, 2010. 

My more modest sound bite was: “There’s a lot of attention being paid to this case because it’s very frequent that you have challenges to arbitration agreements on unconscionability grounds made by employees and consumers.” 

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in this controversial case by the end of this term in late June.  We believe there is a good chance that at least five members of the Court will vote for a reversal, but that outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion.  Whatever the result, you will certainly hear about it here at the Forum.

Arbitration Nuts & Bolts: Vacating Arbitration Awards — Part II: Corruption, Fraud and Undue Means

December 19th, 2009 Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Uncategorized 5 Comments »

In this Part II of our Nuts & Bolt feature on vacating arbitration awards (Part I is here) we briefly look at the first statutory ground for vacating an award under the Federal Arbitration Act:  where “[t]he award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means. . . .”  9 U.S.C. 10(a)(1).  Cases vacating awards on Section 10(a)(1) are rare, probably because the circumstances that would trigger relief are themselves rare.     

Section 10(a)(1) is an excellent expression of how Section 10 is designed to provide relief in situations where putting a court’s  imprimatur on an award would deprive one of the parties of the benefit of its freely-bargained-for arbitration agreement.   It says that corruption, fraud, or undue means in the procurement of an award, whether perpetrated by the arbitrators or a party, spoils the award (assuming the aggrieved party timely moves to vacate).  There is nothing particularly controversial about that; we suspect few would contend that parties who agree to arbitrate impliedly consent to arbitration resulting in an award procured through outright chicanery.    Continue Reading »

Oral Argument Today in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp.

December 9th, 2009 Uncategorized 2 Comments »

Today the United States Supreme Court is hearing argument in the one Federal Arbitration Act case it has agreed to hear this Term:  Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 548 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2009), petition for cert. granted June 15, 2009 (No. 08-1198).  We have written extensively on Stolt-Nielsen, which concerns whether class arbitration may be imposed on parties whose contracts are silent on that point.  (Posts available here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) Once the oral argument transcript is available, and we have time to digest it, we shall report back to readers.

Stay tuned….

Global Arbitration Review Publishes Article on Hansen v. Everlast and Quotes Philip J. Loree Jr.

November 3rd, 2009 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Functus Officio, New York Court of Appeals, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Global Arbitration Review Publishes Article on Hansen v. Everlast and Quotes Philip J. Loree Jr.

Readers may recall our recent post on the New York Court of Appeals’ decision in Re Joan Hansen & Co v. Everlast World’s Boxing Headquarters Corp., ___ N.Y.3d ___, slip op. (Oct. 15, 2009), a case which demonstrates how important the parties’ submission is in determining arbitral authority.  The Court held that, after an award, a party cannot reopen an arbitration proceeding to request that the arbitrators decide an issue that had not previously been submitted to the arbitrators.  A copy of our post is here.  

On November 2, 2009 Kyriaki Karadelis of the U.K.-based trade publication Global Arbitration Review (“GAR”)  (website here) wrote what I thought was a concise and insightful article on the case.  And we would have said that even if she had not quoted some of our comments in her article!  But she did, and we’re flattered by that. 

With Global Arbitration Review’s permission, and with the required copyright disclaimer, we have posted the article as a “Slide Share Presentation” in my LinkedIn profile, which you can view by clicking here.  Also posted there (again with GAR’s permission and the required disclaimer) is a Global Arbitration Review Article on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in  ReliaStar Life Ins. Co. v. EMC National Life Co., ___ F.3d ___, ___ (2009) (Raggi, J.) (blogged here and here), in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that an arbitration panel was authorized to award under the bad faith exception to the American Rule attorney and arbitrator fees to a ceding company in a case where the parties had agreed that “[e]ach party shall bear the expense of its own arbitrator.  .  .  and related outside attorneys’ fees, and shall jointly and equally bear with the other party the expenses of the third arbitrator.”  We reported on GAR’s article concerning ReliaStar case here, which also quotes some of our comments on that case. 

We ask our readership to remember that GAR is a subscription-only publication and that it has copyrights in these posted materials.  GAR has authorized us to post them online and distribute them for marketing purposes, but that authorization does not extend to others not similarly situated.  Please do the right thing and respect GAR’s copyrights — GAR has to make a living just like the rest of us!     

Introducing Guest-Blogger Professor Peter Friedman: “The Argument for Judicial Power to Void Mandatory Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers on State Public Policy Grounds”

August 17th, 2009 Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Guest Posts, Uncategorized Comments Off on Introducing Guest-Blogger Professor Peter Friedman: “The Argument for Judicial Power to Void Mandatory Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers on State Public Policy Grounds”

Today we present a guest post by Professor Peter Friedman concerning the argument for judicial power to void class action waivers and arbitration agreements based on state public policy grounds. 

I met Peter through the LinkedIn Commercial and Industry Arbitration Group (learn about the group here).   He’s a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, where he teaches Contracts and Core Concepts.  He also teaches U.S. Contract Law at the University of Windsor and the Universiteit van Amsterdam.  He is currently on leave from the Case Western University School of Law, where he has been on the faculty since January 1996.  He’s a very smart, creative guy who is devoted to the law, critical analysis of important legal issues, and, even more importantly, legal education.    

Prior to entering the academic world, Peter spent eleven years immersed in the practice of commercial litigation in New York City, most recently as a partner in the New York City office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.  He graduated with his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1984 and his A.B. in Ancient Greek and Latin from Brown University in 1981.

Since August 2008, Peter has written a blog, Ruling Imagination: Law and Creativity, that explores the ways law affects creative endeavors and the ways creativity informs the practice of law.  Prior to Ruling Imagination, he authored What is Fair Use?, a blog he wrote in connection with an assignment in one of his legal writing classes in which his students drafted cross-motions for summary judgment for a copyright infringement lawsuit.  Just this month Peter has also begun a blog, 1L Contracts, in which he intends to explore issues connected with the law of contracts as they arise through the coming academic year in his Contracts class at Detroit Mercy. Continue Reading »