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Posts Tagged ‘Arbitration Law’

Arbitration Law FAQs: Confirming Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act

September 18th, 2018 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Final Awards, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Comments Off on Arbitration Law FAQs: Confirming Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act

Introduction

Confirming Arbitration Awards 1

Confirming Arbitration Awards 1

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 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 or arbitration, an arbitration award stands on the same footing as any other privately prepared legal document, and for all intents and purposes it is a contract made for the parties by their joint agent of sorts—the arbitrator or arbitration panel. It may be intended by the arbitrator or panel, 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 by a governmental body (the court) 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 statutory 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.

Confirming Arbitration Awards 2

Confirming Arbitration Awards 2

The Federal Arbitration Act, and most or all state arbitration statutes, provide for enforcement of arbitration awards through a procedure by which a party may request 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.”).

Chapter One of The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), and most or all state arbitration statutes, authorize courts to confirm domestic 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). And Chapter 2 of the FAA provides some different rules that apply to the confirmation of domestic arbitration awards that fall under the Convention on the Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”), and the enforcement of non-domestic arbitration awards falling under the Convention (i.e., awards made in territory of a country that is a signatory to the Convention.

But let’s keep things simple, and take a brief look at the FAA’s requirements for confirming arbitration awards, as applicable in federal court for domestic awards not falling under Chapter Two of the Federal Arbitration Act in situations where 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 the suit should have been brought in a different federal judicial district), or the applicability of Chapter One of the FAA (9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16).  We’ll also discuss how applications to confirm are supposed to be summary proceedings, why timing of an application is important, and how courts decide them.

What are the Requirements for Confirming Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act?

Confirming Arbitration Awards 3

Confirming Arbitration Awards 3

Like most other issues arising under the FAA, whether a court should confirm an award depends on what the parties agreed. Section 9 of the FAA, which governs confirmation of awards, says—with bracketed lettering added, and in pertinent part: “[A] If the parties in their agreement have [B] agreed that a judgment of the court shall be entered upon [C] the award made pursuant to the arbitration, and [D] shall specify the court, then [E] at any time within one year after the award is made any party to the arbitration may apply to the court so specified for an order confirming the award, and [F] thereupon the court must grant such an order unless [G] the award is vacated, modified, or corrected as prescribed in sections 10 and 11 of this title.” 9 U.S.C. § 9. Items [A] through [D] above each concern party consent as evidenced by the parties’ arbitration agreement.

The key substantive requirements for confirming arbitration awards are thus: Continue Reading »

Arbitration Law FAQ Guide: Challenging Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act — Part II

September 12th, 2018 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 2 Comments »
Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 1

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 1

This is Part II of this two-part Arbitration Law FAQ Guide, which is designed to provide individuals and businesses with a brief and broad overview of challenging awards under the Federal Arbitration Act. Part I (here) addressed eight FAQs concerning this topic. This Part II addresses six more.

These FAQs, like the first eight, assume that a party is seeking to challenge a Federal-Arbitration-Act-governed arbitration award in a federal court having subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and proper venue.

This guide is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. An individual or business contemplating a challenge of an award under the Federal Arbitration Act  should consult with an attorney or firm that has experience and expertise in arbitration law matters.

  1. What does a person have to prove to convince a Court to grant it vacatur, modification, or correction of an award?

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 2

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 2

An arbitration award is presumed valid and an award challenger has a heavy burden of proof to show otherwise. Some courts require clear and convincing evidence of certain grounds, such as evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators. And even if a challenger can meet its burden, challenging an award under the Federal Arbitration Act must ordinarily be done in a summary proceeding, which is heard and determined in the same manner as a motion.

Generally, the challenger must establish that the only legitimate inference that can be drawn from the law and undisputed facts is that vacatur, modification, or correction of the award is warranted. Even where there are factual disputes, courts ordinarily will not order discovery or evidentiary hearings absent “clear evidence of impropriety.”  See, generally, Andros Compania Maritima, S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 579 F.2d 691, 701, 702 (2d Cir. 1978).

  1. What proceedings does a Court usually hold to determine applications to vacate, modify, or correct awards under the Federal Arbitration Act?

These applications are summary proceedings that are made and decided like motions. See 9 U.S.C. § 6. If there is not already pending an action between the parties in which a motion may be made, then a challenger can start a proceeding by filing and serving, among other things, a petition or application, a notice of petition or application, supporting affidavits, and a memorandum of law in support. The responding party serves and files a memorandum in opposition, along with any affidavits in support.

Since the matter is a summary proceeding, and since the ordinary pleading rules do not apply, courts generally require the challenger to make all of its arguments at the time its response is due, including arguments that might be made by pre-answer motion in an ordinary law suit, such as lack of subject-matter or personal jurisdiction. The responding party will also typically file a cross-motion to confirm the award, that is, a request that the Court enter judgment upon the award. See 9 U.S.C. § 9. Continue Reading »

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

 

 

 

Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part II.A: The Nature and Purpose of Arbitration

July 12th, 2013 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, General, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Mediation, Negotiation, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Comments Off on Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part II.A: The Nature and Purpose of Arbitration

The long- and short-term success of a business is generally measured by the economic benefits it produces for its investors.  Most business decisions require a business to accept risks of varying severity and frequency if the business is going to realize a meaningful return on investment.  All else being equal, to increase the likelihood that those decisions will yield profits, the business must accurately assess all material risks, their corresponding benefits and the interplay between the two.

The same holds true for the decision whether to make an arbitration agreement part of a business transaction, and if so, on what terms.  But in the author’s experience otherwise savvy and intelligent small-business-persons frequently view an arbitration agreement as a throw-in term that isn’t likely to affect materially the risk-benefit calculus of the transaction as a whole.  These business persons are therefore likely to agree to arbitrate with a more economically powerful counterpart without giving the matter much thought, let alone the careful thought they devote to the price and performance terms of the deal.  This approach, as a number of business people have learned the hard way over the years, can result in a very frustrating and potentially debilitating one-two punch:  dashed reasonable expectations coupled with very little, if any, meaningful judicial review. Continue Reading »

Why Bother with Arbitration Law?

April 13th, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Ethics, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Reinsurance Arbitration 4 Comments »

Readers are excruciatingly aware of the amount of time and energy we expend on what seems at first blush to be a relatively arcane area of the law:  practice and procedure under the Federal Arbitration Act.  It is a practice area that arises under a single federal statute that consists of three chapters and a handful of rather skeletal provisions.   Why is this stuff so important?    

If you hold yourself out to be a commercial litigator who handles arbitration proceedings arising under the Federal Arbitration Act, then you need to know arbitration law cold (or co-counsel with someone who does).  If you do not, then you have no business representing clients in arbitration proceedings.

In one sense, arbitration law is to the lawyer handling an arbitration what civil procedure law is to the lawyer handling a litigation.  No lawyer cognizant of his or her ethical obligations and professional responsibility would represent a client in a litigation without a good, working knowledge of the applicable procedural code and cases construing it.  Doing so would be a recipe for professional disaster. 

Yet commercial litigators with no experience or expertise in arbitration law sometimes believe their knowledge of court procedure qualifies them to represent parties in arbitration proceedings.  Arbitration is more informal than litigation, so if you know how to litigate, you can certainly arbitrate, right?  Wrong.

Arbitration law is what ensures that arbitration agreements will be enforced, whether that means confirming or vacating an award, compelling arbitration, staying litigation, or what have you.  Without it, arbitration would be, for the most part, an empty gesture.  Parties would have to commence cumbersome plenary actions to enforce awards and obtain specific performance of arbitration agreements, arbitrators would lack subpoena power and breakdowns in the arbitrator selection process could not be remedied (or would be very difficult to remedy).   In short, arbitration would lose much of its appeal because it would be difficult and expensive to enforce, and some aspects of it might not be enforceable at all. 

Perhaps in a perfect world arbitration law would be spelled out for us in great detail in a user-friendly and comprehensive statute or administrative code, which would contain all or most of the answers to the multitude of enforcement-related questions that arise at various stages of arbitration proceedings.  But our world is far from perfect, and in many domestic cases our sole source of statutory guidance is contained in the first chapter of the Federal Arbitration Act, which contains only 16 provisions, 15 of which have been on the books without material revision since 1925.  In “non-domestic domestic cases” — you have to love that informative moniker — which involve, for example, arbitrations taking place in the United States between domestic and international parties, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and its enabling provisions set forth in Chapter 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, usually come into play, but the Convention and its enabling legislation does not directly answer that many questions. 

So in our imperfect world, the answers must come from the courts.  That would all be well and good if we lived in a country with a single court system, but we do not.  We have a multi-circuit federal court system (over which the United States Supreme Court presides) and a multi-jurisdiction state court system (over which the Supreme Court has limited jurisdiction to hear certain types of appeals).  And the substantive provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act are applicable in, and construed by, both state and federal courts. 

Cases involving arbitration law are constantly being decided.  There are currently three-arbitration-law-related cases pending before the United States Supreme Court, and the Court usually decides at least one or two each term.   The federal district and circuit courts regularly churn out decisions on arbitration law, as do state trial, intermediate appellate and supreme courts. 

If state and federal court decisions from various jurisdictions and circuits were fairly uniform on Federal Arbitration Act issues, then perhaps things would be simpler.  But courts are split on a number of issues, and even in situations where different courts might reach the same result on a given set of facts, the rationale each court applies may be different, leading to different outcomes if the facts are changed slightly.   

Apparently someone somewhere decided that things were not quite complicated enough.  So it was necessary to interject some other variables:  horizontal (state-versus-state) and vertical (state versus federal) choice of law issues.  Not all arbitration proceedings are governed solely by the Federal Arbitration Act — it applies only to written arbitration agreements “in maritime transaction[s] or.  .  . contract[s] evidencing.  .  .  transaction[s] involving commerce.  .  .  .”  9 U.S.C. § 2.  When the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply, then the arbitration law of some state will generally apply.  Choice-of-law rules will determine which state’s law applies in a multi-jurisdictional case. 

Even when the Federal Arbitration Act applies, the parties may have agreed that state arbitration law applies, or at least there may be a substantial question whether state arbitration law applies.  Federal and state arbitration law may conflict, and it is necessary to determine which applies.  And sometimes there is a question whether the Federal Arbitration Act pre-empts state arbitration, or substantive contract, law.  In other cases there may be a question whether state arbitration law fills a gap in federal arbitration law. 

Arbitration-law-related issues can and do arise at all stages of an arbitration proceeding, and arbitration practitioners must keep in mind that litigation under the Federal Arbitration Act may be necessary to enforce a client’s rights or that such litigation may be brought by the other party.  In the beginning stages of an arbitration, for example, issues may arise as to what the arbitration was intended to cover.  A party may demand arbitration on a few claims, but there may be other actual or potential disputes which, if submitted, would fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement.  Depending on what those claims are, and other considerations, the party against whom arbitration is demanded will want to ensure that the arbitration does or does not encompass those claims.  That requires the party to carefully tailor its own submissions and, if necessary, to object to the other party submitting additional issues once the proceedings are underway. 

The party resisting an arbitration demand may have arguments that some or all of the issues that are the subject of the demand are outside the scope of the arbitration clause.  Those arguments must be carefully preserved, and sometimes it is necessary to seek an order staying the arbitration in whole or in part. 

The party seeking arbitration may need to compel arbitration if the other party is resisting arbitration.  That requires court intervention and both parties must be prepared to brief the applicable law and facts.  Or perhaps the arbitration clause is self-executing, allowing a party to appoint a defaulting party’s arbitrator and proceed ex parte.  In that case, the non-defaulting party may be unable to compel arbitration, but must take special care to ensure that the resulting default award is enforceable. 

Arbitrator selection is another area where arbitration-law issues arise.  It might be necessary to compel a party to participate in arbitration selection or request that a court appoint an arbitrator.  If, at some point in the proceedings, one of the arbitrators dies or resigns, a number of important issues must be addressed.  The process of arbitrator disclosure is yet another area where arbitration law must guide strategy.   

Confirming or vacating awards requires knowledge of arbitration law and careful attention to strategy long before an award is rendered.  There may be grounds for vacating an award, but those grounds generally must be preserved during the proceedings.  There are also important deadlines that must be met and those deadlines may be triggered with respect to certain interim final awards long before the arbitration proceeding itself is concluded.  

Once an award is issued issues may arise as to whether it is ambiguous or whether it may be modified by the arbitrators.  Or arbitrators may purport to retain jurisdiction when they are not entitled to do so.  Dealing with these issues requires careful attention to arbitration law.   

When Federal Arbitration Act litigation is necessary, counsel need to know how to address the various procedural issues that arise, including subject matter jurisdiction, service, personal jurisdiction, the necessity of treating the proceeding as a motion and a host of other matters.   And counsel must know the extent to which procedural rules are supplied by the Federal Arbitration Act itself, state arbitration law, the Federal Rules of Procedure or state procedural rules. 

This is just a broad overview:  There are literally dozens of issues that may arise, including ones implicating state general contract law, the Federal Arbitration Act itself, state arbitration law, choice-of-law rules, and federal preemption doctrine.  Handling arbitration-related litigation demands special expertise, just as handling the underlying arbitration demands such expertise.  Practitioners and clients that fail to pay careful attention to this ever-evolving area of the law do so at their peril.