main image

Posts Tagged ‘Exceeded Powers’

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 »

Improving Arbitration-Award Making and Enforcement by Faithfully Implementing the Purposes and Objectives of the Federal Arbitration Act

November 13th, 2013 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, General, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Improving Arbitration-Award Making and Enforcement by Faithfully Implementing the Purposes and Objectives of the Federal Arbitration Act

Part II:

A Consent-Based Framework

for Making and Enforcing Arbitration Awards

Introduction

In Part I we argued that improving arbitration in general—and the award making and enforcement process in particular—requires persons with a stake in arbitration’s success to adjust how they think about arbitration. We also argued that the purposes and objectives of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) provide a relatively simple analytical framework which, if consistently and properly applied, can help persons with a stake in arbitration’s continued success make decisions that should help facilitate the achievement of that goal.

This Part II discusses that analytical framework, which is based on United States Supreme Court interpretations of the FAA and its purposes and objectives. It posits that arbitration’s improvement and continued success as a dispute resolution mechanism for a broad range of disputes depends on it being an attractive alternative to litigation, and that arbitration can remain such an attractive alternative for a broad range of disputes only if courts, arbitrators, and parties fully and forthrightly accept that arbitration is a matter of contract, and that the awards that it yields should be freely and summarily enforced, provided that they represent a legitimate product of the agreement to arbitrate. Continue Reading »

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.B

August 18th, 2013 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Practice and Procedure, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.B

 

Part II.B: To what Extent, if at all, will Oxford Likely Influence FAA Law and Practice?

While Oxford is uncontroversial in the sense that it does not purport to change the standard of review applicable to Federal-Arbitration-Act (“FAA”)-governed arbitration awards, it will likely influence FAA arbitration law and practice concerning the judicial review of arbitration awards under FAA Section 10(a)(4) in at least three ways. Continue Reading »