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Posts Tagged ‘Sanctions’

Delegation Provisions: SCOTUS Says Courts Must Compel Arbitration of Even “Wholly-Groundless” Arbitrability Disputes

January 16th, 2019 American Arbitration Association, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Exceeding Powers, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Stay of Litigation, United States Supreme Court 3 Comments »
Wholly Groundless 1

Arbitrability questions are ordinarily for courts to decide, but parties may, by way of a “delegation provision,” clearly and unmistakably agree to submit them to arbitration. See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995); Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S. Ct. 2772, 2777 (2010). (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.)

But suppose parties to a delegation provision disagree about whether they are required to arbitrate a dispute, yet their contract clearly excludes the dispute from arbitration. Can a Court preemptively decide the merits of an arbitrability question delegated to the arbitrators, and refuse to compel arbitration of the arbitrability question, if the Court decides that the argument for arbitration of the underlying dispute is wholly groundless?

Some federal courts have held that a federal court can, despite a clear and unmistakable agreement to arbitrate arbitrability, refuse to compel arbitration of a “wholly groundless” arbitrability question, but others have held that the FAA requires Courts to refer to arbitration even “wholly groundless” arbitrability questions. Compare Simply Wireless, Inc. v. T-Mobile US, Inc., 877 F. 3d 522 (4th Cir. 2017); Douglas v. Regions Bank, 757 F. 3d 460 (5th Cir. 2014); Turi v. Main Street Adoption Servs., LLP, 633 F. 3d 496 (6th Cir. 2011); Qualcomm, Inc. v. Nokia Corp., 466 F. 3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2006), with Belnap v. Iasis Healthcare, 844 F. 3d 1272 (10th Cir. 2017); Jones v. Waffle House, Inc., 866 F. 3d 1257 (11th 2017); Douglas, 757 F. 3d, at 464 (Dennis, J., dissenting).

On January 8, 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, held that where parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability disputes, courts must compel arbitration even if the argument in favor of arbitration is “wholly groundless.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8 (January 8, 2019).

Wholly Groundless Exception 2

The Court said that “[t]he [FAA] does not contain a ‘wholly groundless’ exception, and we are not at liberty to rewrite the statute….” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. “When,” said the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Slip op. at 2; see also slip op. at 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8.

Facts and Procedural History

Wholly Groundless Exception 3

Schein was a dispute between a dental equipment manufacturer and a distributor. The parties’ contract contained an arbitration agreement, which required arbitration of “[a]ny dispute arising under or related to [the Parties’] Agreement (except for actions seeking injunctive relief and disputes related to trademarks, trade secrets, or other intellectual property of [the manufacturer]….” Slip op. at 2. Arbitration was to be “in accordance with the arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association [(the “AAA”)].” Slip op. at 2.

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SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

May 20th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Provider Rules, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

Introduction: Remedial Powers of Arbitrators under the Federal Arbitration Act


The third issue the Armstrong Panel addressed was: “What jurisdiction, if any, does this Tribunal have to award sanctions?” This was a question of the Panel’s remedial authority — assuming the Panel had the authority to decide the dispute, what remedies were the arbitrators authorized to award?

The Panel determined that Armstrong had committed fraud and testified falsely, and had by those unlawful means procured the Settlement Agreement and Consent Award. All else equal, had the Armstrong Parties testified truthfully, and been prepared to do so from the outset of the dispute, then presumably the Armstrong Parties: (a) would not have claimed the $7.5 million in prize money; or (b) would have submitted to arbitration the question whether the Armstrong Parties’ use of performance enhancing drugs barred them from recovering the prize money under their contracts with the SCA Parties. If the Armstrong Parties chose option (a) above, then the SCA Parties would not have incurred any time or money costs dealing with the Armstrong Parties’ Claims. Had the Armstrong Parties chosen option (b), then the SCA Parties’ time and money costs would likely have been pretty modest, and in any event, nowhere near what they turned out to be.

Given that the Panel identified a breach of duty that caused harm, the next question from the standpoint of the merits was: what (if anything) should be the remedy? The SCA parties apparently argued that the Panel should grant a sanctions remedy, which the Panel apparently viewed as serving both deterrent and compensatory purposes.

Where, as here, an arbitration panel that has the authority to resolve a dispute is considering what relief (if any) it should award to the prevailing party, that raises a remedial authority question: what remedies have the parties authorized the Panel to award? Under a broad arbitration agreement, remedial authority questions are typically not controversial, for parties ordinarily tend to seek standard remedies: damages, declaratory relief or traditional forms of equitable relief (such as rescission or reformation).  One party asks for the relief in its submission in the arbitrators and the other party doesn’t object because there is no reason to do so.

But where other non-standard forms of relief are requested—and particularly where the parties’ contract express a clear intent to limit remedial powers—then remedial authority can become more controversial.

The Armstrong Arbitration involved a claim for sanctions arising in unusual circumstances. While the parties’ contracts did not purport to limit the Panel’s remedial authority, the Armstrong Parties challenged the Panel’s authority to award sanctions and the Panel addressed that challenge in a reasoned award.

This segment of our Armstrong-Award Anatomy series focuses exclusively on whether the Panel had the authority to make an award of sanctions. It reviews the general rules concerning arbitrator remedial authority, considers the standard of review that a court reviewing the award will presumably apply if the Armstrong Parties contest the Panel’s remedial authority in court, discusses the Panel’s analysis and conclusions concerning sanctions and explains why we think it unlikely that a court will find that the Panel exceeded its authority by making an award of sanctions.

Our next Armstrong Arbitration Award Anatomy segment will address the related—but analytically distinct—issue whether the Panel had the authority to make a $10,000,000.00 sanctions award in the circumstances.

General Rules Governing Arbitrator Remedial Authority

yay-974131-e1425250054241As a general rule, where the parties have agreed to require each other to submit to arbitration a broad range of a disputes that might arise out of or relate to their legal relationship, the law presumes they intended to confer equally broad remedial powers on the arbitrators. See, e.g., ReliaStar Life Ins. Co. v. EMC Nat’l Life Co., 564 F.3d 81, 86-87 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing cases). Sometimes, arbitration-provider rules—such as Rule 47 of the American Arbitration Association Commercial Rules (formerly Rule 43)—expressly confer broad remedial authority on arbitrators. Rule 47, for example, states: Continue Reading »

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of an Arbitration Award—Part I

February 23rd, 2015 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, State Courts Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of an Arbitration Award—Part I

Armstrong Arbitration Award: Introduction

yay-15106666-digitalArmstrong-e1424717219396On Monday morning, February 16, 2015 attorneys for SCA Promotions, Inc. (“SCA”) and SCA Insurance Specialists, Inc. (“SCA Insurance”) (collectively, the “SCA Entities”) filed a petition in a Dallas County, Texas state court to confirm a $10,000,000.00 arbitration award recently made in the Matter of the Arbitration between Lance Armstrong and SCA Promotions, Inc. Ordinarily something like that is an event accompanied with all the fanfare of a tree falling in a deserted forest.

But this petition is different. It seeks to confirm an arbitration panel’s award of $10,000,000.00 in sanctions levied against cyclist Lance Armstrong for having lied under oath to the arbitration panel and the SCA Entities in an earlier arbitration proceeding. So its filing was widely reported and discussed by major national and international media providers.

Here’s a condensed and simplified version of the background: Continue Reading »

Fifth Circuit Says District Court That Compelled Arbitration Does Not Have Inherent Power to Impose Sanctions on Counsel for Arbitration Misconduct

September 17th, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on Fifth Circuit Says District Court That Compelled Arbitration Does Not Have Inherent Power to Impose Sanctions on Counsel for Arbitration Misconduct


An arbitration panel acting under a broad, unrestricted arbitration agreement can generally impose sanctions on a party.  But if a federal district court compels arbitration, and retains jurisdiction, can it impose sanctions on counsel who allegedly misbehave during the arbitration proceedings?  On September 13, 2010 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held 3-0 that the answer is “no,” unless the conduct was in direct defiance or disobedience of the district court’s orders or otherwise threatened the district court’s own judicial authority or proceedings.  See Positive Software Solutions Inc. v. New Century Mtg. Corp., No. 09-10355, slip op. (5th Cir. September 13, 2010). 


Positive Software Solutions arose out of arbitration between Positive Software Solutions, Inc. and New Century Mortgage Corp.  A district court in Texas compelled arbitration and retained jurisdiction.  Positive Software lost, and sought to vacate the award on evident partiality grounds, which were ultimately rejected by the Fifth Circuit en bancSee Positive Software Solutions Inc. v. New Century Mtg. Corp., 476 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 2007) (en banc).  After the Fifth Circuit remanded the award for confirmation, New Century declared bankruptcy, the parties settled, and the American Arbitration Association administratively closed the proceedings. 

As part of the settlement, New Century waived the attorney-client privilege, and turned over to Positive Software its arbitration files, which Positive Software would use in support of a motion in the district court for sanctions against New  Century’s arbitration counsel, Ophelia Camiña, a partner at Susman, Godfrey, LLP (“Susman Godfrey”); Susman Godfrey; and Barry Barnett (apparently another lawyer who represented New Century).   On March 2008 Positive Software filed its motion for sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37, 28 U.S.C. § 1927, and the court’s inherent power. 

In February 2009 the district court imposed pursuant to its inherent power $10,000 in sanctions against Camiña, which represented a portion of Positive Software’s attorney fees incurred during arbitration.  The district court ruled that the sanctions were for conduct that “took place in connection with the arbitration, not in connection with discovery under the Court’s supervision.” 

Camiña appealed, and the Fifth Circuit reversed. Continue Reading »