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Archive for October, 2014

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 »

National Children’s Center, Inc. v. Service Employees Int’l Union: What Happens when an Arbitrator Interprets a Contract, but does not even Arguably Apply the Interpretation to the Parties’ Dispute?

October 20th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Practice and Procedure, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on National Children’s Center, Inc. v. Service Employees Int’l Union: What Happens when an Arbitrator Interprets a Contract, but does not even Arguably Apply the Interpretation to the Parties’ Dispute?


The deferential Enterprise Wheel/Stolt-Nielsen/Oxford contract-based outcome review standard the U.S. Supreme Court has applied to both labor arbitration awards under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, and commercial arbitration awards falling under the Federal Arbitration Act, is fairly simple to articulate yet often difficult to apply, especially in close cases.

In National Children’s Center, Inc. v. Service Employees Int’l Union, No. 13-1036, slip op. (D.D.C. Sep’t 19, 2014), United States District Court for the District of Columbia was faced with such a case, and the district court judge had to make a tough call. Applying the sometimes elusive standard, the Court concluded that the award had to be vacated. It was a close call— so close, in fact, that others may disagree and support their conclusions with what may appear to be compelling arguments.

On balance, we think the Court did the right thing given the somewhat unusual circumstances the case presented. But at least on some level it doesn’t matter. The district court judge did exactly what a good judge should do: she followed the law and, faced with the task of applying the law to a rather odd set of circumstances, she did so in the way she thought (and we agree) the law should be applied, even though the result was overturning an award.

It is quite likely that on remand the arbitrator will issue an award reaching the same conclusion and that the second award will be judicially enforced. While some might argue that vacatur should have been denied for expediency’s sake, that would not only have been the wrong decision, but a shortsighted one. Continue Reading »

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

October 6th, 2014 Choice-of-Law Provisions, Claims Handling, Contract Interpretation, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts: Reinsurance, Reinsurance Arbitration, Reinsurance Claims, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, State Courts, Statute of Limitations Comments Off on What is the Statute of Limitations for a Reinsurance Claim under New York Law and When does it Begin to Run?

 Part IV.B

 Why is Hahn Automotive v. American Zurich Ins. Co. Important?


Now that we’ve taken a closer look at Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc. v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012), let’s step back a bit and consider what it means both in general and in the reinsurance-claim-statute-of-limitations scheme of things.

As will be explained in this Part VI.B, Part VI.C, and Part VI.D, Hahn:

  1. Creates a new general rule, which effectively extends to a larger universe of contracts a statute of limitations accrual principle that it had applied only to certain specific types of contracts, including contracts of indemnity;
  2. Demonstrates that, outside the limited context of express conditions, breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual is not exclusively a matter of party intent;
  3. Suggests that the New York Court of Appeals, if faced with an accrual question where the obligee’s demand is an express condition to the obligor’s liability, would probably not permit accrual to be delayed for more than a relatively brief period measured from the date on which the obligee was legally entitled to demand payment;
  4. All but forecloses an argument that a court may justify a delay in the statute of limitations by deeming a demand requirement to be an implied condition;
  5. Creates an analytic framework for determining breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual questions that is at least as well-suited to excess-of-loss reinsurance contracts as it is to retrospective premium contracts;
  6.  Will likely be applied to reinsurance contract statute-of-limitations questions, that cedents or reinsurers may in the past have assumed would be governed by Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996); and
  7. If so applied to a situation where, as in Stronghold: (a) the reinsurance contract does not unambiguously condition the reinsurers’ liability on claims presentation; and (b) the cedent settled the underlying insurance claims more than six-years before commencing their action, will, all else equal, likely require a finding that the cedent’s claims are time-barred.

Hahn therefore has some important claims management implications for both cedents and reinsurers, which we’ll discuss in Part IV.E.

But there is, as no doubt many readers have discerned, a proverbial “elephant in the room:” arbitration. Arbitration agreements are exceedingly common in reinsurance contracts, particularly in treaties. In Part V., we’ll discuss the profound effect that the choice between judicial and arbitral resolution of a controversy can have on statute of limitations questions, and how that choice bears on cedent and reinsurer time-bar strategy.

Finally, there is another very important—and all too frequently overlooked— consideration that we would arguably be remiss not to discuss: choice-of-law. Reinsurance disputes, like so many of their other commercial counterparts, frequently cross state and national borders, raising horizontal choice-of-law issues. But in many (indeed, probably most U.S.) jurisdictions, including New York, choice-of-law rules that determine what substantive rules of decision apply (i.e., what rules of decision apply to merits-related issues) do not determine what statute-of-limitations rules apply, and that may be true (as it ordinarily is in New York) even where parties agree that the law of State X governs their agreement.

In New York, that issue is ordinarily determined by New York’s borrowing statute, New York Civ. Prac. L. § 202, many other states have similar (although not necessarily identical) borrowing statutes and at least a few other states may either simply follow the traditional rule that forum law governs statute of limitations or apply substantive choice-of-law rules to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Part VI will thus address choice-of-law questions pertinent to the statute of limitations, focusing on New York’s borrowing statute, and discuss how choice-of-law issues affect time-bar strategy. Continue Reading »