main image

Archive for the ‘Application to Vacate’ Category

Attorney Fees: Seventh Circuit to Consider Whether Exceeding Powers Challenge to Arbitrators’ Attorney’s Fees Award Warrants FRAP 38 Sanctions

June 19th, 2024 Appellate Practice, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fee Shifting, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Bad Faith, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 10, FAA Section 11, FAA Section 9, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Insurance Contracts, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, Section 10, Section 11, Section 9, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Vacate, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Attorney's Fees, Vacatur No Comments »

Introduction

Attorney's Fees | Contract InterpretationMost challenges to arbitration awards—including attorney fees awards— fail because the standards of review are so demanding. The bar is exceedingly high by design. Otherwise—the reasoning goes—courts would “open[] the door to the full-bore legal and evidentiary appeals that can rende[r] informal arbitration merely a prelude to a more cumbersome and time-consuming judicial review process and bring arbitration theory to grief in post-arbitration process.” Hall St. Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 588 (2008) (citations and quotations omitted; some parenthetical material in original).

But the narrow margin for success is not a free pass for challengers to advance arguments that do not, in a court’s view, have a legitimate, good faith basis in the facts and the law, or in a reasonable argument for reversal or modification of the law.

A recent case in point is Circuit Judge Easterbrook’s decision in American Zurich Ins. Co. v. Sun Holdings, Inc., No. 23-3134, slip op. at 1 (7th Cir. June 3, 2024) (Easterbrook, J.). The award challenger claimed the arbitrators exceeded their power by imposing as a sanction an award of $175,000.00 in attorney fees because the contract allegedly barred such an attorney fees award. The problem was that the arbitrators at least arguably interpreted the language in question and concluded that it did not bar the award of attorney fees in question. Moreover,  the attorney fees  award comported with New York law and the American Arbitration Association Commercial Rules, both of which the parties made part of their agreement.

The Seventh Circuit has signaled that it believes there was no good faith basis for the challenge and that the challenger has offered none, apart from its insistence that its interpretation was the only one even barely plausible. The challenger appears to have further undermined its litigation position by engaging in what the Seventh Circuit believes was recalcitrant behavior in the arbitration proceedings, and, according to the Court, not acknowledging the existence of controlling Seventh Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court authority controverting its position. The challenger compounded that by asserting—contrary to FAA Sections 10 and 11— additional award challenges that the Court concluded were simply attempts to second guess various determinations made by the arbitrators.

That this strategy backfired should come as no surprise. It resulted in the Court issuing an order to show cause providing the challenger 14 days “to show cause why sanctions, including but not limited to an award of attorneys’ fees, should not be imposed for this frivolous appeal.” Zurich, slip op. at 5 (citing Fed. R. App. P. 38). At the time of this writing no decision has been made by the Court concerning whether it will, in fact, impose sanctions.

Background: The Award of Attorney Fees

Petitioner Sun Holdings, Inc. (“Sun” or the “Award Challenger”) is a Texas- Continue Reading »

SmartSky: Fourth Circuit Says No Jurisdictional Anchor Post Badgerow

March 23rd, 2024 Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Confirm, Application to Stay Litigation, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Confirmed, Confirmation of Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Diversity Jurisdiction, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 10, FAA Section 11, FAA Section 3, FAA Section 4, FAA Section 9, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 207, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Motion to Compel Arbitration, New York Convention, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Section 10, Section 11, Section 6, Section 9, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 4 Comments »

SmartSky

 

Introduction

This post discusses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in SmartSky Networks, LLC v. DAG Wireless, Ltd., ___ F.4th ___, No. 22-1253, slip op. (4th Cir. Feb. 13, 2024). SmartSky held that, under Badgerow v. Walters, 596 U.S. 1, 142 S. Ct. 1310 (2022), if a party makes a motion to confirm, vacate, or modify an award in an action over which the Court has federal-question subject matter jurisdiction, then it must nevertheless demonstrate that the Court would have had subject matter jurisdiction had the motion been brought as a standalone petition to confirm, vacate, or modify. That is so even if the Court has under Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 3 stayed the action pending arbitration.

Suppose:

  1. A and B, both New York citizens, entered a contract containing an arbitration agreement;
  2. A and B become embroiled in a dispute that is governed by a federal statute;
  3. A sues B in federal court, properly invoking the federal court’s federal- question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331;
  4. B demands arbitration, and moves to compel arbitration under Section 4 and for a stay of litigation pending arbitration under Section 3;
  5. A unsuccessfully opposes the motion, the Court compels arbitration and grants a Section 3 stay of litigation pending arbitration.
  6. B ultimately obtains a $100,000 (exclusive of costs and interest) award in its favor and moves in the stayed action to confirm the award.
  7. A opposes the motion on the ground the court has no subject matter jurisdiction to confirm the award.

SmartSky would require the Court to dismiss A’s motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, even though A made the motion in an action over which the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, the Court had compelled the arbitration that resulted in the award, and the Court had stayed the action pending arbitration under Section 3.  There is no federal-question jurisdiction, and because both A and B are citizens of New York, no diversity jurisdiction.

According to SmartSky, the dismissal of the motion to confirm would be required by Badgerow.

Badgerow 

In Badgerow the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) held that a basis for subject-matter jurisdiction—independent from the FAA itself—must appear on the face of a standalone, petition to confirm or vacate an arbitration award and that independent basis cannot be established by “looking through” to the underlying arbitration proceeding that resulted in the award. See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320.

Simply petitioning a court for relief under Sections 9, 10, 0r 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) raises no federal question and does not confer on a court federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction, as strange as that might sound to the uninitiated. In the absence of a federal question appearing on the face of the freestanding petition—such as a claim for relief falling under Chapter Two of the FAA, which implements the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”), see 9 U.S.C. §§ 202, 203; 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or one falling under Chapter Three, which implements or Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (the “Inter-American Convention”), see 9 U.S.C. §§ 301, et seq.; 28 U.S.C. § 1331—the only possible basis for federal subject-matter jurisdiction over such a standalone petition is diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

If there is no diversity jurisdiction, and if the action does not concern an award falling under the New York or Inter-American Conventions, then the substantive provisions of Chapter One still apply but enforcement must be sought in state court. See Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 59 (2009) (“Given the substantive supremacy of the FAA, but the Act’s nonjurisdictional cast, state courts have a prominent role to play as enforcers of agreements to arbitrate”).

A “Jurisdictional Anchor” Post-Badgerow?

The author explained in a recent Arbitration Law Forum post—Philip J. Loree Jr., Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards, Arbitration Law Forum (Nov. 13, 2023) (the “Jurisdictional Anchor Post”)— that Badgerow leaves unanswered an important question. It arises when—in a preexisting action over which the Court already has federal-question subject matter jurisdiction—a Court grants a motion made under Sections 4 and 3 of the FAA to compel arbitration and stay litigation, and a party subsequently moves in the same, stayed action to confirm, vacate, or modify an award resulting from the compelled arbitration. Does the Court in the stayed action have continuing subject matter jurisdiction to hear the parties’ motions to confirm or vacate the award, even though there is no independent basis for federal question or diversity jurisdiction? Can the existing but stayed federal-question lawsuit provide a “jurisdictional anchor” for the motions to confirm or vacate even though the Court would not, under Badgerow, have subject matter jurisdiction over those motions if either were brought as an independent, freestanding petition to confirm or vacate an award?

SmartSky, as we’ve seen, says the answer to those questions is no: the parties moving to confirm or vacate must establish an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction even when the motion is brought in a pre-existing but stayed lawsuit over which the Court undisputedly had federal question  jurisdiction.

SmartSky has flatly rejected the “jurisdictional anchor” theory (a/k/a “anchor jurisdiction”), under which the answer would be yes: the parties do not have to establish an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction because they are filing their motions in a preexisting  stayed action over which the Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

SmartSky Caused a Circuit Split Concerning the Viability of Anchor Jurisdiction 

SmartSky‘s conclusion directly conflicts with the only other post-Badgerow U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to address anchor jurisdiction, Kinsella v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, LLC, 66 F.4th 1099 (7th Cir. 2023). If we count pre-Badgerow cases, SmartSky also conflict with the pro-anchor-jurisdiction holdings of the Second, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits. Dodson Int’l Parts v. Williams Int’l Co., 12 F.4th 1212, 1227-28 (10th Cir. 2021) (citing cases).

SmartSky’s Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

Arbitration proponent SmartSky has added to its legal team SCOTUS ace Daniel L. Geyser, Esq., Chair of Haynes and Boone, LLP‘s U.S. Supreme Court Practice,  and, with Mr. Geyser’s assistance, prepared and submitted a very well-written and persuasive Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc, which among other things, pointed out the Circuit conflicts which SmartSky has created with both pre- and post-Badgerow decisions and explained why SmartSky believes the Fourth Circuit misconstrued Badgerow and failed to adhere to settled subject-matter-jurisdiction principles. SmartSky, No. 22-1253, Dk. 77.

The Petition also pointed out that, even if SmartSky correctly construed Badgerow, there is an independent basis for jurisdiction under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”) because two of the parties are foreign citizens, DAG Wireless LTD (“Wireless”) and David D. Gross.

Both of these persons are, according to SmartSky, identified on the face of the petition as Israeli citizens (Wireless was identified as an Israeli company and D. Gross as an Israeli resident).  Smartksy points out that the award therefore falls under the Convention and its enforcement raises a federal question. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 202, 203, & 207; 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 22-1253, Dk. 77 at 13-16.

On March 13, 2024, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition. 22-1253, Dk. 80. That raises the possibility that SmartSky might petition SCOTUS for certiorari, something that wouldn’t surprise the author given that Mr. Geyser has joined its team.  If SmartSky petitions for certiorari, SCOTUS will presumably have to consider whether the current split in the circuits warrants certiorari or whether it should wait until more circuits have ruled on the issue post-Badgerow.  

The author plans to submit to an ADR trade publication an article analyzing and critiquing  SmartSky in some detail. For now, we briefly summarize what transpired in SmartSky and the reasons the Court gave for its ruling. Continue Reading »

New York Arbitration Law Focus: Appellate Division, Second Department Vacates Attorney’s Fee Award Because it was Irrational and Violated New York Public Policy

December 7th, 2023 Application to Confirm, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Attorney Fee Shifting, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Fails to Draw Essence from the Agreement, Award Irrational, Award Vacated, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, CPLR Article 75, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), New York State Courts, Outcome Risk, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Policy, Practice and Procedure, Public Policy, Second Department, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Vacate, Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Attorney's Fees, Vacate Award | Public Policy, Vacatur Comments Off on New York Arbitration Law Focus: Appellate Division, Second Department Vacates Attorney’s Fee Award Because it was Irrational and Violated New York Public Policy

Attorney's FeesThe question before the Appellate Division, Second Department in In re D & W Cent. Station Fire Alarm Co. v. Flatiron Hotel, ___ A.D. 3d ___, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 (2d Dep’t Nov. 29, 2023), was whether an arbitration award had to be vacated because the amount of fees the arbitrator awarded was irrational and excessive and therefore exceeded the arbitrator’s powers under N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. (“CPLR”) 7511(b)(1)(iii). The arbitrator awarded fees that were 13.5 times the amount the prevailing party’s attorney said it charged its client on an hourly basis. The fee award was 44% of the amount the arbitrators awarded for the prevailing party’s claim. See 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 at *1.

The Court concluded that the fee award was irrational and violative of New York’s strong public policy against the enforcement of contracts or claims for excessive legal fees. It therefore reversed the trial court’s judgment granting the motion to confirm and denying the motion to vacate, and remanded the matter back to the trial court. See 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 at *2.

Flatiron Hotel is of particular interest because it shows that there is authority under New York arbitration law for challenging successfully awards of legal fees that are authorized by the parties’ contract but are off the rails in their amount. While not a high-stakes arbitration involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, it was one where the losing party was socked with a fee that was so far out of proportion of what it consented to pay that there was nothing whatosever in the record to support it.

Fortunately for the appellant in Flatiron Hotel, the Appellate Division set aside the fee award even though the standard of review for granting such relief is highly deferential. While decisions vacating awards are understandably quite rare, this was one where vacatur was quite appropriate, as we shall see. Continue Reading »