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Archive for the ‘Authority of Arbitrators’ Category

Absent Class Members, Class Arbitration, Class Certification Awards, Consent, Coercion, and the Second Circuit

November 29th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Consent to Class Arbitration, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments »
absent class members

While federal, and many state, courts have class-action procedural rules that permit them to bind absent class members to a judgment or settlement, arbitration is different because it is based on party consent, not coercion. While the critical, threshold issues presented in class arbitration is party consent to class arbitration, class certification disputes arising out of a class arbitration proceeding can be just as challenging, especially when they involve absent class members who have not opted in to the proposed or certified class (“absent class members” or “absent members”).

Suppose Employer A requires each of its employees to sign a form arbitration agreement that clearly and unmistakably authorizes the arbitrator to decide all disputes arising out of or relating to the employment relationship as well as arbitrability and procedural issues. More than 250 employees (including putative class representatives) assert that an arbitrator (the “Arbitrator”) should determine whether Employer A consented to class arbitration. Employer A submits that issue to the Arbitrator.

The Arbitrator hears and considers the evidence and arguments and makes a Clause Construction Award, which rules that Employer A and each of the employees consented to class arbitration by signing the employment agreement. Employer A challenges the award as exceeding the arbitrator’s powers under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, but the challenge fails because an appellate court finds that the Arbitrator was at least arguably construing the employment agreement. .

After further proceedings the Arbitrator makes another award, this one certifying a class consisting of approximately 44,000 employees, which included not only the more than 250 persons who were either class representatives or opted in to the class, but also tens of thousands of persons who were absent class members in the sense that they had been notified of the class arbitration and proposed class but had not opted in to the class and had not otherwise appeared in the arbitration proceedings.  

Did the Arbitrator have the power to make that class certification award, which purports to bind each of the 44,000 class members, the vast majority of whom were never parties to the arbitration and had never submitted to the Arbitrator any of the issues that were decided by the Arbitrator’s Clause Construction and class certification awards?  

On November 18, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the answer to that question was “yes.”  But with all due respect to the Second Circuit, and understanding that reasonable minds can and do differ on this subject, we think the better answer would have been “no.”

This post briefly discusses the Second Circuit’s decision.

A subsequent post will explain why we believe the Second Circuit should have held that the arbitrator in that case did not have the authority to bind absent class members, who were not parties to the Clause Construction Award, did not opt into the class, did not otherwise agree to be bound by the Clause Construction Award or the class certification award, and did not otherwise submit to the Arbitrator the issues decided by the Clause Construction and class certification Awards.

 The result would be that the class arbitration could proceed, albeit with a far smaller, certified class (which might be expanded to accommodate any absent members who might be given an additional opportunity to opt-in). But that result, we think, is consistent with the consensual nature of arbitration— a dispute resolution method that is fundamentally different from its coercive counterpart, court litigation.   

Absent Class Members: Background and Procedural History of Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc.

The Second Circuit’s recent decision was the fourth appeal in the Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. case, a long-running class arbitration dispute. The first of these appeals,  Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 646 F.3d 113 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Jock I”), was decided in 2011—the most recent one, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 18-153-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. November 18, 2019) (“Jock IV”), and the subject of this post, was decided November 18, 2019.

Jock and her co-plaintiffs are retail sales employees of Sterling Jewelers, Inc. (“Sterling”). Back in 2008 they sought relief on behalf of a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and under the Equal Pay Act, alleging Sterling, based on their gender, paid them less than their similarly situated male co-workers. 

Sterling employees, including Jock and her co-plaintiffs were required to sign a “RESOLVE Program” agreement (the “Agreement”), which imposed mandatory arbitration. By executing the agreement employees expressly “waiv[ed] right[s] to obtain any legal or equitable relief . . . through any government agency or court, and . . . also waiv[ed] [their] right[s] to commence any court action.” The Agreement provided that they “may. . . seek and be awarded equal remedy through the RESOLVE Program.”

The Agreement provided that “[t]he Arbitrator shall have the power to award any types of legal or equitable relief that would be available in a court of competent jurisdiction[,]” and that any claim arising thereunder will be arbitrated “in accordance with the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association.”

Class arbitration ensued, and the arbitrator construed the Agreement to permit class arbitration. The district court overturned the award on the ground that the class construction award exceeded under the arbitrator’s powers for the reasons stated in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010).

Jock I

But the Second Circuit in Jock I reversed the district court’s judgment. As the Court explained in Jock IV, the Jock I Court “reversed, holding that the District Court impermissibly substituted its own legal analysis for that of the arbitrator instead of focusing its inquiry on whether the arbitrator was permitted to reach the question of class arbitrability that had been submitted to her by the parties.” Jock IV, slip op. at 5-6. The Jock I Court also “explained. . . that the arbitrator had a colorable justification under the law to reach the decision she did.” Jock IV, slip op. at 6.

Jock I “distinguished Stolt-Nielsen on the ground that the parties in Stolt-Nielsen stipulated that their arbitration agreement contained ‘no agreement’ on the issue of class arbitration, whereas the plaintiffs in [Jock I] merely conceded that there was no explicit agreement to permit class arbitration, thus leaving open the possibility of an ‘implied agreement to permit arbitration.’”  Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (citation omitted). 

The Class Certification Award

After Jock I the arbitrator made a class certification award, certifying a class of “approximately 44,000 women, comprising the then-254 plaintiffs as well as other individuals who had neither submitted claims nor opted in to the arbitration proceeding (‘the absent class members’).” Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (parenthetical in original). The arbitrator’s class certification was limited to those with Title VII disparate impact claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The district court denied Sterling’s motion to vacate the certification award. As Jock IV explains, the district court reasoned “that Sterling’s argument that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers in ‘purporting to bind absent class members who did not express their consent to be bound’ was ‘foreclosed by’ this Court’s holding in Jock I that ‘there is no question that the issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration was squarely presented to the arbitrator.’” ”  Jock IV, slip op. at 7 (citation omitted).

Jock II

The district court’s decision refusing to vacate the class certification award resulted in the second appeal, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 703 Fed. Appx. 15 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order). (“Jock II”). In July 2017 we wrote a short post (here) about Jock II.

Jock II vacated and remanded the district court’s decision refusing to vacate the certification award because it purported to bind absent members, who (because of their absence) could not have “squarely presented” to the arbitrator the question whether the agreement authorized class procedures, let alone the issue of whether they should be deemed part of a class in a class arbitration to which they had not consented. See Jock II, 703 Fed. Appx. at 16, 17-18 (quotation and citation omitted).

In Jock II, the Second Circuit directed the district court to “consider[] on remand. . . ‘whether an arbitrator, who may decide. . . whether an arbitration agreement provides for class procedures because the parties “squarely presented” it for decision, may thereafter purport to bind non-parties to class procedures on this basis.’”) Jock IV, slip op. at 7-8 (citation omitted).  

The Jock II Remand

The district court vacated the class determination award on remand for two reasons. First, the district court said that it had ruled in 2010 that the Agreement did not authorize class procedures and that, accordingly, the absent class members had not consented to class arbitration.

Second, the submission by the plaintiffs and defendants (not the absent members) to the arbitrator of the question whether the Agreement authorized class arbitration did not confer on the arbitrator the authority to make a ruling binding on the absent members (who did not submit the issue to the Arbitrator). “The District Court[,]” said the Second Circuit, “reasoned that, even if the arbitrator’s ‘erroneous interpretation’ of the [Agreement] could bind the 254 plaintiffs who had ‘authorized the arbitrator to make that determination by submitting the question to her or opting into the proceeding, that erroneous interpretation could not bind absent class members.” Jock IV, slip op. at 8.

The Jock IV Appeal

The district court ruling on the Jock II remand resulted in the Jock IV appeal. (The Jock III decision was the dismissal of an appeal of a district court ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to vacate an interim decision rendered by the arbitrator. Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 691 F. App’x 665 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order).) 

Since the issue before the district court on the Jock II remand  was whether the arbitrator’s class certification decision should be vacated under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, the applicable standard of review was the manifest disregard of the agreement standard set forth in Stolt-Nielsen and Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568-69 (2013). See Jock IV, slip op. at 9-11. (For discussion of that deferential standard, see here, here, here, and here)  

Sterling (the “Award Challenger”) argued, consistent with the district court’s decision,  that the deferential standard should not apply to the question whether the absent members had consented to class arbitration, because they were not parties to the class construction award that was the subject of Jock I, did not submit the issue of class consent to the arbitrator, or otherwise agree to be bound by a determination of consent to class arbitration to which they were not parties.

But the Second Circuit did not agree with the district court or the Award Challenger. It agreed with the plaintiff-appellants (the “Award Defending Parties”), who “argue[d] that the absent class members have, in fact, authorized the arbitrator to determine whether the [Agreement] permits class arbitration procedures.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11.  They urged “that because all Sterling employees signed the RESOLVE Agreement, all Sterling employees “agreed that, if any of them initiated a putative class proceeding, the arbitrator in that proceeding would be empowered to decide class-arbitrability—and, if he or she found it appropriate, to certify a class encompassing other employees’ claims.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11-12.

The Award Defending Parties asserted that “the District Court erred by ‘never ask[ing] what authority absent class members conferred on [the arbitrator] by joining the RESOLVE Program [i.e., signing the Agreement],’ a question that is a matter of contract interpretation.” Jock IV, slip op. at 12.

The Second Circuit determined that, by signing the Agreement, the employer and the absent class members agreed that: (a) any other employee who signed the Agreement was authorized to arbitrate on behalf of any absent member of a yet-to-be certified class the issue of consent to class arbitration, irrespective of whether the absent class member was a party to the arbitration, and irrespective of whether the absent member had notice of, and consented to, the arbitration; (b) any absent class member would be bound by the outcome of such a class-arbitration-consent arbitration proceeding, even though the absent class member did not participate in the arbitration, did not consent to the arbitration (apart from signing the Agreement), and did not play any role in the selection of the arbitrator who presided over the arbitration; and (c) the decision on class arbitration reached by the arbitrator in his or her absence would be subject to review under the exceedingly deferential Oxford/Stolt-Nielsen standard only, and the absent members would be bound by the result of that judicial review even though they were not parties to the Clause Construction Award or to the judicial proceeding in which the Clause Construction Award was reviewed.  

Absent Class Members: What to Make of Jock IV?

We’ll discuss that in an upcoming post….

Manifest Disregard of the Law | Manifest Disregard of the Agreement | Second Circuit Remands Award to Arbitrator for Do-Over

October 25th, 2019 Authority of Arbitrators, Award Vacated, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Contract Interpretation, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Vacatur No Comments »
Second Chance to Make Award not in Manifest Disregard of Law or Agreement

Arbitrators are human and occasionally they make awards that cannot be squared with logic and law, and courts may, in appropriate circumstances, vacate those awards as being in manifest the agreement, or in some circuits, in manifest disregard of the law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit considered such an award in Weiss v. Sallie Mae, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-2362, slip op. (Sept. 12, 2019), and solved the problem in a way that imposed minimal costs and delay on the parties and, at the same time, gave effect to the parties’ reasonable contractual expectations, including that the arbitrator would make an award with a colorable basis in the law or the parties’ agreement, not one in manifest disregard of the law or the agreement. It is therefore a good example of a case that promotes arbitration as an alternative to litigation.

Background

W is a student-loan borrower who in 2011 defaulted on a loan issued by S (N is the successor of S, but we shall refer to both as “S”). W gave S her phone number (“Phone Number 1”) when she obtained the loan and consented to S contacting her via an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). S made ATDS calls to her using Phone Number 1 prior to her default on the loan in 2011.

Also prior to her 2011 default W obtained a second telephone number (“Phone Number 2”) but did not give S consent to contact her on that number via an ATDS.

After W’s 2011 default, S contacted W seven or eight times a day at Phone Number 2 via an ATDS, attempting to collect the debt. S made 774 ATDS calls to Phone Number 2 during the period September 16, 2011 through July 1, 2013.

The Arbitration

A dispute arose between W and S about whether S’s ATDS calls had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and W commenced an action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The action was stayed after the parties stipulated to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement in a student-loan promissory note.

The Award: Was it in Manifest Disregard of the Law or the Agreement?

Final Award 2 - yay-15399450

Following a hearing an arbitrator made an award granting W $108,000 in statutory damages under the TCPA. But the award held that W was a class member in a class action that S had settled. The class-action settlement (the “Arthur Settlement”) “included as a class member, ‘any person who received ATDS calls from [S] between October 27, 2005 and September 14, 2010.’” Slip op. at 5 (citation omitted).

W did not contend that the calls S made to Phone Number 1 violated the TCPA (W had consented to those calls), and W contended that, accordingly, she was not bound by the settlement, even though she had received ATDS on Phone Number 1 during the specified period. The arbitrator, however, found that argument “‘unpersuasive,’” and “ruled that Weiss was a class member and that ‘the proof was conclusive that [S] provided [W] with the required notice of the settlement and of her rights and obligations under the terms of the settlement.’” Slip op. at 5-6 (citation omitted).

The Arthur Settlement “notice offered class members the opportunity to file a ‘consent Revocation’ document by September 15, 2012; absent such a filing, ‘the ATDS calls would not stop and the borrower’s prior consent to give them [sic] would be deemed to have been given.’” Slip op. at 6 (citation omitted; bracketed text in original).  

While W contended that she was not aware of the Arthur Settlement, S testified that notice was successfully emailed to W.

The agreement implementing the Arthur Settlement featured a general release, “under which class members were ‘deemed to have fully released and forever discharged [S]’. . . from any and all claims and causes of action, inter alia, ‘that arise out of or are related in any way to the use of an [ATDS]. . . used by any of the Released Parties in connection with efforts to contact or attempt to contact Settlement Class Members including, but not limited to, claims under or for violations of the [TCPA].’” Slip op. at 6 (citations omitted; some bracketed text in original).

Even though the general release, to which the arbitrator determined W was bound, deemed W to have “waived ‘any and all’ TCPA claims effective the date of final judgment in the Arthur Settlement action[,]” the arbitrator’s award did not acknowledge the existence of that release. Slip op. at 6-7. “Instead,” said the Court, “the arbitrator interpreted [W]’s failure to submit a consent revocation pursuant to the Arthur class notice as precluding recovery for any calls placed to [Phone Number 2] after the September 15, 2012 deadline but also as permitting recovery for ATDS calls placed to [Phone Number 2] between September 6, 2011, and September 16, 2012.” Slip op. at 7.

The arbitrator awarded TCPA statutory damages in the amount of $108,500 ($500 per call for 217 calls during the applicable period). W moved to confirm the award and S cross-moved to vacate it.

The district court vacated the award, finding that “by neglecting to ‘apply—or even address—an explicit, unambiguous term of the settlement agreement,’ which “clearly and unambiguously bars recovery for claims until and including the date of the agreement,’ the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law.” Slip op. at 7. W appealed.

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New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part II)

August 15th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Class Arbitration Waivers, Clause Construction Award, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Analysis

Part I of this post discussed how the Second and Fifth Circuits, in  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), and 20/20 Comms. Inc. v. Lennox Crawford, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-10260 (5th Cir. July 22, 2019), suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability (a/k/a the “Clear and Unmistakable Rule”).

Under this Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule, courts consider the merits of an underlying arbitrability issue as part of their analysis of whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability issues.

But the Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception runs directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 524 (January 8, 2019), and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein. 139 S. Ct. at 527-28, 529-31.

This Part II analyzes and discusses how Met Life and 20/20 Comm. effectively made an end run around Schein and considers what might have motivated those Courts to rule as they did.

Making an End Run Around Schein?

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Circumvent | End Run

When, prior to 20/20 Comm. we wrote about Met Life, we said it “an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.” (See here. )

But after the Fifth Circuit decided 20/20 Comm. this July, in comments we made to Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, the Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”)—which were reproduced with our consent in Mr. Zhan Tze’s CPR Speaks blog article about 20/20 Comm. (here)—we expressed the belief that the Fifth Circuit was (whether intentionally or unintentionally) making an end run around Schein, effectively creating an exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule.

After analyzing 20/20 Comm. and comparing it to the Second Circuit’s Met Life decision, we concluded that the Second Circuit’s decision also ran counter to Schein.

Schein’s Abrogation of the “Wholly Groundless Exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Jettison

In Schein the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the so-called “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule. Prior to Schein certain courts, including the Fifth Circuit, held that even when parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, courts could effectively circumvent the parties’ agreement and decide for itself arbitrability challenges that it determined were “wholly groundless.”  

The rationale Schein used to jettison the “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule is incompatible with the rationales the Second and Fifth Circuit used to support their decisions in Met Life and 20/20 Comm.

Under FAA Section 2, the Schein Court explained, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 529 (citation omitted). When those contracts delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, “a court may not override the contract[,]” and has “no power to decide the arbitrability issue.” 139 S. Ct. at 529. That is so even where a Court “thinks that the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is wholly groundless.” 139 S. Ct. at 529.

Schein explained that its conclusion was supported not only by the FAA’s text, but also by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Citing and quoting cases decided under Section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act, the Court explained that courts may not “‘rule on the potential merits of the underlying’ claim that is assigned by contract to an arbitrator, ‘even if it appears to the court to be frivolous[,]’” and that “[a] court has “‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’” because the “‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’” 139 S. Ct. at 529 (quoting AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 649–650 (1986) and Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960)).

This “principle,” said the Schein Court, “applies with equal force to the threshold issue of arbitrability[]”—for “[j]ust as a court may not decide a merits question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator, a court may not decide an arbitrability question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator.” 139 S. Ct. at 530.

Exception to Clear and Unmistakable Rule? Why the Second and Fifth Circuit Decisions Conflict with Schein

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New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part I)

August 13th, 2019 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 6

Arbitration law is replete with presumptions and other rules that favor one outcome or another depending on whether one thing or another is or is not clear and unmistakable. Put differently, outcomes often turn on the presence or absence of contractual ambiguity.

There are three presumptions that relate specifically to questions arbitrability, that is, whether or not an arbitrator or a court gets to decide a particular issue or dispute:   

  1. The Moses Cone Presumption of Arbitrability: Ambiguities in the scope of the arbitration agreement itself must be resolved in favor of arbitration. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). Rebutting this presumption requires clear and unmistakable evidence of an intent to exclude from arbitration disputes that are otherwise arguably within the scope of the agreement.
  2. The First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability:  Parties are presumed not to have agreed to arbitrate questions of arbitrability unless the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995)
  3. The Howsam/John Wiley Presumption of Arbitrability of Procedural Matters: “‘[P]rocedural’ questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (quoting John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557 (1964)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To rebut this presumption, the parties must clearly and unmistakably exclude the procedural issue in question from arbitration.

These presumptions usually turn solely on what the contract has to say about the arbitrability of a dispute, not on what the outcome an arbitrator or court would—or at least should—reach on the merits of the dispute.

Some U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Fifth Circuit, recognized an exception to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability called the “wholly groundless exception.” Under that “wholly groundless exception,” courts could decide “wholly groundless” challenges to arbitrability even though the parties have clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability issues to the arbitrators. The apparent point of that exception was to avoid the additional time and expense associated with parties being required to arbitrate even wholly groundless arbitrability disputes, but the cost of the exception was a judicial override of the clear and unmistakable terms of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.  

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, slip op. at *1 (January 8, 2019) abrogated the “wholly groundless” exception. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8. “When,” explained the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Schein, slip op. at 2, 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.” Schein,slip op. at 8.    

But since Schein both the Second and Fifth Circuits have decided First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability cases by effectively conflating the question of who gets to decide an arbitrability issue with the separate question of who should prevail on the merits of that arbitrability issue. The Courts in both cases determined whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions by considering, as part of the clear and unmistakable calculus, the merits of the arbitrability question.

These two cases suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability. But the problem with that trend is that it runs directly counter to the Supreme Court’s decision in Schein, and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein.

In Part I of this post we discuss the Second Circuit and Fifth Circuit decisions. In Part II we analyze and discuss how— and perhaps why — those courts effectively made an end run around Schein.

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Attorney Fees and Arbitrability Addressed by New York Appellate Court

July 30th, 2019 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Confirmed, Award Vacated, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Confirm Award | Attorney Fees, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Confirm Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Law, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), Practice and Procedure, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Arbitrability, Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Exceeding Powers, Vacate Award | Excess of Powers, Vacate Award | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Vacate Award | Manifest Disregard of the Law, Vacatur Comments Off on Attorney Fees and Arbitrability Addressed by New York Appellate Court
Attorney Fees in Arbitration | TV

In Steyn v. CRTV, LLC (In re Steyn), ____ A.D. 3d ____, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 5341, at *1 (1st Dep’t July 2, 2019), New York’s Appellate Division, First Department decided a case falling under the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) that involved two challenges: one to an award of attorney fees on manifest disregard of the law grounds, and the other to an award that a nonsignatory obtained by joining the petitioner’s counterclaim.

The Court rejected the manifest-disregard challenge to the attorney fee award in favor of a signatory to the arbitration agreement, but held that the trial court should have vacated the award made in favor of a nonsignatory (which included both damages and attorney fees).

Background: Attorney Fee and Arbitrability Challenges

Terms and Conditions

The appeal arose out of a contract “dispute between Mark Steyn, a renowned author and television and radio personality, and CRTV, an online television network, currently known as BlazeTV, which features conservative commentators such as Glenn Beck and Phil Robertson.” 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 5341, at *2. We’ll call Steyn the “Host” and CRTV the “Network.”

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Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?

April 27th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?
Arbitrability Question 5 | Delegation Clause | Delegation Provision

Parties can, and frequently do, agree to include in their contract a so-called
“Delegation Provision” that clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrators questions of arbitrability. (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, here, and here.) Questions of arbitrability include questions concerning: (a) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular disputes or categories of disputes; (b) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (c) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Who Gets to Decide whether the Parties Entered into a Delegation Provision?

Federal Arbitration Act  | Who Gets to Decide? | Delegation Provision

Suppose that Agent A, without the knowledge and consent of Party A, purports to bind Party A to a written contract with Party B, which includes a broad arbitration agreement that expressly incorporates by reference, and makes part of the purported contract, the 2018 version of CPR’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules. Party B and Agent A deal with each other concerning the subject matter of the contract, and a dispute arises.

Party B demands arbitration of the dispute, and serves an arbitration demand on Party A, who is understandably surprised at being named a party in an arbitration proceeding concerning a purported agreement of which it had no knowledge, objects to the arbitration demand, and Party B commences an action to compel arbitration.

In the proceeding to compel arbitration, Party A argues that Agent A had no actual or apparent authority to bind it to the agreement that contained the arbitration agreement. Party B responds that because the Delegation Clause made part of the agreement requires arbitration of issues concerning the “existence” of the arbitration agreement, Party A must arbitrate the issue of whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement.

Must Party A arbitrate the issue whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement because the agreement contains a Delegation Provision? If the only consideration were the text of Rule 8.1, then the answer would be “yes.”

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Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?

April 17th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Exceeding Powers, Grounds for Vacatur, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacatur Comments Off on Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?
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Suppose arbitrators decide an issue within the scope of their authority but do so in manifest disregard the parties’ contract. Do they exceed their authority by making an award that has not even a barely colorable basis in the parties’ contract or in applicable law?

The answer to that question, is, of course, “yes,” and over the years we’ve discussed in a number of posts how arbitrators can exceed their powers under Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) or Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act by making awards in manifest disregard of the parties’ agreement. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum Posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) As discussed in those posts, the U.S. Supreme Court has on multiple occasions ruled that commercial and labor arbitrators can exceed their powers by making an award that manifestly disregards—or does not “draw its essence” from—the parties’ agreement. See Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Inc., 130 S.Ct. 1758, 1768-70 (2010); Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S.Ct. 2064, 2067, 2068 (2013); Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000); Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 599 (1960); Paperworkers v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987).

In our April 12, 2019 post (here) we reviewed how it is that the limited review powers courts have to vacate commercial and labor arbitration awards are designed to provide a limited, but very important, safety net to protect parties against egregious, material violations of arbitration agreements. Without that limited protection, the risks associated with agreeing to arbitrate would be intolerably high and parties would be much less apt to opt for arbitration over court litigation.

Courts vacate arbitration awards where arbitrators act outside the scope of their authority by ruling on issues that the parties did not agree to submit to them. That’s what happened in Brock Indus. Servs., LLC v. Laborers’ Int’l Union., __ F.3d ___, No. 17-2597, slip op. (7th Cir. April 8, 2019), which we discussed in our April 12, 2019 post here.

But to obtain vacatur of an award based on manifest disregard of the agreement, however, an award challenger must satisfy an exceedingly demanding standard. We’ve addressed the parameters of that standard in a number of other posts. (See, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Our blog has also tried to give a feel for how Courts apply (or are supposed to apply) the standard by comparing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stolt-Nielsen, which held that an award should be vacated for manifest disregard of the agreement, to the Supreme Court decision in Oxford, which held that an award should not be vacated under that manifest disregard standard. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.) And from time-to-time we’ve reported on other cases that have applied the standard.

While challenges to awards based on manifest disregard of the agreement are not uncommon, a very large majority of those challenges are either virtually certain to fail or at least highly unlikely to succeed. It is a relatively small universe of remaining, close cases that pose the biggest challenges for parties and courts.

Today we’ll look at one of those close cases, which was decided by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and explain why the case failed to satisfy the demanding standard, even though, at least at first glance, it may be difficult to square the arbitration award with the parties’ agreement.

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If an Arbitration Panel Rules on an Issue the Parties did not Agree to Submit to that Panel, Should a Court Vacate the Award?

April 12th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Vacated, Awards, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Vacatur 2 Comments »

Introduction: Arbitration as a Way to Resolve those Disputes—and Only those Disputes—Parties Submit to Arbitrators

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The “first principle” of labor and commercial arbitration law is that “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion” —put differently, arbitration “is a way to resolve those disputes—but only those disputes—that the parties have agreed to submit to arbitration.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 943 (1995) (citations omitted); Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 295 & n.7, 294 n.6 (2010); AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U. S. 643, 648 (1986). That first principle is integrally intertwined with “the central or primary purpose of the [Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)][,]” which is “to ensure that  private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 679 (citations and quotations omitted).

What happens if the parties agree to submit one category of disputes to a two-person arbitration panel and to submit another category of disputes to a three-person panel?

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Second Circuit Denies Motion to Compel Appraisal because Insurer Sought to Submit Question of Law to Appraisers

April 7th, 2019 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Appraisal, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Authority of Arbitrators, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Second Circuit Denies Motion to Compel Appraisal because Insurer Sought to Submit Question of Law to Appraisers
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In the Second Circuit, appraisal provisions in insurance policies and other contracts are, as a matter of federal common law, considered arbitration agreements for purposes of the Federal Arbitration Act. Bakoss v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds of London Issuing Certificate No. 0510135, 707 F.3d 140, 143 (2d Cir. 2013). That is because they “clearly manifest[] an intention by the parties to submit certain disputes to a specified third party for binding resolution.” McDonnell Douglas Finance Corp. v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 858 F.2d 825, 830 (2d Cir. 1988); Bakoss, 707 F.3d at 143. That appraisal clauses typically do not use the term “arbitration” is of no moment—all that counts “is that the parties clearly intended to submit some disputes to their chosen instrument [appraisal] for the definitive settlement of certain grievances under the Agreement.” Id. (quotations omitted); see Bakoss, 707 F.3d at 143.

In Milligan v. CCC Info. Servs. Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-cv-1405, slip op. (2d Cir. April 3, 2019) the Second Circuit affirmed a district court decision that denied an insurer (the “Insurer”)’s motion to compel, under the Federal Arbitration Act, appraisal of a dispute concerning the Insurer’s obligation to indemnify the insured (the “Insured”) for total loss of a leased vehicle. The Second Circuit held that the dispute the Insurer sought to submit to appraisal concerned interpretation of the policy, and thus presented a question of law that was outside the scope of the appraisal clause.

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Arbitrability of Arbitrability Questions: the Second Circuit Pushes Back (a little)

April 3rd, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Stay of Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
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Abitrability Questions
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In a January 16, 2019 post (here) on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ____, slip op. (January 8, 2019), we explained that 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 also Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts herehere, and here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. It might, for example, state that the parties agree to submit to arbitrators questions concerning their “jurisdiction,” or the “existence, scope, or validity” of the arbitration agreement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, does not require the parties to expressly state in their agreement that they agree to submit arbitrability questions to the arbitrators. The Second Circuit has found that the parties may “clearly and unmistakably” submit arbitrability questions to arbitration when they agree to a very broad arbitration clause. See Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC v. Sappington, 884 F.3d 392, 394, 396 (2d Cir. 2018) (An agreement “to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy that may arise between you and Wells Fargo Advisors, or a client, or any other person[, and] . . . giving up the right to sue Wells Fargo Advisors . . . in court concerning matters related to or arising from your employment” “demonstrate[d] the parties’ clear and unmistakable intent to arbitrate all questions of arbitrability.”); PaineWebber Inc. v. Bybyk, 81 F.3d 1193, 1199 (2d Cir. 1996) (A contractual provision that “any and all controversies . . . concerning any account, transaction, dispute or the construction, performance, or breach of this or any other agreement . . . shall be determined by arbitration” and that “the parties are waiving their right to seek remedies in court” clearly and unmistakably demonstrated “parties’ intent to arbitrate all issues, including arbitrability.”) (emphasis omitted); Alliance Bernstein Investment Research and Management, Inc. v. Schaffran, 445 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2006) (NASD Code Rule 10324, which authorized arbitrators “to interpret and determine the applicability of all provisions under [the] Code[]” was a clear and unmistakable delegation to arbitrators of arbitrability questions concerning interpretation of the NASD Code.).

In Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), the Second Circuit was faced with an unusual situation where party A sought to arbitrate against party B, a former member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)’s predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”), a dispute arising out of events that occurred years after party B severed its ties with the NASD.

The district court rejected A’s arguments, ruling that: (a) this particular arbitrability question was for the Court to decide; and (b) the dispute was not arbitrable because it arose years after B left the NASD, and was based on events that occurred subsequent to B’s departure. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

After the district court decision, but prior to the Second Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Schein, which—as we explained here—held that even so-called “wholly-groundless” arbitrability questions must be submitted to arbitration if the parties clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to arbitration. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8.

The Second Circuit faced a situation where a party sought to arbitrate a dispute which clearly was not arbitrable, but in circumstances under which prior precedent, including Alliance Berstein (cited above), suggested that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

To give effect to the parties’ likely intent that they did not agree to arbitrate arbitrability questions that arose after B left the NASD, the Second Circuit had no choice but distinguish and qualify its prior precedent without falling afoul of the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement in Schein. That required the Second Circuit to modify, to at least some extent, the contractual interpretation analysis that courts within the Second Circuit are supposed to engage to ascertain whether parties “clearly and unmistakably” agreed to arbitrate arbitrability in circumstance where they have not specifically agreed to arbitrate such issues.

Metropolitan Life is an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.

It is easy to see how applying Metropolitan Life in future cases could raise some interesting and challenging questions for parties, their attorneys, and the courts. We may look at those challenges in more detail in a future post, but for now, let’s take a careful look at the Second Circuit’s decision.

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