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Archive for the ‘Award Fails to Draw Essence from the Agreement’ Category

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 »

Fourth Circuit Says Labor Arbitrator Spoiled Award by Ignoring CBA’s Procedural Rules

June 29th, 2023 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Fails to Draw Essence from the Agreement, Award Vacated, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Contract Interpretation, Exceeding Powers, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Procedural Arbitrability, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Exceeding Powers, Vacatur Comments Off on Fourth Circuit Says Labor Arbitrator Spoiled Award by Ignoring CBA’s Procedural Rules

Failure to Follow Procedural Rules: Introduction

Procedural Rule not Followed and Award VacatedUnder both the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) and Section 301 of the National Labor Relations Act (the “NLRA”), arbitrators exceed their powers by making awards that do not “draw [their] essence” from the parties’ agreement. See Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568-69 (2013) (FAA); Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 671-72 (2010) (FAA); Eastern Associated Coal v. United Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000) (NLRA). (See, e.g., here, here, here, and here.)

In a case arising under Section 301 of the NLRA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “determine[d] whether an arbitration award failed to draw its essence from the agreement when an arbitrator ignored the parties’ agreed upon procedural rules for conducting the arbitration.” Advantage Veterans Servs. of Walterboro, LLC v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg. Energy, Allied Indus. & Serv. Workers Int’l, Local 7898, No. 22-1268, slip op. at 2 (4th Cir. June 15, 2023). The Fourth Circuit said, “[u]nder the language of the agreement here, the answer is yes[,]” and— reversing the district court’s order—vacated the award. Slip op. at 2 & 12.

Advantage Veterans is a proverbial breath of fresh air for those who wish—by way of clear, unambiguous, and precise contract language—to circumscribe the authority of arbitrators by conditioning the enforceability of an award on compliance with certain clear procedural rules. That is not to say it authorizes vacatur of an award every time the arbitrator does not comply with a clear procedural rule set forth in (or incorporated by) an arbitration agreement.  The doctrine of procedural arbitrability counsels deference to an arbitrator’s procedural decisions that even arguably represent the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, and disputes concerning arbitrator failure to comply with procedural provisions are frequently disposed of on that basis. See, e.g., BG Grp. PLC v. Republic of Argentina, 572 U.S. 25, 27-29, 33-36 (2014).

But at least where parties expressly condition enforceability of an award on compliance with a clear procedural rule, Advantage Veterans gives life to the parties’ clearly expressed intent that an arbitration to take place only as explicitly prescribed. Continue Reading »