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Archive for the ‘Evident Partiality’ Category

The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit

November 18th, 2019 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Award Vacated, Confirmation of Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Repeat Players, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur No Comments »
Disclosure | Evident Partiality | Repeat Player

Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10 permits Courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality. . . in the arbitrators. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). If an arbitrator fails to disclose an ownership interest in an arbitration provider, which has a nontrivial, repeat player relationship with a party, should the award be vacated for evident partiality?

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. We’ve written about it extensively over the years, including here, here, here, and here, as well as in other publications. The author has briefed, argued, or both, a number of U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district court cases on the subject over the years, including, among others, Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyds of London v. State of Florida, Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501 (2018); and Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640 (2005).

The most recent significant evident partiality development is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s 2-1 decision in Monster Energy Co. v. City Beverages, LLC, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-55813, slip op. (9th Cir. Oct. 22, 2019), a case that involved an award made in favor of a repeat player party in an administered arbitration. Monster held that an arbitrator who failed to disclose his ownership interest in an arbitration provider was guilty of evident partiality because the arbitration provider had nontrivial business relationship with the repeat player party.

The Repeat Player Problem

In administered arbitration the (inevitable) existence of repeat players raises important questions that bear on evident partiality. Repeat players are parties who use the services of an arbitration provider on a regular basis, and therefore are a source of repeat business for the provider.

Arbitrators who are part of an arbitration provider’s appointment pool have earned their appointments by satisfying certain criteria set by the arbitration provider, and may also be trained by the arbitration provider. Ordinarily they are not employees of the arbitration provider, and, at least ostensibly, are independent from the arbitration provider.

But the economic interests of these arbitrators are aligned with those of the arbitration provider. What’s good for the arbitration provider is generally good for the arbitration provider’s pool of arbitrators. Repeat business is good for arbitration providers, just as it is good for lawyers and others.

Let’s assume that an arbitrator appointed in an arbitration administered by provider X has never before served as an arbitrator for parties A and B. If the contract between A and B is a form contract used by Party A that appoints X to administer arbitrations, and the contract concerns a subject matter in which disputes are fairly common (e.g., a consumer, employment, or franchise matter), then the arbitrator knows or has reason to know that the customer is either a repeat player or is likely to be one in the not too distant future.

If party B is, for example, a consumer, employee, or franchisee, and is not a repeat player, then one might suggest that our hypothetical arbitrator has at least an indirect interest in the outcome of the arbitration, specifically, one that would be best served by an outcome favoring party A, the repeat player.

That creates a potential evident partiality problem, for to be neutral, arbitrators have to be not only independent, and unbiased, but also disinterested. To be disinterested, the arbitrator cannot have have “a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510 (citations and quotations omitted).

Does the kind of indirect and general financial or personal interest in the outcome described above, without more, establish evident partiality? It should not, although arbitrators are well-advised to disclose the existence of such an indirect or general financial or personal interests.

We think an argument for evident partiality based solely on an arbitrator having reason to believe that one of the parties is a repeat player with respect to the arbitration provider’s services would prove too much. Carried to its logical conclusion it would destroy, or at least severely diminish, the utility of the arbitration-provider-administered arbitration model in a large number of cases.

But that doesn’t mean that administered-arbitration awards in favor of repeat players and against non-repeat-players are immune from evident partiality challenge in all circumstances. Monster Energy provides an example and may be a harbinger of closer scrutiny of repeat player evident partiality challenges. 

We discuss the majority opinion in Monster Energy below. In a future post or posts, we will discuss the dissenting opinion, what to make of the case, and how it might (or not) influence how other courts address repeat-player-related issues that may arise in future cases.

Continue Reading »

Second Circuit Sets Evident Partiality Standard for Party-Appointed Arbitrators on Industry Tripartite Arbitration Panels

July 26th, 2018 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Evident Partiality, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Comments Off on Second Circuit Sets Evident Partiality Standard for Party-Appointed Arbitrators on Industry Tripartite Arbitration Panels

Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) authorizes courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality.  .  .  in the arbitrators.  .  .  .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). As respects neutral arbitrators, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has long held that “[e]vident partiality may be found only where a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was partial to one party to the arbitration.”  Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. Ltd. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir. 2012) (quotations and citations omitted).

But, particularly in industry and labor arbitration, the parties do not necessarily intend that party-appointed arbitrators on tripartite panels are neutral, that is, disinterested in the outcome, impartial and independent. Can a party vacate an award based on the “evident partiality” of a non-neutral, party-appointed arbitrator, and if so, what standard applies to such a challenge? Continue Reading »

All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

May 12th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Evident Partiality, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts Comments Off on All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

yay-677327-digitalOn March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration principle that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend that appointed arbitrators must be neutral.

Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the AAA had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-34842-e1424841353823The losing party is requesting Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

At this week’s May 14, 2015 conference, the Court will presumably decide whether or not to grant certiorari.

In our March 28, 2015 post (here) we argued  that Americo‘s unique facts make it poor candidate for certiorari. At the time the parties agreed to arbitrate, the AAA rules “provided that ‘[u]nless the parties agree otherwise, an arbitrator selected unilaterally by one party is a party-appointed arbitrator and not subject to disqualification pursuant to Section 19.'” 440 S.W.3d at 23 (quoting AAA Commercial Rule § 12 (1996)). Section 19 permitted the AAA to disqualify neutral arbitrators for partiality, but, under Section 12, absent an agreement to the contrary, party-appointed arbitrators were not subject to disqualification under Rule 19. When the AAA Rules were amended to reverse the traditional presumption about partiality of party-appointed arbitrators, the Rules were also amended to authorize the AAA to determine whether party-appointed arbitrators were neutral.

yay-8590418-digitalThis is one of those (relatively rare) cases where a question of arbitrability—that is, whether the parties agreed to delegate to the AAA the authority to make a final and binding determination on whether a party-appointed arbitrator may be disqualified—is intertwined so inextricably with the merits of the dispute alleged to be arbitrable that, for all intents and purposes, the arbitrability and merits questions are identical. In other words, the AAA’s authority to disqualify turns on whether the parties agreed to neutral or non-neutral party-appointed arbitrators–the precise issue the petition claims the AAA should itself decide. In situations like these, the court cannot abdicate its duty to determine arbitrability, even if that means deciding some or all of the disputes that are alleged to be arbitrable. See, generally, Litton Financial Printing Div. v. National Labor Relations Board, 501 U.S. 190, 208-09 (1991).

Of course, the Supreme Court may believe otherwise, or may have other reasons for wanting  to grant certiorari.  But in any event, we’ll probably know by Monday, May 18, 2015 whether the Court will take the case.

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to images 1 and 3 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.

United States Supreme Court Requests Response to Petition for Certiorari in Texas Party-Appointed Arbitrator Qualification Case

March 28th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Contract Interpretation, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Arbitration Law, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on United States Supreme Court Requests Response to Petition for Certiorari in Texas Party-Appointed Arbitrator Qualification Case

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On June 20, 2014 the Texas Supreme Court held in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014), that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration principle that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend that appointed arbitrators must be neutral.

Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the AAA had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

The losing party has petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court should determine whether the Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. Continue Reading »

HarrisMartin Reinsurance Conference Postscript

September 28th, 2011 Events, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on HarrisMartin Reinsurance Conference Postscript

On September 22-23, 2011, a number of experienced reinsurance industry executives and  in-house counsel, and a small group of outside counsel (yours truly included), spoke at the HarrisMartin Publishing-sponsored reinsurance conference, “Reinsurance Summit:  Fresh Perspectives on the Reinsurance Front,” which took place at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.  (Our pre-conference, August 22, 2011 post (here) sets forth the conference program agenda.)

As expected attendance was modest – no doubt the result of the cost-cutting mandated by economic conditions, coupled with reduced reinsurance-dispute frequency and severity — but the conference was nevertheless a great success.  The presentations were thoughtful, interesting and professionally useful, and the smaller group of attendees not only facilitated robust – and sometimes, spirited – discussions during the program, but also provided a relaxed atmosphere conducive to networking during the breaks.  I, for one, returned home with “fresh perspectives” on a number of reinsurance-related issues, and those perspectives have proved to be good fodder for brainstorming. Continue Reading »

New York Law Journal Article: “Arbitrator Evident Partiality Standard Under Scrutiny in ‘Scandinavian Re'”

May 20th, 2011 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Ethics, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on New York Law Journal Article: “Arbitrator Evident Partiality Standard Under Scrutiny in ‘Scandinavian Re'”

On May 18, 2011 the New York Law Journal published in its Outside Counsel section an article I wrote, which argues that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit should reverse the district court’s judgment in Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.,  No. 09 Civ. 9531(SAS), 2010 WL 653481, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2010), appeal pending No. 10-910-cv (2d Cir.). 

The article is reprinted below with permission, and I would like to thank Elaine Song, a member of the New York Law Journal’s editorial staff, for her assistance and work in getting this published in New York’s leading legal trade publication.   Continue Reading »

The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part III.A

March 9th, 2011 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Ethics, Evident Partiality, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Comments Off on The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part III.A

Should the Second Circuit Reverse the District Court’s Judgment in Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.?

I.       Introduction

Parts I and II of this three-part post discussed Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook’s decision in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), No. 09-3682, 2011 WL 285156 (7th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011), and said that Trustmark, in conjunction with  Sphere Drake Ins. Co. v. All American Life Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 617, 622 (7th Cir. 2002) (Easterbrook, J.),  demonstrates that the district court should not have vacated on evident partiality grounds the arbitration award in Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co, No. 09 Civ. 9531(SAS), 2010 WL 653481 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2010).     This Part III.A explains some of the reasons why that is so.  Continue Reading »

The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part II

February 24th, 2011 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Evident Partiality, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Comments Off on The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part II

I.  Introduction

Part I (here) briefly discussed Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook’s decision in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), No. 09-3682, slip op. (7th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011), and its implications on the pending Second and Fifth Circuit appeals in  Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co, No. 09 Civ. 9531(SAS), 2010 WL 653481 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2010), and Dealer Computer Svcs., Inc. v. Michael Motor Co., No. H-10-2132, slip op. (S.D. Tex. December 29, 2010).  This Part II examines in some detail Trustmark’s background and rationale, and Part III will focus on Trustmark’s implications on the Scandinavian Re and Dealer Computer appeals.

II.  Trustmark Background

The following facts were gleaned from both the district court and Seventh Circuit opinions (the district court opinion is reported at 680 F. Supp. 2d 944 and can be found here): Continue Reading »

The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.)

February 23rd, 2011 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Comments Off on The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.)

Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is not only a brilliant judge, writer and law professor, but a master of (among many other things) arbitration law.  He understands better than most judges how commercial arbitration is supposed to work, what the Federal Arbitration Act is supposed to achieve, and how to implement the Act to ensure the parties get not only what they bargained for, but also the potential to realize the benefits that private, voluntary dispute resolution can offer.  His arbitration-law opinions are clearly written, imbued with common and commercial sense, and seem purposely designed to make sometimes elusive concepts readily understandable to courts, arbitrators, parties and counsel.  They tend to ensure that the objective, reasonable expectations of the parties are enforced, not frustrated.  Continue Reading »

Arbitration Nuts & Bolts: Vacating Arbitration Awards – Part III.B: Evident Partiality (Enforcing the Parties’ Expectations of Neutrality)

January 12th, 2010 Awards, Evident Partiality, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure 3 Comments »

Introduction

Part III.A of the evident partiality segment of this series discussed the parties’ reasonable expectations of neutrality.  Today we consider how those expectations are enforced. 

“Evident partiality” challenges typically arise out of one of two scenarios.  First, there are “presumed bias” cases in which the arbitrator’s relationship to the parties or the controversy would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the arbitrator was biased, even though the challenger cannot prove actual bias.    Second, there are evident partiality challenges based on allegations of actual bias.  For example, suppose a neutral said on the record during the proceedings prior to deliberations:  “Party A, frankly I have distrusted your company’s business motives for many years, but hearing your witnesses’ testimony has simply confirmed what I’ve suspected all along.”  While the chances of an arbitrator making such a statement (let alone on the record) are exceedingly slim to non-existent, it would provide the basis for an evident partiality challenge (which would probably succeed) based on proof of actual bias. 

The difference between “presumed” and “actual” bias is simply one of proof.  One is based on circumstantial evidence and the other on direct evidence.  Our focus will be on “presumed bias” cases, because they arise with greater frequency.  Actual bias is very difficult to prove, and if it or something approaching it can be established, then that proof would in any (or most any) event meet the standards necessary to establish evident partiality.    Continue Reading »