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Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part II

February 3rd, 2022 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part II

Evident Partiality

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Evident partiality standards are designed to enforce the parties’ expectations  of neutrality without significantly undermining the finality of arbitration awards. This part II of our Businesspersons’ FAQ guide on evident partiality explains why that is so.  

Evident Partiality Standards and their Source

The subject of what constitutes neutrality for judicial decision makers has long been the subject case law and statutes. Unlike the standards for disqualifying judges, which are set forth for federal judges in 28 U.S.C. § 455, arbitrator neutrality standards in Federal Arbitration Act cases are not expressly set forth by statute—FAA Section 10(a)(2) merely authorizes a court to vacate an award if an arbitrator is “guilty” of “evident partiality.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2).

While the FAA Section 10(a)(2) deems “evident partiality” a ground for vacating an award, the FAA does not define the term or establish a baseline impartiality standard that must be met by every arbitrator.  This contrasts starkly with the English Arbitration Act 1996, which imposes on all arbitrators effectively the same standards of impartiality applicable to English judges. See, generally, Arbitration Act 1996 § 33(1).

What constitutes “evident partiality” under the FAA is a question that the federal courts have answered in various ways over the past several decades. In general, evident partiality is assessed according to a sliding scale of sorts, depending on the parties’ agreement and the surrounding circumstances. That should come as no surprise since the whole point of the FAA is to enforce the parties’ agreement to arbitrate according to its terms. See, e.g., Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l, 559 U.S. 662 (2010) (“[W]e have said on numerous occasions that the central or primary purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”) (citations and quotations omitted).

What is the Standard in the Second Circuit?

The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have adopted various evident partiality standards, which are based principally on differing interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Commonwealth Coatings Corp. v. Continental Cas. Co., 393 U.S. 145 (1968), a case that we will discuss in detail in an upcoming segment dealing with arbitrator disclosure. Rather than engage in a broad survey and parsing of the various evident partiality standards adopted by various federal courts, let’s focus on the so-called “reasonable person” evident partiality standard that has been adopted by the Second Circuit and a number of other courts.

Under Second Circuit authority an award may be vacated “if a reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was biased against one party or partial in favor of another. See Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 83-84 (2d Cir. 1984); National Football League Mgmt. Council v. National Football League Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527, 549 (2d Cir. 2016) (“NFL Council”); Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d at 64; Applied Indus. Materials Corp. v. Ovalar, 492 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir. 2007).

The Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard has been construed and applied by many courts since the Second Circuit’s 1984 decision in Morelite, and has been adopted by the First, Third, Fourth, and Sixth Circuits.  See, e.g., UBS Fin. Servs. v. Asociación de Empleados del Estado Libre Asociado de P.R., 997 F.3d 15, 17-20 (1st Cir. 2021) (citing cases); Freeman v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, 709 F.3d 240, 253-54 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing cases); ANR Coal Co. v. Cogentrix of North Carolina, Inc., 173 F.3d 493, 500-01 (4th Cir. 1999); Apperson v. Fleet Carrier Corp., 879 F.2d 1344, 1358 (6th Cir. 1989).

The standard does not require a showing that an arbitrator was actually biased against one party or partial toward another, only that a reasonable person would have to conclude that was so. A determination that a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was financially or personally interested in the outcome, or not independent, would likewise satisfy the standard.

Absent disclosure and a waiver, an arbitrator should be free from any relationships with the parties that a reasonable person would have to conclude would materially compromise his or her ability to decide the case in an impartial manner. See Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84-85 (father-son relationship); Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72 (“Among the circumstances under which the evident-partiality standard is likely to be met are those in which an arbitrator fails to disclose a relationship or interest that is strongly suggestive of bias in favor of one of the parties”).

Evident Partiality Standards versus Judicial Impartiality Standards 

In the Second Circuit and elsewhere, the standard for disqualifying a judge for partiality or bias is less demanding than that required to vacate an award for evident partiality. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72; see, e.g, Merit Ins. Co. v. Leatherby Ins. Co., 714 F.2d 673, 681 (7th Cir. 1983). While in the Second Circuit one must demonstrate that a “reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator is biased against or partial to a party, Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72, federal judges are disqualified for bias or partiality “in any proceeding in which [their] impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” See 28 U.S.C. § 455(a).

Though neither the judicial nor the arbitral standard requires a challenger to establish “actual bias,” see Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84, and even though demonstrating judicial partiality or bias is difficult to do, showing that a person “might reasonably” “question” a decisionmaker’s impartiality is a considerably less daunting task than showing that the same “reasonable” person “would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was partial or biased.

The Second Circuit also imposes a heightened evidentiary standard on evident partiality claims. Like fraud claims, they must be established by “clear and convincing evidence.” See NFL Council, 820 F.3d at 548; Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Tr., 729 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2013).

The particularly demanding standard for establishing evident partiality of a neutral arbitrator certainly serves to make arbitration awards less susceptible to challenge, thereby increasing the odds that an arbitration award and its confirmation  will be the last step in the dispute resolution process, not a starting point for intensive post-award litigation and further arbitration.

It is at least ostensibly designed to reflect realistically what reasonable expectations of neutrality a party who agrees to arbitrate may have. “Parties agree to arbitrate precisely because they prefer a tribunal with expertise regarding the particular subject matter of their dispute,” said the late Circuit Judge Irving R. Kaufman, speaking for the Court in Morelite, and “[f]amiliarity with a discipline often comes at the expense of complete impartiality.” Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83:

Some commercial fields are quite narrow, and a given expert may be expected to have formed strong views on certain topics, published articles in the field and so forth. Moreover, specific areas tend to breed tightly knit professional communities. Key members are known to one another, and in fact may work with, or for, one another, from time to time. As this Court has noted, ‘[e]xpertise in an industry is accompanied by exposure, in ways large and small, to those engaged in it….’ .  .  .  .  [T]o disqualify any arbitrator who had professional dealings with one of the parties (to say nothing of a social acquaintanceship) would make it impossible, in some circumstances, to find a qualified arbitrator at all. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83 (quoting Andros Compania Maritima, S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 579 F.2d 691, 701 (2d Cir.1978); other citations omitted).

By not requiring neutrals to comply with judicial standards of partiality courts balance the parties’ expectations with the realities of the marketplace.  Particularly in industry arbitration, sought-after arbitrators often have many years of industry experience, which may inform their perspectives on issues important to the industry. Intra-industry issues can pit one segment of the industry against another, and a qualified neutral may have experience in one or both segments.  Some degree of institutional predisposition comes with the territory and does not necessarily disqualify the neutral.  And as industry insiders, arbitrators may know the lawyers and the parties socially and professionally, but those relationships generally do not disqualify the arbitrator from service. 

These practical realities demand what Judge Posner aptly termed a “tradeoff between impartiality and expertise” – the parties bargained for dispute resolution by an industry expert and the benefit of that expertise carries with it the burdens of greater entanglement with the parties, the industry and the issues.  Indeed, if courts required the industry arbitrators — or even commercial arbitrators without an industry-specific focus — to shed or be free from this proverbial baggage, then qualified umpire candidates would be hard to come by.  See Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679 (“people who arbitrate do so because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of the subject matter.”)

Another reason the law does not hold neutral arbitrators to the same standards as judges is because arbitration is voluntarySee Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. “Courts are coercive, not voluntary, agencies,” and “fear of government oppression” has, over time, prompted the creation of “a judicial system in which impartiality is prized above expertise.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. Persons elect to submit their disputes to arbitration “because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of subject matter.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679.

Evident Partiality Standards in Tripartite Arbitration 

An arbitration agreement providing for a single arbitrator is ordinarily presumed to provide for arbitration by a neutral arbitrator, whose neutrality is assessed under the prevailing evident partiality standard. But arbitration agreements often call not for single arbitrators, who are presumed to be neutral, but three-person (a/k/a “tripartite”) panels. 

In reinsurance, and certain other industry arbitrations, for example, the agreement typically requires each party to appoint an arbitrator and for the party-appointed arbitrators to attempt to agree on an umpire or select one by lot drawing, coin toss, Dow Jones pick or like tie-breaking procedure. Unless the arbitration agreement provides otherwise, courts generally presume that the parties intended their appointed arbitrators to act as advocates of a sort:

[I]n the main party-appointed arbitrators are supposed to be advocates. In labor arbitration a union may name as its arbitrator the business manager of the local union, and the employer its vice-president for labor relations.  Yet no one believes that the predictable loyalty of these designees spoils the award. (Emphasis in original; citations omitted). Sphere Drake Ins. Co. v. All American Life Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002); Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyd’s of London v. Florida Dep’t of Fin. Servs., 892 F.3d 501, 508 (2d Cir. 2018): The principles and circumstances that counsel tolerance of certain undisclosed relationships between arbitrator and litigant are even more indulgent of party-appointed arbitrators, who are expected to serve as de facto advocates . . . The ethos of neutrality that informs the selection of a neutral arbitrator to a tripartite panel does not animate the selection and qualification of arbitrators appointed by the parties. Id. (citations and quotations omitted).

The tripartite panel structure is supposed to provide the best of two worlds: (a) two experienced and knowledgeable industry professionals, each acting as an advocate of sorts on behalf of his or her appointing party; and (b) an equally experienced and knowledgeable umpire, who either casts the tie-breaking vote or brokers a consensus. 

An industry’s general acceptance of an advocacy role for party-appointed arbitrators is sometimes evidenced by a practice of the parties authorizing ex parte contact between party-appointed arbitrators and their appointing parties (which may be subject to an agreed cut-off point, such as the submission of pre-hearing briefs).

In the Second Circuit and a number of other jurisdictions, evident partiality standards are generally designed to apply to neutral arbitrators, but not to party-appointed arbitrators, which the parties did not intend to be neutral. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 509-10. According to the Second Circuit, absent arbitrator qualification language to the contrary, “[e]xpecting of party-appointed arbitrators the same level of institutional impartiality applicable to neutrals would impair the process of self-governing dispute resolution.” 892 F.3d at 510.

The Second Circuit, however, does not hold that there are no relationships or other facts  that may establish evident partiality of a non-neutral party-appointed arbitrator. An appointed arbitrator’s violation of a contractual requirement concerning partiality or bias, such as a requirement of “disinterestedness,” may establish evident partiality. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510. Thus, if an arbitration agreement requires a arbitrator to be “disinterested,” the qualification “would be breached[,]” and evident partiality established, “if the party-appointed arbitrator had a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” 892 F.3d at 510.

In addition, the Second Circuit may vacate an award for a party-appointed arbitrator’s evident partiality “if the party opposing the award can show that the party-appointed arbitrator’s partiality had a prejudicial effect on the award.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11 (citations and quotations omitted). In theory at least, such prejudice might, in an appropriate case, be established where the record shows that the neutral wanted and attempted to obtain information from a party-appointed arbitration concerning what to make of the party-appointed arbitrator’s arguments and the party-appointed arbitrator provided misleading or false information in response. Cf. Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 623 (“[W]e have not been given any reason to think that umpire Huggins wanted more information from Jacks in order to know what to make of Jacks’ arguments during the panel’s deliberations.”)

Other courts say that evident partiality is ordinarily not a ground for disqualifying a partisan arbitrator, evident partiality is available only if it prejudices the challenging party, or the parties’ diminished expectations of party-appointed arbitrator impartiality should be considered as part of the evident partiality calculus. See, generally, Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 620;  617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002) (“evident partiality” ground can be waived by consent); Winfrey v. Simmons Foods, Inc., 495 F.3d 549, 552 (8th Cir. 2007) (requiring a showing of prejudice); Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640, 645-46 & 648-49 (6th Cir. 2005) (figuring into the mix the parties’ diminished expectations of impartiality and suggesting that undisclosed social or business relationship may establish evident partiality if it is related “to the subject matter of the” arbitration.)

Although courts will (absent contract language to the contrary) ordinarily assume that the parties intended party-appointed arbitrators to play an advocacy role, there may be disagreement within the industry or among particular parties concerning the degree of partiality permissible.  For example, there are some who believe that robust advocacy is appropriate, while others believe the party-appointed arbitrator should strive to give the appointing party the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately decide the matter according to the evidence and applicable law, custom and practice.  Others may have different views.

The upshot is that the line between the acceptable and unacceptable is both difficult to draw and blurry.  To at least some extent checks on rampant partisanship are imposed by economic considerations:  Party-appointed arbitrators that overstep what other panel members perceive to be proper ethical boundaries risk diminished credibility, influence, and effectiveness, which in turn, may result in fewer appointments. The use of partisan arbitrators, which continues in certain types of industry arbitration, has fallen out of favor in commercial arbitration in general. Rule 18 of the American Arbitration Association’s Commercial Arbitration Rules and Mediation Procedures (amended and effective October 1, 2013) (“AAA Commercial Rules”) reverses the presumption that party-appointed arbitrators should be non-neutral. Rule 18(a) says “Any arbitrator shall be impartial and independent and shall perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and shall be subject to disqualification for:”

(i) partiality or lack of independence, (ii) inability or refusal to perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and (iii) any grounds for disqualification provided by applicable law. AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(a).

Rule 18(b) further provides that “The parties may agree in writing.  .  .  that arbitrators directly appointed by a party pursuant to Section R-13 shall be nonneutral, in which case such arbitrators need not be impartial or independent and shall not be subject to disqualification for partiality or lack of independence.”  AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(b).

The AAA rules vest in the AAA the power to “determine whether the arbitrator should be disqualified under the grounds set out above, and shall inform the parties of its decision, which decision shall be conclusive.” AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(c).

Rule 7(c) of the JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures likewise reverses the presumption of non-neutrality: “Where the Parties have agreed that each Party is to name one Arbitrator, the Arbitrators so named shall be neutral and independent of the appointing Party, unless the Parties have agreed that they shall be non-neutral.” JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures Effective June 1, 2021 (the “JAMS Rules”) Rule 7(c).

Reversal of the presumption of party-appointed arbitrator non-neutrality are common in arbitration rules (including in international arbitration rules), and where parties incorporate by reference arbitration rules into their contract, those rules will ordinarily be deemed a part of the contract, requiring party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. See Idea Nuova, Inc. v. GM Licensing Group, Inc., 617 F.3d 177, 180-82 (2d Cir. 2010) (“An agreement to submit commercial disputes to ‘AAA arbitration for resolution’ is properly construed to agree to arbitration pursuant to the AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules and to incorporate those rules into the Agreement.”)

Tripartite Arbitration: Umpires or Neutral Arbitrators 

Umpires and neutrals are held to higher standards of impartiality than partisan party-appointed arbitrators, and it is to them that ordinary standards of evident partiality apply, such as the Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard. Parties expect them to be fair, objective, open-minded in deliberations and not predisposed to rule in favor of either party before hearing the evidence.  They are supposed to be impartial, but, as previously discussed, they are nevertheless not held to the same rigorous, statutory standards of impartiality applicable to United States federal judges.  See Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 621; Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; see, generally, 28 U.S.C. § 455 (disqualification standards for federal judges). The next instalment will discuss arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; and examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality.

Contacting the Author

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. The author has written about it extensively over the years, including hereherehere, 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). Both of these important cases are cited in this article.  

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or the services that the Loree Law Firm offers, then please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation. He is licensed to practice law in New York and before certain federal district and federal appellate courts.

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Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

November 23rd, 2021 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

INTRODUCTION

Evident Partiality Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them. . . .” 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2). The next few instalments will focus on evident partiality, a later one on corruption.

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 hereherehere, 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).

Evident partiality has been the subject of numerous judicial decisions setting forth various standards and applying them to a wide range of fact patterns.  The decisions are not easy to reconcile (some may be irreconcilable) and the standards are often of limited utility. Matters are complicated by judicially created rules concerning disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and the consequences that may or may not flow from those rules.

But “evident partiality” may be easier to grasp if we focus not on abstract standards or ethical constructs, but on the parties’ reasonable expectations of neutrality. Surprisingly, many courts address the subject of “evident partiality” without expressly discussing this important consideration, even when it appears to have been a significant but unstated part of the decision-making calculus. Others have expressly used the parties’ agreement and attendant expectations of neutrality as a guidepost.

Understanding the parties’ reasonable expectations of partiality is only half the battle. One must also understand how those expectations are enforced through judicially created rules governing disclosure and waiver of conflicts of interest, and the relevance of those rules to a motion to vacate an award under Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(2).

In this instalment our focus is on the parties’ reasonable expectations of arbitrator neutrality. Later instalments will address evident partiality standards and how they are supposed to enforce reasonable expectations of neutrality without undermining arbitral finality; differences between evident partiality standards and judicial impartiality standards; the differing expectations of arbitral neutrality that may attend tripartite arbitration; and how evident partiality standards may implement and enforce those differing expectations; arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; and examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality.

EVIDENT PARTIALITY: PARTIES’ REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS OF NEUTRALITY

The principal purpose of the Federal Arbitration Act is to enforce arbitration agreements as written.  See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 947 (1995).  Parties are largely free to structure their arbitration agreements as they see fit, and that freedom extends to selecting the decision makers, establishing their qualifications, and agreeing on how impartial they should be.  See National Football League Mgmt. Council v. National Football League Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527, 548 (2d Cir. 2016) (“[A]rbitration is a matter of contract, and consequently, the parties to an arbitration can ask for no more impartiality than inheres in the method they have chosen.”) (citing cases); Merit Ins. Co. v. Leatherby Ins. Co., 714 F.2d 673, 679 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1009 (1983) (Posner, J.) (“parties … choose their method of dispute resolution, and can ask no more impartiality than inherent in the method they have chosen.”) (citation omitted).

Inherent in the arbitral bargain is decision making, or at least decision tie breaking, by a neutral decision maker. Single arbitrators are required under the Federal Arbitration Act to be neutral unless the parties otherwise agree. See, e.g., Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 81-85 (2d Cir. 1984). In tripartite arbitration, one arbitrator (usually designated the umpire, chair, or third arbitrator) is ordinarily required to be neutral, while party-appointed arbitrators are presumed to be non-neutral, except to the extent otherwise required by the parties’ arbitration agreement. See Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11; Sphere Drake Ins. v. All American Life Ins., 307 F.3d 617, 622 (7th Cir. 2002); Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), 631 F.3d 869, 872-74 (7th Cir. 2011).

Arbitration provider rules, which may govern arbitrator qualifications in appropriate cases, may provide different rules. For example, the JAMS and American Arbitration Association rules presume all arbitrators on a tripartite panel to be neutral, unless the parties agree otherwise. JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules & Procedures R. 7 (July 1, 2014); see also American Arbitration Association Commercial Arbitration Rules R-18(a) & (b) (October 1, 2013).

Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act—which authorizes federal district courts to vacate arbitration awards “where there was evident partiality…in the arbitrators…”—imposes in part and enforces these neutrality requirements. Section 10(a)(2) establishes that parties who agree to arbitrate can legitimately expect that neutral arbitrators will meet a certain minimal standard of arbitral impartiality, and that arbitrators not appointed as neutrals can, in appropriate circumstances, be held to a substantial, material breach of a stipulated arbitrator qualification requirement related-to, but not necessarily coextensive with, neutrality. See Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11; Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 622; Trustmark631 F.3d at 872-74.

Many consider the requirement that an arbitrator be “neutral” to include two main components: the arbitrator must be (a) impartial and (b) independent. They also consider the requirement of impartiality to include a requirement that the arbitrator be “disinterested.”

While a case can be made for considering disinterestedness to be a component of impartiality, analyzing the two as separate components of neutrality promotes clarity and a more precise understanding of what comprises arbitrator neutrality. That, in turn, makes it easier for us to spot the presence or absence of neutrality in each case.

Evident Partiality: Independence

An arbitrator is independent when he or she is not directly or indirectly subject to the control of a party, potential witnesses, or the other arbitrators, is not affiliated with a party, does not act directly or indirectly in the interest of a party, and is otherwise not subject to undue influence or outside pressure. See, generally, Trout v. Organización Mundial De Boxeo, Inc., 965 F.3d 71, 80-81 (1st Cir. 2020); Demarco v. City of New York, 08-CV-3055 (RRM) (LB), slip op. at 8-9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2011); American Arbitration Association, The Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Disputes Canon 1B(2) (arbitrator should not accept appointment unless “fully satisfied. . . that he or she can serve independently from the parties, potential witnesses, and the other arbitrators. . . .”) (March 1, 2004).

For example, an arbitrator would not be independent were she an agent or employee of one of the parties.

Evident Partiality: Disinterestedness

“Disinterested” means “lacking a financial or other personal stake in the outcome.” Trustmark,  631 F.3d at 872-73 (citing Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009)); Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510; see Caperton, 556 U.S. at 876-81 (discussing cases). The requirement of “disinterest” was reflected in James Madison’s famous observation that “[n]o man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” The Federalist No. 10, p. 59 (J. Cooke ed. 1961) (J. Madison)); see Caperton, 556 U.S. at 876.

The rule that financial or personal interest spoils neutrality does not require proof that the decision-maker would be or was actually biased against or partial to one party or the other. It does not address whether the arbitrator actually has predispositions concerning any of the parties, witnesses, or issues.

It is prophylactic rule, based on human nature, that a person having a financial or personal interest in the outcome of a dispute cannot be considered neutral, even if the decision maker honestly believes that his or her interest in the dispute would or did affect his or her judgment, and even if it could be shown objectively that the decision maker could or did judge the dispute impartially and independently.

The rule serves two functions. First, all else equal, by disqualifying interested decision makers, it eliminates the risk that personal or financial interest will affect decision-maker neutrality. Without the rule the difficulty of proving actual bias would mean that decisions made by interested decision-makers could in many cases not be overturned because it would be difficult or impossible to prove that the interested decision maker was actually biased or partial.

Second, the rule helps encourage public confidence in decision-maker neutrality by disqualifying interested decision-makers.

Impartiality

To be neutral an arbitrator must not only be disinterested, but also impartial. See, e.g., Trustmark, 631 F.3d at 872-73; U.S.Care, Inc. v. Pioneer Life Ins. Co. of Ill., 244 F.Supp.2d 1057, 1062 (C.D. Cal., 2002). To be “impartial” means to be free from “bias or prejudice” in favor of one of the parties. See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 550, 552 (1994).

In Liteky the U.S. Supreme Court explained, in a case concerning judicial partiality standards, that the terms “bias,” “prejudice” and “partiality” all connote a favorable or unfavorable disposition or opinion that is somehow wrongful or inappropriate, either because it is undeserved, or because it rests upon knowledge that the subject ought not to possess…or because it is excessive in degree….” 510 U.S. at 550, 552.

Arbitral or judicial predispositions may be formed as a result of any number things, and can be appropriate or inappropriate, reasonable or unreasonable. But such predispositions do not constitute “partiality,” bias or prejudice unless they are wrongful or inappropriate.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of what “bias,” “prejudice” and “partiality” mean in the judicial context in Liteky is right in line with Section 10(a)(2) itself, which authorizes vacatur where the arbitrator is “guilty” of “evident partiality.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2) (emphasis added).

Neutral versus Impartial: Terminology Glitches

Unfortunately, the terminology used by Section 10(a)(2) (and by courts interpreting it) is not always consistent with that used by arbitration providers and other arbitration professionals.

Section 10(a)(2) refers only to “evident partiality,” not neutrality. Under the terminology commonly employed by arbitrator providers, “evident partiality” would not encompass an arbitrator’s lack of independence from a party.

But courts generally, and we think correctly, consider evident partiality to include an evident personal or financial interest in the outcome of the dispute, an evident inappropriate predisposition in favor of or against a party, or an evident lack of independence.

The next instalment will begin with a discussion of how evident partiality standards are designed to enforce party expectations of neutrality without undermining arbitral finality.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or this article, or if you wish to discuss whether the Loree Law Firm might be able to provide assistance with or representation in a particular legal matter, please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation. He is licensed to practice law in New York and before certain federal district and federal appellate courts.  

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING NOTICE: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.

Neutrality | Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Arbitration Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

September 20th, 2021 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Ethics, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Corruption, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Neutrality | Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Arbitration Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

neutral neutrality evident partialitySection 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) authorizes courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them. . . .” 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2). The next few instalments will focus on arbitrator neutrality and evident partiality, a later one on corruption. 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 hereherehere, 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).

Evident partiality has been the subject of numerous judicial decisions setting forth various standards and applying them to a wide range of fact patterns.  The decisions are not easy to reconcile (some may be irreconcilable) and the standards are often of limited utility. Matters are complicated by judicially created rules concerning disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and the consequences that may or may not flow from those rules.

But “evident partiality” may be easier to grasp if we focus not on abstract standards or ethical constructs, but on the parties’ reasonable expectations of neutrality. Surprisingly, many courts address the subject of “evident partiality” without expressly discussing this important consideration, even when it appears to have been a significant but unstated part of the decision-making calculus. Others have expressly used the parties’ agreement and attendant expectations of neutrality as a guidepost.

Understanding the parties’ reasonable expectations of partiality is only half the battle. One must also understand how those expectations are enforced through judicially created rules governing disclosure and waiver of conflicts of interest, and the relevance of those rules to a motion to vacate an award under FAA Act Section 10(a)(2).

In this instalment of the FAQ Guide our focus is on the parties’ reasonable expectations of arbitrator neutrality; evident partiality standards and how they are supposed to enforce reasonable expectations of neutrality without undermining arbitral finality; differences between evident partiality standards and judicial impartiality standards; and the differing expectations of arbitral neutrality that may attend tripartite arbitration. One or more subsequent instalments will discuss arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality; and procedural issues pertinent to evident partiality challenges. Continue Reading »

Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

September 16th, 2020 Bad Faith, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Corruption or Undue Means, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Fraud, Fraud or Undue Means, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, Vacatur Comments Off on Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

corruption, fraud and undue meansSection 10(a)(1) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards where “the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). Cases vacating awards on Section 10(a)(1) grounds are rare, presumably because the circumstances that would trigger relief are relatively rare.

Section 10(a)(1) is an excellent example of how Section 10 is designed to provide relief in situations where putting a court’s imprimatur on an award would deprive one of the parties of the benefit of its freely-bargained-for arbitration agreement. It says that corruption, fraud, or undue means in the procurement of an award, whether perpetrated by the arbitrators or a party, spoils the award (assuming the aggrieved party timely moves to vacate). See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1).    

There is nothing particularly controversial about that. Persons who agree to arbitrate do not implicitly consent to awards procured through chicanery. And who would want to agree to arbitrate if they would have no recourse against such an award? (See here.) 

“Fraud” and “corruption” describe dishonest, illegal, and deceptive conduct, whereas “undue means” arguably broader in scope. But “[t]he term ‘undue means’ must be read in conjunction with the words ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’ that precede in the statute.” PaineWebber Group, Inc. v. Zinsmeyer Trusts P’ship, 187 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 1999) (citing Drayer v. Krasner, 572 F.2d 348, 352 (2d Cir. 1978)). To establish “undue means” courts therefore require “proof of intentional misconduct” or “bad faith,” interpreting “undue means” as “connoti[ing] behavior that is immoral if not illegal.” PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 991 (quotations and citations omitted).

The burden for obtaining relief under Section 10(a)(1) is heavy. It must be “abundantly clear that [the award] was obtained through ‘corruption, fraud, or undue means.’” Karppinen v. Karl Kiefer Machine Co., 187 F.2d 32, 34 (2d Cir. 1951); accord Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Trust, 729 F.3d 99, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2013). That “abundantly clear” requirement is often described as one of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud or undue means. . . .” International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 519 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2003); accord Renard v. Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2015); MCI Constructors, LLC v. City of Greensboro, 610 F.3d 849, 858 (4th Cir. 2010); A.G. Edwards Sons, Inc. v. McCollough, 967 F.2d 1401, 1404 (9th Cir. 1992); Bonar v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 835 F.2d 1378, 1383 (11th Cir. 1988).

In addition to establishing “corruption, fraud or undue means” by clear and convincing evidence, a Section 10(a)(1) claimant must demonstrate: (a) “that that the fraud [, corruption or undue means] materially relates to an issue involved in the arbitration[;] and [b] that due diligence would not have prompted the discovery of the fraud [corruption or undue means] during or prior to the arbitration.” United Parcel Serv., 335 F.3d at 503; Renard, 778 F.3d at 569; MCI Constructors, 610 F.3d at 858; A.G. Edwards, 967 F.2d at 1404; Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383; see Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 35.

A party will ordinarily be deemed to waive the right to vacate the award under Section 10(a)(1) if it failed to exercise due diligence in discovering the corruption, fraud or undue means during the arbitration; if it discovered the improper conduct during the arbitration but did not seek relief from the arbitrators; if it unsuccessfully sought relief and failed to object to the arbitrator’s pre-final-award denial of relief; or if the denial of relief was first made in the final award, to preserve its objection by informing the arbitrators that a failure to grant relief would constitute grounds for vacating the award. 

As respects the materiality requirement, Section 10(a)(1) says that the “award” must be “procured” by “corruption, fraud or undue means,” which arguably suggests a causal nexus between the proscribed conduct and the award. While the conduct must “materially relate to an issue in the arbitration,” must it also be outcome determinative? In other words, must the party seeking relief show that the award would have been different but for alleged fraud, corruption or undue means, or is it enough to show that it tainted the proceedings simply because it related materially to an issue at stake?

The circuits are split on this point. Some courts require the challenger to show that the corruption, fraud or undue means “caused the award to be given.” See PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 994 (“there must be some causal relation between the undue means and the arbitration award”); A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 967 F.2d at 1403 (“the statute requires a showing that the undue means caused the award to be given”). Others say that the challenger is required to show a “nexus” between the conduct and the award—that is, materiality—but need not “establish that the result of the proceedings would have been different had the fraud[, corruption, or undue means] not occurred.” See, e.g., Odeon Capital Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196  (2d Cir. 2017) (citing cases); Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383.

Section 10(a)(1) is probably the least commonly invoked ground for vacating an arbitration award. That said, it provides an important safety valve to address rare, but extremely important cases where an award is the product of corruption, perjured testimony or other egregious, dishonest misconduct, and where the challenger was unable to address the problem adequately before the arbitrators.

The next instalment of this series shall address a more commonly invoked ground for vacatur: evident partiality.

Please note. . .

This guide, including prior instalments, and instalments that will follow in later posts, does not purport to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law pertinent or potentially pertinent to the issues discussed. It is designed to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will help educate them about the legal challenges they may face in arbitration-related litigation and how engaging a skilled and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Nor is it a “do-it-yourself” guide for persons who represent themselves pro se, whether they are forced to do so by financial circumstances or whether they elect voluntarily to do so.

If you want or require arbitration-related legal advice, or representation by an attorney in an arbitration or in litigation about arbitration, then you should request legal advice from an experienced and skilled attorney or law firm with a solid background in arbitration law.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, this article, or any other legal-related matter, please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING NOTICE: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.                

Foreign Awards | Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

July 23rd, 2020 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 207, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Foreign Arbitration Awards, Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, International Arbitration, New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Panama Convention, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 1 Comment »
foreign awards

In previous segments (here, here, here, and here) we discussed the confirmation of Chapter One Domestic Awards and Chapter Two Domestic Awards. This segment addresses foreign awards.

There are two types of foreign awards that are or may be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act: (a) awards made in the territory of a country that is a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention” or “Convention”), the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (the “Panama Convention”), or both, which we refer to as Chapter Two Foreign Awards; and (b) awards that are made outside the United States in a country that is not a signatory to the New York or Panama Conventions, which we refer to as Chapter One Foreign Awards.

What are Chapter Two Foreign Awards?

Chapter Two Foreign Awards are awards that are made in the territory of a foreign state that is a signatory to the New York or Panama Conventions, and which otherwise falls under one or both of those Conventions.

Continue Reading »

Monster Energy Case: CPR Interviews Loree and Faulkner on U.S. Supreme Court’s Denial of Certiorari

June 30th, 2020 Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, CPR Speaks Blog of the CPR Institute, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR), Loree & Loree, Loree and Faulkner Interviews, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Monster Energy Case: CPR Interviews Loree and Faulkner on U.S. Supreme Court’s Denial of Certiorari
Monster Energy | Loree | Faulkner | Bleemer | CPR

On Monday, June 29, 2020 the International Institute of Conflict Protection and Resolution (“CPR”) interviewed Richard D. Faulkner, Esq. and Loree & Loree partner Philip J. Loree Jr. about the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in Monster Energy Co. v. City Beverages, LLC, 940 F.3d 1130 (9th Cir. 2019). To watch and listen to the video-conference interview, CLICK HERE.

On November 18, 2019 we reported on Monster Energy here. The Ninth Circuit addressed the question whether an award should be vacated for evident partiality if: (a) an arbitrator fails to disclose an ownership interest in an arbitration provider; and (b) the arbitration provider has a nontrivial, repeat-player relationship with a party.

The Court, in a 2-1 decision, 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 a nontrivial business relationship with the repeat player party. The business relationship between the provider and the award proponent was nontrivial because the proponent’s form contracts designated the provider as the arbitration administrator, and over a five-year period, the provider had administered 97 arbitrations for the proponent.

Our good friend Russ Bleemer, Editor of CPR’s newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, did a fantastic job conducting the interview. Heather Cameron, a second-year student at Fordham Law School, and a CPR Institute 2020 Summer Intern, wrote for CPR Speaks an excellent post about Monster Energy and the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari, which you can read here. The video of the interview is embedded into that post.

A shout-out also to CPR’s Tania Zamorsky, who, among other things, is the blog master of CPR Speaks, and who coordinated the effort to share copies of the video on CPR’s social media outlets.

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.

Arbitration FAQs: When is an Arbitrator Considered Neutral in a Federal-Arbitration-Act-Governed Arbitration?

April 16th, 2020 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Ethics, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Arbitration FAQs: When is an Arbitrator Considered Neutral in a Federal-Arbitration-Act-Governed Arbitration?
neutral neutrality evident partiality

Single arbitrators are required under the Federal Arbitration Act to be neutral unless the parties otherwise agree. See, e.g., Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 81-85 (2d Cir. 1984). In tripartite arbitration, one arbitrator (usually designated the umpire or chair) is ordinarily required to be neutral, while party-appointed arbitrators are presumed to be non-neutral, except to the extent otherwise required by the parties’ arbitration agreement. See Certain Underwriting Members London v. Florida Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501, 510-11 (2d Cir. 2018); Sphere Drake Ins. v. All American Life Ins., 307 F.3d 617, 622 (7th Cir. 2002); Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), 631 F.3d 869, 872-74 (7th Cir. 2011). Arbitration provider rules, which may govern arbitrator qualifications in appropriate cases, often provide that all three arbitrators of a tripartite panel are required to be neutral.

Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act—which authorizes federal district courts to vacate arbitration awards “where there was evident partiality…in the arbitrators…”—imposes in part and enforces these neutrality requirements. Section 10(a)(2) establishes that parties who agree to arbitrate can legitimately expect that neutral arbitrators will meet a certain minimal standard of arbitral impartiality, and that arbitrators not appointed as neutrals can, in appropriate circumstances, be held to a substantial, material breach of a stipulated arbitrator qualification requirement related-to, but not necessarily coextensive with, neutrality. See Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11; Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 622; Trustmark, 631 F.3d at 872-74.

The requirement that an arbitrator be “neutral” can be divided into three, distict  components. The arbitrator must be (a) impartial; (b) disinterested; and (c) independent.

Continue Reading »

The Federal Arbitration Act: a Businessperson’s FAQ Guide

January 15th, 2020 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Arbitration Risks, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Repeat Players, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 3 Comments »
Federal Arbitration Act | Text Added

This is the first in a series of posts that will pose and answer several important questions about the Federal Arbitration Act (the “Federal Arbitration Act” or “FAA”), and FAA practice and procedure. The Federal Arbitration Act is the federal statute that governs arbitration agreements that “affect commerce,” making them irrevocable, valid and enforceable to the same extent as contracts generally. It provides for the expedited enforcement (including the challenge) of arbitration awards, empowers arbitrators to issue hearing subpoenas that are enforceable in court against third parties, and authorizes Courts in appropriate circumstances to compel arbitration, stay litigation, and appoint arbitrators.

Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, and the many court decisions construing it, constitute the main body of arbitration law governing arbitration agreements in contracts “affecting commerce.” That body of arbitration law also includes state law governing contracts generally as well as state arbitration law, where applicable. More on that another day.

Before addressing specific FAQs, we review why arbitration law is important and what small businesses can do to help protect themselves in today’s challenging arbitration environment. We next provide an overview of Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, summarizing its provisions.

This guide, including the instalments that will follow in later posts, is not designed to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law. It is designed simply to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will educate them about the legal challenges they may face and how engaging a skilled, trustworthy, and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

Why is Federal Arbitration Act Arbitration Law Important and How can Small Businesses Protect Themselves in Today’s Challenging Arbitration Environment?

Arbitration can be a very effective way of resolving a wide range of disputes arising out of many legal and commercial relationships. It can benefit the parties if they make informed decisions about agreeing to it, craft their agreement accordingly, invest ample time and resources into the dispute-resolution process, proactively manage it, and make reasonable strategic and tactical decisions aimed at maximizing the odds of a beneficial outcome. It can benefit the courts and the general public by shifting to the private sector dispute-resolution costs that the public-sector (funded by tax payers) would otherwise bear.

Arbitration is not a perfect form of dispute resolution (and none is, including court litigation). That is so even when: (a) parties carefully draft their arbitration agreements and arbitrate in good faith; and (b) arbitrators, arbitration service providers and courts do their best to ensure the integrity, reliability, and cost-efficiency of the process and otherwise strive to protect the legitimate contractual expectations of the parties.

But at least over the last few decades or so, arbitration has, in the eyes of many, become a less attractive alternative to court litigation than it was intended to be, could be, and once was. One reason for the decline is because courts and arbitrators do not always enforce arbitration agreements in a way most likely to promote arbitration, even though they may believe in good faith that their decisions make arbitration a more attractive alternative to litigation.

The Arbitration Cottage Industry: Repeat Players versus Outsiders

Yet another reason is that arbitration has evolved into a cottage industry consisting of arbitration providers; and professional arbitrators (whether affiliated or not with one or more arbitration providers or arbitration societies). This industry serves (or is supposed to serve) relatively large businesses as well as smaller businesses, individuals, and consumers.

But it is a business that frequently pits repeat playersbusinesses which frequently use an arbitration provider’s services, usually because they regularly appoint in their arbitration agreements the arbitration provider as administratoragainst outsidersbusinesses or individuals who find themselves in an arbitrations administered by an arbitration provider before which they do not find themselves on a regular basis, usually because they either do not regularly appoint the arbitration provider as administrator in their arbitration agreements, or because they do not ordinarily agree to arbitrate in the first place.

Repeat players generate more revenue for arbitration providers and their stable of arbitrators over time than do outsiders. In theory that shouldn’t matter, for at least ostensibly, providers and arbitrators offer the market neutral dispute resolution services that are not supposed to favor repeat players, outsiders, or anyone else.

But economic realities can make that ostensible goal difficult to achieve in practice, even for exceedingly-well-intentioned providers and arbitrators. Those economic realities suggest an actual or potential conflict of interestthat is, a conflict between the provider’s and arbitrator’s interest in neutrality and their interest in an arbitration outcome that will not dissuade the repeat player from continuing regularly to use the provider’s services.

Businesses, particularly smaller business that are not arbitration provider repeat players, thus may find themselves in a challenging environment, one in which they probably did not anticipate being when they agreed to arbitrate. They are outsiders in an arbitration system that may be administered by an organization, and presided over by one or more arbitrators, who may consciously or unconsciously habor, or at least labor under, institutional predispositions that could tip the scales in favor of the repeat player and against the outsider.  

The potential for such free-floating institutional bias or predisposition ordinarily will not, without more, support an argument that the arbitrator has a material conflict of interest. The reasons that is so are, for present purposes, beyond the scope of this post, but irrespective of whether arbitration law provides or should provide any relief from such a conflict, the economic realities described pose risks for outsiders, whose odds of success on the merits might not be what they would otherwise be if the tables were turned, and they, not their adversaries, were the repeat players.

Outsiders who find themselves in arbitration disputes with repeat players need all the help they can get.

Arbitration Law: Limited Relief, Arcane Rules, and Traps for the Unwary

The nature of arbitration law itself poses other challenges with which businesses (including repeat players) must grapple. Arbitration law authorizes courts to provide only very limited relief to parties who claim to be the victims of arbitration-agreement violations, whether committed by arbitrators or by an adverse party.

To make matters worse it is not unusual for certain judges to interpret and apply arbitration law in a way that makes it all the more difficult to obtain relief, even when granting that relief would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration as an attractive alternative to litigation, which is the main objective of arbitration law.

For example, courts will sometimes confirm arbitration awards that should have been vacated even though the facts reveal that the arbitrators egregiously violated the parties’ arbitration agreement by exceeding their powers, being guilty of fraud, corruption, or evident partiality, or committing prejudicial procedural misconduct. Courts seem conciously or unconsciously to go out of their way to avoid recognizing such grave improprieties, perhaps because the public might perceive the outcome – a vacated arbitration award and an arbitration do over – as disfavoring arbitration. And that is so even though vacatur would, in all likelihood, promote arbitration by enforcing the parties’ arbitration agreement and protecting reasonable expectations of fundamental fairness.

The same kind of scenario may play out in the context of a pre-arbitration dispute about compelling arbitration and staying litigation pending arbitration. Believing in good faith that they are promoting arbitration, and perhaps desiring an outcome that appears to favor arbitration—such as one that compels arbitration and stays litigation pending arbitration—Courts sometimes determine persons have consented to arbitration in circumstances where a comprehensive examination of the facts and applicable law may indicate otherwise.

Arbitration law doctrines, rules, and procedures remain somewhat arcane even though arbitration disputes and arbitration-related litigation are fairly common. Consequently, outcomes and rationales are often counterintuitive, unless the lawyer has thorough knowledge of and experience with arbitration law. We’ll discuss some examples in later posts.

Even apart from that, arbitation law’s procedural rules are fraught with traps for the wary, which are, among other things, designed to encourage early forfeiture of defenses that might otherwise be raised in FAA litigation. Most, if not all, of these rules nevertheless serve purposes which at least arguably promote arbitration as a viable alternative to litigation. If your attorney doesn’t know the rules well or doesn’t follow them, then your interests may be in jeopordy.

Protecting your Interests in Arbitration and Arbitration-Related Litigation

How can you best protect your interests in the seemingly informal, but sometimes covertly hostile, arbitration environment? First, you must make sure that you are represented by an attorney who has abundent knowledge of and experience in arbitration law and in representing parties in arbitrations and in FAA litigation.

This can make a huge difference – the author has, over the years, encountered situations where another lawyer did not, for example, detect or adequately preserve for judicial review issues that may otherwise have provided a basis for vacating an adverse award. As a consequence, these parties lost the race before it even started, and ended up being saddled with arbitration awards that, in a more perfect world, they may have been able to vacate.  Needless to say, situations like this are far less likely to occur if experienced arbitration counsel been involved from the start.

If you are already represented by an attorney in your arbitration, but find yourself facing challenging FAA enforcement litigation, or the prospect of such litigation, then your interests are best suited by hiring skilled and experienced counsel who regularly handle such litigation. Depending on the circumstances, your own needs, and other considerations, you may wish to retain a new lawyer to handle the FAA litigation, while continuing to retain your current lawyer for purposes of handling the merits of the underlying arbitration (but making sure the FAA litigation lawyer is consulted at each step along the way to help preserve and enhance the record for future FAA litigation).

Second, you should work closely with that attorney, advising him or her of all matters pertinent to your claims and defenses, including matters that may be peculiar to your particular business or industry, including customs, practice, and usage. Always be an active part of your case and work only with attorneys who allow and encourage you to do that.  

Third, you should keep yourself informed about arbitration-law related matters, as well as the legal rules and principles that bear on the merits of your case. This series of posts addresses numerous basic questions concerning the Federal Arbitration Act, and thus should be a useful educational aid for that purpose.

An Overview of the Federal Arbitration Act and its Provisions

The judicial and arbitral enforcement of arbitration agreements that affect interstate commerce is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), a statute first enacted in 1925 as the “United States Arbitration Act.” As originally enacted, the FAA consisted of 15 provisions, section 14 of which Congress repealed in 1947, renumbering as Section 14 former Section 15.

In 1970 Congress designated those remaining 14 provisions as “Chapter 1” of the FAA, and added a “Chapter 2,” which consists of various provisions implementing and enabling the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (a/k/a the “New York Convention”).

In 1988 Congress added two additional provisions to Chapter 1 of the FAA, Sections 15 and 16. In 1990 Congress added to the FAA a Chapter 3, which consists of provisions implementing and enabling the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (a/k/a the “Panama Convention”).

The majority of U.S. domestic arbitration disputes are decided under Chapter One of the FAA, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. Of these 16 relatively sparse statutory provisions, Sections 1 through 14 have been on the statute books in largely the same form for about 95 years.

The provisions of Chapter One have not only been on the books for nearly 100 years, but they are fairly sparse, and certainly do not even come close to addressing expressly and comprehensively all of the many issues that may arise concerning the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards.

Out of necessity, a robust body of judicial interpretations and applications of the provisions has arisen to attempt to address these problems. These interpretations and applications of the FAA often vary from one circuit court of appeals to the next, and the U.S. Supreme Court has, on many occasions over the last four decades (and even before) stepped in to resolve such circuit splits and attempt to make FAA law more uniform by developing and implementing various FAA rules and principals, a number of which were first created in cases arising out of Labor Management and Relations Act (“LMRA”)-governed labor arbitration cases.

But before delving into any of the gory details, let’s look at the domestic, commercial arbitration-law outline that Chapter One of the FAA provides. Our starting point is Section 2, which is sometimes referred to as the FAA’s “enforcement command.” 

The Federal Arbitration Act’s Enforcement Command: Section 2

Section 2 of the FAA is the provision that declares that arbitration agreements falling within its scope are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

It also tells us what arbitration agreements fall within the scope of Section 2 and the other provisions of FAA Chapter One: (a) “[a] written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction, or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof [;] or [(b)] an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract, transaction, or refusal. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

Section 2’s scope provision therefore, and as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, applies to written pre-dispute arbitration agreements in: (a) “maritime contract[s]” (“Maritime Contracts”); or (b) “contract[s] evidencing a transaction involving commerce. . . .” (“Contracts Affecting Commerce”). It also applies to written post-dispute arbitration agreements “to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such [Maritime Contracts or Contracts Affecting Commerce], or the refusal to perform the whole or any part thereof. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265, 273-282 (1995); Citizens Bank v. Alafabco, Inc., 539 U.S. 52, 55-58 (2003). As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Section 2’s use of the “word ‘involving,’ like ‘affecting,’ signals an intent to exercise Congress’ commerce power to the full.” Allied-Bruce, 513 U.S. at 277. More on that another day.

Under Section 2, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524, 529 (2019).  Section 2 also “requires courts to place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with all other contracts.” Kindred Nursing Centers Ltd. P’ship v. Clark, 137 S. Ct. 1421, 1424 (2017) (quotations and  citations omitted).    

Section 1 of the FAA : Definitions and an Exemption

Section 1 of the FAA provides some definitions and exempts from the FAA a fairly limited universe of agreements that would otherwise fall within the scope of the Act. See 9 U.S.C. § 1. As respects the exemption, Section 1 provides that “nothing [in the FAA] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1.

According to the United States Supreme Court, the exemption applies “only” to “contracts of employment of transportation workers.” Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U. S. 105, 119 (2001). But those “contracts of employment” include not only contracts establishing an employer-employee relationship, but also contracts establishing independent contractor relationships. New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532, 539-41, 544 (2019).

The Rest of the FAA

The other provisions of Chapter 1 implement the enforcement command by lending judicial support to the enforcement of arbitration agreements and awards. These are briefly summarized below:

  • Section 3 – Requires courts to stay litigation in favor of arbitration.
  • Section 4 – Provides for courts to compel arbitration.
  • Section 5 – Provides for courts to appoint arbitrators when there has been a default in the arbitrator selection process.
  • Section 6 – Provides that motion practice rules apply to applications made under the FAA, thereby expediting the judicial disposition of such applications. 
  • Section 7 – Provides for the judicial enforcement of certain arbitration subpoenas.
  • Section 8 – Provides that where the basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction is admiralty, then “the party claiming to be aggrieved may begin his proceeding [under the FAA]…by libel and seizure of the vessel or other property….” 9 U.S.C. § 8.
  • Section 9 – Provides for courts to confirm arbitration awards, that is, enter judgment upon them.
  • Section 10 – Authorizes courts to vacate arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 11 – Authorizes courts to modify or correct arbitration awards in certain limited circumstances.
  • Section 12 – Provides rules concerning the service of a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an award, including a three-month time limit.
  • Section 13 – Specifies papers that must be filed with the clerk on motions to confirm, vacate, modify, or correct awards and provides that judgment entered on orders on such motions has the same force and effect of any other judgment entered by the court.
  • Section 14 – Specifies that agreements made as of the FAA’s 1925 effective date are subject to the FAA.
  • Section 15 – Provides that “Enforcement of arbitral agreements, confirmation of arbitral awards, and execution upon judgments based on orders confirming such awards shall not be refused on the basis of the Act of State doctrine.”
  • Section 16 – Specifies when appeals may be taken from orders made under the FAA, and authorizing appeals from final decisions with respect to arbitration.

More to follow in future posts. . . .

You might also be interested in the following posts here, here, here, here, and here.

 

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law. L&L has added text to the photo.

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 1 Comment »
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….