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Archive for the ‘Labor Arbitration’ Category

Second Circuit Says Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause was Mandatory and did not Deprive Union Employee of Due Process

July 17th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Labor Arbitration, Motion to Compel Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York No Comments »

collective bargaining

Back in 2009 the Author wrote an article on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009), which held “that a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law.” 559 U.S. at 274. (See Loree Reins. & Arb. L. Forum Post here.)

On July 2, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a district court decision that erroneously applied the Pyett clear and unmistakable standard to the question whether an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”) was mandatory or permissive. Finding that the CBA imposed mandatory arbitration, the Second Circuit ruled that the clear and unmistakable standard applied only to the question whether the Employee’s statutory claims were within the scope of the CBA’s arbitration agreement (the “Arbitration Agreement”), and not to the mandatory versus permissive question. Abdullayeva v. Attending Homecare Servs. LLC, ___ F.3d ____, No. 18-0651, slip op. at *8-10 (2d Cir. July 2, 2019).

Applying ordinary contract principles to the question whether the Arbitration Agreement was mandatory or permissive, the Court held that it was mandatory. Slip op. at *10-13. Applying Pyett‘s clear and unmistakable standard to the scope question, it held that the Employee’s statutory claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New York’s Labor Law (“NYLL”) were within the scope of the arbitration clause. Slip op. at *13-14.

Finally, the Court held that the arbitration clause did not deny the Employee of due process of law, rejecting the Employee’s argument that it was deprived of due process because it did not personally participate in the selection of the arbitrator named in the arbitration clause. Slip op. at *14-16.

Background

collective bargaining home health care

The Employer is a provider of home health care services which employs health and personal care workers that serve elderly clients. The Employee was a member of that staff.

The Employee was required to join a Union of home health care workers (the “Union”).

At or about the time when the Employee began work for Employer, the Union and Employer entered into a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”).

The CBA contained an “Adjustment of Disputes” provision (the “Arbitration Agreement”) that provided, in pertinent part:

B. The parties [the Union and Attending] further agree a goal of this Agreement is to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local wage hour law and wage parity statutes. Accordingly, to ensure the uniform administration and interpretation of this Agreement in connection with federal, state, and local wage-hour and wage parity statutes, all claims brought by either the Union or Employees, asserting violations of or arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act . . . , New York Home Care Worker Wage Parity Law, or New York Labor Law (collectively, the “Covered Statutes”), in any manner, shall be subject exclusively, to the grievance and arbitration procedures described below.

1) The statute of limitations to file a grievance concerning the Covered Statutes shall be consistent with the applicable statutory statute of limitations. All such claims if not resolved in the grievance procedure, including class grievances filed by the Union, or mediation as described below shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration before Elliott Shriftman. . . .

. . . .

4) In the event an Employee has requested, in writing, that the Union process a grievance alleging a violation of the Covered Statutes and the Union declines to process a grievance regarding alleged violations of the Covered Statutes, through the grievance/mediation process or to arbitration following the conclusion of mediation, an Employee solely on behalf of himself/herself, may submit their individual claim to mediation, or following the conclusion of mediation, to arbitration. . . .

Slip op. at *3-4 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court).

On her own behalf, and on behalf of all similarly situated employees, Employee sued Employer in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging that Employer had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and provisions of New York’s Labor Law by, among other things, “willfully fail[ing] to pay its workers overtime and spread-of-hours pay. . . .” Slip op. at *4-5.

The Employer moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied the motion. The district court ruled that the CBA did not require that the Employee’s claims be resolved in arbitration.

The district court reached that conclusion on two alternative grounds. First, the district court ruled that the arbitration agreement “violated the Employer’s due process rights due process rights because the arbitrator had been preselected by the Union and [the Employer] without any input from [the Employee].” Slip op. at *5.

Second, and in any event, the district court held that the arbitration agreement was not mandatory, and that accordingly, the Employer was entitled to bring its claims in federal district court. To that end the district court determined that the Arbitration Agreement was “‘at best ambiguous,’ and does not satisfy the clear and unmistakable test applicable to the assessment of purported waivers of union members’ right to bring statutory claims in court when such waivers are part of a collective bargaining agreement’s arbitration provisions.” Slip op. at *5 (quoting district court decision; other quotation omitted).

The Employer appealed.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

Arbitrability Question 1
Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007

The Second Circuit began by explaining that motions to compel arbitration “ordinarily” present courts with four questions:

(1) whether the parties agreed to arbitrate; (2) the “scope” of the arbitration agreement; (3) whether the plaintiff’s federal statutory claims are “nonarbitrable”; and (4) if some, but not all of the claims in the case are arbitrable, whether to stay the balance of the proceedings pending arbitration.

Slip op. at *6.

But this case presented only the first two questions—whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, and if so, what they agreed to arbitrate. Slip op. at *6.

The “clear and unmistakable” standard for determining whether parties to a collective-bargaining agreement agreed to arbitrate statutory claims was a standard that applied only to the second question, that is, the scope of the arbitration agreement. Slip op. at *8-10. According to the Second Circuit, “[t]he district court framed the sole relevant inquiry as whether ‘[a] clause purporting to require arbitration of a [FLSA] claim that is contained in a collective bargaining agreement’ clearly and unmistakably requires arbitration.” Slip op. at *8 (quoting district court decision).

The district court therefore conflated the first two questions and applied the “clear and unmistakable” standard to both. The district court erred in doing so, said the Second Circuit, because “the clear and unmistakable standard does not reflect disfavor of union-negotiated arbitration agreements[,]” but instead “ensures that employees’ right to bring statutory claims in court is not waived by operation of confusing, “very general” arbitration clauses[,]” which, for example, might be reasonably construed to be limited to claims concerning the construction or application of a collective bargaining agreement, even though they might also be reasonably construed to encompass both contract and statutory claims. Slip op. at *9 (citations and quotations omitted).

The Second Circuit said “we ask not whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate, but whether, once we have established that an agreement exists, that agreement clearly and unmistakably encompasses the plaintiff’s statutory claims.” Slip op. at *9-10. “The clear and unmistakable standard,” the Court explained, is “therefore. . . specific to the scope question and has no bearing on whether there is an agreement to arbitrate in the first instance.” Slip op. at *10.

Having clarified how the clear and unmistakable standard is supposed to be applied, the Court addressed whether the arbitration agreement was permissive or mandatory, and if mandatory, whether statutory claims were  clearly and unmistakably within its scope. The Court held that the arbitration agreement was mandatory and clearly and unmistakably encompassed the statutory claims. Slip op. at *9.

Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause is Mandatory

 The Court concluded that “[t]he Union was legally authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements on [the Employee’s] behalf[,]” citing 29 U.S.C. § 159(a), which provides that unions “selected for purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees. . . for the purposes of collective bargaining. . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 159(a). The Employee was, accordingly, bound by the CBA, including the Arbitration Agreement.  

The Court next determined that the Arbitration Agreement, when construed as a whole, unambiguously imposed mandatory arbitration on the Employee, not simply an option to arbitrate or litigate. That provision, said the Court, “states that its goal is to ‘ensure the uniform administration and interpretation of [the CBA],’ and that the means by which it will achieve that goal is to require that all claims under the Covered Statutes, brought by the Union or employees, ‘be subject exclusively . . . to the grievance and arbitration procedures described below.” Slip op. at *11 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis added by Court). The Provision further “states that ‘all [claims under the Covered Statutes,] if not resolved in the grievance procedure, . . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration.’” Slip op. at *11-12. “On its face,” said the Court, “this language simply does not allow an employee to choose to proceed in a judicial forum.” Slip op. at *12.

The Court explained why it concluded the district court’s interpretation of the arbitration agreement was incorrect. The district court had “focused on subsection (4) of [the Arbitration Agreement][,]” which “states that where an employee has requested that ‘the Union process a grievance alleging a violation of the Covered Statutes,’ but the Union has declined to process that grievance, the employee ‘may submit [this] individual claim to mediation, or following the conclusion of mediation, to arbitration.’” Slip op. at *12 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court). The district court interpreted “‘may’. . . to mean that employees can ‘choose whether to arbitrate’ or pursue their claims in court.” Slip op. at *12 (quoting district court decision).

But the Second Circuit disagreed. Subsection (4) of the Dispute Resolution Provision, said the Court, “is best read as clarifying that when the Union declines to process particular grievances on employees’ behalf, aggrieved employees have two options[:]” “They ‘may’ either (1) submit their claims to meditation and arbitration or (2) abandon the claims entirely.” Slip op. at *12.

The Court said that its interpretation of “may” “makes sense of the provision in isolation but also in the context of the entire agreement.” Slip op. at *12-13 (quotation and citations omitted).

Interpreting “may” differently “is to bring subsection (4) into conflict with the rest of Article 8(B), which. . . manifestly reflects an intent to require arbitration.” Slip op. at *13. The district court’s interpretation, said the Court, “makes little sense in light of [subsection 1 of the Arbitration Agreement]’s requirement that ‘all [claims under the Covered Statutes,] if not resolved in the grievance procedure . . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration” Slip op. at *13 (quoting Arbitration Agreement; emphasis supplied by Court).

Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Arbitration Clause Clearly and Unmistakably Encompasses Statutory Claims

Having concluded the arbitration agreement was mandatory, the Court turned to whether the Employee’s statutory claims were within the scope of that agreement. The Court held that the Arbitration Agreement clearly and unmistakably encompassed those claims, and consequently, the Employee was required to arbitrate those claims.  

The Second Circuit explained “that both this Circuit and other sister circuits have interpreted the clear and unmistakable standard to require specific references in the [collective bargaining agreement] either to the statutes in question or to statutory causes of action generally.” Slip op. at *13 (quotation and citation omitted).

The Court explained that a “vague directive” such as “‘any disputes . . . shall be subject to’ a grievance and arbitration procedure. . .” does not suffice, but that, here, the Arbitration Agreement “specifically cites. . . statutes. . . .” including “the FLSA, the New York Home Care Worker Wage Parity Law, and [New York’s Labor Law], and requires claims under those statutes to proceed pursuant to [the Arbitration Agreement]’s grievance and arbitration procedures.” Slip op. at *14 (citations and quotations omitted). The Arbitration Agreement thus clearly and unmistakably required arbitration of those statutory claims.  

The Employee’s brought claims under the FLSA and the NYLL, those claims are clearly and unambiguously within the scope of the Arbitration Agreement, and consequently, the Employee was required to arbitrate those claims. Slip op. at *14.  

The Arbitration Agreement does not Deny the Employee Due Process of Law   

The district court concluded that the Arbitration Agreement denied the Employee “due process because ‘the worker apparently has no part in the selection of the arbitrator.’” Slip op. at *14-15. The Second Circuit disagreed.

The Employee was a member of the Union, and under applicable law, including 29 U.S.C. § 159(a), the “Union had authority to negotiate on behalf of Abdullayeva, and so the fact that she did not personally participate in the selection of the arbitrator does not violate due process.” See slip op. at *15. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Pyett, “unions ‘may agree to the inclusion of an arbitration provision in a collective-bargaining agreement in return for other concessions from the employer.’” Slip op. at *15 (quoting Pyett, 556 U.S. at 257). And “‘courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, including terms that specify with whom [the parties] choose to arbitrate their disputes.’” Slip op. at *15 (quoting American Exp. Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 570 U.S. 228, 233 (2013) (emphasis in original; citation omitted).

The Union was the Employer’s representative “authorized to negotiate ‘conditions of employment,’ including arbitration clauses, with the Employer on behalf of [the Employer’s employees].” The Arbitration Agreement, “including its proviso that ‘claims. . . shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration before Elliot Shriftman,’ was the product of the Union’s negotiation with [the Employer].” Slip op. at *15-16.

New York law requires that “arbitration procedures must generally conform to the ‘due process right of notice and opportunity to defend.’” Slip op. at *16 (quoting Beckman v. Greentree Sec., Inc., 87 N.Y.2d 566, 570 (1996)). But the Employee did “not argue that [the Arbitration Agreement’s] procedures are lacking in notice, or that the selected arbitrator is biased or would conduct arbitration proceedings in bad faith.” Slip op. at *16.

Thus, “the challenged portion of the [Arbitration Agreement], which simply ‘specifies with whom’ arbitration will be conducted in accordance with established Supreme Court precedent, does not violate due process.” Slip op. at *16 (quoting American Exp. Co., 570 U.S. at 233).

Photo Acknowledgements

The photos featured in this post were licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law.  

Appellate Division, Fourth Department Vacates Imperfectly Executed Arbitration Award

August 15th, 2018 Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Exceeding Powers, Imperfectly Executed Award or Powers, Labor Arbitration, New York State Courts Comments Off on Appellate Division, Fourth Department Vacates Imperfectly Executed Arbitration Award

Imperfectly Executed 1

Imperfectly Executed 1

New York Civil Practice Law & Rules (“CPLR”) Section 7511(b)(1)(iii) provides that an arbitration award “shall be vacated” where the arbitrator “so imperfectly executed [the award] that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made” CPLR 7511(b)(1)(iii). The Federal Arbitration Act similarly authorizes vacatur “where the arbitrators…so imperfectly executed [their powers] that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4).

In Professional, Clerical, Tech. Emps. Ass’n v. Board of Ed. for Buffalo City School Dist., ___ A.D.3d ___, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 04128, at *1 (4th Dep’t June 8, 2018), the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, held that the trial court erred by confirming a labor arbitration award that did not adequately explain the basis for the compensation to be awarded or how it should be calculated. Continue Reading »

Appellate Division, First Department Vacates Arbitration Award Because it Rewrote the Parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreement

July 13th, 2018 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Labor Arbitration, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), New York State Courts Comments Off on Appellate Division, First Department Vacates Arbitration Award Because it Rewrote the Parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreement

yay-1663484-digitalNew York’s arbitration law (Article 75 of the CPLR), like the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), strictly limits award challenges premised on an arbitrator’s disregard of the parties’ contract. Arbitrator interpretations of the parties’ agreement cannot be second-guessed, even if the arbitrator has “disregarded” “the apparent, or even the plain, meaning of the words of the contract….” Maross Constr. v Central N. Y. Regional Transp. Auth., 66 N.Y 2d 341, 346 (1985) (quotations and citations omitted). To succeed, an award challenger must show that the  award “is irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator’s power.” Kowaleski  v. New York State Dep’t Correctional Serv., 16 N.Y. 3d 85, 91 (2010).

In City of New York v. District Council 37, ___ A.D. 3d ___, 2018 NY Slip Op 3220 (1st Dep’t May 3, 2018), the New York’s Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department set aside an award because it exceeded “a specifically enumerated limitation” on arbitral power: The parties’ agreement prohibited the arbitrator from adding to or modifying the agreement.

“The arbitrator’s decision,” said the Court, “rewrote the contract for the parties by expanding the number of workers entitled to the [collective bargaining agreement’s] assignment differential, when the contract expressly limited the differential to workers at a specific facility.” 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 3220 at *1.

Acknowledging that “[a] provision in a contract that the arbitrator may not alter or modify a contract does not limit the arbitrator’s power to resolve the dispute by interpreting the contract based on his or her findings as to the parties’ intent[,]” the Court explained that “an award should be vacated where it is not derived from the contract, but from the deliberate and intentional consideration of matters outside the contract.” 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 3220 at *1.

To learn more about vacating awards based on an arbitrator’s manifest disregard of the contract click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Photo Acknowledgement:

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

Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner Weighs in on Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration

May 23rd, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Class Action Waivers, Contract Interpretation, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner Weighs in on Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration

Introduction

Ronald v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., No. 14-3478, slip op. (7th Cir. May 11, 2015) (Posner, J.)

Ronald v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., No. 14-3478, slip op. (7th Cir. May 11, 2015) arose out of a class action lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a putative class of mobile phone customers—represented by Mr. and Ms. Andermann (the “Andermanns”)—against Sprint, which sought damages for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227.

Sprint moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied its motion. Sprint appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as authorized by 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion written by Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner, and joined in by Circuit Judge Diane S. Sykes and Chief District Court Judge Philip P. Simon of the Northern District of Indiana (sitting by designation), reversed and remanded with instructions to compel arbitration.

The Sprint Spectrum facts; the legal rules and principles that determined the outcome; and the outcome itself were not controversial.  Had the court limited its task to applying the material facts to the applicable law, then the case likely would not have warranted a reported opinion.

But occasionally appellate judges, particularly ones as prominent, skilled and engaged as Judge Posner, will use a case like Sprint to make a point in passing that might influence other judges in the future and perhaps provide valuable information to attorneys and their clients. Judge Posner, with the apparent blessing of the other two judges, used the case to make a couple of points, one purely legal, the other bearing on both the law and, and at least to some extent, on matters pertinent to court administration.

The purely legal issue concerned the  proper scope and practical significance of the federal policy in favor of arbitration, which a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Posner and some other judges apparently believe lawyers and judges may misunderstand or misinterpret. In Sprint Spectrum Judge Posner, in dictum, raises the topic and shares some important insights about it.

The hybrid legal and judicial administration point concerned his view of the merits of the underlying Telephone Consumer Protection Act dispute.  While the Court acknowledged that it was for the arbitrators to decide the merits, it nevertheless explained why it believed the claim would likely fail, whether in arbitration or in court.

Sprint Spectrum: Background

yay-985888-digital---CopyIn 2000 the Andermanns entered into a two-year renewable mobile-phone service contract with U.S. Cellular, which was renewed continuously, and for the last time in 2012. The contract contained an arbitration agreement requiring arbitration of “any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this agreement.” The parties agreed that the obligation to arbitrate would “survive[] the termination of [the] [mobile phone] service agreement[,]” and that “U.S. Cellular may assign this Agreement without notice to” the customer.

In 2013 U.S. Cellular sold the contract to Sprint, and notified the Andermanns of the sale in a letter sent months later. The letter informed the Andermanns that their service would be terminated effective January 2014  because of a compatibility problem between the Andermann’s mobile phone and the Sprint network. The letter explained that the Andermanns would have to obtain a new cell phone or find a new carrier, but “that Sprint was offering attractive substitutes for the terminated service,” and, if interested, the customer should contact Sprint by telephone. See slip op. at 2.

In December Sprint phoned the Andermanns to remind them that their service was about to expire, and added that Sprint had “a great set of offers and devices available to fit [their] needs.'” Slip op. at 3. Sprint called each of three members of the Andermann family twice (a total of six calls), but by the time the calls were made, the Andermanns had obtained cell phone service from another carrier.

yay-10331162-digitalThe Andermanns did not answer any of the six calls, except by commencing a class action lawsuit against Sprint, which contended that the unsolicited calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Sprint moved to compel arbitration, contending that the dispute arose out of and related to the contract renewed in 2012. Even though that contract was between U.S. Cellular and the Andermanns, U.S. Cellular had, as permitted by the contract, assigned its rights to Sprint, who had now stepped into U.S. Cellular’s shoes under the contract.

The Seventh Circuit’s Decision

The district court denied Sprint’s motion because its contract with the Andermanns had terminated prior to the allegedly offending telephone calls at issue in the lawsuit. The district court reasoned that the dispute did  not arise out of or relate to the terminated agreement.

But the Court  said “[a]ctually, there’s an intimate relation” between the dispute and the contract. “The contract,” said the Court, authorized an assignment, and because of the incompatibility of the assignor’s (U.S. Cellular’s) cellphones and the assignee’s (Sprint’s) mobile phone network, Sprint had had to terminate the U.S. Cellular customers, such as the Andermanns, whom it had acquired by virtue of the assignment.  .  .  .” Slip op. 4. Sprint made the calls, and “offer[red] substitute service[]”  “to prevent the loss of.  .  .  customers because of the incompatibility.  .  .  .” Slip op. at 4.

yay-10348120-digitalThe Andermanns attempted to support their argument by offering an “untenable interpretation” of Smith v. Steinkamp, 318 F.3d 775, 777 (7th Cir. 2003). See Slip op. at 4. Steinkamp explained “‘absurd results’ would ensue if the arising from and relating to provisions contained in a payday loan agreement defining what disputes would have to arbitrated rather than litigated, were cut free from the loan and applied to a subsequent payday loan agreement that did not contain those provisions.” Slip op. at 4-5 (quoting Steinkamp, 318 F.3d at 777).

The Andermanns argued that Steinkamp suggested that the same type of “absurd results” would ensue under the facts of this case. But Steinkamp, explained the Court, “is not this case[,]” which concerns a single contract containing an arbitration agreement, not two successive contracts, one with an arbitration agreement and one without an arbitration agreement. See slip op. at 5.

yay-2220659-digitalWhile the Andermanns received a mild (and perhaps well-deserved) rebuke, Sprint’s argument prompted the verbal version of a roll of the eyes coupled with a quiet sigh—not so much because there was anything really wrong with the argument, but presumably because it overstated the importance of the federal policy in favor of arbitration. But that gave Judge Posner an opportunity to make a somewhat subtle, but important point.

The Court  said “Sprint gilds the lily, however, in telling us that arbitration is a darling of federal policy, that there is a presumption in favor of it, that ambiguities in an arbitration clause should be resolved in favor of arbitration, and on and on in this vein.” Slip op. at 5. “It’s true,” said the Court, “that such language (minus the “darling”) appears in numerous cases.” Slip op. at 5 (citations omitted): “But the purpose of that language is to make clear, as had seemed necessary because of judges’ historical hostility to arbitration, that arbitration was no longer to be disfavored — especially in labor cases, see, e.g., Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 298­-99 (2010), where arbitration is now thought a superior method of dispute resolution to litigation.” Slip op. at 5.

Noting that “[t]he Federal Arbitration Act is inapplicable to labor disputes,  .  .  . and merely makes clauses providing for the arbitration of disputes arising out of transactions involving interstate or foreign commerce.  .  . enforceable in federal and state courts[,]” the Court said it was “not clear that arbitration, which can be expensive because of the high fees charged by some arbitrators and which fails to create precedents to guide the resolution of future disputes, should [in commercial cases] be preferred to litigation.” Slip op. at 5-6. Continue Reading »

What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

May 5th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Awards, ERISA, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, MPPAA Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Comments Off on What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

 Fourth Circuit Says Proceeding to Overturn ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Dispute Arbitration Award is Commenced by Filing a Complaint—not a Federal Arbitration Act Application, Petition or Motion

Introduction

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“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce ), Brazil (1985)

Dystopian-future bureaucratic procedure may be one thing, but federal court litigation procedure is quite another—not because of where we might or might not be if we don’t follow it—but simply because not following it can have disastrous consequences. That is true in spades in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation, where proceedings to enforce arbitration agreements and awards are governed by a strange amalgam of procedural rules derived from the Federal Arbitration Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and district court local rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, 2, 3, 6(c), 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 43(c) & 81(a)(6)(B); 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13; see, e.g., IFC Interconsult v. Safeguard Int’l Partners, 438 F.3d 298, 308-09 (3rd Cir. 2006); Productos Mercantiles Industriales, S.A.  v. Faberge USA, Inc., 23 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1994).

On April 21, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided Freight Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 557 Pension Fund v. Penske Logistics LLC,  ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1464, slip op. (4th Cir. April 21, 2015), a case that helps illustrate the risks associated with assuming that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s liberal pleading and amendment rules apply to applications for relief under the Federal Arbitration Act. As it turns out, the appellant did nothing wrong by assuming that the Federal Arbitration Act’s procedural rules did not trump Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because the case fell under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), and the district court erred by interpreting the MPPAA to require compliance with Federal Arbitration Act litigation procedure rules.

The MPPAA was enacted to strengthen the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”)’s provisions designed to protect multi-employer pension plans (i.e., collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, which are generally participants in the same industry).  It features a mandatory arbitration requirement applicable to disputes about collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, including disputes about an employer’s withdrawal liability—that is the amount an employer must contribute to  the fund when it stops participating in it.

It requires a party seeking judicial review of an award to do so in 30-days and, as we’ll see, it contains a provision that at first glance appears to make the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedure rules applicable to judicial review of an MPPAA arbitration award. The Court held that under the MPPAA, the Federal Arbitration Act governed only arbitration procedure, not litigation procedure, and that accordingly, the award challenger’s amended complaint related back to the timely-filed original one.

yay-608942-digitalEndingFreight Drivers illustrates how important compliance with Federal Arbitration Act procedures can be, especially given the short limitation periods applicable to motions to confirm, vacate, modify and correct awards.  Had the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedures applied, then the plaintiff’s “amended complaint” might have been deemed time-barred on the ground that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)’s relation-back provisions apply to pleadings only, and under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Federal Arbitration Act, the amended complaint had to be deemed to be a motion, not a pleading. As we’ll see, that’s what the district court concluded, and the Fourth Circuit decided the case on the sole ground that the Federal Arbitration Act did not apply to MPPAA litigation procedure. Continue Reading »

The Tenth Tells us Time (Usually) Waits for No One: United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc.

May 7th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on The Tenth Tells us Time (Usually) Waits for No One: United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc.

Introduction

Arbitration is supposed to be a speedy alternative to litigation, and that is supposed to be true as respects commercial or employment arbitration governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) and labor arbitration arising under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151, et. seq., or Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act (a/k/a the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”)), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Arbitration awards are generally presumed to be valid, which puts the burden on challengers to establish their invalidity, at least provided the challenging party entered into a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement with the defending party.

Adjudicating a non-frivolous award challenge usually takes time, and if the challenge turns out to be valid, an order vacating the award does not usually resolve the underlying dispute, which, absent a settlement, must be resolved through further ADR or judicial proceedings. Delay is inevitable and delay undermines arbitration’s ability to compete with litigation.

The FAA and most or all state arbitration statutes try to minimize delay by not only by restricting t he scope of judicial review of awards, but also by imposing short limitation periods for vacating awards—for example, three months under the FAA and 90 days under many state arbitration statutes. See 9 U.S.C. § 12; see, e.g., N.Y. Civ. Prac. L.& R. § 7511(a); Fla. Stat. § 682.13(2); Wash. Rev. Code § 7.04A.230(2). Some state statutes impose shorter periods. See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-420(b) (30 days); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 251, § 12(b) (30 days); but see Cal. Code Civ. P. § 1288 (100 days).

By contrast, a motion or petition to confirm an award is usually subject to a longer statute of limitations. Cases governed by Chapter 1 of the FAA (e.g., domestic arbitrations between domestic parties), for example, are subject to a one-year limitation period. See 9 U.S.C. § 9.

Under the FAA, and presumably under many or most state arbitration statutes, if a party does not bring a timely petition to vacate, and the other moves to confirm after the time period for vacating an award has elapsed, then the challenging party cannot raise grounds for vacatur as defenses to confirmation, even if it does not seek an order vacating the award. See, e.g., Florasynth, Inc. v. Pickholz, 750 F.2d 171, 175-76 (2d Cir. 1984) (FAA); Kutch v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 960 P.2d 93, 97-98 (Colo. 1998) (Colorado law); but see Lyden v. Bell, 232 A.D.2d 562, 563 (2d Dep’t 1996) (Where a confirmation proceeding “is commenced after the 90-day period, but within the one-year period. . . .[,] a party may, by cross motion to vacate, oppose the petition for confirmation on any of the grounds in CPLR 7511 even though his time to commence a separate proceeding to vacate or modify under CPLR 7511(a) has expired.”) (citations omitted) (New York law); 1000 Second Avenue Corp. v. Pauline Rose Trust, 171 A.D.2d 429, 430 (1st Dep’t 1991) (“an aggrieved party may wait to challenge an award until the opposing party has moved for its confirmation”) (New York law).

In United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc., No. 12-1409, slip op. (10th Cir. Feb. 28, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reminds us that the same rules apply to LMRA Section 301 labor-arbitration-award enforcement actions. Section 301 does not specify limitation periods for vacating arbitration awards, and as a general rule, courts “borrow” the most analogous state statute of limitations. See, e.g., Local 802, Assoc. Mus. of N.Y. v. Parker Meridien Hotel, 145 F.3d at 88-89 (2d Cir. 1998). In King Soopers the Tenth Circuit borrowed Colorado’s 90-day statute of limitations for vacating an award.[1]

King Soopers might be looked at as a refresher course in how important it is to act quickly and decisively when one finds oneself at the wrong end of an arbitration award that might not meet the modest criteria for summary confirmation or enforcement. While roughly nine years elapsed between the date the employee filed the grievance and the date the arbitrator issued the award, the Court, reversing the district court’s decision to the contrary, held (quite correctly) that King Sooper’s just-over-90-day delay in asserting grounds to vacate the award foreclosed it from opposing the union’s suit to enforce the award. Continue Reading »

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.A

August 16th, 2013 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.A

Part II.A:  What to Make of Oxford?

In our last post (here) we discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. (U.S. June 10, 2013), which, among other things, reaffirmed that Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) authorizes judicial review of FAA-governed-arbitration-award outcomes based on the labor-arbitration-derived “manifest disregard of the agreement” standard.  This post, which has been divided into three segments, discusses what to make of Oxford.  This part A addresses the scope of Oxford, including whether it undermines Stolt-Nielsen and whether it authorizes arbitrators to disregard or modify the clear terms of the parties’ agreement. Continue Reading »

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

July 19th, 2013 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. at 4-5 (U.S. June 10, 2013) (Kagan, J.), unanimously reaffirmed that Section 10(a)(4) of the FAA authorizes courts to vacate awards that are not even arguably based on an interpretation of the parties’ agreement.

While the Court broke no new ground, Associate Justice Elena Kagan’s well-written opinion—together with Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito’s opinion in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010)—defines in fairly clear terms the scope of contract-based judicial review Section 10(a)(4) authorizes. Justice Kagan’s opinion raises not only some issues specific to class and consolidated arbitration, but also some relevant to Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)-governed arbitration in general. Continue Reading »

How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

June 1st, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

Part II

A.   Introduction

In Part I (here) we explained why the standard for challenging an award based on its outcome is important in reinsurance arbitration practice.  And, after briefly reviewing pre-Stolt-Nielsen law on outcome-based standards of review, we explained how Stolt-Nielsen has established a fairly searching, standard of review.  This Part II explores the legal and practical implications of that standard of review.    

B.   Legal Implications of the Stolt-Nielsen Decision’s Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Standard of Review

1.  Courts May Interpret Stolt-Nielsen’s Outcome-Based Standard of Review Liberally

Reinsurance-  and other commercial-arbitration awards are now subject to the same standard of review as labor-law awards – and in Stolt-Nielsen, the Court applied that standard of review pretty liberally.  The Court has put to rest the notion that Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) vacatur is limited to questions concerning whether the arbitrators decided a matter falling within the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement or submission.   The outcome of the arbitration is now subject to at least some, limited scrutiny. 

The focus will now be on whether the arbitrators interpreted, applied and enforced the contract, and applied applicable law or norms.  Express or implied reliance on extra-contractual considerations, such as public policy, may spoil an award, unless those extra-contractual considerations are grounded in applicable law.  Not heeding clear and unambiguous contract language, effectively deleting or disregarding contractual provisions or otherwise rewriting the contract may also subject the award to vacatur.  Continue Reading »

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

March 16th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Labor Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

The March 2010 issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, the excellent newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (“CPR”), featured as its cover story an article I wrote on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, No. 09-497, and Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 08-1214, two of the three cases pending before the United States Supreme Court this term.  The article is entitled “It’s Time for Doctrines: The Supreme Court Wrestles with ‘Severability’ and the ‘Clear and Unmistakable’ Standard.” 

These two cases involve, to some degree, the Buckeye Check Cashing/Prima Paint doctrine of severability—a/k/a “separability.”  Rent-A-Center also examines the “clear and unmistakable doctrine,” under which arbitrators can decide arbitrability questions if the parties clearly and unmistakably so agree. 

Rent-a-Center, which arises under the Federal Arbitration Act,  raises the question whether courts or arbitrators get to decide whether an arbitration agreement is unconscionable if the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration.  (See our prior posts here, here and here.)   Granite Rock, which arises under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, concerns whether, on the facts presented, arbitration must go forward and what it should encompass.  (See our prior post here.)

In the article I argue that both cases were wrongly decided by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and that, in Granite Rock, the Ninth Circuit reached the right result (an order compelling arbitration) for the wrong reasons.  I predict that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the Rent-A-Center decision and vacate the Granite Rock decision.

Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation is a subscription-only publication.   Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the article can request one at this page.  Subscription information is available at that page, too, as well as publisher John Wiley & Sons, here.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank CPR, and Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, for their kind assistance and support in featuring my article.  Russ is not only a keen, professional editor, but a pleasure to work with as well.