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Status of Arbitration-Law Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this Term

February 12th, 2024 Appellate Practice, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Appoint Arbitrator, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, CPR Alternatives, CPR Speaks Blog of the CPR Institute, CPR Video Interviews, Delegation Agreements, Exemption from FAA, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, FAA Section 3, FAA Transportation Worker Exemption, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Professor Downes, Richard D. Faulkner, Russ Bleemer, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments »

Status of Arbitration Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this TermThere are three arbitration-law cases pending before the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) this October 2023 Term. SCOTUS will presumably decide all three cases by this June, 2024.

 

The Cases: Bissonnette

The first is  Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, No. 23-51 (U.S.), a case that concerns the scope of Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which exempts from the FAA “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1 (the “Section 1 Exemption”). SCOTUS granted cert. in Bissonnette on September 29, 2023. As set forth in the question presented:

The First and Seventh Circuits have held that [the Section 1 Exemption] applies to any member of a class of workers that is engaged in foreign or interstate commerce in the same way as seamen and railroad employees-that is, any worker ‘actively engaged’ in the interstate transportation of goods. The Second and Eleventh Circuits have added an additional requirement: The worker’s employer must also be in the ‘transportation industry.’

The question presented is: To be exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, must a class of workers that is actively engaged in interstate transportation also be employed by a company in the transportation industry?

(Bissonnette Question Presented Report)

We summarized the case briefly here and provided a link to an October 24, 2023 video conference in which our friend and colleague Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) (“CPR Alternatives”), interviewed Professor Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law Professor of Practice and Assistant Director of Experiential Education; Richard D. Faulkner, arbitrator, mediator, arbitration-law attorney, and former judge; and yours truly, Loree Law Firm principal, Philip J. Loree Jr., about the case, its implications, and how SCOTUS might decide it. You can watch the video-conference interview here.

SCOTUS has set Bissonnette down for oral argument for Tuesday, February 20, 2024 (here). You can listen to SCOTUS arguments on C-Span or on the Court’s website.

The Cases: Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski (a/k/a “Coinbase II”)

The second case  is Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski, No. 23-3 (U.S.) (“Coinbase II”), a case that is related to Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, 143 S. Ct. 1915 (2023) (“Coinbase I”), which was decided on June 23, 2023, and discussed hereCoinbase II concerns the application of a delegation provision—an agreement to arbitrate arbitrability disputes—contained in  a contract (“Contract 1”) clearly and unmistakably requires the parties to submit to the arbitrator the question whether the Contract 1 arbitration agreement requires the parties to arbitrate disputes concerning a subsequent contract, Contract 2, even though Contract 2 does not provide for arbitration and requires the parties to submit all disputes concerning Contract 2 exclusively to litigation before the California courts. Is Contract 1’s delegation provision, as applied to the dispute over Contract 2, and in light of the parties’ agreement to litigate, not arbitrate,  disputes concerning Contract 2, clear and unmistakable, as required by SCOTUS precedent? Or, as put differently by the question presented: “Where parties enter into an arbitration agreement with a delegation clause, should an arbitrator or a court decide whether that arbitration agreement is narrowed by a later contract that is silent as to arbitration and delegation?”

SCOTUS granted certiorari in Coinbase II on November 3, 2023, and on November 10, 2023, CPR’s Bleemer interviewed Professor Downes, Faulkner, and Loree about the certiorari grant, what it means, and how the Court might rule on it. You can watch the video-conference interview here. Our blog post about the interview and cert. grant is here.

Oral argument in Coinbase II has been scheduled for February 28, 2024.

Smith v. Spizzirri

The third case is Smith v. Spizzirri, No. 22-1218, which concerns FAA Section 3’s stay-of-litigation-pending-arbitration provision. The Court granted certiorari on January 12, 2024.

FAA Section 3 provides that, once a court determines that a dispute must be arbitrated, the court “shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until” conclusion of the arbitration.  9 U.S.C. § 3 (emphasis added). Most circuits addressing the question have determined that a stay is mandatory if requested. The Ninth Circuit, and a few others, have held that, despite the statute’s mandatory text, courts retain discretion to dismiss an action where all disputes in the action are subject to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit below held that it was bound to follow prior precedent concerning discretion to dismiss (rather than stay), even though it acknowledged that the statute’s “plain text” suggests otherwise. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged the circuit split and two judges, in an occurring opinion, encouraged “the Supreme Court to take up this question.” (See Question Presented Report.)

The question presented to SCOTUS is “[w]hether Section 3 of the FAA requires district courts to stay a lawsuit pending arbitration, or whether district courts have discretion to dismiss when all claims are subject to arbitration.” (See Question Presented Report.)

Oral argument has not yet been scheduled and merits briefs have not yet been filed.

The case is more noteworthy than may initially meet the eye. It has important implications concerning appealability. If an action is stayed, rather than dismissed, a granted motion to compel arbitration cannot be immediately appealed, see 9 U.S.C. § 16(b)(1),(2), (3) & (4); but if a motion to compel is granted, and the action is dismissed, then the right to appeal the denial begins to run immediately. 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(3); Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 85-89 (2000). If a Section 3 stay is mandatory when requested, then there will presumably be fewer cases where courts compel arbitration and dismiss  (rather than stay) the underlying lawsuit, and therefore fewer cases where a grant of a motion to compel or denial of a motion to stay or enjoin arbitration is immediately appealable.

The subject matter jurisdiction implications of the case are equally significant. As we explained in a recent post, under Badgerow, a court’s federal-question subject matter jurisdiction can, for purposes of a motion to compel arbitration, be based on whether the underlying dispute would fall under the Court’s federal question jurisdiction.

But subject matter jurisdiction over a petition to confirm or vacate an award resulting from that arbitration cannot, after Badgerow, be based on such “look through” jurisdiction. An independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction must appear from the face of the petition and cannot be based on whether a court would have federal question jurisdiction over the underlying dispute.

As we explained in our Badgerow post, in cases where a Section 3 stay has been requested and granted, there may nevertheless be a so-called “jurisdictional anchor” on which subject matter jurisdiction over subsequent motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards, to enforce arbitral subpoenas, or appoint arbitrators may be based. Under that jurisdictional anchor theory as long as the court stays the litigation, the court would retain its subject matter jurisdiction, and could exercise it to grant subsequent motions for FAA relief. While there remains a question whether the jurisdictional anchor theory survived Badgerow,  the theory makes sense, even under Badgerow, and is supported by pre-Badgerow case law. (See Badgerow Post.)

If the Court in Spizzirri rules that a motion to stay litigation pending arbitration must be granted if supported and requested, then it will presumably be easier for parties to assert subject matter jurisdiction based on a jurisdictional anchor theory.

Contacting the Author

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 J. Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. (bio, here) 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 various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

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

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

 

New York Arbitration Law Focus: Appellate Division, Second Department Vacates Attorney’s Fee Award Because it was Irrational and Violated New York Public Policy

December 7th, 2023 Application to Confirm, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Attorney Fee Shifting, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Fails to Draw Essence from the Agreement, Award Irrational, Award Vacated, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, CPLR Article 75, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Exceeding Powers, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, New York Arbitration Law (CPLR Article 75), New York State Courts, Outcome Risk, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Policy, Practice and Procedure, Public Policy, Second Department, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Vacate, Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Attorney's Fees, Vacate Award | Public Policy, Vacatur Comments Off on New York Arbitration Law Focus: Appellate Division, Second Department Vacates Attorney’s Fee Award Because it was Irrational and Violated New York Public Policy

Attorney's FeesThe question before the Appellate Division, Second Department in In re D & W Cent. Station Fire Alarm Co. v. Flatiron Hotel, ___ A.D. 3d ___, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 (2d Dep’t Nov. 29, 2023), was whether an arbitration award had to be vacated because the amount of fees the arbitrator awarded was irrational and excessive and therefore exceeded the arbitrator’s powers under N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. (“CPLR”) 7511(b)(1)(iii). The arbitrator awarded fees that were 13.5 times the amount the prevailing party’s attorney said it charged its client on an hourly basis. The fee award was 44% of the amount the arbitrators awarded for the prevailing party’s claim. See 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 at *1.

The Court concluded that the fee award was irrational and violative of New York’s strong public policy against the enforcement of contracts or claims for excessive legal fees. It therefore reversed the trial court’s judgment granting the motion to confirm and denying the motion to vacate, and remanded the matter back to the trial court. See 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 6136 at *2.

Flatiron Hotel is of particular interest because it shows that there is authority under New York arbitration law for challenging successfully awards of legal fees that are authorized by the parties’ contract but are off the rails in their amount. While not a high-stakes arbitration involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, it was one where the losing party was socked with a fee that was so far out of proportion of what it consented to pay that there was nothing whatosever in the record to support it.

Fortunately for the appellant in Flatiron Hotel, the Appellate Division set aside the fee award even though the standard of review for granting such relief is highly deferential. While decisions vacating awards are understandably quite rare, this was one where vacatur was quite appropriate, as we shall see. Continue Reading »

Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards

November 13th, 2023 Amount in Controversy, Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Confirm, Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Confirmation of Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 16, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 5, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Modify or Correct Award, Motion to Compel Arbitration, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 10, Section 11, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 4, Section 5, Section 7, Section 9, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards

Jurisdictional Anchor | Subject Matter JurisdictionThe U.S. Supreme Court decision, Badgerow v. Walters, 142 S. Ct. 1310 (2022) (discussed here), requires that an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction (usually diversity) must appear on the face of petitions to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards, and, by extension, petitions to enforce arbitral subpoenas or appoint arbitrators. See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320. That independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction cannot be established by “looking through” to the underlying arbitration proceeding. In other words, the federal court cannot base subject matter jurisdiction on whether the court would have had subject matter jurisdiction over the merits of the controversy had they been submitted it to court rather than to arbitration.  See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320.

Badgerow does not change the rule that federal question jurisdiction over a Section 4 petition to compel arbitration can be established by “looking through” to the underlying dispute that is or is claimed to be subject to arbitration. 142 S. Ct. at 1314; see  Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 53 (2009); Hermès of Paris, Inc. v. Swain, 867 F.3d 321, 324-26 (2d Cir. 2017) (diversity of citizenship not determined by “look through”).

Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act expressly authorizes a Court to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction on that basis: “A party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition any United States district court which, save for such agreement, would have jurisdiction under title 28, in a civil action or in admiralty of the subject matter of a suit arising out of the controversy between the parties, for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 4; see Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1317.

Unlike Section 4, Sections 5 (appointment of arbitrators), 7 (arbitral subpoena enforcement), 9 (confirmation of awards), 10 (vacatur of awards), and 11 (modification of awards), do not expressly authorize the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction on a “look through” basis.  See 142 S. Ct. at 1317-18; 9 U.S.C. §§ 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, & 11.

Badgerow, in the specific context of an action commenced by petition to vacate an award under FAA Section 10—which, in turn, prompted a cross-petition to confirm under FAA Section 9—held that the absence in Sections 9 and 10 of Section 4’s express language authorizing subject matter jurisdiction based on “look through” meant that Congress did not authorize “look through” subject matter jurisdiction for Section 9 and 10 claims (and presumably for claims seeking relief under Sections 5, 7, or 11). See 142 S. Ct. at 1319.

An independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction is required, and in the absence of a federal question appearing on the face of the petition (such as a claim for relief under Chapter Two of the FAA, see 9 U.S.C. § 203; 28 U.S.C. § 1331), the only possible basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). And there could be no diversity jurisdiction in Badgerow because the parties to the petitions were citizens of the same state. See 142 S. Ct. at 1316.

Badgerow’s reasoning certainly applies to independent, summary proceedings in which the only relief sought is under the FAA. But does it apply with equal force where litigation on the merits of an arbitrable or allegedly arbitrable dispute has commenced, and the motion to compel arbitration is made by motion in the pending action, which is stayed pending arbitration? Can the stayed merits litigation act as what former Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in his Badgerow dissent, referred to as a “jurisdictional anchor” for not only the motion to compel arbitration, but also other subsequent applications for pre- or post-award FAA relief relating to the arbitration?  See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1326 (Breyer, J., dissenting).

That is an open question in the Second Circuit after Badgerow, although pre-Badgerow the answer was yes. Let’s look at it more closely and try to get a sense of how the Second Circuit might rule on it considering Badgerow. Continue Reading »

Subject Matter Jurisdiction in FAA Proceedings: Eighth Circuit Demonstrates It’s a Trap for the Unwary

August 23rd, 2023 Amount in Controversy, Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Vacated, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 5, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Look Through, or Modify Award, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 10, Section 11, Section 4, Section 5, Section 7, Section 9, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Comments Off on Subject Matter Jurisdiction in FAA Proceedings: Eighth Circuit Demonstrates It’s a Trap for the Unwary

Introduction

Subject Matter Jurisdiction | Petition to Confirm | Petition to Vacate The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently decided a case that provides a good—and simple—example of how subject matter jurisdiction can be a trap for the unwary, especially for parties seeking to confirm or vacate arbitration awards under the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”). In Prospect Funding Holdings (N.Y.) v. Ronald J. Palagi, P.C., No. 22-1871, slip op. (8th Cir. Aug. 7, 2023), the Eighth Circuit vacated a district court’s judgment vacating two arbitration awards because the petitioner failed to plead the citizenship of the parties and therefore could not establish the requisite independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction. But there was more to it than that. Continue Reading »

Second Circuit Clarifies Rules Governing Forum Selection Clauses

August 7th, 2023 Amount in Controversy, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Law, Conflict of Laws, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Forum Non Conveniens, Forum Selection Agreements, Jurisdiction Clause, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Venue 1 Comment »

Forum Selection Clauses: Introduction to Kelman

Forum Selection Clause Sometimes appellate courts render opinions that helpfully explain somewhat complexed or arcane procedural rules. The Second Circuit’s decision in Rabinowitz v. Kelman, No. 22-1747, slip op. (July 24, 2023) is of this ilk, and is one that should be consulted not only when litigating forum-selection-related issues, but also for purposes of drafting forum selection clauses.

Kelman— which arose out of a petition filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (the “SDNY”) to confirm a rabbinical arbitration award—addressed two issues: (1) whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction where the amount of controversy and diversity of citizen requirements were met but the court was not one expressly contemplated by the forum selection clause; and (2) whether the forum selection clause was mandatory or permissive, that is, whether it required the action to be brought in one of the fora specified in the clause and no other.

The Court held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction under the diversity jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2)) because the petitioner adequately pleaded diverse citizenship and an amount in controversy in excess of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs, and because the parties lacked the power to divest the court of subject matter jurisdiction by agreement, including by agreement to a forum selection clause.

It further held that the “forum selection clauses” were “permissive arrangements that merely allow litigation in certain fora, rather than mandatory provisions that require litigation to occur only there.” Slip op. at 32.  Under a “modified forum non conveniens” analysis prescribed by the United States Supreme Court, the forum selection clauses did not bar litigation brought in the SDNY. Slip op. at 32. The Court accordingly vacated the district court’s judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded the case to the district court. Slip op. at 32. Continue Reading »

Assignment and Separability: Can an Assignor Compel Arbitration? The South Carolina Supreme Court Says the Arbitrators Get to Decide

August 2nd, 2023 Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Contract Defenses, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Practice and Procedure, Questions of Arbitrability, Section 4, Separability, Severability, South Carolina Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Assignment and Separability: Can an Assignor Compel Arbitration? The South Carolina Supreme Court Says the Arbitrators Get to Decide

Introduction: Assignment and the Separability Doctrine 

Separability and Assignment

Suppose A and B enter a contract imposing mutual obligations on them. The contract contains an arbitration agreement requiring arbitration of all disputes arising out of or related to the contract. The contract does not purport to prohibit assignment, and the parties’ rights under the contract are otherwise capable of assignment.

A assigns to assignee C its rights to receive performance under the contract. B commences an action against A under the contract and A demands arbitration. B resists arbitration, arguing that A has assigned to C its right to enforce the contract (we’ll call it a “container contract” because it contains an arbitration agreement) and thus there is no longer any arbitration agreement that A can enforce against B. Judgment for whom?

In Sanders v. Svannah Highway Auto Co., No. 28168, slip op. (July 26, 2023),  the Supreme Court of North Carolina said that, under the Federal Arbitration Act’s “separability” doctrine, the claim that the contract—including the arbitration agreement— could no longer be enforced was an issue that concerned the enforceability of the container contract as a whole, not the enforceability of the arbitration agreement specifically. And because the assignment concerned only the continued existence of the container contract, and not a claim that the container contract was never formed, the exception to the separability doctrine under which courts get to decide whether a contract has been concluded did not apply.

Accordingly, explained the South Carolina Supreme Court, it was for the arbitrator to decide what effect, if any, the assignment had on A’s right to enforce the container contract, including the arbitration agreement. Continue Reading »

Expert-Determination Clauses: Third Circuit Holds Dispute Resolution Clause Provided for Expert-Determination, not Arbitration

July 31st, 2023 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Stay Litigation, Appraisal, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Challenging Arbitration Agreements, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Contract Interpretation, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Practice and Procedure, Questions of Arbitrability, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 4, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Comments Off on Expert-Determination Clauses: Third Circuit Holds Dispute Resolution Clause Provided for Expert-Determination, not Arbitration

Introduction: Third Circuit’s Ruling on Expert-Determination Clauses Versus Arbitration Clauses

expert-determination

Not every dispute resolution clause contained in a contract is an arbitration clause, let alone an arbitration clause governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). Absent a statute stating otherwise, dispute resolution clauses that are not arbitration agreements must be enforced via ordinary contract-law rules only, not through FAA- or state-arbitration-statute-authorized motions to compel arbitration, motions to stay litigation pending arbitration, or motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently decided a case that turned on whether the dispute resolution clause in the contract was an arbitration clause, or simply a contractual provision calling for resolution of an issue by experts, sometimes referred to as an “expert-determination provision[,]” slip op. at 14, or “expert-determination clause.” In Sapp v. Indus. Action Servs., No. 22-2181, slip op. (3d Cir. July 20, 2023) the Court held that the clause before it was not an arbitration agreement, but an expert clause and consequently reversed the district court’s decision to compel arbitration and vacated the Court’s order granting the motion to confirm the expert’s decision and denying the motion to vacate it. Slip op. at 3, 19.

Whether or not you are—in a particular case—advocating for or opposing arbitration, Sapp demonstrates how important it is to make an early determination as to whether the alternative dispute resolution clause at issue is, in fact, an arbitration agreement whose enforcement is governed by the FAA or a state arbitration statute.

Another point about Sapp is that its interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act is arguably more narrow than that of the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit has said that a dispute resolution provision otherwise falling under Section 2 of the FAA is an “arbitration agreement” for purposes of the FAA, including an “appraisal” provision in an insurance contract. The test is whether the dispute resolution provision  “clearly manifests an intention by the parties to submit certain disputes to a specified third party for binding resolution.” McDonnell Douglas Finance CorpvPennsylvania Power & Light Co., 858 F.2d 825, 830 (2d Cir. 1988); Bakoss v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds of London Issuing Certificate No. 0510135, 707 F.3d 140, 143 (2d Cir. 2013). That dispute resolution clauses, such as appraisal clauses, typically do not use the term “arbitration” is of no moment—all that counts “is that the parties clearly intended to submit some disputes to their chosen instrument [e.g., appraisal] for the definitive settlement of certain grievances under the Agreement.” Id. (quotations omitted); see Bakoss, 707 F.3d at 143. (See also Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

The reason for this difference is most likely because, as we shall see, Sapp ruled that state law—specifically, that of Delaware—not federal common-law, governs what constitutes an arbitration agreement for purposes of the FAA. See Slip op. at 12-16. In the Second Circuit, however, federal common-law governs that question. See Bakoss, 707 F.3d at 143. Continue Reading »

Presumption of Arbitrability: Second Circuit Clarifies the Law

May 30th, 2023 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Labor Arbitration, Motion to Compel Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Presumption of Arbitrability, Questions of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Presumption of Arbitrability: Second Circuit Clarifies the Law

Introduction: Presumption of Arbitrability

Presumption of Arbitrability

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

The presumption of arbitrability—grounded in the federal policy in favor of arbitration—is an important but sometimes misunderstood rule of Labor-Management-Relations-Act (“LMRA”)- and Federal-Arbitration-Act (“FAA”) arbitration law.

According to the presumption, “where. . . parties concede that they have agreed to arbitrate some matters pursuant to an arbitration clause, the law’s permissive policies in respect to arbitration counsel that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitral issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.” Granite Rock Co. v. Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 298-99 (2010) (citations and quotations omitted).

There is an understandable tendency among decision makers and commentators to interpret the presumption broadly, sometimes more broadly than the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”)’s pronouncements warrant. But the presumption is not an overarching command that courts decide arbitration-law disputes in a way that yields arbitration-friendly outcomes. The presumption is, as SCOTUS explained in Granite Rock—and more recently, in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., 142 S. Ct. 1708, 1713 (2022)—simply a limited-use tool to assist Courts in resolving ambiguities in arbitration agreements.

The presumption is, SCOTUS has said, “merely an acknowledgment of the FAA’s commitment to overrule the judiciary’s longstanding refusal to enforce agreements to arbitrate and to place such agreements upon the same footing as other contracts.”  Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quoting Granite Rock, 561 U.S. at 302). “The [federal] policy [in favor of arbitration[,]” SCOTUS said, “is to make ‘arbitration agreements as enforceable as other contracts, but not more so.’” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quoting Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 404, n. 12 (1967)).

The policy—and the presumption implementing it— merely requires courts to “hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713. Courts, Morgan said, cannot “devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quotation omitted). For “[t]he federal policy is about treating arbitration contracts like all others, not about fostering arbitration.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713-14 (citation omitted).

Granite Rock and Morgan express SCOTUS’s intention to narrowly limit the application of the presumption of arbitrability and to prohibit its use as an extracontractual basis for justifying enforcement of arbitration agreements more vigorously or expansively than ordinary contracts. (See here (Arbitration Law Forum, 2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb? (July 18, 2022)).) Rather SCOTUS precedent treats it as a default rule of last resort for resolving scope ambiguities in arbitration agreements. See Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 1418-19 (2019) (Not applying contra proferentem rule to resolve arbitration-agreement-scope ambiguities  “is consistent with a long line of cases holding that the FAA provides the default rule for resolving. . . [such] ambiguities. . . .”) (citations omitted).

A recent, per curiam decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit decision evidences the Second Circuit’s clear intention to follow SCOTUS’s presumption-of-arbitrability guidance and shows how it applies to the question before the Second Circuit in that case: At what point in the interpretative framework for determining arbitrability questions does the presumption of arbitrability come into play? See Local Union 97, Int’l Bhd. Of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., ___ F.4d ___, No. 21-2443-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. May 3, 2023) (per curiam).

Niagara Mohawk explains, among other things, that the presumption of arbitrability is a rule of last resort. Courts have no business resolving in favor of arbitration any doubts about the scope of arbitrable issue unless and until the Court has determined that the parties’ arbitration agreement is ambiguous as to whether the dispute is arbitrable. And even if there is an ambiguity, and the presumption applies, the presumption may be rebutted. Continue Reading »

France v. Bernstein: Third Circuit Says Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud

January 12th, 2023 Appellate Practice, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Award Procured by Fraud and Corruption, Award Vacated, Awards, 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, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Petition to Vacate Award, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Vacate Award | Fraud, Vacatur Comments Off on France v. Bernstein: Third Circuit Says Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud

FraudFederal Circuit Courts of Appeals decisions affirming district court decisions vacating awards—or reversing decisions confirming awards—are rare. Rarer still are decisions vacating awards as procured by fraud, corruption, or undue means.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in France v. Bernstein, 43 F.4th 367 (3d Cir. 2022) is an exception because there was clear and convincing evidence of fraud, the fraud was not detected despite the challenging party’s reasonable diligence, and there was a nexus between the fraud and the award. It is a particularly welcome exception because the Court:  (a) was not cowed by concerns that vacating an award, no matter what the circumstances, somehow makes arbitration an unattractive alternative to litigation; and (b) punished the perpetrator of the fraud, not the victim, by refusing to impose unreasonable due diligence requirements on the challenger.

We’ve discussed previously Section 10(a)(1), which authorizes vacatur “where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). (See here, here, here, and here.) To prove an award was procured by fraud or undue means a party must show it is “abundantly clear” that the award was obtained by “corruption, fraud, or undue means.” In addition, the challenging party must prove ” that due diligence would not have revealed the fraud during the arbitration and that the fraud materially related to an issue in the arbitration. (See here.)

In France v. Bernstein the Court held that the award challenger established fraud by clear and convincing evidence, showed that due diligence would not have revealed the fraud, and proved that the fraud materially related to an issue in the arbitration. It therefore reversed the district’s order confirming the award and remanded for the district court to enter an order vacating the award, and remanding the matter to the arbitrator.

The Underlying Dispute

The France arbitration was between two National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) certified contract advisors (i.e., agents), both of whom represented NFL players in contract negotiations. Each was bound by NFLPA Regulations Governing Contract Advisors (the “Regulations”).  We refer to them as Agents A and B.

NFL Player G had signed a representation agreement with Agent A in 2016, and at the same time signed another representation agreement with a limited liability company owned by Agent A (“Clarity Sports”) for marketing and endorsement deals. Together, Agent A and Clarity Sports were Player G’s exclusive agents.

Effective January 29, 2019, Player G terminated his contracts with Agent A and Clarity Sports. Three days prior to the termination, Player G had participated in an autograph signing event in which neither Agent A nor Clarity Sports played any role in arranging, even though Agent A and Clarity Sports were retained by Player G to organize such events. Agent A learned about the autograph signing event from a Facebook post.

Player G immediately signed up with Agent B once the termination was effective. Believing that Agent B had arranged the autograph signing event, Agent A filed a grievance against him, which “alleged, ‘[o]n information and belief,’ that [Agent B] initiated contact with Player G, arranged and negotiated the autograph-signing event for him, and then used the event’s proceeds to induce him to terminate his relationship with [Agent A] and to sign with [Agent B].” 43 F.4th at 371.

This, according to Agent A, violated two Regulations concerning unfair competition, one that prohibits the promising or providing of certain inducements to encourage a player to sign with a Contract Advisor, and another which prohibits certain communications between a Contract Advisor and a player that is represented by another Contract Advisor. See 43 F.4th at 371-72. The dispute was submitted to arbitration as the Regulations required.

Discovery in the Arbitration

The parties engaged in document and deposition discovery in the arbitration. At his deposition, Agent B denied repeatedly that he was involved in Player G’s participation  in the autograph event. While Agent B promised to produce documents responsive to certain of Agent A’s requests, and did produce certain documents, he denied having any documents responsive to document requests concerning the autograph signing event.

Agent B also contended that he would produce only documents that were in his possession, not documents that were under his control, and that he would not produce documents in the possession of CAA Sports, attorneys, accountants, agents or Agent B’s colleagues, because these persons were not required to arbitrate under the Regulations. He then purported to retreat from that position by claiming that he was, in fact, producing documents that were in his “possession or control.”

But “control” meant little to him because he continued to argue he was not required to produce documents in the possession of CAA Sports LLC (Agent B’s employer) or any other third parties.

In light of these representations, and to “end the debate” about Agent B’s production obligations, Agent A requested the arbitrator to authorize seven subpoenas, one against CAA Sports, and six to other non-parties. The arbitrator said he could authorize the subpoenas but had no power to enforce them.

Of the seven subpoenas, one was served on CAA Sports, two on sports memorabilia dealers and one on  Kenneth Saffold, Jr. (“Saffold”), a person who mentored Player G. No responsive documents were produced pursuant to these subpoenas, although Saffold testified at the hearing.

The Arbitration Hearing

Arbitration hearings were held in Virginia on November 19 and December 12, 2019. At  the hearings Agent A, Agent B, Saffold, and an employee of Clarity Sports testified. Agent B “repeatedly and consistently denied that he had anything to do with the autograph-signing event, and he emphasized that [Agent A] had no evidence—documentary or testimonial—showing anything to the contrary.” 43 F.4th at 373. The evidence showed that Player G received roughly $7,750 for attending and participating at the event.

Agent B presented evidence purporting to show that Player G’s decision to discharge Agent A and sign Agent B had nothing to do with Player G’s participation at the signing event. Player G’s mentor, Saffold, testified that he and Player G had discussed ways to build Player G’s brand, including networking at events, and that consequently, Player G was present at a charity bowling event, held by a teammate of Player G, an event a Player G teammate hosted. At that event, Player G purportedly introduced himself to Agent B, who represented the teammate hosting the charity event.

According to Agent B, Player G told him that he was interested in changing agents and asked for Agent B’s phone number. Although Agent B provided the phone number, he testified he did not know who Player G was until he later reviewed a roster of Player G’s team. Agent B further testified that Player G texted him to discuss further the telephone conference they had at the charity event, and later met for dinner so that Player G could voice his frustration with Agent A and learn more about what Agent B did for clients.

Saffold testified that Player G had Agent B meet with his mother, and that Player G introduced Saffold to Agent B, who vetted Agent B’s references. According to evidence adduced by Agent B, Player G was prepared to terminate the Agent A relationship by year end 2018, but Saffold advised him to wait until after the 2018 season was over in January 2019.

On January 24, 2019, Player G notified Agent A of his termination, which was to be effective January 29, 2019. The autograph-signing event occurred three days prior to the effective date of the termination. Agent B’s position therefore was that the autograph event timing was “purely coincidental.” 43 F.4th at 374.

The Arbitration Award

On March 27, 2020, The Arbitrator made an award in favor of Agent B, determining that Agent A had failed to meet his burden of proof to show that Agent B violated either of the two Regulations. As respects the Regulation prohibiting thing-of-value inducements, Agent B did not violate that Regulation because: (a) Agent B had no involvement in the signing event; and (b) as of the date of the signing event, Player G had already decided to discharge Agent A and hire Agent B. Agent B likewise did not violate the Regulation prohibiting Contract Advisors from communicating with already-represented players because, according to Agent B’s version of events, Player G initiated contact with Agent B at the charity bowling event in 2018.

Evidence of Fraud Emerges in a Parallel Federal Court Action

A parallel federal court litigation demonstrated that Agent B had crucial evidence pertinent to Agent A’s claims that Agent B should have made—but did not make—available to Agent A in the arbitration. While the arbitration was pending, Agent A and  Clarity Sports commenced an action in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against CAA Sports and three sports memorabilia dealers who were involved in the signing event. That action (the “Parallel Action”) asserted claims for tortious interference with contractual relationships.

Approximately two months after the arbitrator made the award, evidence surfaced in the litigation demonstrating that Agent B was involved with the autograph event. Prior to the award, and in anticipation of the production of such evidence, Agent B requested that the arbitrator give him an extension to file a post-hearing brief, but the arbitrator denied the request.

The evidence adduced in the litigation showed that Agent B was involved in the signing event. One of the memorabilia dealers’ interrogatory responses implied Agent B’s involvement. That response explained that Jake Silver, one of Agent B’s CAA Sports colleagues, played a key role in organizing the event:

Jake Silver is the person we have historically dealt with at CAA. Near the Christmas holidays in late December 2018, I had a telephone conversation with Jake Silver regarding such marketing events (such calls between us and various other parties are not unusual, but occur frequently in our ordinary course of business). . . . [W]hile discussing the possibility of various signing events, Jake Silver mentioned that [Player G], a player for the Detroit Lions, might be interested in doing an autograph signing event, and asked us if we  were interested.

43 F.4th at 374-75 (quoting Joint Appendix (“J.A.” at 1833) (alterations in original).

The same dealers produced text-message screenshots, which evidenced a discussion among dealers discussing the logistics of the signing event. That discussion included “[c]ar service for Kenny/mom/Todd CAA[,]” which was presumably a reference to Player G, his mother, and Agent B (whose first name was Todd). At his deposition, the dealer admitted that a person named Todd would join Player G and his mother at the event. No one suggested who, other than Agent B, the “Todd” referred to in the text message might be.

The litigation also led to the discovery of other evidence showing that, one day before the signing event, Agent B was scheduled to fly to Chicago, where the event was to be held.

In October 2020, as discovery further progressed, further evidence surfaced demonstrating that Agent B was involved in setting up the event. CAA Sports produced: (a): an email from Silver to Agent B that attached a copy of a contract for the signing event to be signed by Player G; and (b) an email from Agent B to Player G attaching a copy of the same contract and requesting that Player G execute it.

Confirmation/Vacatur Action

Back in April 2020, one month after the award, Agent B commenced by petition an action to confirm the award in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, the district embracing the arbitration situs. Agent A crossed moved to vacate, contending that the post-award, new evidence that had thus far surfaced—the interrogatory response, the text message screen shot, and the deposition testimony indicating that “Todd” [i.e., Agent B] was to ride to the event with Player G—established that the award had been procured by fraud within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1).

In response to Agent A’s motion to vacate, Agent B contended that Agent A could not show that, through requisite diligence, the fraud was undiscoverable during the arbitration. 

Agent A contended that it had acted diligently by seeking third-party discovery but was unable to enforce the subpoenas, and was not, in any event, required to enforce the subpoenas. There was, said Agent A, insufficient time to seek such enforcement between the short period between the two days of arbitration hearings. Agent A also contended that he had sought diligently in the Parallel Action discovery from the memorabilia dealers.

 A few months after April 20, 2020, Agent B’s petition to confirm the Award was transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where the Parallel Action was pending. Agent A subsequently moved for leave to supplement his motion to vacate with the evidence he discovered in the Parallel Action in October 2020: the emails from Agent A and Silver that attached copies of the autograph-event contract. He argued that the new evidence established, “‘with absolute certainty[,]’” that the Award was “‘procured by “fraud, corruption or undue means” within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. [Section 10(a)(1)]. . . .’” 43 F.4th at 376 (quoting J.A. at 2739 and 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1)).

The district court granted the motion for leave to supplement, but in the same order denied the motion to vacate and granted the petition to confirm. The district court held that Agent A failed to proffer an adequate reason why the fraud could not have been discovered during the arbitration. Specifically, it found that Agent A failed to exercise the requisite degree of diligence by not seeking judicial enforcement of the arbitrator’s subpoenas.

Agent A moved for reconsideration, contending that attempting to enforce the subpoenas judicially was futile because the persons who produced the evidence establishing fraud were located more than 100 miles from Alexandria, Virginia, where the arbitration was sited, and thus were beyond the territorial scope of any arbitral subpoena the district court in Alexandria could enforce. Agent A also argued that Agent B was guilty of discovery abuse by representing that he would produce documents responsive to the requests, but then contending that none concerning the autograph event was in his possession. That fraud, Agent A claimed, could not have been discovered any earlier, even had the subpoenas been enforced.

But the district court denied the motion for reconsideration, again placing the blame on Agent A. According to the district court, Agent A could have raised his argument about the futility of enforcing the subpoena in response to Agent B’s argument that Agent A’s failure to enforce the subpoenas evidenced Agent A’s lack of diligence. While Agent A had argued that he did not have time to enforce the subpoenas, he did not argue that enforcement was futile because of the 100-mile territorial limit. The district court did not discuss Agent A’s argument that Agent B’s discovery-abuse fraud could not have been discovered during the arbitration.

Agent A appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

Court Holds the Award was Procured by Fraud under FAA Section 10(a)(1)

 After acknowledging the “steep climb” required to vacate an arbitration award, the Third Circuit explained that to vacate an award for fraud or undue means, Agent A must prove: (1) fraud by clear and convincing evidence; (2) that was not discoverable through the exercise of reasonable diligence; and (3) was materially related to an issue in the arbitration. 43 F.4th at 378.

Clear and Convincing Evidence of Fraud

The Court said the least controversial issue was whether Agent A had established fraud by clear and convincing evidence. See id. Agent A claimed the award “was procured by fraud because of [Agent B’s] nonproduction of responsive documents, as well as his false testimony at the arbitration hearing and his pre-hearing deposition.” Id. Finding that procuring an award through perjured testimony, or the knowing concealment of evidence constitutes fraud within the meaning of Section 10(a)(1), the Court concluded it was “plain that [Agent B] both lied under oath and withheld important information demanded in discovery.” Id.

Agent B said he would produce all documents in his possession, but as respects the signing event he said there was none.  At his deposition and at the hearing he denied having any involvement in or knowledge of the signing event. See 43 F.4th at 378-79.  “None of that was true,” as text messages, email, and deposition testimony obtained in the Parallel Action demonstrated. 43 F.4th at 379.

The Court concluded that Agent A’s “false representations that he did not possess those emails and that he had no involvement in the event amount to clear and convincing evidence that fraud occurred.” Id.

Fraud not Discoverable Through Reasonable Diligence

The Court concluded that Agent A was reasonably diligent in its efforts to seek discovery from Agent B concerning his involvement in the signing event. First, the Court held that the Agent A had, in the circumstances, a right to rely on Agent B’s representations about documents and his alleged non-involvement in the signing event. Agent B represented that it would produce documents responsive to Agent A’s requests but contended that it had no documents pertinent to the signing event. He also denied having any involvement in the signing event. Id. The court said that a “reasonably diligent litigant in [Agent A’s] position was entitled to rely upon those representations, without launching a separate fact-checking investigation.” Id.

Second, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, Agent A was not required to enforce judicially the third-party document subpoenas the arbitrator issued. The district court believed that Agent A’s decision not to seek judicial enforcement was unreasonable even though Agent A argued that it did not have the time to do that either prior to or between the two days of arbitration hearings.

The Third Circuit concluded that the district court erred by focusing on Agent A’s decision not to enforce the subpoenas. The focus should have been on Agent B’s “unequivocal statements denying he had possession of any documents indicating he was involved in the autograph-signing event, and his further insistence that he was completely uninvolved in the event.” 43 F.4th at 380.  “Reasonable diligence[,]” said the Court, “does not require parties to assume the other side is lying[,]” and “[i]t piles one unfairness on another to say that [Agent A] had to seek enforcement of the subpoenas shortly before an arbitration hearing, just to double-check whether [Agent B] was being truthful in representing that he did not possess pertinent documents and that he was not involved in organizing the autograph-signing event.” Id.

Third, the Third Circuit concluded that Agent A took “substantial measures” to uncover Agent B’s perjury. Id. Agent A requested documents concerning the signing event and deposed Agent B. Id.

When Agent B took the position that it would produce documents only in its possession, Agent A requested, and the arbitrator issued, document subpoenas, which Agent A served on CAA Sports and other third parties. Id. The subpoenas requested “documents that would have exposed France’s perjury, including emails receiving and sending the contract for the signing event.” Id.

Agent A served the CAA Sports subpoena in October 2019, but CAA Sports did not comply voluntarily. During the few-week period between the service of that subpoena and the first hearing, Agent A deposed Agent B, “who falsely testified that he had no involvement in the autograph-signing event.” Id.

Given Agent B’s false testimony, Agent A “could have reasonably concluded it was not worthwhile to aggressively pursue  non-party discovery, especially considering the cost and burden involved in instituting an action in federal court, as necessary to enforce those subpoenas.” Id. Due diligence did not require Agent A to commence such an independent action. Id. Even though “it would, perhaps, have been to [Agent A’s] credit to more aggressively pursue enforcement” of the subpoenas, the point of those subpoenas was not to obtain documents in Agent B’s possession, but to obtain documents in the possession of Agent B’s employer, CAA Sports, and other third parties. Agent B had already falsely stated he would have turned over those documents if they were in his possession. 43 F.4th at 380-81.

Agent A, said the Court, “should not be penalized for accepting his opponent’s representations.” 43 F.4th at 381. While Agent A  “did not pursue every possible discovery mechanism,” “a litigant’s diligence can be legally adequate even if some stones are left unturned. ‘Reasonable’ does not mean ‘perfect.’” Id.

The Fraud was Material

 The Court found that “the fraud was material and obviously so.” 43 F.4th at 381.  Agent A did not have to show that but for the fraud and concealment the outcome of the arbitration would have been different. Id.

Following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Odeon Cap. Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196 (2d Cir. 2017), the Third Circuit explained it was enough for Agent A “to ‘demonstrate a nexus between the alleged fraud and the decision made by the arbitrator.’” 43 F.4th at 381 (quoting Odeon Cap., 864 F.3d at 196; cleaned up). There was unquestionably a “nexus” here because the “concealed evidence proved . . . facts” that supported Agent A’s version of the case. See 43 F.4th at 381.

Agent A contended that it was Agent B’s involvement in the signing event that resulted in Player G signing with Agent B and discharging Agent A. Id. The arbitrator determined that Agent A presented no evidence supporting that contention. Agent A could have presented that evidence had Agent B not “lie[d] that he had no documents reflecting his involvement in the signing event[,]” and had not “lie[d] about being wholly uninvolved in the event.” 43 F.4th at 381.

There was nevertheless “a complicating factor” that “raise[d] the possibility that [Agent B’s] involvement in the autograph-signing event was not the cause of [Player G’s] decision to change agents.” 43 F.4th at 381 & 382. Agent B had adduced evidence that, prior to the signing event, Player G had introduced himself, his mother, and his mentor, Saffold, to Agent B and expressed interest in engaging Agent B. 43 F.4th at 381. If credited, that evidence would be consistent with Agent B not having induced with a thing of value Player G to hire him and not having initiated communications with Player G in violation of applicable rules.

Agent B’s evidence on this score was corroborated by affidavits from Player G and his mother. Id. Although the arbitrator indicated that he would give those affidavits “very, very little” weight compared to the hearing testimony, the evidence “raises the possibility that [Agent B’s] involvement in the autograph-signing event was not the cause of [Player G’s] decision to change agents.” Id.

The centerpiece of the arbitrator’s decision was Agent A’s lack of evidentiary support for Agent A’s position that Agent B was involved in the signing event, and the arbitrator determined that “‘[Agent B] had nothing to do with arranging, planning, organizing[,] or influencing in any way the operation of the Signing Event.’” 43 F.4th at 382 (quoting J.A. at 274). That finding was part of the evidence that formed the basis of the award. Id.

“[E]vidence of [Agent B’s] involvement with the signing event[,]” the Court concluded, “would have been material to the arbitrator’s decision[,]” and Agent B “hid that evidence and then falsely testified that he had no knowledge of or involvement in the signing event.” Id.

If Agent A could have presented the evidence that Agent B should have produced during the arbitration—or if he had sought to enforce more aggressively the subpoenas had Agent B not falsely testified—then the arbitrator would have had to consider both parties’ version of events, both of which would have had evidentiary support. On that record the arbitrator could have made an award in favor of Agent A.

Further the arbitrator might have made an award in favor of Agent A even if it accepted parts of Agent B’s story. Id. “[I]t is clear[,]” said the Court, “that the arbitrator’s fact-finding task would have looked much different had [Agent A] possessed the concealed evidence to support the core allegation in his grievance[,]” and “[t]hat is enough for us to see a nexus between [Agent B’s] fraud and the basis for the [award]. . . .”  Id. (citation and quotation omitted).

Concluding, the Court noted that “[a]n honest process is what those who agree to arbitration have a right to expect.” 43 F.4th at 382.

Contacting the Author

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 various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

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Ninth Circuit Clarifies Arbitral Summons Jurisdiction and Venue under New York Convention

August 19th, 2022 Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 201, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 204, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, International Arbitration, New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 7, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Subpoenas, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Venue Comments Off on Ninth Circuit Clarifies Arbitral Summons Jurisdiction and Venue under New York Convention

Summons | Petition to EnforceThe United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently provided useful guidance on what might be described as the arcane of the arcane: arbitral summons or subpoena practice in cases governed by Chapter Two of the Federal Arbitration Act, which implements the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention” or the “New York Convention”). See 9 U.S.C. § 201, 202. We’ve discussed arbitral summons practice in domestic cases—itself an arcane subject— in posts published in 2020, here, here, and here.

In Jones Day v. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, No. 21-16642, slip op. (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2022), the Court made important rulings concerning (a) federal court subject matter jurisdiction over a Chapter One arbitral summons in a case governed by Chapter Two of the FAA, and (b) proper venue for enforcing an arbitral summons in a case where the third-party witness is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the district embracing the seat of the arbitration.

Yes, these rulings may appear arcane, but they are highly relevant to those who arbitrate cases falling under the New York Convention, especially cases involving arbitrations sited in the U.S. where one or more parties are citizens of foreign states, or where the agreement or award arises out of a commercial, legal “relationship involving property located outside the U.S., envisages performance or enforcement abroad, or has some other reasonable relationship with one or more foreign states.” See 9 U.S.C. § 202.

Background

Jones Day arose out of an arbitration between a law firm (the “Firm”) and a former partner, a German national (the “Former Partner”), who was based in Paris, and left Jones Day to join another firm (the “Competitor Firm”). The arbitration agreement designated Washington, D.C. as the arbitration situs. The parties’ arbitration agreement fell under the Convention. See 9 U.S.C. § 202.

The Firm requested the arbitrator to issue a subpoena or summons to the Competitor Firm, requiring it to appear before the arbitrator in Washington, D.C. and produce documents.

When the Competitor Firm did not appear and produce documents, the Firm attempted to enforce the subpoena in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, but the D.C. court dismissed the proceeding for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Competitor Firm had its principal place of business in San Francisco and was apparently not amenable to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia.

The Court also ruled that, under Section 7 of the Federal Arbitration Act, the Competitor Firm was required to enforce the arbitral summons in a United States Federal District Court.

The Firm then persuaded the Arbitrator to issue revised subpoenas requiring two of the Competitor Firm’s partners, who resided in the Northern District of California, to appear before the Arbitrator in San Jose, California, which is within the Northern District of California.

When the Competitor Firm refused to comply with the revised arbitral summons, the Firm commenced an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against the Competitor Firm and the two summonsed partners.

The district court denied the application on the ground that it had no authority to enforce the summonses because under Section 7 of the FAA (a) the only court that can enforce an arbitral summons is the court in which the arbitrator sits; (b) Washington D.C. was the designated arbitration situs; and (c) the arbitrator can “sit” in one location only, here Washington, D.C. Having denied the application on improper venue grounds, the district court declined to decide whether it had federal subject matter jurisdiction over the application.

Ninth Circuit Determines the District Court had Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Enforce the Arbitral Summons

The Court engaged in a textual analysis of Chapter Two to determine whether there was subject matter jurisdiction over the petition. Section 203, the Court explained, confers on federal courts original subject matter jurisdiction, irrespective of the amount in controversy, over “[a]n action or proceeding falling under the Convention.” 9 U.S.C. § 203; Jones Day, slip op. at 6.

The parties did not dispute, and the Court held, that the application to enforce the summons was an “action or proceeding.” There was also no question that the parties’ arbitration agreement “fall[s] under the Convention” within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. § 202; slip op. at 6.

The question was whether the “action or proceeding” to enforce arbitral summons falls under the Convention. The Competitor urged that “because Congress ‘conspicuously’ did not include [in Chapter Two] a provision regarding petitions to enforce an arbitral summons, such a petition is not an action or a proceeding encompassed under § 203.” Slip op. at 7. To the contrary, said the Competitor Firm, Chapter Two expressly authorizes only three actions or proceedings: (a) “orders to compel arbitration, 9 U.S.C. § 206[; (b)] appointments of arbitrators in accordance with an arbitration agreement, id.[; and (c)]. . . orders confirming arbitration awards, 9 U.S.C. § 207.” Slip op. at 7.

The Competitor attempted to support its argument by arguing that “‘fall under’ means to be ‘listed or classified as’ or ‘included in’. . . .” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Webster’s New World Dictionary and MacMillan Contemporary Dictionary).

The Court, however, rejected that argument, explaining that “dictionaries from around 1970” (Chapter Two’s enactment date) “embrace a broader definition of ‘fall under’. . . .” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary Vol. I 955 (1971) (the “Compact Edition”) and Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English Vol. I 102 (1975) (“Oxford Idiomatic”). Those dictionaries defined “fall under” as “‘[t]o be brought under the operation or scope of, be subject to’[,]” slip op. at 7 (quoting Compact Edition), and to “‘be classified as, be placed within a certain category[.]’” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Oxford Idiomatic).

The Court’s Arbitral Summons Subject Matter Jurisdiction Conclusion is Further Supported by the Convention’s and Chapter Two’s Structure 

 The Court found further support in the Convention’s and Chapter Two’s structure suggesting that to “fall under” the Convention, specific actions or proceedings need not be explicitly stated in the Convention or Chapter Two.

The Court relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in G.E. Energy Power Conversion France SAS, Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC, 140 S. Ct. 1637 (2020), in which “the [U.S. Supreme] Court determined that the domestic doctrine of equitable estoppel, which permits the enforcement of arbitration agreements against nonsignatories, does not conflict with the Convention, and so is applicable in international arbitrations.” Slip op. at 8 (citations omitted).

Outokumpu concerned Article II(3) of the Convention, which provides that “courts of a contracting state ‘shall. . . refer the parties to arbitration.” Convention, Art. II(3). The arbitration challenger in Outokumpu argued that Article II(3) authorized Courts to refer only signatory “parties” to the arbitration, and did not permit courts to use the equitable estoppel doctrine to refer nonsignatories to arbitration.

Outokumpu reasoned that Convention “Article II(3) does not preclude application of the domestic doctrine of equitable estoppel because it ‘contains no exclusionary language; it does not state that arbitration agreements shall be enforced only in the identified circumstances.’” Jones Day, slip op. at 8 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645)  (emphasis in original). The Supreme Court, explained the Ninth Circuit, “viewed a counter interpretation inappropriate because ‘the provisions of Article II contemplate the use of domestic doctrines to fills gaps in the Convention.’” Slip op. at 8 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645). The Supreme Court therefore “did not ‘read the nonexclusive language of [Article II(3) of the Convention] to set a ceiling that tacitly precludes the use of domestic law to enforce arbitration agreements.’” Slip op. at 8-9 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645; bracketed material in original).

The Ninth Circuit said the Supreme Court’s analysis applied equally to the question whether the Convention or Chapter Two of the FAA contemplated a petition to enforce an arbitral summons. Slip op. at 9. “There is[,]” said the Ninth Circuit, “no language in [Chapter Two or the Convention]. . . that limits the tools that may be utilized in international arbitrations in ways domestic arbitrations are not so limited.” Slip op. at 9.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Competitor Firm’s “argument that the only permissible judicial actions or proceedings are those explicitly listed in Chapter Two . . . runs afoul of Chapter Two and the Convention’s plain language, structure, and objectives.” Slip op. at 9. The Court said the only limitation in the Convention or Chapter Two is 9 U.S.C. § 208, “which as the Supreme Court noted in [Outokumpu]. . . , disallows only those processes provided for in domestic arbitrations under Chapter One that conflict with Chapter Two of the Convention.” Slip op. at 9 (citations omitted). But enforcement of an arbitral summons does not conflict with Convention or Chapter Two—such enforcement “only aids in the arbitration process.” Slip op. at 9. 

The Court’s Arbitral Summons Subject Matter Jurisdiction Conclusion is Further Supported by Section 205, Chapter Two’s Removal Jurisdiction Provision

The Court found further support for its subject matter jurisdiction conclusion in Section 205 of the FAA, which concerns the removal jurisdiction of federal court in Chapter Two cases.

Section 205 states that “[w]here the subject matter of an action or proceeding pending in a State court relates to an arbitration agreement or award falling under the Convention, the defendant or the defendants may, at any time before the trial thereof, remove such action or proceeding to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where the action or proceeding is pending.” 9 U.S.C. § 205. Significantly, a district court’s removal jurisdiction is triggered when the subject matter of the state court action or proceeding “relates toan “agreement or award falling under the Convention.” 9 U.S.C. § 205 (emphasis added). See Jones Day, slip op. at 9-10.

As the Ninth Circuit astutely observed, “[i]f ‘falling under’ in § 203 is not deemed at least as coextensive with ‘relates to’ in § 205, then that would mean Congress intended the district courts to have a narrower scope of original jurisdiction than removal jurisdiction in enforcing international arbitration awards.” Slip op. at 10 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 205). But, said the Court, inferring such an intent would contravene “the very purpose of the Convention and the Chapter Two implementing procedures[,]” which “is to encourage arbitration and to authorize district courts to take actions necessary to ensure that the parties’ underlying controversy is successfully resolved through arbitration.” See slip op. at 10 (citation and quotation omitted).

As the Ninth Circuit explained, imputing such an intent would lead to strange results: “The irony of [the Competitor Firm’s]. . . contrary position is that, in this very case where it asserts the Northern District of California lacks original jurisdiction, the same court would have had removal jurisdiction under FAA § 205 had Jones  Day filed its petition to enforce the summons in San Francisco Superior Court.” Slip op. at 10.

The Competitor Firm could, said the Court, in this case have removed the case to federal court for purpose of “opposing enforcement” of the arbitrator’s summons. Slip op. at 10. The Ninth Circuit said “[t]his would be an absurd result, especially in light of congressional policy to enforce arbitration-not resist it-and the proceedings that further arbitration of international disputes.” Slip op. at 10 (citing 9 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207).

The Court then exhaustively discussed cases from the Fifth, Second, and Eleventh Circuit that supported its conclusion that “falling under” in Section 203 and “relate to” in Section 205 have “the same meaning for purposes of articulating the federal courts’ original jurisdiction in § 203.” Slip op. at 11 & 9-13; see Stemcor USA Inc. v. CIA Siderurgica do Para Cosipar, 927 F.3d 906 (5th Cir. 2019); Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 60 (2d Cir. 2012); Inversiones y Procesadora Tropical INPROTSA, S.A. v. Del Monte Int’l GmbH, 921 F.3d 1291, 1299 (11th Cir. 2019). These cases “expansive[ly]” construed Section 203, and the Court formulated from them a two-part test for determining if under the Convention and Chapter Two a federal court has original jurisdiction over an action or proceeding.

The Ninth Circuit’s Test for Whether a Federal District Court has Original Jurisdiction under Section 203 over an Action or Proceeding to Enforce an Arbitral Summons

Drawing from its interpretation of Section 203 and 205, and cases construing those provisions, the Court held “that a federal court has original jurisdiction over an action or proceeding if two requirements are met: (1) there is an underlying arbitration agreement or award that falls under the Convention, and (2) the action or proceeding relates to that arbitration agreement or award.” Slip op. at 13. The Court further explained that, “for purposes of the second requirement, we adopt the meaning of ‘relates to,’ which we previously defined for purposes of § 205, as whether the proceeding ‘could conceivably affect the outcome of the plaintiff’s case.” Slip op. at 13 (quoting Infuturia Global Ltd. v. Sequus Pharms., Inc., 631 F.3d 1133, 1138 (9th Cir. 2011) (emphasis in original; internal citation omitted)).

The Ninth Circuit Concludes that the District Court had Subject Matter Jurisdiction over the Arbitral Summons Enforcement Petition 

The Ninth Circuit had no difficulty finding that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction. First, the case unquestionably involved an arbitration agreement “falling under” the Convention because it involved an “arbitration agreement between [the Firm], an international law firm residing for jurisdictional purposes in Washington D.C., and its former non-U.S. citizen partner. . . .” Slip op. at 14; see 9 U.S.C. § 202 (defining agreements and awards falling under the Convention).

Second, the arbitral summons petition ” relates to the underlying arbitration agreement, as the arbitrator determined that evidence [to be] adduced. . . may be material to resolving the dispute.” Slip op. at 14.

As respects the “relates to” requirement, the Court went a step further and declared that the Section 7 arbitral summons enforcement proceedings were “[n]ot only. . . ‘related to’ an arbitration agreement falling under the Convention[]” but were “necessary ancillary proceedings that ensure the proper functioning of the underlying arbitration.” Slip op. 14. They present to the Court an “aspect of enforcing the parties’ agreement to arbitrate. . .”—“the enjoyment of a key procedural attribute of the arbitration the parties bargained for.” Slip op. at 15 (quotation and citation omitted). “Recognizing and enforcing arbitration agreements includes[,]” said the Ninth Circuit, “facilitating the arbitration process and providing arbitrators—in both domestic and international arbitrations—with access to the ancillary actions and proceedings necessary to arrive at an arbitration award.” Slip op. at 15-16. And that “includes arbitral subpoenas and their enforcement.” Slip op. at 15-16.

Venue was Proper in the Northern District of California

Section 204 of the FAA did not authorize venue in the Northern District of California and therefore the question was whether Section 204 was exclusive or permissive. If exclusive, venue would be improper. If permissive, venue would be proper if authorized by the General Venue Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

The Court held that Section 204 was permissive and venue was proper under the General Venue Statute. The district court held that venue did not lie in the Northern District of California because (a) [Chapter One,] Section 7 of the FAA “provides for enforcement of an arbitral summons in the ‘district in which such arbitrators, or a majority of them are sitting[,]” slip op. at 19 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 7); (b) “Washington D.C. [, rather than a place within the Northern District of California,] is the ‘seat of the underlying arbitration,’” and, accordingly, (c) “[the district court]. . . lacked jurisdiction to enforce the summons.” Slip op. at 19.

But putting aside the parties’ dispute about whether Section 7 provides for venue, and if so where, FAA Section 204 provides for venue in actions and proceedings falling under the Convention. The district court did not consider that provision, including whether Section 204 is exclusive or permissive. See slip op. at 19 & n.4.

Convention Venue Statute: FAA Section 204

Section 204, entitled “Venue,” states that “[a]n action or proceeding over which the district courts have jurisdiction pursuant to section 203 of this title may be brought in any such court in which save for the arbitration agreement an action or proceeding with respect to the controversy between the parties could be brought, or in such court for the district and division which embraces the place designated in the agreement as the place of arbitration if such place is within the United States.” 9 U.S.C. § 204.

Although the Court did not discuss them, there are two reasons why Section 204 did not authorize venue over the proceeding. First, an “action or proceeding with respect to the controversy between the parties” to the arbitration agreement—i.e., between the Firm and the Former Partner—would not have been properly venued in the Northern District of California. The Court did not consider whether Section 204 might be interpreted to authorize venue based on the arbitral summons enforcement controversy between the Firm and the Competitor Firm.

Second, even though the Firm followed the usual procedure of having the arbitrator convene a hearing in a district in which the witness would be within the enforcing court’s subpoena power, Section 204 provides for venue based on where the arbitrators are sitting only in cases where the arbitrators are sitting “in the place designated in the agreement as the place of arbitration. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 204. Washington, D.C. was the place designated in the parties’ agreement as the arbitration situs, and obviously Washington, D.C. is not in the Northern District of California.

Whether Section 204 is a Mandatory or Permissive Venue Statute

Because Section 204 did not provide for venue, the issue boiled down to whether Section 204 is a mandatory venue provision or a permissive one. The Court held that Section 204 was permissive, and that venue was therefore proper under the General Venue Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, because the Competitor Firm’s principal place of business was within the Northern District of California. See slip op. at 20.

First, the Court discussed how Section 1391 was intended to ensure that, if there was personal jurisdiction over a defendant, venue would always be proper in some district. Absent evidence that Congress intended to restrict the broad scope of venue provided by Section 1391, another federal statute providing for venue will be construed to be permissive, not mandatory. Slip op. at 16-17.

Second, the Court found that “[n]othing in the text of § 204 indicates that Congress intended. . . [Section 204] to be exclusive or restrictively applied.” Slip op. 17. Section 204, the sole venue provision in FAA Chapter Two, is  silent about the General Venue Statute, and uses the permissive language “‘may be brought’ to describe the additional authorized venues.” Slip op. at 17 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 204).

Third, the Court explained that Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Bill Harbert Constr. Co., 529 U.S. 193 (2000) “inform[ed]” its “reading of § 204.” Slip op. at 17. Cortez Byrd addressed whether the venue provisions of Sections 9, 10, and 11 of FAA Chapter One—which authorize venue for post-award litigation in the district where the award was made—were mandatory or permissive. Slip op. at 17-18.

Cortez Byrd held that the venue provisions of FAA Sections 9, 10, and 11 were permissive and that the venue for post-award litigation was proper as long as it was proper under those sections or under the General Venue Statute. Slip op. at 17-18 (citing Cortez Byrd, 529 U.S. at 199-200, 204). When the FAA was enacted in 1925 the General Venue Statute had a more limited scope, providing for venue only in the district where the defendant resided. Slip op. at 18.

The venue provisions in FAA Sections 9, 10, and 11 expanded the scope of the then-in-effect General Venue Statute, authorizing venue in the district where the award was made. The U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that “‘[t]he enactment of the special venue provisions in the FAA thus had an obviously liberalizing effect, undiminished by any suggestion, textual or otherwise, that Congress meant simultaneously to foreclose a suit where the defendant resided.’” Slip op. at 17-18 (quoting Cortez Byrd, 529 U.S. at 200).

Fourth, the Court explained that in Textile Unlimited, Inc. v. A. BMH & Co., Inc., 240 F.3d 781 (9th Cir. 2001) it had “expanded” the Cortez Byrd rationale by holding that “the FAA venue provision in 9 U.S.C. § 4, governing actions to compel arbitration, is likewise permissive rather than exclusive.” Slip op. at 18. “We understood Cortez Byrd[,]” said the Court, “to instruct us to ‘weave the various venue strands of the [Federal Arbitration] Act together into a seamless fabric which does not clash with other federal venue statutes.’” Slip op. at 18 (quoting Textile Unlimited, 240 F.3d at 784).

Fifth, the Court rejected the Competitor Firm’s argument that FAA Section 201 transformed Section 204 into a mandatory venue provision. Slip op. at 19-20. Section 201 states the “Convention. . .  shall be enforced in the United States courts in accordance with this chapter.” 9 U.S.C. § 201.

The Competitor Firm argued that the term “shall” in Section 201 rendered Section 204’s venue provision mandatory. The Competitor Firm relied on Johnson v. Payless Drug Stores Nw., Inc., 950 F.2d 586 (9th Cir. 1991), which held in a Title VII case that 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f) was a mandatory venue provision that superseded the General Venue Statute. But the Court explained that “Title VII. . . expressly provided that the venue ‘provisions of section 2000e-5(f) . . . shall govern’ employment discrimination actions.” ” Slip op. at 19-20 (quoting Johnson, 950 F.2d at 587). Johnson therefore concluded that the “language [of 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e-16(d)] ‘is mandatory.’” Slip op. at 19-20 (quoting Johnson, 950 F.2d at 587).

The Ninth Circuit distinguished the explicit statutory command of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d) from Section 204’s language, which it deemed not to be mandatory. Slip op. at 20.

Because the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, the parties did not dispute that venue was proper under the General Venue Statute, and because there were no other challenges to the petitions, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded “with instructions to enforce . . . [the Firm’s] petitions to compel [the Competitor Firm] and its partners to comply with the arbitral summonses.” Slip op. at 20-21.

Contacting the Author

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 various federal district and federal appellate courts.

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