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Archive for the ‘Practice and Procedure’ Category

Seventh Circuit Blocks Mass Arbitration: Wallrich v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc.  

July 16th, 2024 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Jurisdiction, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Fees, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Class Arbitration Waivers, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Delegation Agreements, Equal Footing Principle, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Mass Arbitration, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Procedural Arbitrability, Questions of Arbitrability, Richard D. Faulkner, Section 4, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit No Comments »

Mass ArbitrationIntroduction: Mass Arbitration

For many years consumers, employees, and others fought hard—with varying degrees of success—to compel class arbitration, and sellers, employers, and other more economically powerful entities fought equally hard to compel separate arbitrations in multi-claimant situations. Over time, companies included in their agreements—and courts enforced—clear class-arbitration waivers.

That might have been the end of the story but for a stroke of genius on the part of certain plaintiffs’ attorneys. These clever attorneys devised what is now known as “mass arbitration.”

In mass arbitration, as in class arbitration, multiple claimants—each represented by the same lawyer or group of lawyers—assert at the same time numerous  claims against a corporate defendant.

The result is that business entity defendants may be are forced to pay upfront hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in arbitration provider and arbitrator fees as a precondition to defending thousands of individual arbitration proceedings that raise one or more common issues.

Saddling the business entity defendants at the outset with those enormous arbitration fees obviously puts them in an untenable settlement position. The business entities also incur very substantial legal costs for arbitration-related litigation.

Given the vigor with which business entities have opposed class arbitration—which, despite its cumbersome nature, purports to be (but really isn’t) a workable mechanism for resolving multiple, similar, arbitral claims—one can hardly fault a judge for concluding that business entity defendants have reaped what they’ve sown. But it would be strange to think that Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) arbitration should, in multiple claimant situations, boil down to the business entity choosing one form of economic extortion (endless, inefficient, and prohibitively expensive class arbitration) over another (being forced to pay millions of dollars of arbitration fees upfront before being able to defend any of the individual arbitrations).

There have been some recent efforts on the part of arbitration providers to amend their rules to address mass arbitration in a more equitable manner. But those rules, and the ins, outs, and idiosyncrasies of mass arbitration are beyond this post’s ambit.

Our focus instead is on a very important mass-arbitration development: the first U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to address mass arbitration, Wallrich v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc., No. 23-2842, slip op. (7th Cir. July 1, 2024). The case is especially significant because it may portend the end of mass arbitration, at least in the form it typically takes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit derailed petitioners’ efforts to compel judicially the respondent to pay millions of dollars of arbitration fees demanded by mass arbitration claimants. It did so in two blows, the second more decisive than the first. Continue Reading »

S.K.A.V. v. Independent Specialty Ins. Co.: Fifth Circuit Decides Louisiana Statute Invalidating Arbitration Agreements in Insurance Contracts Applies to Surplus Lines Policies

June 27th, 2024 Anti-Arbitration Statutes, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Compel Arbitration, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreement Invalid, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Delegation Agreements, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Preemption of State Law, FAA Section 2, FAA Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Formation of Arbitration Agreement, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Insurance Contracts, Louisiana Supreme Court, McCarran-Ferguson Act, Motion to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Questions of Arbitrability, Section 2, Section 4, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit No Comments »

Introduction: LA Stat. Ann. § 22.868 and its Application to Surplus Lines Policies

surplus lines policy regulation

Louisiana has a statute, LA Stat. Ann. § 22.868, that courts have construed to make unenforceable arbitration provisions in insurance contracts, including surplus lines policies. The statute has an exception or savings provision that removes from the statute’s scope “a forum or venue selection clause in a policy form that is not subject to approval by the Department of Insurance[,]” LA Stat. Ann. § 22.868(D), for example, a venue- or forum-selection provision in a surplus lines policy.

The question before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in S.K.A.V. v. Independent Specialty Ins. Co., ___ F.4th ___, No. 23-30293, slip op. (5th Cir. June 5, 2024), was whether the statute invalidates arbitration provisions contained in surplus lines insurance policies, that is, whether arbitration provisions in such contracts fall within the subsection (D) exception. Predicting how it thinks the Louisiana Supreme Court would rule if faced with the question, the Court held that the subsection (D) exemption did not apply, and accordingly, the statute rendered unenforceable arbitration agreements in surplus lines contracts. The Court accordingly affirmed the judgment of the district court, which denied the arbitration proponent’s motion to compel arbitration.

Pushing the Elephant Out of the Room. . .

Before taking a closer look at how the Court arrived at its conclusion, let’s deal with the “elephant in the room.” Why is the Court in a case governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) even considering enforcing a state statute that would (or could) render unenforceable an FAA-governed arbitration agreement? Doesn’t the FAA preempt state law that puts arbitration agreements on a different footing than other contracts?

The answer is “undoubtedly”, but, as insurance and reinsurance practitioners know, under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1011, et seq., “[n]o Act of Congress shall be construed to invalidate, impair, or supersede any law enacted by any State for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance, or which imposes a fee or tax upon such business, unless such Act specifically relates to the business of insurance. . . .” 15 U.S.C. § 1012(b).

LA Stat. Ann. § 22.868 has been construed to be one that “regulat[es] the business insurance[,]” and the FAA is not an “Act [that] specifically relates to the business of insurance. . . .” Section 22.868 thus “reverse preempts” the FAA under McCarran-Ferguson. See slip op. at 2. (See, e.g., here.)

The Court’s Interpretation of Section 22.868, Including its Surplus Lines Policy Exemption

  LA Stat. Ann. § 22.868, provides, in pertinent part: Continue Reading »

Attorney Fees: Seventh Circuit to Consider Whether Exceeding Powers Challenge to Arbitrators’ Attorney’s Fees Award Warrants FRAP 38 Sanctions

June 19th, 2024 Appellate Practice, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fee Shifting, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Bad Faith, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 10, FAA Section 11, FAA Section 9, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Insurance Contracts, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Retrospectively-Rated Premium Contracts, Section 10, Section 11, Section 9, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Vacate, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Attorney Fees, Vacate Award | Attorney's Fees, Vacatur No Comments »

Introduction

Attorney's Fees | Contract InterpretationMost challenges to arbitration awards—including attorney fees awards— fail because the standards of review are so demanding. The bar is exceedingly high by design. Otherwise—the reasoning goes—courts would “open[] the door to the full-bore legal and evidentiary appeals that can rende[r] informal arbitration merely a prelude to a more cumbersome and time-consuming judicial review process and bring arbitration theory to grief in post-arbitration process.” Hall St. Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 588 (2008) (citations and quotations omitted; some parenthetical material in original).

But the narrow margin for success is not a free pass for challengers to advance arguments that do not, in a court’s view, have a legitimate, good faith basis in the facts and the law, or in a reasonable argument for reversal or modification of the law.

A recent case in point is Circuit Judge Easterbrook’s decision in American Zurich Ins. Co. v. Sun Holdings, Inc., No. 23-3134, slip op. at 1 (7th Cir. June 3, 2024) (Easterbrook, J.). The award challenger claimed the arbitrators exceeded their power by imposing as a sanction an award of $175,000.00 in attorney fees because the contract allegedly barred such an attorney fees award. The problem was that the arbitrators at least arguably interpreted the language in question and concluded that it did not bar the award of attorney fees in question. Moreover,  the attorney fees  award comported with New York law and the American Arbitration Association Commercial Rules, both of which the parties made part of their agreement.

The Seventh Circuit has signaled that it believes there was no good faith basis for the challenge and that the challenger has offered none, apart from its insistence that its interpretation was the only one even barely plausible. The challenger appears to have further undermined its litigation position by engaging in what the Seventh Circuit believes was recalcitrant behavior in the arbitration proceedings, and, according to the Court, not acknowledging the existence of controlling Seventh Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court authority controverting its position. The challenger compounded that by asserting—contrary to FAA Sections 10 and 11— additional award challenges that the Court concluded were simply attempts to second guess various determinations made by the arbitrators.

That this strategy backfired should come as no surprise. It resulted in the Court issuing an order to show cause providing the challenger 14 days “to show cause why sanctions, including but not limited to an award of attorneys’ fees, should not be imposed for this frivolous appeal.” Zurich, slip op. at 5 (citing Fed. R. App. P. 38). At the time of this writing no decision has been made by the Court concerning whether it will, in fact, impose sanctions.

Background: The Award of Attorney Fees

Petitioner Sun Holdings, Inc. (“Sun” or the “Award Challenger”) is a Texas- Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Decides Spizzirri, Saying that FAA Section 3 Stays of Litigation Pending Arbitration are Mandatory if Requested

May 21st, 2024 Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, FAA Section 3, FAA Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Look Through, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 16, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 4, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Stay Pending Appeal, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Textualism, Uncategorized, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments »

Section 3 Stay of LitigationOn May 16, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) in Smith v. Spizzirri, 601 U.S. ___, No 22-1218, slip op. (U.S. May 16, 2024), decided 9-0 that Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) does not “permit[] a court to dismiss the case instead of issuing a stay when the dispute is subject to arbitration and a party requests a stay pending arbitration.” 601 U.S. at ___; slip op. at 1.

In an opinion written by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court concluded that the “text, structure, and purpose” of Section 3 and the FAA all “point to the same conclusion: When a federal court finds that a dispute is subject to arbitration, and a party has requested a stay of the court proceeding pending arbitration , the court does not have discretion to dismiss the suit on the basis that all the claims are subject to arbitration.” 601 U.S. at ___, slip op. at 3. The Court therefore held that if a lawsuit “involves an arbitrable dispute, and a party requests a Section 3 stay, the Court must stay the litigation. 601 U.S. at ___; slip op. at 6.

The Court’s opinion resolves a long-standing and deepening split in the circuits, which the Court left open in Green Tree Financial Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 87 n.2 (2000), and Lamps Plus v. Varela, 587 U.S. 176, 181 n.1 (2019). That split in the circuits is discussed in note 1 of the Court’s opinion. 601 U.S. at ___ n.1, slip op. at 2-3 n.1 (citing cases).

Background

The underlying merits litigation that resulted in an order granting a motion to compel arbitration—but a dismissal despite the request for a Section 3 stay— was a state court action between current and former drivers for a delivery service and the operators of that service. Claims were made under state and federal employment laws based on alleged misclassification of the drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Claimants sought damages for sick leave and overtime wages.

Defendants removed the case to federal district court in Arizona and moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. Claimants conceded arbitrability but argued that the action should be stayed under Section 3.

Ninth circuit precedent granted district courts considering an application to stay litigation under Section 3 the discretion to either stay or dismiss the action. Relying on that precedent, the district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that all claims in the litigation had been ordered to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but two judges concurred, suggesting that this Ninth Circuit precedent was wrong and that SCOTUS should resolve the split in the circuits concerning whether a requested Section 3 stay was mandatory when claims in the litigation are subject to arbitration and a stay is requested.

SCOTUS granted certiorari, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and resolved the split. Continue Reading »

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 Comments Off on Status of Arbitration-Law Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this Term

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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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 »