main image

Archive for the ‘Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk’ Category

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

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.

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

Photo Acknowledgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading »

The Federal Arbitration Act: a Businessperson’s FAQ Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arbitration Cottage Industry: Repeat Players versus Outsiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting your Interests in Arbitration and Arbitration-Related Litigation

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

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

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

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

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

An Overview of the Federal Arbitration Act and its Provisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Federal Arbitration Act’s Enforcement Command: Section 2

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

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

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

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

Section 1 of the FAA : Definitions and an Exemption

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

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

The Rest of the FAA

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

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

More to follow in future posts. . . .

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


Photo Acknowledgment

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

Arbitration Law FAQ Guide: Challenging Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act — Part II

September 12th, 2018 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 2 Comments »

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 1

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 1

This is Part II of this two-part Arbitration Law FAQ Guide, which is designed to provide individuals and businesses with a brief and broad overview of challenging awards under the Federal Arbitration Act. Part I (here) addressed eight FAQs concerning this topic. This Part II addresses six more.

These FAQs, like the first eight, assume that a party is seeking to challenge a Federal-Arbitration-Act-governed arbitration award in a federal court having subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and proper venue.

This guide is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. An individual or business contemplating a challenge of an award under the Federal Arbitration Act  should consult with an attorney or firm that has experience and expertise in arbitration law matters.

  1. What does a person have to prove to convince a Court to grant it vacatur, modification, or correction of an award?

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 2

Awards Under the Federal Arbitration Act 2

An arbitration award is presumed valid and an award challenger has a heavy burden of proof to show otherwise. Some courts require clear and convincing evidence of certain grounds, such as evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators. And even if a challenger can meet its burden, challenging an award under the Federal Arbitration Act must ordinarily be done in a summary proceeding, which is heard and determined in the same manner as a motion.

Generally, the challenger must establish that the only legitimate inference that can be drawn from the law and undisputed facts is that vacatur, modification, or correction of the award is warranted. Even where there are factual disputes, courts ordinarily will not order discovery or evidentiary hearings absent “clear evidence of impropriety.”  See, generally, Andros Compania Maritima, S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 579 F.2d 691, 701, 702 (2d Cir. 1978).

  1. What proceedings does a Court usually hold to determine applications to vacate, modify, or correct awards under the Federal Arbitration Act?

These applications are summary proceedings that are made and decided like motions. See 9 U.S.C. § 6. If there is not already pending an action between the parties in which a motion may be made, then a challenger can start a proceeding by filing and serving, among other things, a petition or application, a notice of petition or application, supporting affidavits, and a memorandum of law in support. The responding party serves and files a memorandum in opposition, along with any affidavits in support.

Since the matter is a summary proceeding, and since the ordinary pleading rules do not apply, courts generally require the challenger to make all of its arguments at the time its response is due, including arguments that might be made by pre-answer motion in an ordinary law suit, such as lack of subject-matter or personal jurisdiction. The responding party will also typically file a cross-motion to confirm the award, that is, a request that the Court enter judgment upon the award. See 9 U.S.C. § 9. Continue Reading »

The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

April 21st, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Captive Insurance Companies, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Practice and Procedure, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

Part II

Analysis of the Pool Re Decision

If you read Part I you know the arbitration program in PoolRe case was, to put it mildly, inadequate to meet the needs of the multi-party, multi-contract dispute that arose out of the parties’ legal relationships. Perhaps the saving grace is that the both the district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the award, which is what Sections 5 and 10 of the  Federal Arbitration Act require.

yay-12688786 - WavebreakmediaThe Fifth Circuit addressed whether the district court erred by: (a) vacating the arbitration award on the ground the arbitrator exceeded his powers; (b) vacating the entire award; and (c) denying the motion to compel arbitration of the Phase II Claims. Finding no error, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in its entirety.

The District Court Correctly Concluded that the Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers




The Fifth Circuit held that the arbitrator exceeded his powers because the Arbitrator: (a) was not properly appointed under the terms of the Reinsurance Agreement’s arbitrator selection provisions, which required him to be “selected by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance;” and (b) decided the dispute under the American Arbitration Association’s rules when the Reinsurance Agreement required arbitration under International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) Rules.

Arbitrator not Selected as Required by the Reinsurance Agreement’s Arbitrator Selection Provisions




The district court held vacatur was required  because the Arbitrator “was not ‘the actual decisionmaker that [PoolRe and the Captives] selected as an integral part of their agreement.'” Slip op. at 9 (quoting district court). The Fifth Circuit held that “the district court properly vacated the arbitrator’s award with regard to the claims against PoolRe[,]” because the Arbitrator “was appointed in the manner provided in the [Engagement Agreement’s] Billing Guidelines — to which PoolRe was not a party — but was appointed in a manner contrary to that provided in the Reinsurance Agreements between PoolRe and the Captives, which required ‘select[ion] by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Capstone Entities “submitted [their] original arbitration demand to [the Arbitrator][,]” but “PoolRe,” said the Court, “only intervened in that arbitration after [the  Anguilla Financial Services Commission] notified Pool Re that no Director of Insurance existed.” Slip op. at 10-11. The Arbitrator thus “had not been ‘selected according to the contract specified method’.  .  .  when he  decided the dispute between Pool Re and the Captives.” Slip op. at 11 (quoting Bulko v. Morgan Stanley DW Inc., 450 F.3d 622, 625 ((5th Cir. 2006)).

The Fifth Circuit’s decision is fully consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act, under which “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted). Courts are supposed to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, and among the most important terms of an arbitration agreement are those concerning arbitrator selection. See Lefkovitz v. Wagner, 395 F.3d 773, 780 (2005) (Posner, J.) (“Selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.”); see, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 5 (“If in the agreement provision be made for a method of naming or appointing an arbitrator or arbitrators or an umpire, such method shall be followed.  .  .  .”); Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Art. V(1)(d), June 10, 1958, 21 U.S.T. 2519, T.I.A.S. No. 6997 (a/k/a the “New York Convention”) (implemented by 9 U.S.C. §§ 201, et. seq.) (award subject to challenge where “[t]he composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties”); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668, 670 (one of the FAA’s “rules of fundamental importance” is parties “may choose who will resolve specific disputes”) (emphasis added; citations omitted); Encyclopaedia Universalis S.A. v. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., 403 F.3d 85, 91-92 (2d Cir. 2005) (vacating award by panel not convened in accordance with parties’ agreement); Cargill Rice, Inc. v. Empresa Nicaraguense Dealimentos Basicos, 25 F.3d 223, 226 (4th Cir. 1994) (same); Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc. v. Garage Employees Union, 791 F.2d 22, 25 (2d Cir. 1986) (same).

Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers by Deciding the Disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules Rather than under the ICC Rules



The Fifth Circuit also held that the Arbitrator exceeded his powers by deciding the disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules because the Reinsurance Agreements required “all disputes [to] ‘be submitted for biding, final, and nonappealable arbitration to the [ICC] under and in accordance with its then prevailing ICC Rules of Arbitration.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Court explained that it “interpret[s] clauses providing for arbitration in accordance with a particular set of rules as forum selection clauses.” Slip op. at 10-11 (quotation and citations omitted). And “[i]f the parties’ agreement specifies that the laws and procedures of a particular forums shall govern any arbitration between them, that forum-selection clause  is an important part of the arbitration agreement, and, therefore, the court need not compel arbitration in a substitute forum if the designated forum becomes unavailable.” Slip op. at 11 (quotations and citations omitted). By applying the “the AAA rules [instead  of the ICC Rules] to the dispute[,]” the Arbitrator “acted contrary to an express contractual provision,” and therefore exceeded his powers within the meaning of Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act. Slip op. at 11 (quotation, citation and brackets omitted). Continue Reading »

The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?!

April 17th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Captive Insurance Companies, Confirmation of Awards, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Dispute Risk - Frequency and Severity, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Federal Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?!

Part I: PoolRe Introduction and Background


yay-4463438-digitalArbitration offers rough justice on the merits. Arbitrators have broad discretion not only in deciding the dispute but in fashioning remedies. Skilled, experienced and responsible arbitrators can cut through all sorts of legal and contractual “red tape” to resolve a dispute, applying just enough gloss on the law and the contract to make things work in a businesslike fashion while remaining true to the “essence of the agreement.”  Applied just so, that kind of rough justice is sometimes exactly what the parties need to make their agreement work, and in some cases, preserve (or even improve) their commercial relationship going forward. And it is not something that Court adjudication necessarily—or even ordinarily—can achieve.

But rough justice does not govern whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, who’s bound by an arbitration agreement and whether the parties agreed to delegate authority to a particular arbitrator or to follow a particular method of arbitrator selection as set forth in the parties’ agreement. Those questions are governed principally by state contract law and—particularly when multiple agreements and multiple parties are involved, or the question concerns whether an arbitrator was validly appointed—they frequently must be decided by courts, even if some or all of the parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration.

Details, Details.  .  .


Details always matter, but they are all the more important when a dispute will presumably be decided under state contract law rules and principles by a decision maker whose decisions—unlike those of an arbitrator—are often subject to independent review by an appellate court. Courts generally do not (or at least are not supposed to) substitute rough justice, pragmatism or equity in place of contract law, which is not always so flexible. The casebooks are littered with examples where doing so might arguably have achieved a more desirable outcome but doing so could not be squared with contract rules and principals in a way that befitted higher-court precedent and the circumstances apparently did not warrant departure from precedent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in PoolRe Ins. Corp. v. Organizational Strategies, Inc., No. 14-20433, slip op. (5th Cir. April 7, 2015), is a case where the parties apparently lost sight of some important details in their apparent haste to do a deal that unfortunately went sour. Then, an arbitrator appointed under one of the contracts compounded the problem by making an award that could not even arguably be squared with the clear terms of one of the contracts’ arbitration agreements.




The parties that were probably best positioned to ensure that the arbitration agreements in the various service-provider and reinsurance contracts probably lost the most, and perhaps to some extent at least, there’s some poetic justice to that. They claimed the clients breached their service contracts, the clients said the service providers breached the contracts and independent legal duties and the arbitrator ruled in favor of the service providers. The district court, as we’ll see, properly vacated the award and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  Now the parties are essentially back at square one, albeit much worse for the wear in terms of legal expenses and protracted delay.

The facts and procedural history of the case is somewhat complex, but critically important. Not only do they drive the outcome but they read like a primer on what not to do when attempting to devise a cost-effective arbitration program for disputes that may involve multiple parties and interrelated and interdependent contracts. And they demonstrate pretty starkly some of the consequences that parties can suffer when: (a) they do not properly structure their agreement; and (b) end up with an arbitrator who is not be as savvy as he or she might otherwise be about scope of authority (or simply makes a bad call about it).

We do not mean to suggest that the Arbitrator in this case was in any way incompetent or otherwise blameworthy. To err is human, and even if the arbitrator had made the best permissible decision possible under the circumstances, the parties would still be exposed to the consequences of  having not properly structured their arbitration agreements. The arbitrator’s missteps certainly exacerbated the problem, but such things are foreseeable risks that the parties could have managed by, for example, agreeing to an arbitration agreement that was drafted in simple, unambiguous  terms governing what is supposed to happen in the event of a multi-contract, multi-party dispute like the one at issue. Such disputes were foreseeable, as they are in any relatively complex transaction involving multiple parties and multiple interrelated contracts.


The mess that is described in the balance of this post could have  been avoided had some or all of the parties: (a) understood that their dispute resolution system needed the attention of a skilled and experienced arbitration lawyer; and (b) were willing to invest the modest sum needed to make that possible. Apparently the parties did not appreciate the risks they faced or, if they did, they made a conscious decision to ignore them, perhaps finding it preferable to avoid paying a few extra thousand dollars up front, roll the dice and hope that all would turn out well (and certainly not as it did).

Perhaps one might wonder what the odds were that an underlying dispute like the one at issue would arise. Nobody knows the precise answer, of course, but we’d have to say there was a meaningful risk in view of the nature and structure of the transaction. And given the rather obvious and dramatic disparity between the two arbitration agreements, the risk that Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings would be necessary was likewise meaningful and fairly easy to foresee.

Suppose the risk was 1 in 6—that is, there was approximately a 17% chance that the parties would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend at least an additional year or more embroiled in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation centered on issues collateral to the merits. If we’re talking about a single round roll of a single die, with the idea being to avoid one possible outcome (represented by a whole number ranging from one to six), then that’s about as minimal a risk as could be measured (since there are only six possible outcomes). It also happens to be the same risk one would accept were one to play a round of Russian Roulette with a six-round revolver and a single bullet.

The point is that it is not just a matter of assessing the odds; severity of potential outcomes obviously drives risk assessment and management decisions as well. Most responsible corporate officers and directors aren’t going to take on a Russian-Roulette type risk (i.e., a “bet-the-company” risk) unless they have no choice, and if they must take the risk, they do what they reasonably can to minimize the odds the undesirable outcome will materialize and to mitigate any loss incurred if it does.

Here, the outcome that could have been avoided was very costly—though presumably not a death knell for either party— whereas the cost of substantially decreasing the likelihood of that outcome would probably have been less than a percentage point of the loss.

What would you have done?

Continue Reading »

Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part III.A: Arbitration RIsks—Outcome Risk  

November 26th, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Bad Faith, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Dispute Risk - Frequency and Severity, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk Comments Off on Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Part III.A: Arbitration RIsks—Outcome Risk  

Arbitration Risks—Outcome Risk


Our last segment of our B-2-B arbitration series (here) wrapped up discussion of the structural characteristics of arbitration agreements. Now that we’ve covered  the nature and purpose of arbitration, and the structure of arbitration agreements, let’s consider some of the risks an agreement to arbitration can pose to a small or medium-sized business.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll focus on five types of risk associated with agreeing to arbitrate disputes:

  1. “Outcome risk;”
  2. “Fail-Safe risk;”
  3. “Bleak House risk;”
  4. “Counterparty risk;” and
  5. “Integrity risk.”

These are not necessarily the only types of risk one assumes in arbitration, but they are among the more significant ones. There are ways to help hedge against these risks and perhaps even lessen the frequency and severity of their manifestation, but for present purposes, let’s briefly discuss each, starting with outcome risk. Continue Reading »