main image

Archive for the ‘United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’ Category

New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part II)

August 15th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Class Arbitration Waivers, Clause Construction Award, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court No Comments »
Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Analysis

Part I of this post discussed how the Second and Fifth Circuits, in  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), and 20/20 Comms. Inc. v. Lennox Crawford, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-10260 (5th Cir. July 22, 2019), suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability (a/k/a the “Clear and Unmistakable Rule”).

Under this Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule, courts consider the merits of an underlying arbitrability issue as part of their analysis of whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability issues.

But the Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception runs directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 524 (January 8, 2019), and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein. 139 S. Ct. at 527-28, 529-31.

This Part II analyzes and discusses how Met Life and 20/20 Comm. effectively made an end run around Schein and considers what might have motivated those Courts to rule as they did.

Making an End Run Around Schein?

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Circumvent | End Run

When, prior to 20/20 Comm. we wrote about Met Life, we said it “an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.” (See here. )

But after the Fifth Circuit decided 20/20 Comm. this July, in comments we made to Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, the Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”)—which were reproduced with our consent in Mr. Zhan Tze’s CPR Speaks blog article about 20/20 Comm. (here)—we expressed the belief that the Fifth Circuit was (whether intentionally or unintentionally) making an end run around Schein, effectively creating an exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule.

After analyzing 20/20 Comm. and comparing it to the Second Circuit’s Met Life decision, we concluded that the Second Circuit’s decision also ran counter to Schein.

Schein’s Abrogation of the “Wholly Groundless Exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule

Clear and Unmistakable Rule | Jettison

In Schein the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the so-called “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule. Prior to Schein certain courts, including the Fifth Circuit, held that even when parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, courts could effectively circumvent the parties’ agreement and decide for itself arbitrability challenges that it determined were “wholly groundless.”  

The rationale Schein used to jettison the “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule is incompatible with the rationales the Second and Fifth Circuit used to support their decisions in Met Life and 20/20 Comm.

Under FAA Section 2, the Schein Court explained, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 529 (citation omitted). When those contracts delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, “a court may not override the contract[,]” and has “no power to decide the arbitrability issue.” 139 S. Ct. at 529. That is so even where a Court “thinks that the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is wholly groundless.” 139 S. Ct. at 529.

Schein explained that its conclusion was supported not only by the FAA’s text, but also by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Citing and quoting cases decided under Section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act, the Court explained that courts may not “‘rule on the potential merits of the underlying’ claim that is assigned by contract to an arbitrator, ‘even if it appears to the court to be frivolous[,]’” and that “[a] court has “‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’” because the “‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’” 139 S. Ct. at 529 (quoting AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 649–650 (1986) and Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960)).

This “principle,” said the Schein Court, “applies with equal force to the threshold issue of arbitrability[]”—for “[j]ust as a court may not decide a merits question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator, a court may not decide an arbitrability question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator.” 139 S. Ct. at 530.

Exception to Clear and Unmistakable Rule? Why the Second and Fifth Circuit Decisions Conflict with Schein

Continue Reading »

New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part I)

August 13th, 2019 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, FINRA Arbitration, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »
Federal Arbitration Act Secction 1 6

Arbitration law is replete with presumptions and other rules that favor one outcome or another depending on whether one thing or another is or is not clear and unmistakable. Put differently, outcomes often turn on the presence or absence of contractual ambiguity.

There are three presumptions that relate specifically to questions arbitrability, that is, whether or not an arbitrator or a court gets to decide a particular issue or dispute:   

  1. The Moses Cone Presumption of Arbitrability: Ambiguities in the scope of the arbitration agreement itself must be resolved in favor of arbitration. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). Rebutting this presumption requires clear and unmistakable evidence of an intent to exclude from arbitration disputes that are otherwise arguably within the scope of the agreement.
  2. The First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability:  Parties are presumed not to have agreed to arbitrate questions of arbitrability unless the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995)
  3. The Howsam/John Wiley Presumption of Arbitrability of Procedural Matters: “‘[P]rocedural’ questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (quoting John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557 (1964)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To rebut this presumption, the parties must clearly and unmistakably exclude the procedural issue in question from arbitration.

These presumptions usually turn solely on what the contract has to say about the arbitrability of a dispute, not on what the outcome an arbitrator or court would—or at least should—reach on the merits of the dispute.

Some U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Fifth Circuit, recognized an exception to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability called the “wholly groundless exception.” Under that “wholly groundless exception,” courts could decide “wholly groundless” challenges to arbitrability even though the parties have clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability issues to the arbitrators. The apparent point of that exception was to avoid the additional time and expense associated with parties being required to arbitrate even wholly groundless arbitrability disputes, but the cost of the exception was a judicial override of the clear and unmistakable terms of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.  

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, slip op. at *1 (January 8, 2019) abrogated the “wholly groundless” exception. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8. “When,” explained the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Schein, slip op. at 2, 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Schein,slip op. at 8.    

But since Schein both the Second and Fifth Circuits have decided First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability cases by effectively conflating the question of who gets to decide an arbitrability issue with the separate question of who should prevail on the merits of that arbitrability issue. The Courts in both cases determined whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions by considering, as part of the clear and unmistakable calculus, the merits of the arbitrability question.

These two cases suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability. But the problem with that trend is that it runs directly counter to the Supreme Court’s decision in Schein, and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein.

In Part I of this post we discuss the Second Circuit and Fifth Circuit decisions. In Part II we analyze and discuss how— and perhaps why — those courts effectively made an end run around Schein.

Continue Reading »

Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?

April 27th, 2019 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Authority of Arbitrators, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Separability, Severability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Does a Clear and Unmistakable Delegation Provision Require the Parties to Arbitrate Disputes About the Existence of an Arbitration Agreement?
Arbitrability Question 5 | Delegation Clause | Delegation Provision

Parties can, and frequently do, agree to include in their contract a so-called
“Delegation Provision” that clearly and unmistakably delegates to the arbitrators questions of arbitrability. (See, e.g., Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, here, and here.) Questions of arbitrability include questions concerning: (a) the scope of an arbitration agreement, that is, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate particular disputes or categories of disputes; (b) the validity or enforceability of an arbitration agreement “upon upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract[,]” 9 U.S.C. § 2; or (c) whether an arbitration agreement has been formed or concluded, that is, whether an arbitration agreement exists in the first place. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum post here.)

Typically, a “delegation provision” states in clear and unmistakable terms that arbitrability questions are to be decided by the arbitrators. For example, by making part of their contract Rule 8.1 of the 2018 version of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR)’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules, parties agree to the following broad Delegation Provision:

Rule 8: Challenges to the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

8.1 The Tribunal shall have the power to hear and determine challenges to its jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement. This authority extends to jurisdictional challenges with respect to both the subject matter of the dispute and the parties to the arbitration.

CPR Non-Administered Arbitration Rule 8.1 (2018) (emphasis added).

Who Gets to Decide whether the Parties Entered into a Delegation Provision?

Federal Arbitration Act  | Who Gets to Decide? | Delegation Provision

Suppose that Agent A, without the knowledge and consent of Party A, purports to bind Party A to a written contract with Party B, which includes a broad arbitration agreement that expressly incorporates by reference, and makes part of the purported contract, the 2018 version of CPR’s Non-administered Arbitration Rules. Party B and Agent A deal with each other concerning the subject matter of the contract, and a dispute arises.

Party B demands arbitration of the dispute, and serves an arbitration demand on Party A, who is understandably surprised at being named a party in an arbitration proceeding concerning a purported agreement of which it had no knowledge, objects to the arbitration demand, and Party B commences an action to compel arbitration.

In the proceeding to compel arbitration, Party A argues that Agent A had no actual or apparent authority to bind it to the agreement that contained the arbitration agreement. Party B responds that because the Delegation Clause made part of the agreement requires arbitration of issues concerning the “existence” of the arbitration agreement, Party A must arbitrate the issue of whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement.

Must Party A arbitrate the issue whether Agent A had authority to bind it to the agreement because the agreement contains a Delegation Provision? If the only consideration were the text of Rule 8.1, then the answer would be “yes.”

Continue Reading »

Up Narrow Arbitration Clause Creek without a Papalote?—Narrow Arbitration Clauses and the Difference between Interpretation and Performance

March 26th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit 1 Comment »
Narrow Arbitration Clauses: Papalote
Hang Glider or Papalote

I am told “papalote” is a Spanish word meaning “kite” or “hang glider.” It also appears in the name of a party to a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concerning narrow arbitration clauses, Papalote Creek II, L.L.C. v. Lower Colo. River Auth., No. 17-50852, slip op. (5th Cir. Mar. 15, 2019) (“Papalote II”). The party was Papalote Creek II, L.L.C. (“Papalote”). It won the appeal.

What was the appeal about? Narrow arbitration clauses, and in particular whether a dispute about maximum, aggregate liability under a wind-energy purchase and sale contract was a dispute “with respect to performance” within the meaning of the parties’ narrow arbitration clause.

The appeal was not the first, but the second, and the procedural history was tangled, both in terms of what transpired in the disputed arbitration and in the district court. The first appeal, Papalote I, resulted in a remand because at the time the district court compelled arbitration, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The issue on which the arbitration proponent sought arbitration was not ripe, even though it became ripe during the time Papalote I was pending. See Lower Colo. River Auth. v. Papalote Creek II, L.L.C., 858 F.3d 916 (5th Cir. 2017) (“Papalote I”).

By the time Papalote I was decided, the arbitration panel had ruled against Papalote, the arbitration opponent. But Papalote I obligated the district court to vacate the arbitration award and to reconsider the issue of whether arbitration should be compelled under the narrow arbitration clause.

On remand the district court adhered to its previous decision that the dispute fell within the scope of the narrow arbitration clause, which resulted in another order to compel arbitration and the second appeal, Papalote II.

On the second appeal the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on arbitrability, ruling that the dispute was not about “performance,” but about “interpretation.” Going forward that means that the parties will either have to settle their dispute or litigate it in court, even though they’ve both no doubt already spent not only a good deal of time, but money, litigating about arbitration, and arbitrating a dispute they did not mutually consent to arbitrate. (Perhaps for Papalote that’s not necessarily a bad outcome, but it’s just speculation on our part.)

Bottom line: Irrespective of whether the parties considered the potential consequences associated with their narrow arbitration clause, at least one of them (and perhaps even both) may, at least to some extent, now feel like they’re up that proverbial creek without a paddle—or even a papalote….

This post takes a closer look at Papalote II, focusing exclusively on the issue whether the dispute fell within or without the scope of the parties’ narrow arbitration clause.

Narrow Arbitration Clauses: Papalote II Background

Narrow Arbitration Clauses

In Papalote II the Fifth Circuit held that a narrow arbitration clause that covered disputes about the “performance” of a contract did not cover a dispute concerning the meaning of an aggregate liability provision in a wind-energy contract. That dispute, said the Court, concerned the interpretation of the contract, not its performance, and therefore the arbitration opponent was not required to submit it to arbitration.

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

 

yay-10202678

 

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

 

yay-9204740-digital

 

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

 Introduction

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.  .  .

yay-12799824-digital

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.

 

yay-5714244-digital

 

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.

yay-6536110-digital

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 »

HarrisMartin Reinsurance Conference Postscript

September 28th, 2011 Events, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on HarrisMartin Reinsurance Conference Postscript

On September 22-23, 2011, a number of experienced reinsurance industry executives and  in-house counsel, and a small group of outside counsel (yours truly included), spoke at the HarrisMartin Publishing-sponsored reinsurance conference, “Reinsurance Summit:  Fresh Perspectives on the Reinsurance Front,” which took place at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.  (Our pre-conference, August 22, 2011 post (here) sets forth the conference program agenda.)

As expected attendance was modest – no doubt the result of the cost-cutting mandated by economic conditions, coupled with reduced reinsurance-dispute frequency and severity — but the conference was nevertheless a great success.  The presentations were thoughtful, interesting and professionally useful, and the smaller group of attendees not only facilitated robust – and sometimes, spirited – discussions during the program, but also provided a relaxed atmosphere conducive to networking during the breaks.  I, for one, returned home with “fresh perspectives” on a number of reinsurance-related issues, and those perspectives have proved to be good fodder for brainstorming. Continue Reading »

The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part II

February 24th, 2011 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Evident Partiality, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Comments Off on The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.): Part II

I.  Introduction

Part I (here) briefly discussed Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook’s decision in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), No. 09-3682, slip op. (7th Cir. Jan. 31, 2011), and its implications on the pending Second and Fifth Circuit appeals in  Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co, No. 09 Civ. 9531(SAS), 2010 WL 653481 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2010), and Dealer Computer Svcs., Inc. v. Michael Motor Co., No. H-10-2132, slip op. (S.D. Tex. December 29, 2010).  This Part II examines in some detail Trustmark’s background and rationale, and Part III will focus on Trustmark’s implications on the Scandinavian Re and Dealer Computer appeals.

II.  Trustmark Background

The following facts were gleaned from both the district court and Seventh Circuit opinions (the district court opinion is reported at 680 F. Supp. 2d 944 and can be found here): Continue Reading »

The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.)

February 23rd, 2011 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Evident Partiality, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Comments Off on The Seventh Circuit Issues a Landmark Reinsurance Arbitration Opinion in Trustmark Ins. Co. v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.)

Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is not only a brilliant judge, writer and law professor, but a master of (among many other things) arbitration law.  He understands better than most judges how commercial arbitration is supposed to work, what the Federal Arbitration Act is supposed to achieve, and how to implement the Act to ensure the parties get not only what they bargained for, but also the potential to realize the benefits that private, voluntary dispute resolution can offer.  His arbitration-law opinions are clearly written, imbued with common and commercial sense, and seem purposely designed to make sometimes elusive concepts readily understandable to courts, arbitrators, parties and counsel.  They tend to ensure that the objective, reasonable expectations of the parties are enforced, not frustrated.  Continue Reading »

Fifth Circuit Says District Court That Compelled Arbitration Does Not Have Inherent Power to Impose Sanctions on Counsel for Arbitration Misconduct

September 17th, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on Fifth Circuit Says District Court That Compelled Arbitration Does Not Have Inherent Power to Impose Sanctions on Counsel for Arbitration Misconduct

Introduction

An arbitration panel acting under a broad, unrestricted arbitration agreement can generally impose sanctions on a party.  But if a federal district court compels arbitration, and retains jurisdiction, can it impose sanctions on counsel who allegedly misbehave during the arbitration proceedings?  On September 13, 2010 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held 3-0 that the answer is “no,” unless the conduct was in direct defiance or disobedience of the district court’s orders or otherwise threatened the district court’s own judicial authority or proceedings.  See Positive Software Solutions Inc. v. New Century Mtg. Corp., No. 09-10355, slip op. (5th Cir. September 13, 2010). 

Background

Positive Software Solutions arose out of arbitration between Positive Software Solutions, Inc. and New Century Mortgage Corp.  A district court in Texas compelled arbitration and retained jurisdiction.  Positive Software lost, and sought to vacate the award on evident partiality grounds, which were ultimately rejected by the Fifth Circuit en bancSee Positive Software Solutions Inc. v. New Century Mtg. Corp., 476 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 2007) (en banc).  After the Fifth Circuit remanded the award for confirmation, New Century declared bankruptcy, the parties settled, and the American Arbitration Association administratively closed the proceedings. 

As part of the settlement, New Century waived the attorney-client privilege, and turned over to Positive Software its arbitration files, which Positive Software would use in support of a motion in the district court for sanctions against New  Century’s arbitration counsel, Ophelia Camiña, a partner at Susman, Godfrey, LLP (“Susman Godfrey”); Susman Godfrey; and Barry Barnett (apparently another lawyer who represented New Century).   On March 2008 Positive Software filed its motion for sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37, 28 U.S.C. § 1927, and the court’s inherent power. 

In February 2009 the district court imposed pursuant to its inherent power $10,000 in sanctions against Camiña, which represented a portion of Positive Software’s attorney fees incurred during arbitration.  The district court ruled that the sanctions were for conduct that “took place in connection with the arbitration, not in connection with discovery under the Court’s supervision.” 

Camiña appealed, and the Fifth Circuit reversed. Continue Reading »