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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

SmartSky: Fourth Circuit Says No Jurisdictional Anchor Post Badgerow

March 23rd, 2024 Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Confirm, Application to Stay Litigation, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Confirmed, Confirmation of Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Diversity Jurisdiction, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 10, FAA Section 11, FAA Section 3, FAA Section 4, FAA Section 9, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 207, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Motion to Compel Arbitration, New York Convention, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Section 10, Section 11, Section 6, Section 9, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 4 Comments »

SmartSky

 

Introduction

This post discusses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in SmartSky Networks, LLC v. DAG Wireless, Ltd., ___ F.4th ___, No. 22-1253, slip op. (4th Cir. Feb. 13, 2024). SmartSky held that, under Badgerow v. Walters, 596 U.S. 1, 142 S. Ct. 1310 (2022), if a party makes a motion to confirm, vacate, or modify an award in an action over which the Court has federal-question subject matter jurisdiction, then it must nevertheless demonstrate that the Court would have had subject matter jurisdiction had the motion been brought as a standalone petition to confirm, vacate, or modify. That is so even if the Court has under Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 3 stayed the action pending arbitration.

Suppose:

  1. A and B, both New York citizens, entered a contract containing an arbitration agreement;
  2. A and B become embroiled in a dispute that is governed by a federal statute;
  3. A sues B in federal court, properly invoking the federal court’s federal- question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331;
  4. B demands arbitration, and moves to compel arbitration under Section 4 and for a stay of litigation pending arbitration under Section 3;
  5. A unsuccessfully opposes the motion, the Court compels arbitration and grants a Section 3 stay of litigation pending arbitration.
  6. B ultimately obtains a $100,000 (exclusive of costs and interest) award in its favor and moves in the stayed action to confirm the award.
  7. A opposes the motion on the ground the court has no subject matter jurisdiction to confirm the award.

SmartSky would require the Court to dismiss A’s motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, even though A made the motion in an action over which the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, the Court had compelled the arbitration that resulted in the award, and the Court had stayed the action pending arbitration under Section 3.  There is no federal-question jurisdiction, and because both A and B are citizens of New York, no diversity jurisdiction.

According to SmartSky, the dismissal of the motion to confirm would be required by Badgerow.

Badgerow 

In Badgerow the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) held that a basis for subject-matter jurisdiction—independent from the FAA itself—must appear on the face of a standalone, petition to confirm or vacate an arbitration award and that independent basis cannot be established by “looking through” to the underlying arbitration proceeding that resulted in the award. See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320.

Simply petitioning a court for relief under Sections 9, 10, 0r 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) raises no federal question and does not confer on a court federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction, as strange as that might sound to the uninitiated. In the absence of a federal question appearing on the face of the freestanding petition—such as a claim for relief falling under Chapter Two of the FAA, which implements the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”), see 9 U.S.C. §§ 202, 203; 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or one falling under Chapter Three, which implements or Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (the “Inter-American Convention”), see 9 U.S.C. §§ 301, et seq.; 28 U.S.C. § 1331—the only possible basis for federal subject-matter jurisdiction over such a standalone petition is diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

If there is no diversity jurisdiction, and if the action does not concern an award falling under the New York or Inter-American Conventions, then the substantive provisions of Chapter One still apply but enforcement must be sought in state court. See Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 59 (2009) (“Given the substantive supremacy of the FAA, but the Act’s nonjurisdictional cast, state courts have a prominent role to play as enforcers of agreements to arbitrate”).

A “Jurisdictional Anchor” Post-Badgerow?

The author explained in a recent Arbitration Law Forum post—Philip J. Loree Jr., Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards, Arbitration Law Forum (Nov. 13, 2023) (the “Jurisdictional Anchor Post”)— that Badgerow leaves unanswered an important question. It arises when—in a preexisting action over which the Court already has federal-question subject matter jurisdiction—a Court grants a motion made under Sections 4 and 3 of the FAA to compel arbitration and stay litigation, and a party subsequently moves in the same, stayed action to confirm, vacate, or modify an award resulting from the compelled arbitration. Does the Court in the stayed action have continuing subject matter jurisdiction to hear the parties’ motions to confirm or vacate the award, even though there is no independent basis for federal question or diversity jurisdiction? Can the existing but stayed federal-question lawsuit provide a “jurisdictional anchor” for the motions to confirm or vacate even though the Court would not, under Badgerow, have subject matter jurisdiction over those motions if either were brought as an independent, freestanding petition to confirm or vacate an award?

SmartSky, as we’ve seen, says the answer to those questions is no: the parties moving to confirm or vacate must establish an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction even when the motion is brought in a pre-existing but stayed lawsuit over which the Court undisputedly had federal question  jurisdiction.

SmartSky has flatly rejected the “jurisdictional anchor” theory (a/k/a “anchor jurisdiction”), under which the answer would be yes: the parties do not have to establish an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction because they are filing their motions in a preexisting  stayed action over which the Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

SmartSky Caused a Circuit Split Concerning the Viability of Anchor Jurisdiction 

SmartSky‘s conclusion directly conflicts with the only other post-Badgerow U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to address anchor jurisdiction, Kinsella v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, LLC, 66 F.4th 1099 (7th Cir. 2023). If we count pre-Badgerow cases, SmartSky also conflict with the pro-anchor-jurisdiction holdings of the Second, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits. Dodson Int’l Parts v. Williams Int’l Co., 12 F.4th 1212, 1227-28 (10th Cir. 2021) (citing cases).

SmartSky’s Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

Arbitration proponent SmartSky has added to its legal team SCOTUS ace Daniel L. Geyser, Esq., Chair of Haynes and Boone, LLP‘s U.S. Supreme Court Practice,  and, with Mr. Geyser’s assistance, prepared and submitted a very well-written and persuasive Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc, which among other things, pointed out the Circuit conflicts which SmartSky has created with both pre- and post-Badgerow decisions and explained why SmartSky believes the Fourth Circuit misconstrued Badgerow and failed to adhere to settled subject-matter-jurisdiction principles. SmartSky, No. 22-1253, Dk. 77.

The Petition also pointed out that, even if SmartSky correctly construed Badgerow, there is an independent basis for jurisdiction under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”) because two of the parties are foreign citizens, DAG Wireless LTD (“Wireless”) and David D. Gross.

Both of these persons are, according to SmartSky, identified on the face of the petition as Israeli citizens (Wireless was identified as an Israeli company and D. Gross as an Israeli resident).  Smartksy points out that the award therefore falls under the Convention and its enforcement raises a federal question. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 202, 203, & 207; 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 22-1253, Dk. 77 at 13-16.

On March 13, 2024, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition. 22-1253, Dk. 80. That raises the possibility that SmartSky might petition SCOTUS for certiorari, something that wouldn’t surprise the author given that Mr. Geyser has joined its team.  If SmartSky petitions for certiorari, SCOTUS will presumably have to consider whether the current split in the circuits warrants certiorari or whether it should wait until more circuits have ruled on the issue post-Badgerow.  

The author plans to submit to an ADR trade publication an article analyzing and critiquing  SmartSky in some detail. For now, we briefly summarize what transpired in SmartSky and the reasons the Court gave for its ruling. Continue Reading »

Fourth Circuit Says Labor Arbitrator Spoiled Award by Ignoring CBA’s Procedural Rules

June 29th, 2023 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Award Fails to Draw Essence from the Agreement, Award Vacated, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Contract Interpretation, Exceeding Powers, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Procedural Arbitrability, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Exceeding Powers, Vacatur Comments Off on Fourth Circuit Says Labor Arbitrator Spoiled Award by Ignoring CBA’s Procedural Rules

Failure to Follow Procedural Rules: Introduction

Procedural Rule not Followed and Award VacatedUnder both the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) and Section 301 of the National Labor Relations Act (the “NLRA”), arbitrators exceed their powers by making awards that do not “draw [their] essence” from the parties’ agreement. See Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568-69 (2013) (FAA); Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 671-72 (2010) (FAA); Eastern Associated Coal v. United Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000) (NLRA). (See, e.g., here, here, here, and here.)

In a case arising under Section 301 of the NLRA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “determine[d] whether an arbitration award failed to draw its essence from the agreement when an arbitrator ignored the parties’ agreed upon procedural rules for conducting the arbitration.” Advantage Veterans Servs. of Walterboro, LLC v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg. Energy, Allied Indus. & Serv. Workers Int’l, Local 7898, No. 22-1268, slip op. at 2 (4th Cir. June 15, 2023). The Fourth Circuit said, “[u]nder the language of the agreement here, the answer is yes[,]” and— reversing the district court’s order—vacated the award. Slip op. at 2 & 12.

Advantage Veterans is a proverbial breath of fresh air for those who wish—by way of clear, unambiguous, and precise contract language—to circumscribe the authority of arbitrators by conditioning the enforceability of an award on compliance with certain clear procedural rules. That is not to say it authorizes vacatur of an award every time the arbitrator does not comply with a clear procedural rule set forth in (or incorporated by) an arbitration agreement.  The doctrine of procedural arbitrability counsels deference to an arbitrator’s procedural decisions that even arguably represent the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, and disputes concerning arbitrator failure to comply with procedural provisions are frequently disposed of on that basis. See, e.g., BG Grp. PLC v. Republic of Argentina, 572 U.S. 25, 27-29, 33-36 (2014).

But at least where parties expressly condition enforceability of an award on compliance with a clear procedural rule, Advantage Veterans gives life to the parties’ clearly expressed intent that an arbitration to take place only as explicitly prescribed. Continue Reading »

The Fourth Circuit: What Constitutes a Final Award and Who Makes the Call?

August 3rd, 2018 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Exceeding Powers, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 1 Comment »
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Final Award 2

What constitutes a “final arbitration award” for purposes of the Federal Arbitration Act is important because it bears on whether an award can be confirmed, vacated, or modified under Sections 9, 10, or 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”). We addressed the basics concerning final awards in a 2009 post, here.

In Northfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Sprint Communications Co., L.P., 883 F.3d 417 (4th Cir. 2018), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was faced with the question whether an award (the “Appraisal Award”), convened under an agreement’s appraisal clause, and issued by three appraisers, was a final arbitration award under the FAA. The unusual procedural posture of the case raised an additional, related question: whether under the FAA an arbitration panel, convened under the arbitration provision of the parties’ agreement, had the authority to declare the Appraisal Award to be a final award. That question matters, for if an arbitration panel has that power, then its decision concerning finality is subject only to the very highly deferential review permitted by Section 10 of the FAA. See First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-43 (1995); Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct.  2064, 2068-69 (2013).

Concededly with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we wonder whether a different litigation and appellate strategy might have yielded a different outcome. The Court held that the Appraisal Award was not final, and remanded the matter back to the appraisers. But the Court did not, for the reasons set forth below, definitively answer the “who” question. The Court’s decision that the Appraisal Award was not final was unquestionably correct if one considers from a purely objective standpoint, without deference to the Arbitration Award, which declared that the Award was final.  But the correct outcome would be considerably less certain had the Railroad sought confirmation of the Arbitration Award and urged the Court to accord deference to the arbitrators who made it.

Background: Northfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Sprint Communications Co., L.P., 883 F.3d 417 (4th Cir. 2018)

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Final Award 1

The dispute between Northfolk Southern Railway Co. (the “Railroad” or the “Appraisal Award Defending Party”) and Sprint Communications Co., L.P. (the “Carrier” or the “Appraisal Award Challenging Party”) arose out of a 25-year-term 1987 licensing agreement (the “Agreement”) under which the Carrier’s predecessor licensed from the Railroad’s predecessor the right to use for fiber-optics-cable purposes certain parts of the Railroad’s rights of way. The Carrier renewed that Agreement for an additional 25-year term (the “renewed Agreement term”), and a dispute arose about the renewal price. Continue Reading »

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth Circuit Vacates Securities Arbitration Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Bishop

March 2nd, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Securities Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 1 Comment »

I.  Introduction

Arbitration is not a perfect process for resolving disputes, but neither is court adjudication.  One advantage of court adjudication is a fairly rigorous standard of review:  appellate courts generally review the trial court’s factual findings for clear error and legal conclusions de novo.  By contrast, courts review arbitration awards under the very deferential standards of review prescribed by Sections 10 and 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act.  The trade-off is one of informality, speed and reduced expense for a heightened risk that the decision maker will commit unreviewable legal and factual errors — even some pretty egregious ones.   

But every so often an arbitration award can be so far off the mark that one of the parties is deprived of the benefit of the bargain it made when it agreed to arbitrate.  These are not cases where the arbitrators merely did a shoddy job, but ones where the arbitrators did not do the job the parties asked them to do.  These are the cases that Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act was designed to address:  ones where “the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final award on the subject matter was not made.” 

Today we take a brief look at Raymond James Financial Serv., Inc. v. Bishop, ___ F.3d ___, No. 09-1038, slip op. (4th Cir. Feb. 22, 2010), a recent example of one of those rare cases.  And we’ll see how how confusion about the scope of Section 10(a)(4) resulting – quite unintentionally – from the United States Supreme Court decision in Hall Street Assoc., L.L.C. v. Mattel , Inc, 552 U.S. ___, slip op. at __ (March 25, 2008) apparently motivated the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to decide the case solely on the ground that the arbitrators were not authorized to rule on the claim on which they admittedly based their award.  (See, generally,Hall Street Meets Pearl Street: Stolt-Nielsen and the Federal Arbitration Act’s New Section 10(a)(4).”)

The Court reached the right result, but its decision is of limited utility in future cases.  For under many broad arbitration agreements and submissions the arbitrators have authority to rule on pretty much any claim that is related to the subject matter of the  parties’ dispute.  Abitrators may have the authority to resolve a claim, but may do so in a way that has not even a barely colorable justification under the law and facts.   

We would have liked to see the Court rule not only on the authority issue, but also on two other grounds relied upon by the district court:  manifest disregard of the law and the award’s failure to “draw its essence” from the parties’ agreements.  As we have said before, we believe that those grounds are statutorily permitted by Section 10(a)(4), and that they provide a useful safety valve for addressing those (thankfully) rare cases where the arbitrators resolve a dispute within the scope of their authority, but do so in a way that completely deprives one of the parties of the benefit of its arbitration agreement.    Continue Reading »