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Archive for the ‘Vacate Award | Attorney’s Fees’ Category

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Background: The Award of Attorney Fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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