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Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

November 23rd, 2021 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur No Comments »

INTRODUCTION

Evident Partiality Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them. . . .” 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2). The next few instalments will focus on evident partiality, a later one on corruption.

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. We’ve written about it extensively over the years, including hereherehere, and here, as well as in other publications. The author has briefed, argued, or both, a number of U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district court cases on the subject over the years, including, among others, Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyds of London v. State of Florida, Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501 (2018); and Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640 (2005).

Evident partiality has been the subject of numerous judicial decisions setting forth various standards and applying them to a wide range of fact patterns.  The decisions are not easy to reconcile (some may be irreconcilable) and the standards are often of limited utility. Matters are complicated by judicially created rules concerning disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and the consequences that may or may not flow from those rules.

But “evident partiality” may be easier to grasp if we focus not on abstract standards or ethical constructs, but on the parties’ reasonable expectations of neutrality. Surprisingly, many courts address the subject of “evident partiality” without expressly discussing this important consideration, even when it appears to have been a significant but unstated part of the decision-making calculus. Others have expressly used the parties’ agreement and attendant expectations of neutrality as a guidepost.

Understanding the parties’ reasonable expectations of partiality is only half the battle. One must also understand how those expectations are enforced through judicially created rules governing disclosure and waiver of conflicts of interest, and the relevance of those rules to a motion to vacate an award under Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(2).

In this instalment our focus is on the parties’ reasonable expectations of arbitrator neutrality. Later instalments will address evident partiality standards and how they are supposed to enforce reasonable expectations of neutrality without undermining arbitral finality; differences between evident partiality standards and judicial impartiality standards; the differing expectations of arbitral neutrality that may attend tripartite arbitration; and how evident partiality standards may implement and enforce those differing expectations; arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; and examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality.

EVIDENT PARTIALITY: PARTIES’ REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS OF NEUTRALITY

The principal purpose of the Federal Arbitration Act is to enforce arbitration agreements as written.  See, e.g., First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 947 (1995).  Parties are largely free to structure their arbitration agreements as they see fit, and that freedom extends to selecting the decision makers, establishing their qualifications, and agreeing on how impartial they should be.  See National Football League Mgmt. Council v. National Football League Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527, 548 (2d Cir. 2016) (“[A]rbitration is a matter of contract, and consequently, the parties to an arbitration can ask for no more impartiality than inheres in the method they have chosen.”) (citing cases); Merit Ins. Co. v. Leatherby Ins. Co., 714 F.2d 673, 679 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1009 (1983) (Posner, J.) (“parties … choose their method of dispute resolution, and can ask no more impartiality than inherent in the method they have chosen.”) (citation omitted).

Inherent in the arbitral bargain is decision making, or at least decision tie breaking, by a neutral decision maker. 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, chair, or third arbitrator) 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, 892 F.3d at 510-11; 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, may provide different rules. For example, the JAMS and American Arbitration Association rules presume all arbitrators on a tripartite panel to be neutral, unless the parties agree otherwise. JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules & Procedures R. 7 (July 1, 2014); see also American Arbitration Association Commercial Arbitration Rules R-18(a) & (b) (October 1, 2013).

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; Trustmark631 F.3d at 872-74.

Many consider the requirement that an arbitrator be “neutral” to include two main components: the arbitrator must be (a) impartial and (b) independent. They also consider the requirement of impartiality to include a requirement that the arbitrator be “disinterested.”

While a case can be made for considering disinterestedness to be a component of impartiality, analyzing the two as separate components of neutrality promotes clarity and a more precise understanding of what comprises arbitrator neutrality. That, in turn, makes it easier for us to spot the presence or absence of neutrality in each case.

Evident Partiality: Independence

An arbitrator is independent when he or she is not directly or indirectly subject to the control of a party, potential witnesses, or the other arbitrators, is not affiliated with a party, does not act directly or indirectly in the interest of a party, and is otherwise not subject to undue influence or outside pressure. See, generally, Trout v. Organización Mundial De Boxeo, Inc., 965 F.3d 71, 80-81 (1st Cir. 2020); Demarco v. City of New York, 08-CV-3055 (RRM) (LB), slip op. at 8-9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2011); American Arbitration Association, The Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Disputes Canon 1B(2) (arbitrator should not accept appointment unless “fully satisfied. . . that he or she can serve independently from the parties, potential witnesses, and the other arbitrators. . . .”) (March 1, 2004).

For example, an arbitrator would not be independent were she an agent or employee of one of the parties.

Evident Partiality: Disinterestedness

“Disinterested” means “lacking a financial or other personal stake in the outcome.” Trustmark,  631 F.3d at 872-73 (citing Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009)); Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510; see Caperton, 556 U.S. at 876-81 (discussing cases). The requirement of “disinterest” was reflected in James Madison’s famous observation that “[n]o man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” The Federalist No. 10, p. 59 (J. Cooke ed. 1961) (J. Madison)); see Caperton, 556 U.S. at 876.

The rule that financial or personal interest spoils neutrality does not require proof that the decision-maker would be or was actually biased against or partial to one party or the other. It does not address whether the arbitrator actually has predispositions concerning any of the parties, witnesses, or issues.

It is prophylactic rule, based on human nature, that a person having a financial or personal interest in the outcome of a dispute cannot be considered neutral, even if the decision maker honestly believes that his or her interest in the dispute would or did affect his or her judgment, and even if it could be shown objectively that the decision maker could or did judge the dispute impartially and independently.

The rule serves two functions. First, all else equal, by disqualifying interested decision makers, it eliminates the risk that personal or financial interest will affect decision-maker neutrality. Without the rule the difficulty of proving actual bias would mean that decisions made by interested decision-makers could in many cases not be overturned because it would be difficult or impossible to prove that the interested decision maker was actually biased or partial.

Second, the rule helps encourage public confidence in decision-maker neutrality by disqualifying interested decision-makers.

Impartiality

To be neutral an arbitrator must not only be disinterested, but also impartial. See, e.g., Trustmark, 631 F.3d at 872-73; U.S.Care, Inc. v. Pioneer Life Ins. Co. of Ill., 244 F.Supp.2d 1057, 1062 (C.D. Cal., 2002). To be “impartial” means to be free from “bias or prejudice” in favor of one of the parties. See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 550, 552 (1994).

In Liteky the U.S. Supreme Court explained, in a case concerning judicial partiality standards, that the terms “bias,” “prejudice” and “partiality” all connote a favorable or unfavorable disposition or opinion that is somehow wrongful or inappropriate, either because it is undeserved, or because it rests upon knowledge that the subject ought not to possess…or because it is excessive in degree….” 510 U.S. at 550, 552.

Arbitral or judicial predispositions may be formed as a result of any number things, and can be appropriate or inappropriate, reasonable or unreasonable. But such predispositions do not constitute “partiality,” bias or prejudice unless they are wrongful or inappropriate.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of what “bias,” “prejudice” and “partiality” mean in the judicial context in Liteky is right in line with Section 10(a)(2) itself, which authorizes vacatur where the arbitrator is “guilty” of “evident partiality.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2) (emphasis added).

Neutral versus Impartial: Terminology Glitches

Unfortunately, the terminology used by Section 10(a)(2) (and by courts interpreting it) is not always consistent with that used by arbitration providers and other arbitration professionals.

Section 10(a)(2) refers only to “evident partiality,” not neutrality. Under the terminology commonly employed by arbitrator providers, “evident partiality” would not encompass an arbitrator’s lack of independence from a party.

But courts generally, and we think correctly, consider evident partiality to include an evident personal or financial interest in the outcome of the dispute, an evident inappropriate predisposition in favor of or against a party, or an evident lack of independence.

The next instalment will begin with a discussion of how evident partiality standards are designed to enforce party expectations of neutrality without undermining arbitral finality.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or this article, or if you wish to discuss whether the Loree Law Firm might be able to provide assistance with or representation in a particular legal matter, please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

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 certain federal district and federal appellate courts.  

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.

Chapter Two Domestic Awards | Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

July 17th, 2020 Awards, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Confirmation, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Chapter 3, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 207, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, International Arbitration, New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 1 Comment »
confirm award chapter two

The last three segments of the Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide discussed the substantive and procedural requirements for confirming a Chapter One Domestic Award, and answered additional FAQs concerning the confirmation of such awards. (See here, here, and here.) This segment focuses on how confirming Chapter Two Domestic Awards—i.e., domestic awards that fall under the Convention on the Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”)—differs from confirming Chapter One Domestic Awards—i.e., domestic awards that fall under Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act only and not under Chapters Two or Three.

This FAQ guide distinguishes between “Chapter One Domestic Awards” and “Chapter Two Domestic Awards.” For our purposes, an award is “domestic” when it is made in the United States, that is, by an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators sitting in the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

An award made in the United is a “Chapter One Domestic Award” when it falls under Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act, but not under Chapters Two or Three, which implement the Convention and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (the “Panama Convention”).

What is a Chapter Two Domestic Award?

An award is a “Chapter Two Domestic Award” when it is made in the United States, but, for purposes of Section 202 of the Federal Arbitration Act, and Art. I(1) of the Convention, is “not considered” to be a “domestic award.” See Convention, Art. I(1). Such awards ordinarily fall under both the Convention and Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Award, and thus under Chapters One and Two of the Federal Arbitration Act.

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Confirming Awards Part II | Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation | Section 9 of the Federal Arbitration Act | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

June 19th, 2020 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Confirmation, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Personal Jurisdiction, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, Statute of Limitations 4 Comments »
Confirming Awards Procedure

In the last segment of this Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide, we discussed the substantive requirements for confirming a Chapter One Domestic Award. Now we turn to the procedural requirements.

What are the Procedural Requirements for Confirming a Chapter One Domestic Award?  

The key procedural requirements for confirming arbitration awards are:

  1. The party seeking confirmation may apply for it “within one year after the award is made.  .  .”;
  2. Notice of application must be properly served;
  3. Venue must be proper; and
  4. The “court must grant” confirmation “unless the award is vacated, modified or corrected” under Section 10 or 11 of the FAA.

9 U.S.C. § 9.

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Confirming Awards Part I | Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation | Section 9 of the Federal Arbitration Act | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

June 12th, 2020 Arbitrability, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Confirmation, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration 5 Comments »
confirm awards

Favorable arbitration awards are wonderful things, but they do not enforce themselves. Sometimes the other side voluntarily complies, but if not, there is little the arbitrator can do to help.

Arbitrators are not judges and do not have the authority to garnish wages, seize property, foreclose on encumbered property, freeze bank accounts, impose contempt sanctions, and so forth. Parties can delegate to arbitrators broad adjudicatory and remedial authority, but that is relevant only to the nature and scope of their awards and does not confer power on the arbitrators to enforce their awards coercively.

Apart from its potential preclusive effect in subsequent litigation or arbitration, an arbitration award stands on the same footing as any other privately prepared legal document, and for all intents and purposes it is a contract made for the parties by their joint agent of sorts—the arbitrator or arbitration panel. It may be intended by the arbitrator or panel, and at least one of the parties, to have legal effect, but it is up to a court to say what legal effect it has, and, if necessary, to implement that legal effect through coercive enforcement.

A judgment, by contrast, is an official decree by a governmental body (the court) that not only can be coercively enforced through subsequent summary proceedings in the same or other courts (including courts in other states and federal judicial districts), but is, to some extent, self-enforcing. A judgment, for example, can ordinarily be filed as a statutory lien on real property, and applicable state or federal law may, for example, authorize attorneys to avail their clients of certain judgment-enforcement-related remedies without prior judicial authorization.

The Federal Arbitration Act, and most or all state arbitration statutes, provide for enforcement of arbitration awards through a procedure by which a party may request a court to enter judgment on the award, that is to “confirm” it. Once an award has been reduced to judgment, it can be enforced to the same extent as any other judgment. See, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 13 (Under Federal Arbitration Act, judgment on award “shall have the same force and effect, in all respects, as, and be subject to all the provisions of law relating to, a judgment in an action; and it may be enforced as if it had been rendered in an action in the court in which it is entered”); Fla. Stat. § 682.15(1)( “The judgment may be recorded, docketed, and enforced as any other judgment in a civil action.”); N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7514(a) (“A judgment shall be entered upon the confirmation of an award.”).

Chapter One of The Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”), and most or all state arbitration statutes, authorize courts to confirm domestic awards in summary proceedings. State arbitration-law rules, procedures, limitation periods, and the like vary from state to state and frequently from the FAA, and state courts may apply them to FAA-governed awards (provided doing so does not frustrate the purposes and objectives of the FAA).

Chapter 2 of the FAA provides some different rules that apply to the confirmation of domestic arbitration awards that fall under the Convention on the Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”), and the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards falling under the Convention (i.e., awards made in territory of a country that is a signatory to the Convention).

Our focus here is on the Federal Arbitration Act’s requirements for confirming arbitration awards made in the U.S., including awards that fall under Chapter 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act. These awards fall into two categories: (a) awards that fall under Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act only (“Chapter One Domestic Awards”); and (b) awards made in the U.S. that fall under the Convention, and thus under both Chapter One and Chapter Two of the Federal Arbitration Act (“Chapter Two Domestic Awards”).

This segment addresses FAQs concerning the confirmation of Chapter One Domestic Awards and focuses on the substantive requirements for confirming Chapter One Domestic Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act. The next segment will discuss the procedural requirements for confirming such Awards. Future posts will answer some additional FAQs concerning the confirmation of such Awards, and another future segment will review special requirements applicable to the confirmation of Chapter Two Domestic Awards.

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Application to Confirm U.S.-Made Arbitration Award | A Checklist

March 27th, 2020 Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Confirmation, COVID-19 Considerations, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Petition or Application to Confirm Award Comments Off on Application to Confirm U.S.-Made Arbitration Award | A Checklist
Application to Confirm

Our most recent post discussed time the limits applicable to an application to confirm a U.S.-made arbitration award. It explained how awards falling under Chapter One of the Federal Arbitration Act are subject to a one-year limitation period while awards falling under Chapter Two are subject to a three-year period.

Mindful of how many of us would, if possible, like to spend at least a few minutes thinking of something other than the currently raging coronavirus pandemic, we’ve prepared a checklist of things one needs to consider and address before serving and filing a motion to confirm a U.S.-made award falling under Chapter One or Chapter Two of the Federal Arbitration Act. But I’m afraid the respite will be brief indeed, for it is important to consider the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the preparation, service, and filing of an application to confirm. This post accordingly concludes with a brief discussion about how those considerations bear on confirmation strategy.

This checklist is not legal advice, a substitute for legal advice, or a “do-it-yourself” guide, and should not be relied upon as such. It simply provides a broad-perspective outline of what is involved in planning for, preparing, and serving and filing an application to confirm.

If you are going to file an application to confirm an award, then you should engage an attorney with arbitration-law experience to represent you or your business. That person should, for a reasonable fee, be able to prepare and file the application and otherwise represent your interests in the process.

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