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

February 3rd, 2022 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, 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, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part II

Evident Partiality

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Evident partiality standards are designed to enforce the parties’ expectations  of neutrality without significantly undermining the finality of arbitration awards. This part II of our Businesspersons’ FAQ guide on evident partiality explains why that is so.  

Evident Partiality Standards and their Source

The subject of what constitutes neutrality for judicial decision makers has long been the subject case law and statutes. Unlike the standards for disqualifying judges, which are set forth for federal judges in 28 U.S.C. § 455, arbitrator neutrality standards in Federal Arbitration Act cases are not expressly set forth by statute—FAA Section 10(a)(2) merely authorizes a court to vacate an award if an arbitrator is “guilty” of “evident partiality.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2).

While the FAA Section 10(a)(2) deems “evident partiality” a ground for vacating an award, the FAA does not define the term or establish a baseline impartiality standard that must be met by every arbitrator.  This contrasts starkly with the English Arbitration Act 1996, which imposes on all arbitrators effectively the same standards of impartiality applicable to English judges. See, generally, Arbitration Act 1996 § 33(1).

What constitutes “evident partiality” under the FAA is a question that the federal courts have answered in various ways over the past several decades. In general, evident partiality is assessed according to a sliding scale of sorts, depending on the parties’ agreement and the surrounding circumstances. That should come as no surprise since the whole point of the FAA is to enforce the parties’ agreement to arbitrate according to its terms. See, e.g., Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l, 559 U.S. 662 (2010) (“[W]e have said on numerous occasions that the central or primary purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”) (citations and quotations omitted).

What is the Standard in the Second Circuit?

The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have adopted various evident partiality standards, which are based principally on differing interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Commonwealth Coatings Corp. v. Continental Cas. Co., 393 U.S. 145 (1968), a case that we will discuss in detail in an upcoming segment dealing with arbitrator disclosure. Rather than engage in a broad survey and parsing of the various evident partiality standards adopted by various federal courts, let’s focus on the so-called “reasonable person” evident partiality standard that has been adopted by the Second Circuit and a number of other courts.

Under Second Circuit authority an award may be vacated “if a reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was biased against one party or partial in favor of another. See Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 83-84 (2d Cir. 1984); National Football League Mgmt. Council v. National Football League Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527, 549 (2d Cir. 2016) (“NFL Council”); Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d at 64; Applied Indus. Materials Corp. v. Ovalar, 492 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir. 2007).

The Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard has been construed and applied by many courts since the Second Circuit’s 1984 decision in Morelite, and has been adopted by the First, Third, Fourth, and Sixth Circuits.  See, e.g., UBS Fin. Servs. v. Asociación de Empleados del Estado Libre Asociado de P.R., 997 F.3d 15, 17-20 (1st Cir. 2021) (citing cases); Freeman v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, 709 F.3d 240, 253-54 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing cases); ANR Coal Co. v. Cogentrix of North Carolina, Inc., 173 F.3d 493, 500-01 (4th Cir. 1999); Apperson v. Fleet Carrier Corp., 879 F.2d 1344, 1358 (6th Cir. 1989).

The standard does not require a showing that an arbitrator was actually biased against one party or partial toward another, only that a reasonable person would have to conclude that was so. A determination that a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was financially or personally interested in the outcome, or not independent, would likewise satisfy the standard.

Absent disclosure and a waiver, an arbitrator should be free from any relationships with the parties that a reasonable person would have to conclude would materially compromise his or her ability to decide the case in an impartial manner. See Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84-85 (father-son relationship); Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72 (“Among the circumstances under which the evident-partiality standard is likely to be met are those in which an arbitrator fails to disclose a relationship or interest that is strongly suggestive of bias in favor of one of the parties”).

Evident Partiality Standards versus Judicial Impartiality Standards 

In the Second Circuit and elsewhere, the standard for disqualifying a judge for partiality or bias is less demanding than that required to vacate an award for evident partiality. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72; see, e.g, Merit Ins. Co. v. Leatherby Ins. Co., 714 F.2d 673, 681 (7th Cir. 1983). While in the Second Circuit one must demonstrate that a “reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator is biased against or partial to a party, Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72, federal judges are disqualified for bias or partiality “in any proceeding in which [their] impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” See 28 U.S.C. § 455(a).

Though neither the judicial nor the arbitral standard requires a challenger to establish “actual bias,” see Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84, and even though demonstrating judicial partiality or bias is difficult to do, showing that a person “might reasonably” “question” a decisionmaker’s impartiality is a considerably less daunting task than showing that the same “reasonable” person “would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was partial or biased.

The Second Circuit also imposes a heightened evidentiary standard on evident partiality claims. Like fraud claims, they must be established by “clear and convincing evidence.” See NFL Council, 820 F.3d at 548; Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Tr., 729 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2013).

The particularly demanding standard for establishing evident partiality of a neutral arbitrator certainly serves to make arbitration awards less susceptible to challenge, thereby increasing the odds that an arbitration award and its confirmation  will be the last step in the dispute resolution process, not a starting point for intensive post-award litigation and further arbitration.

It is at least ostensibly designed to reflect realistically what reasonable expectations of neutrality a party who agrees to arbitrate may have. “Parties agree to arbitrate precisely because they prefer a tribunal with expertise regarding the particular subject matter of their dispute,” said the late Circuit Judge Irving R. Kaufman, speaking for the Court in Morelite, and “[f]amiliarity with a discipline often comes at the expense of complete impartiality.” Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83:

Some commercial fields are quite narrow, and a given expert may be expected to have formed strong views on certain topics, published articles in the field and so forth. Moreover, specific areas tend to breed tightly knit professional communities. Key members are known to one another, and in fact may work with, or for, one another, from time to time. As this Court has noted, ‘[e]xpertise in an industry is accompanied by exposure, in ways large and small, to those engaged in it….’ .  .  .  .  [T]o disqualify any arbitrator who had professional dealings with one of the parties (to say nothing of a social acquaintanceship) would make it impossible, in some circumstances, to find a qualified arbitrator at all. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83 (quoting Andros Compania Maritima, S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 579 F.2d 691, 701 (2d Cir.1978); other citations omitted).

By not requiring neutrals to comply with judicial standards of partiality courts balance the parties’ expectations with the realities of the marketplace.  Particularly in industry arbitration, sought-after arbitrators often have many years of industry experience, which may inform their perspectives on issues important to the industry. Intra-industry issues can pit one segment of the industry against another, and a qualified neutral may have experience in one or both segments.  Some degree of institutional predisposition comes with the territory and does not necessarily disqualify the neutral.  And as industry insiders, arbitrators may know the lawyers and the parties socially and professionally, but those relationships generally do not disqualify the arbitrator from service. 

These practical realities demand what Judge Posner aptly termed a “tradeoff between impartiality and expertise” – the parties bargained for dispute resolution by an industry expert and the benefit of that expertise carries with it the burdens of greater entanglement with the parties, the industry and the issues.  Indeed, if courts required the industry arbitrators — or even commercial arbitrators without an industry-specific focus — to shed or be free from this proverbial baggage, then qualified umpire candidates would be hard to come by.  See Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679 (“people who arbitrate do so because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of the subject matter.”)

Another reason the law does not hold neutral arbitrators to the same standards as judges is because arbitration is voluntarySee Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. “Courts are coercive, not voluntary, agencies,” and “fear of government oppression” has, over time, prompted the creation of “a judicial system in which impartiality is prized above expertise.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. Persons elect to submit their disputes to arbitration “because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of subject matter.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679.

Evident Partiality Standards in Tripartite Arbitration 

An arbitration agreement providing for a single arbitrator is ordinarily presumed to provide for arbitration by a neutral arbitrator, whose neutrality is assessed under the prevailing evident partiality standard. But arbitration agreements often call not for single arbitrators, who are presumed to be neutral, but three-person (a/k/a “tripartite”) panels. 

In reinsurance, and certain other industry arbitrations, for example, the agreement typically requires each party to appoint an arbitrator and for the party-appointed arbitrators to attempt to agree on an umpire or select one by lot drawing, coin toss, Dow Jones pick or like tie-breaking procedure. Unless the arbitration agreement provides otherwise, courts generally presume that the parties intended their appointed arbitrators to act as advocates of a sort:

[I]n the main party-appointed arbitrators are supposed to be advocates. In labor arbitration a union may name as its arbitrator the business manager of the local union, and the employer its vice-president for labor relations.  Yet no one believes that the predictable loyalty of these designees spoils the award. (Emphasis in original; citations omitted). Sphere Drake Ins. Co. v. All American Life Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002); Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyd’s of London v. Florida Dep’t of Fin. Servs., 892 F.3d 501, 508 (2d Cir. 2018): The principles and circumstances that counsel tolerance of certain undisclosed relationships between arbitrator and litigant are even more indulgent of party-appointed arbitrators, who are expected to serve as de facto advocates . . . The ethos of neutrality that informs the selection of a neutral arbitrator to a tripartite panel does not animate the selection and qualification of arbitrators appointed by the parties. Id. (citations and quotations omitted).

The tripartite panel structure is supposed to provide the best of two worlds: (a) two experienced and knowledgeable industry professionals, each acting as an advocate of sorts on behalf of his or her appointing party; and (b) an equally experienced and knowledgeable umpire, who either casts the tie-breaking vote or brokers a consensus. 

An industry’s general acceptance of an advocacy role for party-appointed arbitrators is sometimes evidenced by a practice of the parties authorizing ex parte contact between party-appointed arbitrators and their appointing parties (which may be subject to an agreed cut-off point, such as the submission of pre-hearing briefs).

In the Second Circuit and a number of other jurisdictions, evident partiality standards are generally designed to apply to neutral arbitrators, but not to party-appointed arbitrators, which the parties did not intend to be neutral. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 509-10. According to the Second Circuit, absent arbitrator qualification language to the contrary, “[e]xpecting of party-appointed arbitrators the same level of institutional impartiality applicable to neutrals would impair the process of self-governing dispute resolution.” 892 F.3d at 510.

The Second Circuit, however, does not hold that there are no relationships or other facts  that may establish evident partiality of a non-neutral party-appointed arbitrator. An appointed arbitrator’s violation of a contractual requirement concerning partiality or bias, such as a requirement of “disinterestedness,” may establish evident partiality. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510. Thus, if an arbitration agreement requires a arbitrator to be “disinterested,” the qualification “would be breached[,]” and evident partiality established, “if the party-appointed arbitrator had a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” 892 F.3d at 510.

In addition, the Second Circuit may vacate an award for a party-appointed arbitrator’s evident partiality “if the party opposing the award can show that the party-appointed arbitrator’s partiality had a prejudicial effect on the award.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11 (citations and quotations omitted). In theory at least, such prejudice might, in an appropriate case, be established where the record shows that the neutral wanted and attempted to obtain information from a party-appointed arbitration concerning what to make of the party-appointed arbitrator’s arguments and the party-appointed arbitrator provided misleading or false information in response. Cf. Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 623 (“[W]e have not been given any reason to think that umpire Huggins wanted more information from Jacks in order to know what to make of Jacks’ arguments during the panel’s deliberations.”)

Other courts say that evident partiality is ordinarily not a ground for disqualifying a partisan arbitrator, evident partiality is available only if it prejudices the challenging party, or the parties’ diminished expectations of party-appointed arbitrator impartiality should be considered as part of the evident partiality calculus. See, generally, Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 620;  617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002) (“evident partiality” ground can be waived by consent); Winfrey v. Simmons Foods, Inc., 495 F.3d 549, 552 (8th Cir. 2007) (requiring a showing of prejudice); Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640, 645-46 & 648-49 (6th Cir. 2005) (figuring into the mix the parties’ diminished expectations of impartiality and suggesting that undisclosed social or business relationship may establish evident partiality if it is related “to the subject matter of the” arbitration.)

Although courts will (absent contract language to the contrary) ordinarily assume that the parties intended party-appointed arbitrators to play an advocacy role, there may be disagreement within the industry or among particular parties concerning the degree of partiality permissible.  For example, there are some who believe that robust advocacy is appropriate, while others believe the party-appointed arbitrator should strive to give the appointing party the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately decide the matter according to the evidence and applicable law, custom and practice.  Others may have different views.

The upshot is that the line between the acceptable and unacceptable is both difficult to draw and blurry.  To at least some extent checks on rampant partisanship are imposed by economic considerations:  Party-appointed arbitrators that overstep what other panel members perceive to be proper ethical boundaries risk diminished credibility, influence, and effectiveness, which in turn, may result in fewer appointments. The use of partisan arbitrators, which continues in certain types of industry arbitration, has fallen out of favor in commercial arbitration in general. Rule 18 of the American Arbitration Association’s Commercial Arbitration Rules and Mediation Procedures (amended and effective October 1, 2013) (“AAA Commercial Rules”) reverses the presumption that party-appointed arbitrators should be non-neutral. Rule 18(a) says “Any arbitrator shall be impartial and independent and shall perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and shall be subject to disqualification for:”

(i) partiality or lack of independence, (ii) inability or refusal to perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and (iii) any grounds for disqualification provided by applicable law. AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(a).

Rule 18(b) further provides that “The parties may agree in writing.  .  .  that arbitrators directly appointed by a party pursuant to Section R-13 shall be nonneutral, in which case such arbitrators need not be impartial or independent and shall not be subject to disqualification for partiality or lack of independence.”  AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(b).

The AAA rules vest in the AAA the power to “determine whether the arbitrator should be disqualified under the grounds set out above, and shall inform the parties of its decision, which decision shall be conclusive.” AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(c).

Rule 7(c) of the JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures likewise reverses the presumption of non-neutrality: “Where the Parties have agreed that each Party is to name one Arbitrator, the Arbitrators so named shall be neutral and independent of the appointing Party, unless the Parties have agreed that they shall be non-neutral.” JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures Effective June 1, 2021 (the “JAMS Rules”) Rule 7(c).

Reversal of the presumption of party-appointed arbitrator non-neutrality are common in arbitration rules (including in international arbitration rules), and where parties incorporate by reference arbitration rules into their contract, those rules will ordinarily be deemed a part of the contract, requiring party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. See Idea Nuova, Inc. v. GM Licensing Group, Inc., 617 F.3d 177, 180-82 (2d Cir. 2010) (“An agreement to submit commercial disputes to ‘AAA arbitration for resolution’ is properly construed to agree to arbitration pursuant to the AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules and to incorporate those rules into the Agreement.”)

Tripartite Arbitration: Umpires or Neutral Arbitrators 

Umpires and neutrals are held to higher standards of impartiality than partisan party-appointed arbitrators, and it is to them that ordinary standards of evident partiality apply, such as the Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard. Parties expect them to be fair, objective, open-minded in deliberations and not predisposed to rule in favor of either party before hearing the evidence.  They are supposed to be impartial, but, as previously discussed, they are nevertheless not held to the same rigorous, statutory standards of impartiality applicable to United States federal judges.  See Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 621; Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; see, generally, 28 U.S.C. § 455 (disqualification standards for federal judges). The next instalment will discuss 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.

Contacting the Author

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. The author has 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). Both of these important cases are cited in this article.  

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or the services that the Loree Law Firm offers, then please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at 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.

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

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.

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

September 20th, 2021 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, Ethics, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Corruption, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Neutrality | Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Arbitration Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part I

neutral neutrality evident partialitySection 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) 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 arbitrator neutrality and 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 FAA Act Section 10(a)(2).

In this instalment of the FAQ Guide our focus is on the parties’ reasonable expectations of arbitrator neutrality; 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; and the differing expectations of arbitral neutrality that may attend tripartite arbitration. One or more subsequent instalments will discuss arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality; and procedural issues pertinent to evident partiality challenges. Continue Reading »

Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

September 16th, 2020 Bad Faith, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Corruption or Undue Means, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Fraud, Fraud or Undue Means, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, Vacatur Comments Off on Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

corruption, fraud and undue meansSection 10(a)(1) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards where “the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). Cases vacating awards on Section 10(a)(1) grounds are rare, presumably because the circumstances that would trigger relief are relatively rare.

Section 10(a)(1) is an excellent example of how Section 10 is designed to provide relief in situations where putting a court’s imprimatur on an award would deprive one of the parties of the benefit of its freely-bargained-for arbitration agreement. It says that corruption, fraud, or undue means in the procurement of an award, whether perpetrated by the arbitrators or a party, spoils the award (assuming the aggrieved party timely moves to vacate). See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1).    

There is nothing particularly controversial about that. Persons who agree to arbitrate do not implicitly consent to awards procured through chicanery. And who would want to agree to arbitrate if they would have no recourse against such an award? (See here.) 

“Fraud” and “corruption” describe dishonest, illegal, and deceptive conduct, whereas “undue means” arguably broader in scope. But “[t]he term ‘undue means’ must be read in conjunction with the words ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’ that precede in the statute.” PaineWebber Group, Inc. v. Zinsmeyer Trusts P’ship, 187 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 1999) (citing Drayer v. Krasner, 572 F.2d 348, 352 (2d Cir. 1978)). To establish “undue means” courts therefore require “proof of intentional misconduct” or “bad faith,” interpreting “undue means” as “connoti[ing] behavior that is immoral if not illegal.” PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 991 (quotations and citations omitted).

The burden for obtaining relief under Section 10(a)(1) is heavy. It must be “abundantly clear that [the award] was obtained through ‘corruption, fraud, or undue means.’” Karppinen v. Karl Kiefer Machine Co., 187 F.2d 32, 34 (2d Cir. 1951); accord Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Trust, 729 F.3d 99, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2013). That “abundantly clear” requirement is often described as one of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud or undue means. . . .” International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 519 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2003); accord Renard v. Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2015); MCI Constructors, LLC v. City of Greensboro, 610 F.3d 849, 858 (4th Cir. 2010); A.G. Edwards Sons, Inc. v. McCollough, 967 F.2d 1401, 1404 (9th Cir. 1992); Bonar v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 835 F.2d 1378, 1383 (11th Cir. 1988).

In addition to establishing “corruption, fraud or undue means” by clear and convincing evidence, a Section 10(a)(1) claimant must demonstrate: (a) “that that the fraud [, corruption or undue means] materially relates to an issue involved in the arbitration[;] and [b] that due diligence would not have prompted the discovery of the fraud [corruption or undue means] during or prior to the arbitration.” United Parcel Serv., 335 F.3d at 503; Renard, 778 F.3d at 569; MCI Constructors, 610 F.3d at 858; A.G. Edwards, 967 F.2d at 1404; Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383; see Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 35.

A party will ordinarily be deemed to waive the right to vacate the award under Section 10(a)(1) if it failed to exercise due diligence in discovering the corruption, fraud or undue means during the arbitration; if it discovered the improper conduct during the arbitration but did not seek relief from the arbitrators; if it unsuccessfully sought relief and failed to object to the arbitrator’s pre-final-award denial of relief; or if the denial of relief was first made in the final award, to preserve its objection by informing the arbitrators that a failure to grant relief would constitute grounds for vacating the award. 

As respects the materiality requirement, Section 10(a)(1) says that the “award” must be “procured” by “corruption, fraud or undue means,” which arguably suggests a causal nexus between the proscribed conduct and the award. While the conduct must “materially relate to an issue in the arbitration,” must it also be outcome determinative? In other words, must the party seeking relief show that the award would have been different but for alleged fraud, corruption or undue means, or is it enough to show that it tainted the proceedings simply because it related materially to an issue at stake?

The circuits are split on this point. Some courts require the challenger to show that the corruption, fraud or undue means “caused the award to be given.” See PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 994 (“there must be some causal relation between the undue means and the arbitration award”); A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 967 F.2d at 1403 (“the statute requires a showing that the undue means caused the award to be given”). Others say that the challenger is required to show a “nexus” between the conduct and the award—that is, materiality—but need not “establish that the result of the proceedings would have been different had the fraud[, corruption, or undue means] not occurred.” See, e.g., Odeon Capital Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196  (2d Cir. 2017) (citing cases); Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383.

Section 10(a)(1) is probably the least commonly invoked ground for vacating an arbitration award. That said, it provides an important safety valve to address rare, but extremely important cases where an award is the product of corruption, perjured testimony or other egregious, dishonest misconduct, and where the challenger was unable to address the problem adequately before the arbitrators.

The next instalment of this series shall address a more commonly invoked ground for vacatur: evident partiality.

Please note. . .

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

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Nor is it a “do-it-yourself” guide for persons who represent themselves pro se, whether they are forced to do so by financial circumstances or whether they elect voluntarily to do so.

If you want or require arbitration-related legal advice, or representation by an attorney in an arbitration or in litigation about arbitration, then you should request legal advice from an experienced and skilled attorney or law firm with a solid background in arbitration law.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, this article, or any other legal-related matter, please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has 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.

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

Photo Acknowledgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading »

Provider Rules: Should I Agree to Arbitrate under Them?

March 23rd, 2020 American Arbitration Association, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitrability | Existence of Arbitration Agreement, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Delegation Agreements, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Evident Partiality, Existence of Arbitration Agreement, FAA Chapter 1, First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, Gateway Disputes, Gateway Questions, Practice and Procedure 1 Comment »
provider rules

Should your business agree to arbitrate under arbitration provider rules? Well, that depends.

Ideally, you should review those rules to see what they say, and discuss them with a knowledgeable and experienced arbitration attorney, or perhaps with another businessperson who has meaningful experience arbitrating under them. If, after doing your due diligence, you’re satisfied with the rules, understand how they might materially affect your arbitration experience, and are prepared to accept the consequences, then you may want to agree. If not, then you need to consider other options.

Granted, most of us do not bother to review arbitration rules before agreeing to arbitrate, or even to consult briefly with someone who is familiar with how they work in practice. And that can lead to some surprises, some of which may be unpleasant.

Here’s a nonexclusive list of a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to agree to arbitrate under arbitration provider rules:

  1. Agreeing to arbitrate under arbitration rules generally makes those rules part of your agreement, which means they are binding on you like any other part of your arbitration agreement;
  2. Arbitration provider rules generally provide that “arbitrability” issues—i.e., issues about the validity, enforceability, or scope of the arbitration agreement—must be decided by the arbitrator, not the court;
  3. They will govern not only the procedures to be used in the arbitration, but key substantive issues, such as arbitrator selection, arbitrator qualifications, and the number of arbitrators;
  4. They may empower the arbitration provider to resolve, at least in the first instance, questions about arbitrator impartiality, questions that one would otherwise reasonably expect were within the exclusive province of a court;
  5. They may determine whether your arbitration is placed on an expedited or complex-case track; and
  6. They may contain information about arbitration provider fees, which may be steeper than you anticipated.

And this list is by no means comprehensive.

Do any of these things really matter in business arbitration? They do, and to take but a single example, let’s look at how agreeing to provider rules may result in your business forefeiting its right to have a court decide disputes about the validity, enforceability, or scope of the arbitration agreement.

Continue Reading »

The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit

November 18th, 2019 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Award Vacated, Confirmation of Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Repeat Players, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit
Evident Partiality | Disclosure | Repeat Player

Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10 permits Courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality. . . in the arbitrators. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). If an arbitrator fails to disclose an ownership interest in an arbitration provider, which has a nontrivial, repeat player relationship with a party, should the award be vacated for evident partiality?

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 here, here, here, 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).

The most recent significant evident partiality development is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s 2-1 decision in Monster Energy Co. v. City Beverages, LLC, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-55813, slip op. (9th Cir. Oct. 22, 2019), a case that involved an award made in favor of a repeat player party in an administered arbitration. Monster held that an arbitrator who failed to disclose his ownership interest in an arbitration provider was guilty of evident partiality because the arbitration provider had nontrivial business relationship with the repeat player party.

The Repeat Player Problem

In administered arbitration the (inevitable) existence of repeat players raises important questions that bear on evident partiality. Repeat players are parties who use the services of an arbitration provider on a regular basis, and therefore are a source of repeat business for the provider.

Arbitrators who are part of an arbitration provider’s appointment pool have earned their appointments by satisfying certain criteria set by the arbitration provider, and may also be trained by the arbitration provider. Ordinarily they are not employees of the arbitration provider, and, at least ostensibly, are independent from the arbitration provider.

But the economic interests of these arbitrators are aligned with those of the arbitration provider. What’s good for the arbitration provider is generally good for the arbitration provider’s pool of arbitrators. Repeat business is good for arbitration providers, just as it is good for lawyers and others.

Let’s assume that an arbitrator appointed in an arbitration administered by provider X has never before served as an arbitrator for parties A and B. If the contract between A and B is a form contract used by Party A that appoints X to administer arbitrations, and the contract concerns a subject matter in which disputes are fairly common (e.g., a consumer, employment, or franchise matter), then the arbitrator knows or has reason to know that the customer is either a repeat player or is likely to be one in the not too distant future.

If party B is, for example, a consumer, employee, or franchisee, and is not a repeat player, then one might suggest that our hypothetical arbitrator has at least an indirect interest in the outcome of the arbitration, specifically, one that would be best served by an outcome favoring party A, the repeat player.

That creates a potential evident partiality problem, for to be neutral, arbitrators have to be not only independent, and unbiased, but also disinterested. To be disinterested, the arbitrator cannot have have “a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510 (citations and quotations omitted).

Does the kind of indirect and general financial or personal interest in the outcome described above, without more, establish evident partiality? It should not, although arbitrators are well-advised to disclose the existence of such indirect or general financial or personal interests.

We think an argument for evident partiality based solely on an arbitrator having reason to believe that one of the parties is a repeat player with respect to the arbitration provider’s services would prove too much. Carried to its logical conclusion it would destroy, or at least severely diminish, the utility of the arbitration-provider-administered arbitration model in a large number of cases.

But that doesn’t mean that administered-arbitration awards in favor of repeat players and against non-repeat-players are immune from evident partiality challenge in all circumstances. Monster Energy provides an example and may be a harbinger of closer scrutiny of repeat player evident partiality challenges. 

We discuss the majority opinion in Monster Energy below. In a future post or posts, we will discuss the dissenting opinion, what to make of the case, and how it might (or not) influence how other courts address repeat-player-related issues that may arise in future cases.

Continue Reading »

Second Circuit Sets Evident Partiality Standard for Party-Appointed Arbitrators on Industry Tripartite Arbitration Panels

July 26th, 2018 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Evident Partiality, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Comments Off on Second Circuit Sets Evident Partiality Standard for Party-Appointed Arbitrators on Industry Tripartite Arbitration Panels

Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) authorizes courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality.  .  .  in the arbitrators.  .  .  .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). As respects neutral arbitrators, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has long held that “[e]vident partiality may be found only where a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was partial to one party to the arbitration.”  Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. Ltd. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir. 2012) (quotations and citations omitted).

But, particularly in industry and labor arbitration, the parties do not necessarily intend that party-appointed arbitrators on tripartite panels are neutral, that is, disinterested in the outcome, impartial and independent. Can a party vacate an award based on the “evident partiality” of a non-neutral, party-appointed arbitrator, and if so, what standard applies to such a challenge? Continue Reading »

SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

May 19th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Confirmation of Awards, Consent to Class Arbitration, Contract Interpretation, FAA Preemption of State Law, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on SCOTUS Denies Americo and Jupiter Medical Cert. Petitions: All Eyes now on DIRECTV. . . .

yay-34842-digital

On March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration rule that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend to require parties to appoint only neutral arbitrators—that is, arbitrators that are both impartial and independent.

Five Justices of the nine-member Texas Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the AAA had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-12776482As reported here and here, the losing party requested Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

On Monday, May 18, 2015, SCOTUS denied the petition for certiorari.  (You can access the Court’s May 18, 2015 Order List here.)

On Monday May 4, 2015, SCOTUS also denied the petition for certiorari in another Federal Arbitration Act case, Jupiter Medical Center, Inc. v. Visiting Nurse Assoc., No. 14-944, which was decided by the Florida Supreme Court. (You can access the Court’s May 4, 2015 Order List here.) Jupiter Medical Center, like Americo, concerned a post-award challenge under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, and also like Americo, was decided by a state supreme court. In Jupiter Medical, however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the post-award challenge.

yay-5257980-digitalSupreme Court watchers interested in arbitration cases will have to get their fix next term from DIRECTV v. Imburgia, which we discussed here. Will SCOTUS hold that the California intermediate Court did not give effect to the presumption of arbitrability? Will SCOTUS go even further and explain that, just as a statute cannot be interpreted “‘to destroy itself,'” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1748 (2011) (quoting  American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Central Office Telephone, Inc., 524 U.S. 214, 227-228 (1998) (quotation omitted)), so too cannot state law contract interpretation rules be applied in a way that would destroy an arbitration agreement to which the Federal Arbitration Act applies? Cf. Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468,  (1989) (“The question remains whether, assuming the choice-of-law clause meant what the Court of Appeal found it to mean, application of Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Ann. § 1281.2(c) is nonetheless pre-empted by the FAA to the extent it is used to stay arbitration under this contract involving interstate commerce.  .  .  . [because] “it would undermine the goals and policies of the FAA.”)

Stay tuned for DIRECTV.  .  .  .

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to image 2 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.

All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

May 12th, 2015 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Evident Partiality, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, State Courts Comments Off on All Eyes on Americo. . . .SCOTUS Expected to Rule on Petition for Certiorari at Upcoming May 14, 2015 Conference

yay-677327-digitalOn March 28, 2015 we reported (here) that the U.S. Supreme Court had asked for a response to the petition for certiorari in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, 440 S.W.3d 18 (Tex. 2014). In Americo the Texas Supreme Court held that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement. The parties’ agreement, among other things, incorporated the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”)’s rules, which at the time the parties entered into the contract followed the traditional, industry arbitration principle that party-appointed arbitrators may be partial, under the control of the appointing party or both. But by the time the dispute arose the AAA Rules had been amended to provide that the parties are presumed to intend that appointed arbitrators must be neutral.

Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the AAA had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See 440 S.W.3d at 25. (Copies of our Americo posts are here and here.)

yay-34842-e1424841353823The losing party is requesting Supreme  Court review to determine whether the Texas Supreme Court should have deferred to the AAA’s decision on disqualification rather than independently determining whether the parties intended to require party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. The petition argues that there is a split in the circuits on the issue.

At this week’s May 14, 2015 conference, the Court will presumably decide whether or not to grant certiorari.

In our March 28, 2015 post (here) we argued  that Americo‘s unique facts make it poor candidate for certiorari. At the time the parties agreed to arbitrate, the AAA rules “provided that ‘[u]nless the parties agree otherwise, an arbitrator selected unilaterally by one party is a party-appointed arbitrator and not subject to disqualification pursuant to Section 19.'” 440 S.W.3d at 23 (quoting AAA Commercial Rule § 12 (1996)). Section 19 permitted the AAA to disqualify neutral arbitrators for partiality, but, under Section 12, absent an agreement to the contrary, party-appointed arbitrators were not subject to disqualification under Rule 19. When the AAA Rules were amended to reverse the traditional presumption about partiality of party-appointed arbitrators, the Rules were also amended to authorize the AAA to determine whether party-appointed arbitrators were neutral.

yay-8590418-digitalThis is one of those (relatively rare) cases where a question of arbitrability—that is, whether the parties agreed to delegate to the AAA the authority to make a final and binding determination on whether a party-appointed arbitrator may be disqualified—is intertwined so inextricably with the merits of the dispute alleged to be arbitrable that, for all intents and purposes, the arbitrability and merits questions are identical. In other words, the AAA’s authority to disqualify turns on whether the parties agreed to neutral or non-neutral party-appointed arbitrators–the precise issue the petition claims the AAA should itself decide. In situations like these, the court cannot abdicate its duty to determine arbitrability, even if that means deciding some or all of the disputes that are alleged to be arbitrable. See, generally, Litton Financial Printing Div. v. National Labor Relations Board, 501 U.S. 190, 208-09 (1991).

Of course, the Supreme Court may believe otherwise, or may have other reasons for wanting  to grant certiorari.  But in any event, we’ll probably know by Monday, May 18, 2015 whether the Court will take the case.

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. Text has been added to images 1 and 3 (counting from top to bottom). Hover your mouse pointer over any image to view the Yay Images abbreviation of the photographer’s name.