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Posts Tagged ‘Exceeding Powers’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Award 1

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

Class Arbitration: Second Circuit in Jock II Rejects Jock I Bootstrapping Bid and Nixes Class Certification Award that Purported to Bind Non-Parties

July 26th, 2017 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Consent to Class Arbitration, Exceeding Powers, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Class Arbitration: Second Circuit in Jock II Rejects Jock I Bootstrapping Bid and Nixes Class Certification Award that Purported to Bind Non-Parties

Arbitration law’s “first principle” is “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion[,]” and class arbitration is no exception. (See, e.g., here.) In Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 703 Fed.Appx. 15 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit enforced that principle by vacating and remanding the district court’s judgment, which confirmed in part a class arbitration class certification award that purported to bind non-parties, that is, persons (other than named class representatives), who had not opted into the putative class.

Because the Second Circuit held in an earlier appeal, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 646 F.3d 113, 124 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Jock I”), that the “issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration was squarely presented to the Arbitrator,” see id., the district court concluded that holding was law of the case, and confirmed in part an award certifying a class that “included absent class members, i.e., employees other than the named plaintiffs and those who have opted into the class.” 703 Fed. Appx. at 17-18.

Photographer: stuartmilesThe Second Circuit vacated and remanded the judgment partially confirming the certification award because it purported to bind absent class members, who (because of their absence)  could not have “squarely presented’ to the arbitrator the question whether the agreement authorized class procedures, let alone the issue of whether they should be deemed part of a class in a class arbitration to which they had not consented. See 703 Fed. Appx. at 16, 17-18.

While in Jock I the parties had “squarely presented to the arbitrator” the issue of whether the agreement “permitted class arbitration,” Jock I did not address the more “narrow question” “whether an arbitrator, who may decide … whether an arbitration agreement provides for class procedures because the parties `squarely presented’ it for decision, may thereafter purport to bind non-parties to class procedures on this basis.” Id. at 18. The answer to that question is “no”— as Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. suggested in his concurring opinion in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064, 2071-72 (2013) (Alito, J., concurring), and as the Second Circuit confirmed in Jock II. See 703 Fed. Appx. at 16, 17-18.

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. The Yay Images abbreviations of the photographer’s name for each of the two images are:

Image 1: CartoonResource

Image 2: stuartmiles

 

The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

April 21st, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Risks, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Captive Insurance Companies, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Making Decisions about Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, Practice and Procedure, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Comments Off on The Fifth Circuit’s PoolRe Decision: Captives, Insurance, Reinsurance, Arbitration, Multiple Parties, Multiple Contracts, Conflicting Arbitration Agreements: Does it Get any Better than this?! (Part II)

Part II

Analysis of the Pool Re Decision

If you read Part I you know the arbitration program in PoolRe case was, to put it mildly, inadequate to meet the needs of the multi-party, multi-contract dispute that arose out of the parties’ legal relationships. Perhaps the saving grace is that the both the district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the award, which is what Sections 5 and 10 of the  Federal Arbitration Act require.

yay-12688786 - WavebreakmediaThe Fifth Circuit addressed whether the district court erred by: (a) vacating the arbitration award on the ground the arbitrator exceeded his powers; (b) vacating the entire award; and (c) denying the motion to compel arbitration of the Phase II Claims. Finding no error, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in its entirety.

The District Court Correctly Concluded that the Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers

 

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The Fifth Circuit held that the arbitrator exceeded his powers because the Arbitrator: (a) was not properly appointed under the terms of the Reinsurance Agreement’s arbitrator selection provisions, which required him to be “selected by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance;” and (b) decided the dispute under the American Arbitration Association’s rules when the Reinsurance Agreement required arbitration under International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) Rules.

Arbitrator not Selected as Required by the Reinsurance Agreement’s Arbitrator Selection Provisions

 

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The district court held vacatur was required  because the Arbitrator “was not ‘the actual decisionmaker that [PoolRe and the Captives] selected as an integral part of their agreement.'” Slip op. at 9 (quoting district court). The Fifth Circuit held that “the district court properly vacated the arbitrator’s award with regard to the claims against PoolRe[,]” because the Arbitrator “was appointed in the manner provided in the [Engagement Agreement’s] Billing Guidelines — to which PoolRe was not a party — but was appointed in a manner contrary to that provided in the Reinsurance Agreements between PoolRe and the Captives, which required ‘select[ion] by the Anguilla, B.W.I. Director of Insurance.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Capstone Entities “submitted [their] original arbitration demand to [the Arbitrator][,]” but “PoolRe,” said the Court, “only intervened in that arbitration after [the  Anguilla Financial Services Commission] notified Pool Re that no Director of Insurance existed.” Slip op. at 10-11. The Arbitrator thus “had not been ‘selected according to the contract specified method’.  .  .  when he  decided the dispute between Pool Re and the Captives.” Slip op. at 11 (quoting Bulko v. Morgan Stanley DW Inc., 450 F.3d 622, 625 ((5th Cir. 2006)).

The Fifth Circuit’s decision is fully consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act, under which “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted). Courts are supposed to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, and among the most important terms of an arbitration agreement are those concerning arbitrator selection. See Lefkovitz v. Wagner, 395 F.3d 773, 780 (2005) (Posner, J.) (“Selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.”); see, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 5 (“If in the agreement provision be made for a method of naming or appointing an arbitrator or arbitrators or an umpire, such method shall be followed.  .  .  .”); Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Art. V(1)(d), June 10, 1958, 21 U.S.T. 2519, T.I.A.S. No. 6997 (a/k/a the “New York Convention”) (implemented by 9 U.S.C. §§ 201, et. seq.) (award subject to challenge where “[t]he composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties”); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668, 670 (one of the FAA’s “rules of fundamental importance” is parties “may choose who will resolve specific disputes”) (emphasis added; citations omitted); Encyclopaedia Universalis S.A. v. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., 403 F.3d 85, 91-92 (2d Cir. 2005) (vacating award by panel not convened in accordance with parties’ agreement); Cargill Rice, Inc. v. Empresa Nicaraguense Dealimentos Basicos, 25 F.3d 223, 226 (4th Cir. 1994) (same); Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc. v. Garage Employees Union, 791 F.2d 22, 25 (2d Cir. 1986) (same).

Arbitrator Exceeded his Powers by Deciding the Disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules Rather than under the ICC Rules

 

 

The Fifth Circuit also held that the Arbitrator exceeded his powers by deciding the disputes between Pool Re and the Captives under the AAA Rules because the Reinsurance Agreements required “all disputes [to] ‘be submitted for biding, final, and nonappealable arbitration to the [ICC] under and in accordance with its then prevailing ICC Rules of Arbitration.'” Slip op. at 10-11. The Court explained that it “interpret[s] clauses providing for arbitration in accordance with a particular set of rules as forum selection clauses.” Slip op. at 10-11 (quotation and citations omitted). And “[i]f the parties’ agreement specifies that the laws and procedures of a particular forums shall govern any arbitration between them, that forum-selection clause  is an important part of the arbitration agreement, and, therefore, the court need not compel arbitration in a substitute forum if the designated forum becomes unavailable.” Slip op. at 11 (quotations and citations omitted). By applying the “the AAA rules [instead  of the ICC Rules] to the dispute[,]” the Arbitrator “acted contrary to an express contractual provision,” and therefore exceeded his powers within the meaning of Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act. Slip op. at 11 (quotation, citation and brackets omitted). Continue Reading »

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.A: What are the Issues?

March 26th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Grounds for Vacatur Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.A: What are the Issues?

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Armstrong Arbitration Award

Part III.A: What are the Issues?

In Part II we discussed applicable arbitration law, so now let’s take a look at what issues the Court may need to address in the event the Armstrong Parties contend that the arbitration panel (the “Panel”)’s award exceeded its powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (a/k/a the “FAA”) and the Texas General Arbitration Act (the “TAA “).

summer-15198434-digitalpowerThe Federal Arbitration Act (a/k/a the “FAA”) and the Texas General Arbitration Act (the “TAA “) both authorize courts to vacate awards where arbitrators exceed their powers. See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4) (2014); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 171.088 (a)(3)(A) (Vernon 1997). If the New York Convention applies by way of Chapter 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, then Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act would continue to apply because the Award was made in the U.S. And in any event, Article V of  the Convention permits parties to defend against the enforcement of an arbitration award falling under the Convention on the ground that the arbitrators exceeded their powers. See Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards at Art. V.(c) & V.(d). Continue Reading »

What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the $10,000,000.00 Arbitration Award?

March 1st, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Contract Interpretation, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Preemption of State Law, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York Convention, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the $10,000,000.00 Arbitration Award?

SCA v. Armstrong:

Anatomy of an Arbitration Award—Part II

What Standards Apply to Lance Armstrong’s Putative Challenge to the Arbitrators’ $10,000,000.00 Sanctions Award?

 

yay-10447276-digitalAs discussed in Part I, if Lance Armstrong (“Armstrong”) and Tailwind Sports Corp. (“Tailwind”) (collectively, the “Armstrong Parties”) challenge the Armstrong Arbitration Award, that challenge will be based on the Panel allegedly exceeding its powers. To meaningfully assess whether the Panel exceeded its powers we need to consider what law applies. Continue Reading »

New Arbitration Award Practice Blog Posts on Arbitrators Exceeding their Powers under the Federal Arbitration Act

December 27th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Grounds for Vacatur, Loree & Loree Arbitration-Law Blogs, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration Comments Off on New Arbitration Award Practice Blog Posts on Arbitrators Exceeding their Powers under the Federal Arbitration Act

We’ve posted in the Arbitration Award Practice Blog the first two posts of a series concerning arbitrators exceeding their powers under  the Federal Arbitration Act in circumstances where they make awards against persons who are not parties to the pre-dispute arbitration agreement that precipitated the arbitration:

  1. Do Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Imposing Liability on Corporate Officers who were not Parties to the Arbitration Agreement?
  2. Do Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Imposing Liability on Corporate Officers who were not Parties to the Arbitration Agreement?—Part II

These posts are designed to illustrate to persons learning about arbitration law basics a point that more experienced practitioners know all-too-well: arbitration law can be counterintutive, and even its relatively straightforward general rules or principles do not apply to all factual scenarios.

For example, under the Federal Arbitration Act the answer to question posed by the articles: “it depends.” If a corporate officer participated in the arbitration solely as a party representative; nobody demanded, requested, argued or suggested that the corporate officer should have been deemed a party; and the corporate officer did not request in his individual capacity relief from the arbitration panel, then the arbitrators would be exceeding their powers were they to make an award against the corporate officer.

But as a general rule, arbitrators do not, on their own motion, award relief to or impose liability on persons who are not parties to the arbitration agreement. But see NCR Corp. v. Sac-Co., Inc., 43 F. 3d 1076,  1080 (6th Cir. 1995) (arbitrator ordered punitive damages to non-parties even though neither party requested such relief). While arbitrators occasionally do render awards granting relief to or against arbitration agreement nonsignatories, usually that occurs only when someone has requested such relief.

That’s what happened, for example, in Stone v. Theatrical Investment Corp., No. 14 Civ. 6494 (PAE), slip op. at 1, 8-9 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 2, 2014). Stone was a contract dispute between two parties A, a trust, represented by its trustee, and B, a corporation. A demanded arbitration against B under the contract’s pre-dispute arbitration agreement, but also demanded arbitration against B’s CEO, asserting that the arbitrator should pierce the corporate veil and hold the CEO jointly and severally liable for the corporation’s alleged breach of contract. The CEO participated in the arbitration as a party representative for B, but never informed the arbitrator that it objected to her jurisdiction to award relief to him. In addition, the CEO requested the arbitrator to grant him relief in his individual capacity.

Not surprisingly, the general rule did not apply in Stone, a point we discuss briefly in the second of the two Arbitration Award Practice Blog posts. In fact it seems odd that the CEO moved to  vacate the award against it on the ground that he did not agree to arbitrate the dispute. It suggests (but certainly does not establish) that perhaps the CEO thought he could make the argument he did despite the arbitration strategy he chose to purse. We do not know whether that is so, however, and there might be other reasons why the CEO opted to pursue that strategy.

Assuming that the CEO did not wish to arbitrate the veil-piercing claim there was much he could have done to ensure a judicial determination of that matter. And that’s something we’ll address in a future post in the Arbitration Award Practice Blog.

 

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Do Arbitrators Necessarily Exceed their Powers by Making an Award that Conflicts with the Unambiguous Terms of the Parties’ Agreement?

November 11th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Do Arbitrators Necessarily Exceed their Powers by Making an Award that Conflicts with the Unambiguous Terms of the Parties’ Agreement?

We’ve addressed on many occasions the Enterprise WheelStolt-Nielsen/Oxford contract-based outcome review standard, which permits courts to vacate awards when they do not “draw their essence” from the parties’ agreement. Under that standard the “sole question is whether the arbitrators (even arguably) interpreted the parties’ contract, not whether [they] got its meaning right or wrong.” See Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064, 2068 (2013) (parenthetical in original). (See, e.g.,  Loree Reins. & Arb. L. F. posts here, here, here, here, here & here.)

While exceedingly deferential, the standard is not toothless. Arbitration awards that disregard or contravene the clear and unmistakable terms of a contract are subject to vacatur under it. See Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 676 (panel had “no occasion to ascertain the parties’ intention in the present case because the parties were in complete agreement regarding their intent.”) (quotation omitted); United Paperworkers v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987) (“The arbitrator may not ignore the plain language of the contract. . . .”). That’s because an arbitrator who makes an award that lacks “any contractual basis” has not even arguably interpreted the contract, and therefore has strayed from his or her task. See Oxford, 133 S. Ct. at 2069 (distinguishing Stolt-Nielsen); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668-69, 672; Misco, 484 U.S. at 38.

An arbitrator whose award contradicts the unambiguous provisions of the parties’ contract may—but will not necessarily—exceed her powers. The answer depends on what the agreement says, what the award says and whether the award is at least arguably grounded in the agreement.

Whether or not a contract or contract term is “ambiguous” depends on whether it is reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning. See, e.g., White v. Continental Cas. Co., 9 N.Y.3d 264, 267 (2007); Greenfield v. Philles Records, 98 N.Y.2d 562, 570-71 (2002). When a contract is unambiguous, a court can interpret it as a matter of law; if it is ambiguous, its meaning is a question of fact for trial.

Can the Interpretation of the Arbitrators be “Unreasonable,” yet still Colorable or Plausible?

The legal standard for lack of ambiguity is that there be only one “reasonable” interpretation of the contract terms, not that there are no other at least barely plausible or barely colorable interpretations of what the contract might mean. In probably the majority of contract interpretation cases concerning alleged contract ambiguity, each litigant supports its position with good-faith, reasonable arguments for why the disputed contract terms are allegedly susceptible to one or more than one meaning. Whenever courts determine that a contract is unambiguous, that conclusion necessarily means that the losing party’s interpretation of the contract is unreasonable as a matter of law. Continue Reading »

What Happens when Arbitrators Exceed Clear Limitations on their Authority?

October 24th, 2014 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, New York State Courts, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on What Happens when Arbitrators Exceed Clear Limitations on their Authority?

One advantage of arbitration is that parties can define and delineate the scope of disputes they agree to submit to arbitration, the basis on which disputes  can or must be resolved and the scope of the arbitrator’s remedial powers. If parties impose clear limits on an arbitrator’s authority (usually by expressly excluding certain matters from arbitration or expressly providing that an arbitrator cannot or must grant certain remedies), then courts and arbitrators are supposed to enforce those limitations. See, e.g., Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 680-81 (2010).

Far too frequently, parties simply agree to a broad arbitration agreement that places no limitations on arbitral power, and when they end up on the wrong-end of an award they didn’t expect, they discover to their dismay that they have no judicial remedy. Whether or not they understood that at the time they agreed to arbitrate is, of course, irrelevant. The only relevant consideration is whether their agreement could be reasonably construed to grant the arbitrator that authority, even if it could also be reasonably construed to withhold it. See, e.g., Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 62 (1995) (“when a court interprets such provisions in an agreement covered by the FAA, due regard must be given to the federal policy favoring arbitration, and ambiguities as to the scope of the arbitration clause itself resolved in favor of arbitration”) (quotation and citation omitted).

But suppose the parties take the time to consider whether they desire to limit arbitral authority, and their arbitration agreement unambiguously expresses an intention to limit arbitral authority to resolve certain disputes or impose certain remedies, or to expressly require that the arbitrators grant certain types of relief, such as fee shifting to a prevailing party. Should a court vacate the award if the arbitrator does not abide by the parties’ unambiguously expressed intentions?  Continue Reading »

Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Can I Appeal an Arbitration Award in Court?

May 21st, 2014 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Practice and Procedure Comments Off on Arbitration and Mediation FAQs: Can I Appeal an Arbitration Award in Court?

Introduction

When a party is on the wrong end of an arbitration award that he, she or it thinks is fundamentally unfair, tainted by impropriety, or disconnected from the agreement the arbitrator was supposed to interpret and apply, the first question that comes to mind is whether there might be some form of recourse available. In court,  the usual avenue of relief from an adverse judgment or order is an appeal.

Can a losing party to an arbitration award governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) appeal it in court? Since private arbitration is an alternative to public, government-sponsored court litigation, since the court system plays an important role in enforcing arbitration agreements, since both arbitration and court litigation share at least some of the same attributes and since in the U.S. procedural due process and the primacy of the rule of law are as dear to us as baseball and apple pie, it is natural to assume that one should be able to appeal an adverse arbitration award.

But one cannot—in any meaningful sense of the word—“appeal” an arbitration award to a court. In court litigation an appeal involves judicial review by an appellate court under which a panel of judges reviews trial-court rulings on questions of law independently—that is, as if the appellate court were deciding the question for itself in the first instance. The appellate court reviews the trial court’s findings of fact on a “clearly erroneous” or “clear error” standard of review, that is, paying a certain degree of deference to the finder of fact (the jury or trial judge). While appellate review thus does not involve a retrial on the merits, it is broad and searching, particularly where outcomes turn solely on questions of law.

The FAA does not authorize courts to review arbitration awards under an appellate standard of review, even if the parties consent to a court applying such a standard. Parties can agree before or after a dispute arises to an arbitration procedure that empowers another arbitrator or panel of arbitrators to review an award under an appellate or some other standard of review, but arbitration awards are subject to very limited and deferential review by courts and then only on a few narrow grounds.

The FAA Award-Enforcement Process

The FAA award enforcement process permits either party to make an application to vacate, modify or correct an award, or an application to “confirm” it, that is, enter judgment on it. Since the deadline for applying to vacate, modify or correct an award is considerably shorter than that for confirming an award, in many cases, parties who are seeking relief from the award make the initial application. If a putative challenging party does not timely seek relief, and the other party seeks confirmation after the expiration of the deadline for making an application to vacate, modify or correct the award, then the challenging party is time-barred from asserting grounds for vacatur or modification, even simply as affirmative defenses to confirmation. (See, e.g., L. Reins. & Arb. Law Forum post here.)

Let’s assume a party makes a timely motion to vacate an award. What will likely then happen is the other party will cross-move to confirm the award. The burden on the party seeking confirmation is pretty modest. Generally the party moving to confirm will need to show that the parties: (a) agreed to arbitrate; (b) consented to entry of judgment on the award; (c) appointed an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators; and (d) submitted the dispute to the arbitrators, who issued the award. The award is presumed valid and the court does not review its outcome or substance.

Once the modest prerequisites for confirmation have been established by a properly supported petition or motion to confirm an award, then the court “must grant” confirmation “unless the award is vacated, modified or corrected” under FAA Sections 10 or 11. 9 U.S.C. § 9. Thus, apart from those relatively rare cases where a party can show that the parties never agreed to arbitrate at all (and that the challenging party did not waive that defense), or perhaps never even impliedly consented to entry of judgment on the award, the only grounds on which the losing party can oppose confirmation are those set forth in Section 10 and 11.

The only exception might be if the award interprets the contract in a way that causes it to violate a well-defined and explicit public policy, or if the remedy the arbitrator awards violates the criminal law or requires one of the parties to do so. For example, one would not expect a court to enter judgment on an award that purported to authorize the prevailing party to inflict bodily harm on the losing party or vice-versa. That principle is simply an application of the contract-law rule that courts will not enforce contracts that violate public policy. See, generally, W. R. Grace & Co. v. Rubber Workers, 461 U.S. 757, 766 (1983); United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, 743 F.3d 1310, 1315 (10th Cir. 2014).

Continue Reading »