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Posts Tagged ‘Federal Arbitration Act’

SmartSky: Fourth Circuit Says No Jurisdictional Anchor Post Badgerow

March 23rd, 2024 Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Confirm, Application to Stay Litigation, Application to Vacate, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Confirmed, Confirmation of Awards, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Diversity Jurisdiction, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 10, FAA Section 11, FAA Section 3, FAA Section 4, FAA Section 9, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 207, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Motion to Compel Arbitration, New York Convention, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Section 10, Section 11, Section 6, Section 9, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit No Comments »

SmartSky

 

Introduction

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

Suppose:

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

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

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

Badgerow 

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

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

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

A “Jurisdictional Anchor” Post-Badgerow?

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

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

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

SmartSky Caused a Circuit Split Concerning the Viability of Anchor Jurisdiction 

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

SmartSky’s Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

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

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

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

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

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

Status of Arbitration-Law Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this Term

February 12th, 2024 Appellate Practice, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Appoint Arbitrator, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitrability, Arbitrability | Clear and Unmistakable Rule, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, CPR Alternatives, CPR Speaks Blog of the CPR Institute, CPR Video Interviews, Delegation Agreements, Exemption from FAA, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Section 16, FAA Section 3, FAA Transportation Worker Exemption, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Professor Downes, Richard D. Faulkner, Russ Bleemer, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments »

Status of Arbitration Cases Pending Before SCOTUS this TermThere are three arbitration-law cases pending before the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) this October 2023 Term. SCOTUS will presumably decide all three cases by this June, 2024.

 

The Cases: Bissonnette

The first is  Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, No. 23-51 (U.S.), a case that concerns the scope of Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which exempts from the FAA “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1 (the “Section 1 Exemption”). SCOTUS granted cert. in Bissonnette on September 29, 2023. As set forth in the question presented:

The First and Seventh Circuits have held that [the Section 1 Exemption] applies to any member of a class of workers that is engaged in foreign or interstate commerce in the same way as seamen and railroad employees-that is, any worker ‘actively engaged’ in the interstate transportation of goods. The Second and Eleventh Circuits have added an additional requirement: The worker’s employer must also be in the ‘transportation industry.’

The question presented is: To be exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, must a class of workers that is actively engaged in interstate transportation also be employed by a company in the transportation industry?

(Bissonnette Question Presented Report)

We summarized the case briefly here and provided a link to an October 24, 2023 video conference in which our friend and colleague Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) (“CPR Alternatives”), interviewed Professor Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law Professor of Practice and Assistant Director of Experiential Education; Richard D. Faulkner, arbitrator, mediator, arbitration-law attorney, and former judge; and yours truly, Loree Law Firm principal, Philip J. Loree Jr., about the case, its implications, and how SCOTUS might decide it. You can watch the video-conference interview here.

SCOTUS has set Bissonnette down for oral argument for Tuesday, February 20, 2024 (here). You can listen to SCOTUS arguments on C-Span or on the Court’s website.

The Cases: Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski (a/k/a “Coinbase II”)

The second case  is Coinbase, Inc. v. Suski, No. 23-3 (U.S.) (“Coinbase II”), a case that is related to Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, 143 S. Ct. 1915 (2023) (“Coinbase I”), which was decided on June 23, 2023, and discussed hereCoinbase II concerns the application of a delegation provision—an agreement to arbitrate arbitrability disputes—contained in  a contract (“Contract 1”) clearly and unmistakably requires the parties to submit to the arbitrator the question whether the Contract 1 arbitration agreement requires the parties to arbitrate disputes concerning a subsequent contract, Contract 2, even though Contract 2 does not provide for arbitration and requires the parties to submit all disputes concerning Contract 2 exclusively to litigation before the California courts. Is Contract 1’s delegation provision, as applied to the dispute over Contract 2, and in light of the parties’ agreement to litigate, not arbitrate,  disputes concerning Contract 2, clear and unmistakable, as required by SCOTUS precedent? Or, as put differently by the question presented: “Where parties enter into an arbitration agreement with a delegation clause, should an arbitrator or a court decide whether that arbitration agreement is narrowed by a later contract that is silent as to arbitration and delegation?”

SCOTUS granted certiorari in Coinbase II on November 3, 2023, and on November 10, 2023, CPR’s Bleemer interviewed Professor Downes, Faulkner, and Loree about the certiorari grant, what it means, and how the Court might rule on it. You can watch the video-conference interview here. Our blog post about the interview and cert. grant is here.

Oral argument in Coinbase II has been scheduled for February 28, 2024.

Smith v. Spizzirri

The third case is Smith v. Spizzirri, No. 22-1218, which concerns FAA Section 3’s stay-of-litigation-pending-arbitration provision. The Court granted certiorari on January 12, 2024.

FAA Section 3 provides that, once a court determines that a dispute must be arbitrated, the court “shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until” conclusion of the arbitration.  9 U.S.C. § 3 (emphasis added). Most circuits addressing the question have determined that a stay is mandatory if requested. The Ninth Circuit, and a few others, have held that, despite the statute’s mandatory text, courts retain discretion to dismiss an action where all disputes in the action are subject to arbitration.

The Ninth Circuit below held that it was bound to follow prior precedent concerning discretion to dismiss (rather than stay), even though it acknowledged that the statute’s “plain text” suggests otherwise. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged the circuit split and two judges, in an occurring opinion, encouraged “the Supreme Court to take up this question.” (See Question Presented Report.)

The question presented to SCOTUS is “[w]hether Section 3 of the FAA requires district courts to stay a lawsuit pending arbitration, or whether district courts have discretion to dismiss when all claims are subject to arbitration.” (See Question Presented Report.)

Oral argument has not yet been scheduled and merits briefs have not yet been filed.

The case is more noteworthy than may initially meet the eye. It has important implications concerning appealability. If an action is stayed, rather than dismissed, a granted motion to compel arbitration cannot be immediately appealed, see 9 U.S.C. § 16(b)(1),(2), (3) & (4); but if a motion to compel is granted, and the action is dismissed, then the right to appeal the denial begins to run immediately. 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(3); Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 85-89 (2000). If a Section 3 stay is mandatory when requested, then there will presumably be fewer cases where courts compel arbitration and dismiss  (rather than stay) the underlying lawsuit, and therefore fewer cases where a grant of a motion to compel or denial of a motion to stay or enjoin arbitration is immediately appealable.

The subject matter jurisdiction implications of the case are equally significant. As we explained in a recent post, under Badgerow, a court’s federal-question subject matter jurisdiction can, for purposes of a motion to compel arbitration, be based on whether the underlying dispute would fall under the Court’s federal question jurisdiction.

But subject matter jurisdiction over a petition to confirm or vacate an award resulting from that arbitration cannot, after Badgerow, be based on such “look through” jurisdiction. An independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction must appear from the face of the petition and cannot be based on whether a court would have federal question jurisdiction over the underlying dispute.

As we explained in our Badgerow post, in cases where a Section 3 stay has been requested and granted, there may nevertheless be a so-called “jurisdictional anchor” on which subject matter jurisdiction over subsequent motions to confirm, vacate, or modify awards, to enforce arbitral subpoenas, or appoint arbitrators may be based. Under that jurisdictional anchor theory as long as the court stays the litigation, the court would retain its subject matter jurisdiction, and could exercise it to grant subsequent motions for FAA relief. While there remains a question whether the jurisdictional anchor theory survived Badgerow,  the theory makes sense, even under Badgerow, and is supported by pre-Badgerow case law. (See Badgerow Post.)

If the Court in Spizzirri rules that a motion to stay litigation pending arbitration must be granted if supported and requested, then it will presumably be easier for parties to assert subject matter jurisdiction based on a jurisdictional anchor theory.

Contacting the Author

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 J. Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. (bio, here) 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 various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

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.

 

Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards

November 13th, 2023 Amount in Controversy, Appellate Jurisdiction, Appellate Practice, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Confirm, Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Confirmation of Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, FAA Section 16, Federal Arbitration Act 202, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 3, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 5, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Modify or Correct Award, Motion to Compel Arbitration, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 10, Section 11, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 4, Section 5, Section 7, Section 9, Stay of Litigation, Stay of Litigation Pending Arbitration, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on Weighing the “Jurisdictional Anchor”: Post-Badgerow Second Circuit Subject Matter Jurisdiction Requirements for Applications to Confirm, Modify, or Vacate Arbitration Awards

Jurisdictional Anchor | Subject Matter JurisdictionThe U.S. Supreme Court decision, Badgerow v. Walters, 142 S. Ct. 1310 (2022) (discussed here), requires that an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction (usually diversity) must appear on the face of petitions to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards, and, by extension, petitions to enforce arbitral subpoenas or appoint arbitrators. See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320. That independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction cannot be established by “looking through” to the underlying arbitration proceeding. In other words, the federal court cannot base subject matter jurisdiction on whether the court would have had subject matter jurisdiction over the merits of the controversy had they been submitted it to court rather than to arbitration.  See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1314, 1320.

Badgerow does not change the rule that federal question jurisdiction over a Section 4 petition to compel arbitration can be established by “looking through” to the underlying dispute that is or is claimed to be subject to arbitration. 142 S. Ct. at 1314; see  Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 53 (2009); Hermès of Paris, Inc. v. Swain, 867 F.3d 321, 324-26 (2d Cir. 2017) (diversity of citizenship not determined by “look through”).

Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act expressly authorizes a Court to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction on that basis: “A party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition any United States district court which, save for such agreement, would have jurisdiction under title 28, in a civil action or in admiralty of the subject matter of a suit arising out of the controversy between the parties, for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 4; see Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1317.

Unlike Section 4, Sections 5 (appointment of arbitrators), 7 (arbitral subpoena enforcement), 9 (confirmation of awards), 10 (vacatur of awards), and 11 (modification of awards), do not expressly authorize the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction on a “look through” basis.  See 142 S. Ct. at 1317-18; 9 U.S.C. §§ 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, & 11.

Badgerow, in the specific context of an action commenced by petition to vacate an award under FAA Section 10—which, in turn, prompted a cross-petition to confirm under FAA Section 9—held that the absence in Sections 9 and 10 of Section 4’s express language authorizing subject matter jurisdiction based on “look through” meant that Congress did not authorize “look through” subject matter jurisdiction for Section 9 and 10 claims (and presumably for claims seeking relief under Sections 5, 7, or 11). See 142 S. Ct. at 1319.

An independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction is required, and in the absence of a federal question appearing on the face of the petition (such as a claim for relief under Chapter Two of the FAA, see 9 U.S.C. § 203; 28 U.S.C. § 1331), the only possible basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). And there could be no diversity jurisdiction in Badgerow because the parties to the petitions were citizens of the same state. See 142 S. Ct. at 1316.

Badgerow’s reasoning certainly applies to independent, summary proceedings in which the only relief sought is under the FAA. But does it apply with equal force where litigation on the merits of an arbitrable or allegedly arbitrable dispute has commenced, and the motion to compel arbitration is made by motion in the pending action, which is stayed pending arbitration? Can the stayed merits litigation act as what former Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in his Badgerow dissent, referred to as a “jurisdictional anchor” for not only the motion to compel arbitration, but also other subsequent applications for pre- or post-award FAA relief relating to the arbitration?  See Badgerow, 142 S. Ct. at 1326 (Breyer, J., dissenting).

That is an open question in the Second Circuit after Badgerow, although pre-Badgerow the answer was yes. Let’s look at it more closely and try to get a sense of how the Second Circuit might rule on it considering Badgerow. Continue Reading »

Presumption of Arbitrability: Second Circuit Clarifies the Law

May 30th, 2023 Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Enforcing Arbitration Agreements, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Labor Arbitration, Motion to Compel Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Presumption of Arbitrability, Questions of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Presumption of Arbitrability: Second Circuit Clarifies the Law

Introduction: Presumption of Arbitrability

Presumption of Arbitrability

Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007

The presumption of arbitrability—grounded in the federal policy in favor of arbitration—is an important but sometimes misunderstood rule of Labor-Management-Relations-Act (“LMRA”)- and Federal-Arbitration-Act (“FAA”) arbitration law.

According to the presumption, “where. . . parties concede that they have agreed to arbitrate some matters pursuant to an arbitration clause, the law’s permissive policies in respect to arbitration counsel that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitral issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.” Granite Rock Co. v. Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 298-99 (2010) (citations and quotations omitted).

There is an understandable tendency among decision makers and commentators to interpret the presumption broadly, sometimes more broadly than the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”)’s pronouncements warrant. But the presumption is not an overarching command that courts decide arbitration-law disputes in a way that yields arbitration-friendly outcomes. The presumption is, as SCOTUS explained in Granite Rock—and more recently, in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., 142 S. Ct. 1708, 1713 (2022)—simply a limited-use tool to assist Courts in resolving ambiguities in arbitration agreements.

The presumption is, SCOTUS has said, “merely an acknowledgment of the FAA’s commitment to overrule the judiciary’s longstanding refusal to enforce agreements to arbitrate and to place such agreements upon the same footing as other contracts.”  Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quoting Granite Rock, 561 U.S. at 302). “The [federal] policy [in favor of arbitration[,]” SCOTUS said, “is to make ‘arbitration agreements as enforceable as other contracts, but not more so.’” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quoting Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 404, n. 12 (1967)).

The policy—and the presumption implementing it— merely requires courts to “hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713. Courts, Morgan said, cannot “devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713 (quotation omitted). For “[t]he federal policy is about treating arbitration contracts like all others, not about fostering arbitration.” Morgan, 142 S. Ct. at 1713-14 (citation omitted).

Granite Rock and Morgan express SCOTUS’s intention to narrowly limit the application of the presumption of arbitrability and to prohibit its use as an extracontractual basis for justifying enforcement of arbitration agreements more vigorously or expansively than ordinary contracts. (See here (Arbitration Law Forum, 2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb? (July 18, 2022)).) Rather SCOTUS precedent treats it as a default rule of last resort for resolving scope ambiguities in arbitration agreements. See Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 1418-19 (2019) (Not applying contra proferentem rule to resolve arbitration-agreement-scope ambiguities  “is consistent with a long line of cases holding that the FAA provides the default rule for resolving. . . [such] ambiguities. . . .”) (citations omitted).

A recent, per curiam decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit decision evidences the Second Circuit’s clear intention to follow SCOTUS’s presumption-of-arbitrability guidance and shows how it applies to the question before the Second Circuit in that case: At what point in the interpretative framework for determining arbitrability questions does the presumption of arbitrability come into play? See Local Union 97, Int’l Bhd. Of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., ___ F.4d ___, No. 21-2443-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. May 3, 2023) (per curiam).

Niagara Mohawk explains, among other things, that the presumption of arbitrability is a rule of last resort. Courts have no business resolving in favor of arbitration any doubts about the scope of arbitrable issue unless and until the Court has determined that the parties’ arbitration agreement is ambiguous as to whether the dispute is arbitrable. And even if there is an ambiguity, and the presumption applies, the presumption may be rebutted. Continue Reading »

France v. Bernstein: Third Circuit Says Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud

January 12th, 2023 Appellate Practice, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Award Procured by Fraud and Corruption, Award Vacated, Awards, 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, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Petition to Vacate Award, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Small and Medium-Sized Business Arbitration Risk, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Vacate Award | Fraud, Vacatur Comments Off on France v. Bernstein: Third Circuit Says Arbitration Award Procured by Fraud

FraudFederal Circuit Courts of Appeals decisions affirming district court decisions vacating awards—or reversing decisions confirming awards—are rare. Rarer still are decisions vacating awards as procured by fraud, corruption, or undue means.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision in France v. Bernstein, 43 F.4th 367 (3d Cir. 2022) is an exception because there was clear and convincing evidence of fraud, the fraud was not detected despite the challenging party’s reasonable diligence, and there was a nexus between the fraud and the award. It is a particularly welcome exception because the Court:  (a) was not cowed by concerns that vacating an award, no matter what the circumstances, somehow makes arbitration an unattractive alternative to litigation; and (b) punished the perpetrator of the fraud, not the victim, by refusing to impose unreasonable due diligence requirements on the challenger.

We’ve discussed previously Section 10(a)(1), which authorizes vacatur “where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). (See here, here, here, and here.) To prove an award was procured by fraud or undue means a party must show it is “abundantly clear” that the award was obtained by “corruption, fraud, or undue means.” In addition, the challenging party must prove ” that due diligence would not have revealed the fraud during the arbitration and that the fraud materially related to an issue in the arbitration. (See here.)

In France v. Bernstein the Court held that the award challenger established fraud by clear and convincing evidence, showed that due diligence would not have revealed the fraud, and proved that the fraud materially related to an issue in the arbitration. It therefore reversed the district’s order confirming the award and remanded for the district court to enter an order vacating the award, and remanding the matter to the arbitrator.

The Underlying Dispute

The France arbitration was between two National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) certified contract advisors (i.e., agents), both of whom represented NFL players in contract negotiations. Each was bound by NFLPA Regulations Governing Contract Advisors (the “Regulations”).  We refer to them as Agents A and B.

NFL Player G had signed a representation agreement with Agent A in 2016, and at the same time signed another representation agreement with a limited liability company owned by Agent A (“Clarity Sports”) for marketing and endorsement deals. Together, Agent A and Clarity Sports were Player G’s exclusive agents.

Effective January 29, 2019, Player G terminated his contracts with Agent A and Clarity Sports. Three days prior to the termination, Player G had participated in an autograph signing event in which neither Agent A nor Clarity Sports played any role in arranging, even though Agent A and Clarity Sports were retained by Player G to organize such events. Agent A learned about the autograph signing event from a Facebook post.

Player G immediately signed up with Agent B once the termination was effective. Believing that Agent B had arranged the autograph signing event, Agent A filed a grievance against him, which “alleged, ‘[o]n information and belief,’ that [Agent B] initiated contact with Player G, arranged and negotiated the autograph-signing event for him, and then used the event’s proceeds to induce him to terminate his relationship with [Agent A] and to sign with [Agent B].” 43 F.4th at 371.

This, according to Agent A, violated two Regulations concerning unfair competition, one that prohibits the promising or providing of certain inducements to encourage a player to sign with a Contract Advisor, and another which prohibits certain communications between a Contract Advisor and a player that is represented by another Contract Advisor. See 43 F.4th at 371-72. The dispute was submitted to arbitration as the Regulations required.

Discovery in the Arbitration

The parties engaged in document and deposition discovery in the arbitration. At his deposition, Agent B denied repeatedly that he was involved in Player G’s participation  in the autograph event. While Agent B promised to produce documents responsive to certain of Agent A’s requests, and did produce certain documents, he denied having any documents responsive to document requests concerning the autograph signing event.

Agent B also contended that he would produce only documents that were in his possession, not documents that were under his control, and that he would not produce documents in the possession of CAA Sports, attorneys, accountants, agents or Agent B’s colleagues, because these persons were not required to arbitrate under the Regulations. He then purported to retreat from that position by claiming that he was, in fact, producing documents that were in his “possession or control.”

But “control” meant little to him because he continued to argue he was not required to produce documents in the possession of CAA Sports LLC (Agent B’s employer) or any other third parties.

In light of these representations, and to “end the debate” about Agent B’s production obligations, Agent A requested the arbitrator to authorize seven subpoenas, one against CAA Sports, and six to other non-parties. The arbitrator said he could authorize the subpoenas but had no power to enforce them.

Of the seven subpoenas, one was served on CAA Sports, two on sports memorabilia dealers and one on  Kenneth Saffold, Jr. (“Saffold”), a person who mentored Player G. No responsive documents were produced pursuant to these subpoenas, although Saffold testified at the hearing.

The Arbitration Hearing

Arbitration hearings were held in Virginia on November 19 and December 12, 2019. At  the hearings Agent A, Agent B, Saffold, and an employee of Clarity Sports testified. Agent B “repeatedly and consistently denied that he had anything to do with the autograph-signing event, and he emphasized that [Agent A] had no evidence—documentary or testimonial—showing anything to the contrary.” 43 F.4th at 373. The evidence showed that Player G received roughly $7,750 for attending and participating at the event.

Agent B presented evidence purporting to show that Player G’s decision to discharge Agent A and sign Agent B had nothing to do with Player G’s participation at the signing event. Player G’s mentor, Saffold, testified that he and Player G had discussed ways to build Player G’s brand, including networking at events, and that consequently, Player G was present at a charity bowling event, held by a teammate of Player G, an event a Player G teammate hosted. At that event, Player G purportedly introduced himself to Agent B, who represented the teammate hosting the charity event.

According to Agent B, Player G told him that he was interested in changing agents and asked for Agent B’s phone number. Although Agent B provided the phone number, he testified he did not know who Player G was until he later reviewed a roster of Player G’s team. Agent B further testified that Player G texted him to discuss further the telephone conference they had at the charity event, and later met for dinner so that Player G could voice his frustration with Agent A and learn more about what Agent B did for clients.

Saffold testified that Player G had Agent B meet with his mother, and that Player G introduced Saffold to Agent B, who vetted Agent B’s references. According to evidence adduced by Agent B, Player G was prepared to terminate the Agent A relationship by year end 2018, but Saffold advised him to wait until after the 2018 season was over in January 2019.

On January 24, 2019, Player G notified Agent A of his termination, which was to be effective January 29, 2019. The autograph-signing event occurred three days prior to the effective date of the termination. Agent B’s position therefore was that the autograph event timing was “purely coincidental.” 43 F.4th at 374.

The Arbitration Award

On March 27, 2020, The Arbitrator made an award in favor of Agent B, determining that Agent A had failed to meet his burden of proof to show that Agent B violated either of the two Regulations. As respects the Regulation prohibiting thing-of-value inducements, Agent B did not violate that Regulation because: (a) Agent B had no involvement in the signing event; and (b) as of the date of the signing event, Player G had already decided to discharge Agent A and hire Agent B. Agent B likewise did not violate the Regulation prohibiting Contract Advisors from communicating with already-represented players because, according to Agent B’s version of events, Player G initiated contact with Agent B at the charity bowling event in 2018.

Evidence of Fraud Emerges in a Parallel Federal Court Action

A parallel federal court litigation demonstrated that Agent B had crucial evidence pertinent to Agent A’s claims that Agent B should have made—but did not make—available to Agent A in the arbitration. While the arbitration was pending, Agent A and  Clarity Sports commenced an action in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against CAA Sports and three sports memorabilia dealers who were involved in the signing event. That action (the “Parallel Action”) asserted claims for tortious interference with contractual relationships.

Approximately two months after the arbitrator made the award, evidence surfaced in the litigation demonstrating that Agent B was involved with the autograph event. Prior to the award, and in anticipation of the production of such evidence, Agent B requested that the arbitrator give him an extension to file a post-hearing brief, but the arbitrator denied the request.

The evidence adduced in the litigation showed that Agent B was involved in the signing event. One of the memorabilia dealers’ interrogatory responses implied Agent B’s involvement. That response explained that Jake Silver, one of Agent B’s CAA Sports colleagues, played a key role in organizing the event:

Jake Silver is the person we have historically dealt with at CAA. Near the Christmas holidays in late December 2018, I had a telephone conversation with Jake Silver regarding such marketing events (such calls between us and various other parties are not unusual, but occur frequently in our ordinary course of business). . . . [W]hile discussing the possibility of various signing events, Jake Silver mentioned that [Player G], a player for the Detroit Lions, might be interested in doing an autograph signing event, and asked us if we  were interested.

43 F.4th at 374-75 (quoting Joint Appendix (“J.A.” at 1833) (alterations in original).

The same dealers produced text-message screenshots, which evidenced a discussion among dealers discussing the logistics of the signing event. That discussion included “[c]ar service for Kenny/mom/Todd CAA[,]” which was presumably a reference to Player G, his mother, and Agent B (whose first name was Todd). At his deposition, the dealer admitted that a person named Todd would join Player G and his mother at the event. No one suggested who, other than Agent B, the “Todd” referred to in the text message might be.

The litigation also led to the discovery of other evidence showing that, one day before the signing event, Agent B was scheduled to fly to Chicago, where the event was to be held.

In October 2020, as discovery further progressed, further evidence surfaced demonstrating that Agent B was involved in setting up the event. CAA Sports produced: (a): an email from Silver to Agent B that attached a copy of a contract for the signing event to be signed by Player G; and (b) an email from Agent B to Player G attaching a copy of the same contract and requesting that Player G execute it.

Confirmation/Vacatur Action

Back in April 2020, one month after the award, Agent B commenced by petition an action to confirm the award in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, the district embracing the arbitration situs. Agent A crossed moved to vacate, contending that the post-award, new evidence that had thus far surfaced—the interrogatory response, the text message screen shot, and the deposition testimony indicating that “Todd” [i.e., Agent B] was to ride to the event with Player G—established that the award had been procured by fraud within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1).

In response to Agent A’s motion to vacate, Agent B contended that Agent A could not show that, through requisite diligence, the fraud was undiscoverable during the arbitration. 

Agent A contended that it had acted diligently by seeking third-party discovery but was unable to enforce the subpoenas, and was not, in any event, required to enforce the subpoenas. There was, said Agent A, insufficient time to seek such enforcement between the short period between the two days of arbitration hearings. Agent A also contended that he had sought diligently in the Parallel Action discovery from the memorabilia dealers.

 A few months after April 20, 2020, Agent B’s petition to confirm the Award was transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where the Parallel Action was pending. Agent A subsequently moved for leave to supplement his motion to vacate with the evidence he discovered in the Parallel Action in October 2020: the emails from Agent A and Silver that attached copies of the autograph-event contract. He argued that the new evidence established, “‘with absolute certainty[,]’” that the Award was “‘procured by “fraud, corruption or undue means” within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. [Section 10(a)(1)]. . . .’” 43 F.4th at 376 (quoting J.A. at 2739 and 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1)).

The district court granted the motion for leave to supplement, but in the same order denied the motion to vacate and granted the petition to confirm. The district court held that Agent A failed to proffer an adequate reason why the fraud could not have been discovered during the arbitration. Specifically, it found that Agent A failed to exercise the requisite degree of diligence by not seeking judicial enforcement of the arbitrator’s subpoenas.

Agent A moved for reconsideration, contending that attempting to enforce the subpoenas judicially was futile because the persons who produced the evidence establishing fraud were located more than 100 miles from Alexandria, Virginia, where the arbitration was sited, and thus were beyond the territorial scope of any arbitral subpoena the district court in Alexandria could enforce. Agent A also argued that Agent B was guilty of discovery abuse by representing that he would produce documents responsive to the requests, but then contending that none concerning the autograph event was in his possession. That fraud, Agent A claimed, could not have been discovered any earlier, even had the subpoenas been enforced.

But the district court denied the motion for reconsideration, again placing the blame on Agent A. According to the district court, Agent A could have raised his argument about the futility of enforcing the subpoena in response to Agent B’s argument that Agent A’s failure to enforce the subpoenas evidenced Agent A’s lack of diligence. While Agent A had argued that he did not have time to enforce the subpoenas, he did not argue that enforcement was futile because of the 100-mile territorial limit. The district court did not discuss Agent A’s argument that Agent B’s discovery-abuse fraud could not have been discovered during the arbitration.

Agent A appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

Court Holds the Award was Procured by Fraud under FAA Section 10(a)(1)

 After acknowledging the “steep climb” required to vacate an arbitration award, the Third Circuit explained that to vacate an award for fraud or undue means, Agent A must prove: (1) fraud by clear and convincing evidence; (2) that was not discoverable through the exercise of reasonable diligence; and (3) was materially related to an issue in the arbitration. 43 F.4th at 378.

Clear and Convincing Evidence of Fraud

The Court said the least controversial issue was whether Agent A had established fraud by clear and convincing evidence. See id. Agent A claimed the award “was procured by fraud because of [Agent B’s] nonproduction of responsive documents, as well as his false testimony at the arbitration hearing and his pre-hearing deposition.” Id. Finding that procuring an award through perjured testimony, or the knowing concealment of evidence constitutes fraud within the meaning of Section 10(a)(1), the Court concluded it was “plain that [Agent B] both lied under oath and withheld important information demanded in discovery.” Id.

Agent B said he would produce all documents in his possession, but as respects the signing event he said there was none.  At his deposition and at the hearing he denied having any involvement in or knowledge of the signing event. See 43 F.4th at 378-79.  “None of that was true,” as text messages, email, and deposition testimony obtained in the Parallel Action demonstrated. 43 F.4th at 379.

The Court concluded that Agent A’s “false representations that he did not possess those emails and that he had no involvement in the event amount to clear and convincing evidence that fraud occurred.” Id.

Fraud not Discoverable Through Reasonable Diligence

The Court concluded that Agent A was reasonably diligent in its efforts to seek discovery from Agent B concerning his involvement in the signing event. First, the Court held that the Agent A had, in the circumstances, a right to rely on Agent B’s representations about documents and his alleged non-involvement in the signing event. Agent B represented that it would produce documents responsive to Agent A’s requests but contended that it had no documents pertinent to the signing event. He also denied having any involvement in the signing event. Id. The court said that a “reasonably diligent litigant in [Agent A’s] position was entitled to rely upon those representations, without launching a separate fact-checking investigation.” Id.

Second, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, Agent A was not required to enforce judicially the third-party document subpoenas the arbitrator issued. The district court believed that Agent A’s decision not to seek judicial enforcement was unreasonable even though Agent A argued that it did not have the time to do that either prior to or between the two days of arbitration hearings.

The Third Circuit concluded that the district court erred by focusing on Agent A’s decision not to enforce the subpoenas. The focus should have been on Agent B’s “unequivocal statements denying he had possession of any documents indicating he was involved in the autograph-signing event, and his further insistence that he was completely uninvolved in the event.” 43 F.4th at 380.  “Reasonable diligence[,]” said the Court, “does not require parties to assume the other side is lying[,]” and “[i]t piles one unfairness on another to say that [Agent A] had to seek enforcement of the subpoenas shortly before an arbitration hearing, just to double-check whether [Agent B] was being truthful in representing that he did not possess pertinent documents and that he was not involved in organizing the autograph-signing event.” Id.

Third, the Third Circuit concluded that Agent A took “substantial measures” to uncover Agent B’s perjury. Id. Agent A requested documents concerning the signing event and deposed Agent B. Id.

When Agent B took the position that it would produce documents only in its possession, Agent A requested, and the arbitrator issued, document subpoenas, which Agent A served on CAA Sports and other third parties. Id. The subpoenas requested “documents that would have exposed France’s perjury, including emails receiving and sending the contract for the signing event.” Id.

Agent A served the CAA Sports subpoena in October 2019, but CAA Sports did not comply voluntarily. During the few-week period between the service of that subpoena and the first hearing, Agent A deposed Agent B, “who falsely testified that he had no involvement in the autograph-signing event.” Id.

Given Agent B’s false testimony, Agent A “could have reasonably concluded it was not worthwhile to aggressively pursue  non-party discovery, especially considering the cost and burden involved in instituting an action in federal court, as necessary to enforce those subpoenas.” Id. Due diligence did not require Agent A to commence such an independent action. Id. Even though “it would, perhaps, have been to [Agent A’s] credit to more aggressively pursue enforcement” of the subpoenas, the point of those subpoenas was not to obtain documents in Agent B’s possession, but to obtain documents in the possession of Agent B’s employer, CAA Sports, and other third parties. Agent B had already falsely stated he would have turned over those documents if they were in his possession. 43 F.4th at 380-81.

Agent A, said the Court, “should not be penalized for accepting his opponent’s representations.” 43 F.4th at 381. While Agent A  “did not pursue every possible discovery mechanism,” “a litigant’s diligence can be legally adequate even if some stones are left unturned. ‘Reasonable’ does not mean ‘perfect.’” Id.

The Fraud was Material

 The Court found that “the fraud was material and obviously so.” 43 F.4th at 381.  Agent A did not have to show that but for the fraud and concealment the outcome of the arbitration would have been different. Id.

Following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Odeon Cap. Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196 (2d Cir. 2017), the Third Circuit explained it was enough for Agent A “to ‘demonstrate a nexus between the alleged fraud and the decision made by the arbitrator.’” 43 F.4th at 381 (quoting Odeon Cap., 864 F.3d at 196; cleaned up). There was unquestionably a “nexus” here because the “concealed evidence proved . . . facts” that supported Agent A’s version of the case. See 43 F.4th at 381.

Agent A contended that it was Agent B’s involvement in the signing event that resulted in Player G signing with Agent B and discharging Agent A. Id. The arbitrator determined that Agent A presented no evidence supporting that contention. Agent A could have presented that evidence had Agent B not “lie[d] that he had no documents reflecting his involvement in the signing event[,]” and had not “lie[d] about being wholly uninvolved in the event.” 43 F.4th at 381.

There was nevertheless “a complicating factor” that “raise[d] the possibility that [Agent B’s] involvement in the autograph-signing event was not the cause of [Player G’s] decision to change agents.” 43 F.4th at 381 & 382. Agent B had adduced evidence that, prior to the signing event, Player G had introduced himself, his mother, and his mentor, Saffold, to Agent B and expressed interest in engaging Agent B. 43 F.4th at 381. If credited, that evidence would be consistent with Agent B not having induced with a thing of value Player G to hire him and not having initiated communications with Player G in violation of applicable rules.

Agent B’s evidence on this score was corroborated by affidavits from Player G and his mother. Id. Although the arbitrator indicated that he would give those affidavits “very, very little” weight compared to the hearing testimony, the evidence “raises the possibility that [Agent B’s] involvement in the autograph-signing event was not the cause of [Player G’s] decision to change agents.” Id.

The centerpiece of the arbitrator’s decision was Agent A’s lack of evidentiary support for Agent A’s position that Agent B was involved in the signing event, and the arbitrator determined that “‘[Agent B] had nothing to do with arranging, planning, organizing[,] or influencing in any way the operation of the Signing Event.’” 43 F.4th at 382 (quoting J.A. at 274). That finding was part of the evidence that formed the basis of the award. Id.

“[E]vidence of [Agent B’s] involvement with the signing event[,]” the Court concluded, “would have been material to the arbitrator’s decision[,]” and Agent B “hid that evidence and then falsely testified that he had no knowledge of or involvement in the signing event.” Id.

If Agent A could have presented the evidence that Agent B should have produced during the arbitration—or if he had sought to enforce more aggressively the subpoenas had Agent B not falsely testified—then the arbitrator would have had to consider both parties’ version of events, both of which would have had evidentiary support. On that record the arbitrator could have made an award in favor of Agent A.

Further the arbitrator might have made an award in favor of Agent A even if it accepted parts of Agent B’s story. Id. “[I]t is clear[,]” said the Court, “that the arbitrator’s fact-finding task would have looked much different had [Agent A] possessed the concealed evidence to support the core allegation in his grievance[,]” and “[t]hat is enough for us to see a nexus between [Agent B’s] fraud and the basis for the [award]. . . .”  Id. (citation and quotation omitted).

Concluding, the Court noted that “[a]n honest process is what those who agree to arbitration have a right to expect.” 43 F.4th at 382.

Contacting the Author

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 various federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

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Ninth Circuit Clarifies Arbitral Summons Jurisdiction and Venue under New York Convention

August 19th, 2022 Application to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 201, Federal Arbitration Act Section 202, Federal Arbitration Act Section 203, Federal Arbitration Act Section 204, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Courts, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, International Arbitration, New York Convention, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Enforce Arbitral Summons, Practice and Procedure, Pre-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Section 7, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Subpoenas, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Venue Comments Off on Ninth Circuit Clarifies Arbitral Summons Jurisdiction and Venue under New York Convention

Summons | Petition to EnforceThe United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently provided useful guidance on what might be described as the arcane of the arcane: arbitral summons or subpoena practice in cases governed by Chapter Two of the Federal Arbitration Act, which implements the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention” or the “New York Convention”). See 9 U.S.C. § 201, 202. We’ve discussed arbitral summons practice in domestic cases—itself an arcane subject— in posts published in 2020, here, here, and here.

In Jones Day v. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, No. 21-16642, slip op. (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2022), the Court made important rulings concerning (a) federal court subject matter jurisdiction over a Chapter One arbitral summons in a case governed by Chapter Two of the FAA, and (b) proper venue for enforcing an arbitral summons in a case where the third-party witness is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the district embracing the seat of the arbitration.

Yes, these rulings may appear arcane, but they are highly relevant to those who arbitrate cases falling under the New York Convention, especially cases involving arbitrations sited in the U.S. where one or more parties are citizens of foreign states, or where the agreement or award arises out of a commercial, legal “relationship involving property located outside the U.S., envisages performance or enforcement abroad, or has some other reasonable relationship with one or more foreign states.” See 9 U.S.C. § 202.

Background

Jones Day arose out of an arbitration between a law firm (the “Firm”) and a former partner, a German national (the “Former Partner”), who was based in Paris, and left Jones Day to join another firm (the “Competitor Firm”). The arbitration agreement designated Washington, D.C. as the arbitration situs. The parties’ arbitration agreement fell under the Convention. See 9 U.S.C. § 202.

The Firm requested the arbitrator to issue a subpoena or summons to the Competitor Firm, requiring it to appear before the arbitrator in Washington, D.C. and produce documents.

When the Competitor Firm did not appear and produce documents, the Firm attempted to enforce the subpoena in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, but the D.C. court dismissed the proceeding for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Competitor Firm had its principal place of business in San Francisco and was apparently not amenable to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia.

The Court also ruled that, under Section 7 of the Federal Arbitration Act, the Competitor Firm was required to enforce the arbitral summons in a United States Federal District Court.

The Firm then persuaded the Arbitrator to issue revised subpoenas requiring two of the Competitor Firm’s partners, who resided in the Northern District of California, to appear before the Arbitrator in San Jose, California, which is within the Northern District of California.

When the Competitor Firm refused to comply with the revised arbitral summons, the Firm commenced an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against the Competitor Firm and the two summonsed partners.

The district court denied the application on the ground that it had no authority to enforce the summonses because under Section 7 of the FAA (a) the only court that can enforce an arbitral summons is the court in which the arbitrator sits; (b) Washington D.C. was the designated arbitration situs; and (c) the arbitrator can “sit” in one location only, here Washington, D.C. Having denied the application on improper venue grounds, the district court declined to decide whether it had federal subject matter jurisdiction over the application.

Ninth Circuit Determines the District Court had Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Enforce the Arbitral Summons

The Court engaged in a textual analysis of Chapter Two to determine whether there was subject matter jurisdiction over the petition. Section 203, the Court explained, confers on federal courts original subject matter jurisdiction, irrespective of the amount in controversy, over “[a]n action or proceeding falling under the Convention.” 9 U.S.C. § 203; Jones Day, slip op. at 6.

The parties did not dispute, and the Court held, that the application to enforce the summons was an “action or proceeding.” There was also no question that the parties’ arbitration agreement “fall[s] under the Convention” within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. § 202; slip op. at 6.

The question was whether the “action or proceeding” to enforce arbitral summons falls under the Convention. The Competitor urged that “because Congress ‘conspicuously’ did not include [in Chapter Two] a provision regarding petitions to enforce an arbitral summons, such a petition is not an action or a proceeding encompassed under § 203.” Slip op. at 7. To the contrary, said the Competitor Firm, Chapter Two expressly authorizes only three actions or proceedings: (a) “orders to compel arbitration, 9 U.S.C. § 206[; (b)] appointments of arbitrators in accordance with an arbitration agreement, id.[; and (c)]. . . orders confirming arbitration awards, 9 U.S.C. § 207.” Slip op. at 7.

The Competitor attempted to support its argument by arguing that “‘fall under’ means to be ‘listed or classified as’ or ‘included in’. . . .” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Webster’s New World Dictionary and MacMillan Contemporary Dictionary).

The Court, however, rejected that argument, explaining that “dictionaries from around 1970” (Chapter Two’s enactment date) “embrace a broader definition of ‘fall under’. . . .” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary Vol. I 955 (1971) (the “Compact Edition”) and Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English Vol. I 102 (1975) (“Oxford Idiomatic”). Those dictionaries defined “fall under” as “‘[t]o be brought under the operation or scope of, be subject to’[,]” slip op. at 7 (quoting Compact Edition), and to “‘be classified as, be placed within a certain category[.]’” Slip op. at 7 (quoting Oxford Idiomatic).

The Court’s Arbitral Summons Subject Matter Jurisdiction Conclusion is Further Supported by the Convention’s and Chapter Two’s Structure 

 The Court found further support in the Convention’s and Chapter Two’s structure suggesting that to “fall under” the Convention, specific actions or proceedings need not be explicitly stated in the Convention or Chapter Two.

The Court relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in G.E. Energy Power Conversion France SAS, Corp. v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC, 140 S. Ct. 1637 (2020), in which “the [U.S. Supreme] Court determined that the domestic doctrine of equitable estoppel, which permits the enforcement of arbitration agreements against nonsignatories, does not conflict with the Convention, and so is applicable in international arbitrations.” Slip op. at 8 (citations omitted).

Outokumpu concerned Article II(3) of the Convention, which provides that “courts of a contracting state ‘shall. . . refer the parties to arbitration.” Convention, Art. II(3). The arbitration challenger in Outokumpu argued that Article II(3) authorized Courts to refer only signatory “parties” to the arbitration, and did not permit courts to use the equitable estoppel doctrine to refer nonsignatories to arbitration.

Outokumpu reasoned that Convention “Article II(3) does not preclude application of the domestic doctrine of equitable estoppel because it ‘contains no exclusionary language; it does not state that arbitration agreements shall be enforced only in the identified circumstances.’” Jones Day, slip op. at 8 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645)  (emphasis in original). The Supreme Court, explained the Ninth Circuit, “viewed a counter interpretation inappropriate because ‘the provisions of Article II contemplate the use of domestic doctrines to fills gaps in the Convention.’” Slip op. at 8 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645). The Supreme Court therefore “did not ‘read the nonexclusive language of [Article II(3) of the Convention] to set a ceiling that tacitly precludes the use of domestic law to enforce arbitration agreements.’” Slip op. at 8-9 (quoting Outokumpu, 140 S. Ct. at 1645; bracketed material in original).

The Ninth Circuit said the Supreme Court’s analysis applied equally to the question whether the Convention or Chapter Two of the FAA contemplated a petition to enforce an arbitral summons. Slip op. at 9. “There is[,]” said the Ninth Circuit, “no language in [Chapter Two or the Convention]. . . that limits the tools that may be utilized in international arbitrations in ways domestic arbitrations are not so limited.” Slip op. at 9.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Competitor Firm’s “argument that the only permissible judicial actions or proceedings are those explicitly listed in Chapter Two . . . runs afoul of Chapter Two and the Convention’s plain language, structure, and objectives.” Slip op. at 9. The Court said the only limitation in the Convention or Chapter Two is 9 U.S.C. § 208, “which as the Supreme Court noted in [Outokumpu]. . . , disallows only those processes provided for in domestic arbitrations under Chapter One that conflict with Chapter Two of the Convention.” Slip op. at 9 (citations omitted). But enforcement of an arbitral summons does not conflict with Convention or Chapter Two—such enforcement “only aids in the arbitration process.” Slip op. at 9. 

The Court’s Arbitral Summons Subject Matter Jurisdiction Conclusion is Further Supported by Section 205, Chapter Two’s Removal Jurisdiction Provision

The Court found further support for its subject matter jurisdiction conclusion in Section 205 of the FAA, which concerns the removal jurisdiction of federal court in Chapter Two cases.

Section 205 states that “[w]here the subject matter of an action or proceeding pending in a State court relates to an arbitration agreement or award falling under the Convention, the defendant or the defendants may, at any time before the trial thereof, remove such action or proceeding to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where the action or proceeding is pending.” 9 U.S.C. § 205. Significantly, a district court’s removal jurisdiction is triggered when the subject matter of the state court action or proceeding “relates toan “agreement or award falling under the Convention.” 9 U.S.C. § 205 (emphasis added). See Jones Day, slip op. at 9-10.

As the Ninth Circuit astutely observed, “[i]f ‘falling under’ in § 203 is not deemed at least as coextensive with ‘relates to’ in § 205, then that would mean Congress intended the district courts to have a narrower scope of original jurisdiction than removal jurisdiction in enforcing international arbitration awards.” Slip op. at 10 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 205). But, said the Court, inferring such an intent would contravene “the very purpose of the Convention and the Chapter Two implementing procedures[,]” which “is to encourage arbitration and to authorize district courts to take actions necessary to ensure that the parties’ underlying controversy is successfully resolved through arbitration.” See slip op. at 10 (citation and quotation omitted).

As the Ninth Circuit explained, imputing such an intent would lead to strange results: “The irony of [the Competitor Firm’s]. . . contrary position is that, in this very case where it asserts the Northern District of California lacks original jurisdiction, the same court would have had removal jurisdiction under FAA § 205 had Jones  Day filed its petition to enforce the summons in San Francisco Superior Court.” Slip op. at 10.

The Competitor Firm could, said the Court, in this case have removed the case to federal court for purpose of “opposing enforcement” of the arbitrator’s summons. Slip op. at 10. The Ninth Circuit said “[t]his would be an absurd result, especially in light of congressional policy to enforce arbitration-not resist it-and the proceedings that further arbitration of international disputes.” Slip op. at 10 (citing 9 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207).

The Court then exhaustively discussed cases from the Fifth, Second, and Eleventh Circuit that supported its conclusion that “falling under” in Section 203 and “relate to” in Section 205 have “the same meaning for purposes of articulating the federal courts’ original jurisdiction in § 203.” Slip op. at 11 & 9-13; see Stemcor USA Inc. v. CIA Siderurgica do Para Cosipar, 927 F.3d 906 (5th Cir. 2019); Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 60 (2d Cir. 2012); Inversiones y Procesadora Tropical INPROTSA, S.A. v. Del Monte Int’l GmbH, 921 F.3d 1291, 1299 (11th Cir. 2019). These cases “expansive[ly]” construed Section 203, and the Court formulated from them a two-part test for determining if under the Convention and Chapter Two a federal court has original jurisdiction over an action or proceeding.

The Ninth Circuit’s Test for Whether a Federal District Court has Original Jurisdiction under Section 203 over an Action or Proceeding to Enforce an Arbitral Summons

Drawing from its interpretation of Section 203 and 205, and cases construing those provisions, the Court held “that a federal court has original jurisdiction over an action or proceeding if two requirements are met: (1) there is an underlying arbitration agreement or award that falls under the Convention, and (2) the action or proceeding relates to that arbitration agreement or award.” Slip op. at 13. The Court further explained that, “for purposes of the second requirement, we adopt the meaning of ‘relates to,’ which we previously defined for purposes of § 205, as whether the proceeding ‘could conceivably affect the outcome of the plaintiff’s case.” Slip op. at 13 (quoting Infuturia Global Ltd. v. Sequus Pharms., Inc., 631 F.3d 1133, 1138 (9th Cir. 2011) (emphasis in original; internal citation omitted)).

The Ninth Circuit Concludes that the District Court had Subject Matter Jurisdiction over the Arbitral Summons Enforcement Petition 

The Ninth Circuit had no difficulty finding that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction. First, the case unquestionably involved an arbitration agreement “falling under” the Convention because it involved an “arbitration agreement between [the Firm], an international law firm residing for jurisdictional purposes in Washington D.C., and its former non-U.S. citizen partner. . . .” Slip op. at 14; see 9 U.S.C. § 202 (defining agreements and awards falling under the Convention).

Second, the arbitral summons petition ” relates to the underlying arbitration agreement, as the arbitrator determined that evidence [to be] adduced. . . may be material to resolving the dispute.” Slip op. at 14.

As respects the “relates to” requirement, the Court went a step further and declared that the Section 7 arbitral summons enforcement proceedings were “[n]ot only. . . ‘related to’ an arbitration agreement falling under the Convention[]” but were “necessary ancillary proceedings that ensure the proper functioning of the underlying arbitration.” Slip op. 14. They present to the Court an “aspect of enforcing the parties’ agreement to arbitrate. . .”—“the enjoyment of a key procedural attribute of the arbitration the parties bargained for.” Slip op. at 15 (quotation and citation omitted). “Recognizing and enforcing arbitration agreements includes[,]” said the Ninth Circuit, “facilitating the arbitration process and providing arbitrators—in both domestic and international arbitrations—with access to the ancillary actions and proceedings necessary to arrive at an arbitration award.” Slip op. at 15-16. And that “includes arbitral subpoenas and their enforcement.” Slip op. at 15-16.

Venue was Proper in the Northern District of California

Section 204 of the FAA did not authorize venue in the Northern District of California and therefore the question was whether Section 204 was exclusive or permissive. If exclusive, venue would be improper. If permissive, venue would be proper if authorized by the General Venue Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

The Court held that Section 204 was permissive and venue was proper under the General Venue Statute. The district court held that venue did not lie in the Northern District of California because (a) [Chapter One,] Section 7 of the FAA “provides for enforcement of an arbitral summons in the ‘district in which such arbitrators, or a majority of them are sitting[,]” slip op. at 19 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 7); (b) “Washington D.C. [, rather than a place within the Northern District of California,] is the ‘seat of the underlying arbitration,’” and, accordingly, (c) “[the district court]. . . lacked jurisdiction to enforce the summons.” Slip op. at 19.

But putting aside the parties’ dispute about whether Section 7 provides for venue, and if so where, FAA Section 204 provides for venue in actions and proceedings falling under the Convention. The district court did not consider that provision, including whether Section 204 is exclusive or permissive. See slip op. at 19 & n.4.

Convention Venue Statute: FAA Section 204

Section 204, entitled “Venue,” states that “[a]n action or proceeding over which the district courts have jurisdiction pursuant to section 203 of this title may be brought in any such court in which save for the arbitration agreement an action or proceeding with respect to the controversy between the parties could be brought, or in such court for the district and division which embraces the place designated in the agreement as the place of arbitration if such place is within the United States.” 9 U.S.C. § 204.

Although the Court did not discuss them, there are two reasons why Section 204 did not authorize venue over the proceeding. First, an “action or proceeding with respect to the controversy between the parties” to the arbitration agreement—i.e., between the Firm and the Former Partner—would not have been properly venued in the Northern District of California. The Court did not consider whether Section 204 might be interpreted to authorize venue based on the arbitral summons enforcement controversy between the Firm and the Competitor Firm.

Second, even though the Firm followed the usual procedure of having the arbitrator convene a hearing in a district in which the witness would be within the enforcing court’s subpoena power, Section 204 provides for venue based on where the arbitrators are sitting only in cases where the arbitrators are sitting “in the place designated in the agreement as the place of arbitration. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 204. Washington, D.C. was the place designated in the parties’ agreement as the arbitration situs, and obviously Washington, D.C. is not in the Northern District of California.

Whether Section 204 is a Mandatory or Permissive Venue Statute

Because Section 204 did not provide for venue, the issue boiled down to whether Section 204 is a mandatory venue provision or a permissive one. The Court held that Section 204 was permissive, and that venue was therefore proper under the General Venue Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, because the Competitor Firm’s principal place of business was within the Northern District of California. See slip op. at 20.

First, the Court discussed how Section 1391 was intended to ensure that, if there was personal jurisdiction over a defendant, venue would always be proper in some district. Absent evidence that Congress intended to restrict the broad scope of venue provided by Section 1391, another federal statute providing for venue will be construed to be permissive, not mandatory. Slip op. at 16-17.

Second, the Court found that “[n]othing in the text of § 204 indicates that Congress intended. . . [Section 204] to be exclusive or restrictively applied.” Slip op. 17. Section 204, the sole venue provision in FAA Chapter Two, is  silent about the General Venue Statute, and uses the permissive language “‘may be brought’ to describe the additional authorized venues.” Slip op. at 17 (quoting 9 U.S.C. § 204).

Third, the Court explained that Cortez Byrd Chips, Inc. v. Bill Harbert Constr. Co., 529 U.S. 193 (2000) “inform[ed]” its “reading of § 204.” Slip op. at 17. Cortez Byrd addressed whether the venue provisions of Sections 9, 10, and 11 of FAA Chapter One—which authorize venue for post-award litigation in the district where the award was made—were mandatory or permissive. Slip op. at 17-18.

Cortez Byrd held that the venue provisions of FAA Sections 9, 10, and 11 were permissive and that the venue for post-award litigation was proper as long as it was proper under those sections or under the General Venue Statute. Slip op. at 17-18 (citing Cortez Byrd, 529 U.S. at 199-200, 204). When the FAA was enacted in 1925 the General Venue Statute had a more limited scope, providing for venue only in the district where the defendant resided. Slip op. at 18.

The venue provisions in FAA Sections 9, 10, and 11 expanded the scope of the then-in-effect General Venue Statute, authorizing venue in the district where the award was made. The U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that “‘[t]he enactment of the special venue provisions in the FAA thus had an obviously liberalizing effect, undiminished by any suggestion, textual or otherwise, that Congress meant simultaneously to foreclose a suit where the defendant resided.’” Slip op. at 17-18 (quoting Cortez Byrd, 529 U.S. at 200).

Fourth, the Court explained that in Textile Unlimited, Inc. v. A. BMH & Co., Inc., 240 F.3d 781 (9th Cir. 2001) it had “expanded” the Cortez Byrd rationale by holding that “the FAA venue provision in 9 U.S.C. § 4, governing actions to compel arbitration, is likewise permissive rather than exclusive.” Slip op. at 18. “We understood Cortez Byrd[,]” said the Court, “to instruct us to ‘weave the various venue strands of the [Federal Arbitration] Act together into a seamless fabric which does not clash with other federal venue statutes.’” Slip op. at 18 (quoting Textile Unlimited, 240 F.3d at 784).

Fifth, the Court rejected the Competitor Firm’s argument that FAA Section 201 transformed Section 204 into a mandatory venue provision. Slip op. at 19-20. Section 201 states the “Convention. . .  shall be enforced in the United States courts in accordance with this chapter.” 9 U.S.C. § 201.

The Competitor Firm argued that the term “shall” in Section 201 rendered Section 204’s venue provision mandatory. The Competitor Firm relied on Johnson v. Payless Drug Stores Nw., Inc., 950 F.2d 586 (9th Cir. 1991), which held in a Title VII case that 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f) was a mandatory venue provision that superseded the General Venue Statute. But the Court explained that “Title VII. . . expressly provided that the venue ‘provisions of section 2000e-5(f) . . . shall govern’ employment discrimination actions.” ” Slip op. at 19-20 (quoting Johnson, 950 F.2d at 587). Johnson therefore concluded that the “language [of 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e-16(d)] ‘is mandatory.’” Slip op. at 19-20 (quoting Johnson, 950 F.2d at 587).

The Ninth Circuit distinguished the explicit statutory command of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d) from Section 204’s language, which it deemed not to be mandatory. Slip op. at 20.

Because the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, the parties did not dispute that venue was proper under the General Venue Statute, and because there were no other challenges to the petitions, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded “with instructions to enforce . . . [the Firm’s] petitions to compel [the Competitor Firm] and its partners to comply with the arbitral summonses.” Slip op. at 20-21.

Contacting the Author

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 various federal district and federal appellate courts.

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

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Corruption | Section 10(a)(2) | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

July 25th, 2022 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Procured by Fraud and Corruption, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Corruption in the Arbitrators, Corruption or Undue Means, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Corruption, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Corruption | Section 10(a)(2) | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

Introduction: Section 10(a)(2) Corruption 

corruptionThe focus of this Federal Arbitration Act Businessperson’s FAQ Guide is vacatur of awards under Section 10(a)(2) “where there was. . . corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them[.]” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). In recent posts (here, here, and here), we discussed how Section 10(a)(2) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes vacatur “where there was evident partiality. . . in the arbitrators, or either of them[.]” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). But Section 10(a)(2) authorizes vacatur not only for “evident partiality[,]” but also “where there was. . . corruption in the arbitrators. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2).

Section 10(a)(2) is not the only Section 10 vacatur ground that concerns corruption. Section 10(a)(1) authorizes vacatur where awards were “procured by corruption. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1) (emphasis added). We discussed Section 10(a)(1), and what constitutes an award “procured” by corruption, here. Much of that discussion pertains also to Section 10(a)(2) “corruption.”

There is substantial overlap between an award subject to vacatur because it was “procured” by corruption and one where the award is subject to vacatur because “there was. . . corruption in the arbitrators. . . [.]” See 9 U.S.C. §§ 10(a)(1) & (a)(2). If an award was, for example, procured by arbitrator corruption, then the arbitrators that participated in that corruption would, it seems, be corrupt, as well as the persons who participated in it, and Section 10(a)(1) and (a)(2) would both apply.

Section 10(a)(2) Corruption: the Second Circuit’s Decision in Kolel 

The Second Circuit in Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Trust, 729 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2013), addressed the standard for corruption under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). After describing the Second Circuit’s “reasonable person would have to conclude” test for Section 10(a)(2) evident partiality (which we’ve discussed here and here), Kolel said “we have not yet articulated the standard for vacating an award under the ‘corruption’ ground of § 10(a)(2).” 729 F.3d at 104.

Quoting Karppinen v. Karl Kiefer Mach. Co., 187 F.2d 32, 34 (2d Cir.1951)—which interpreted Section 10(a)(1)—Kolel said that under Section 10(a)(1) an award “‘must stand unless it is made abundantly clear that it was obtained through corruption, fraud, or undue means.’” 729 F.3d at 104 (quoting Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 34 (cleaned up)). “We therefore[,]” said Kolel, “hold that the same standard of Scandinavian [Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 60 (2d Cir. 2012)— in which the Second Circuit discussed the “reasonable person would have to conclude” evident partiality standard—] applies to this case.” 729 F.3d at 104. “Evidence of corruption[,]” added Kolel, “must be abundantly clear in order to vacate an award under § 10(a)(2).”

Kolel rejected the Section 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(2) corruption claims before it. The award challenger submitted the affidavit of a disinterested, non-party witness (“Non-Party Witness A”), which stated “that prior to the issuance of the award, [Non-Party Witness A] . . . overheard [the neutral arbitrator]. . . advising [Person B to]. . . ‘[t]ell [the president of the award defender] that [the award defender]. . . has to give [the neutral arbitrator] another week and [the award defender]. . . will receive a [ruling] in [the award defender’s]. . . favor.’” 729 F.3d at 105 (quoting affidavit) (cleaned up). The neutral arbitrator denied Non-Party Witness A’s account, claimed to be in another part of the state at the time the conservation allegedly took place, and said that Non-Party Witness A was biased against him because of an unrelated matter in which the neutral arbitrator and Non-Party Witness A were involved. See 729 F.3d at 105-06.

The award challenger also asserted, among other things, “that [the neutral arbitrator] purposely excluded. . . [the award challenger’s party-appointed arbitrator] from the arbitration, abruptly cut off their first witness. . . , and rushed the Panel to a premature decision before the presentation of evidence.” 729 F.3d at 105.

“Even assuming[,]” said the Second Circuit, “that. . . [the conversation between the neutral arbitrator and the third party] took place exactly as. . . [the witness] describes and construing all facts in [the award challenger’s] favor, this does not rise to the level of bias or corruption necessary to vacate an arbitration award under § 10(a)(2).” 729 F.3d at 106. The Court explained that “the conversation [was] not ‘direct’ or ‘definite’ evidence of bias, but simply the arbitrator’s statement of his opinion after several arbitration proceedings.” 729 F.3d at 106 (citation omitted). The Court cited and quoted Ballantine Books Inc. v. Capital Distrib. Co., 302 F.2d 17, 21 (2d Cir.1962), which stated “[w]hile it is better in most cases for arbitrators to be chary in expressing any opinion before they reach their ultimate conclusion, and to avoid discussing settlement, it does not follow that such expressions are proof of bias.”

The Court concluded that the award challenger “has failed to show any ‘abundantly clear’ evidence of corruption, 729 F.3d at 106, and “failed to suggest—let alone to prove—what, if anything, . . . [the neutral arbitrator] stood to gain or what special connection he had with. . . [the award defender] that would have given plausible reason to corrupt his decision.” 729 F.3d at 106-07.

Corruption under Section 10(a)(2): Questions to be Answered in the Future 

Kolel leaves open questions that may need to be addressed in future cases. For example, the Court said that the Scandinavian Re standard for assessing evident partiality under Section 10(a)(2) should also apply to corruption under Section 10(a)(2). Evident partiality does not require proof of actual bias; it is enough to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that a reasonable person would have to conclude an arbitrator is partial or biased. Can an award challenger establish “corruption in the arbitrators. . .” simply by showing by clear and convincing evidence that a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was guilty of corruption? Or must the challenger demonstrate “actual” corruption?

Another question is whether under Section 10(a)(2) there must be a nexus between the corruption and the award, and if so, what the nature and extent of that nexus must be. Under Section 10(a)(1), in addition to establishing “corruption, fraud or undue means” by clear and convincing evidence, a claimant must demonstrate “that that the fraud [, corruption or undue means] materially relates to an issue involved in the arbitration. . . .”  International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 519 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2003); 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); see Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 35.

As respects Section 10(a)(1)’s materiality requirement, Section 10(a)(1) states 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 under Section 10(a)(1) the conduct must “materially relate to an issue in the arbitration,” the Circuits are split on whether the fraud, corruption, or undue means must be outcome determinative—that is whether the party seeking relief must show that award would have been different but for the fraud, corruption, or undue means, or whether it is enough to show that the dishonest conduct tainted the award because it materially related to an issue in the arbitration. 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.

In evident partiality cases under Section 10(a)(2), it is enough to show that a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was partial to or biased against a party. Section 10(a)(2) also does not require that the award be “procured” by corruption or evident partiality; it is enough that there is “evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). The well-developed body of law concerning evident partiality does not purport to impose on the challenger any requirement to show that the partiality or bias would have changed the outcome. If evident partiality is present then the arbitration is tainted and the award must be vacated. (See our prior evident partiality posts here, here, and here.)

Although courts have not yet directly addressed the issue, we think that in Section 10(a)(2) corruption cases it should be enough that the corruption related to an issue involved in the arbitration and that it should be unnecessary to show that the outcome of the arbitration would have been different but for corruption. Cf. Odeon Capital, 864 F.3d at 196 (construing Section 10(a)(1)).

Another issue concerns waiver. In Section 10(a)(1) cases the challenger must show “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., Inc., 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. Evident partiality under Section 10(a)(2) is also subject to waiver. (See prior posts here, here, and here.)

It therefore makes sense for courts to require that in 10(a)(2) corruption cases award challengers show due diligence would not have revealed the corruption. If a court determines that due diligence is lacking, and that the challenging party consequently did not timely object to the arbitrators about the corruption, then the court should find that the challenger has waived its right to judicial review of the corruption.

Such a rule, of course, puts the objecting party in an awkward position before the arbitrators, but that is certainly the case in Section 10(a)(1) corruption cases, as well as in evident partiality cases and others where due diligence and timely objections are required. The point of requiring objections to be made to the arbitrators is ostensibly to provide an opportunity for the arbitrators to address, and if possible, cure the problem, thereby preventing the need for post-award court intervention. Of course, requiring due diligence and objections also serves to reduce the number of award challenges that courts must resolve on their merits, even if that might result in some determinations that may seem harsh or unjust to some.

What’s Next?

The next Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide will address Section 10(a)(3) of the FAA, which authorizes vacatur for prejudicial, procedural misconduct.

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 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 various federal district and federal appellate courts.

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

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2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb?

July 18th, 2022 Amount in Controversy, Applicability of Federal Arbitration Act, Application to Appoint Arbitrator, Application to Compel Arbitration, Application to Stay Litigation, Arbitrability, Arbitral Subpoenas, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Agreements, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Equal Footing Principle, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Transportation Worker Exemption, Federal Arbitration Act Section 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 11, Federal Arbitration Act Section 2, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Arbitration Act Section 5, Federal Arbitration Act Section 7, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Federal Courts, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Federal Question, Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction, International Arbitration, International Judicial Assistance, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Look Through, Modify or Correct Award, Moses Cone Principle, Petition or Application to Confirm Award, Petition to Compel Arbitration, Petition to Modify Award, Petition to Vacate Award, Policy, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, Richard D. Faulkner, Section 10, Section 11, Section 1782, Section 3 Stay of Litigation, Section 5, Section 6, Section 7, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, State Arbitration Law, Statutory Interpretation and Construction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Substantive Arbitrability, Textualism, United States Supreme Court, Vacatur, Waiver of Arbitration Comments Off on 2021 Term SCOTUS Arbitration Cases: Is the Pro-Arbitration Tide Beginning to Ebb?

Introduction: This Term’s SCOTUS Arbitration Cases 

SCOTUS FAA CasesThe 2021 Term was a busy and controversial one for the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) regarding abortion, First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, and administrative agency power.  However, many may not know SCOTUS decided four Federal Arbitration Act cases during the 2021 Term (the “FAA Cases”), as well as a pair of cases consolidated into one concerning whether U.S. Courts may provide under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 judicial assistance to international arbitration panels sited abroad. See Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, 596 U. S. ____, No. 20–1573, slip op. (June 15, 2022) (construing FAA); ZF Automotive US, Inc., et al. v. Luxshare, Ltd., 596 U.S. ___, No. 21–401, slip op. (June 13, 2022) (construing 28 U.S.C. § 1782); Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, 596 U.S. ___, No. 21-309, slip op. (June 6, 2022) (construing FAA); Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., 596 U.S. ___, No. 21-328, slip op. (May 23, 2022) (construing FAA); Badgerow v. Walters, 596 U.S. ___, No. 20-1143, slip op. (March 31, 2022) (construing FAA).  

Three of the SCOTUS FAA Cases, Badgerow, Morgan, and Southwest Airlines signal SCOTUS’s apparent intention to construe strictly the Federal Arbitration Act’s text without indulging in any pro-arbitration presumptions or applying arbitration-specific rules intentionally encouraging arbitration-friendly outcomes. ZF Automotive, the 28 U.S.C. § 1782 judicial-assistance case also  employed a strict, textualist approach to interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1782, used the FAA to help support its conclusion, and held that 28 U.S.C. § 1782 did not authorize U.S. district courts to provide judicial assistance to private arbitration panels sited abroad—an outcome not particularly solicitous of international arbitration. It is therefore at least indirectly supportive of the more textually oriented and arbitration-neutral approach SCOTUS appears to have endorsed with special force during the 2021 Term.  

The SCOTUS 2021 Term FAA Cases are not the first ones in which the Court applied textualist interpretations to the FAA. There are others. See, e.g., New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, ___ U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 532 (2019) (discussed here and here). But common themes in three of those FAA Cases—echoed in ZF Automotive —suggest a marked trend by the Court to interpret the FAA in a less expansive manner that is not presumptively arbitration friendly. The expression of these common themes in four cases decided in a single term is particularly significant because Morgan, Southwest Airlines, and ZF Automotive were decided unanimously by all participating Justices and Badgerow was decided 8-1, with now retired Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissenting.  

Many previous FAA SCOTUS decisions of the last three or four decades have been very indulgent of arbitration. The Court encouraged arbitration proliferation far beyond B-2-B commercial and industry arbitration between sophisticated and resource-laden entities of roughly equal bargaining power.  Arbitration was introduced into consumer and employment disputes and other disputes involving persons (including businesses) of vastly disparate resources and sophistication. SCOTUS made arbitration agreements readily enforceable, interpreted them expansively in favor of arbitration, limited defenses to arbitration agreements and awards, and promoted arbitration to make it, at least in the eyes of some, an attractive alternative to litigation. Critics challenged that view and assailed arbitration as “do it yourself court reform.”  The SCOTUS arbitration decisions developed and implemented an expansive federal policy in favor of arbitration and a presumption of arbitrability and championed a very pro-arbitration approach to arbitration law in general.  

That SCOTUS, the lower federal courts, and eventually even the skeptical state courts that are bound by its FAA decisions, have been solicitous and supportive of arbitration is unsurprising. The assumed (but not necessarily realized) benefits of arbitration have long been touted by academics and promoted by business and industry representatives.  Of course, courts have for many years recognized that arbitration helps reduce docket congestion, which was exacerbated by COVID and remains a problem today, even with the help of proliferated arbitration proceedings. Arbitral dispute resolution is also a very impressive business sector in and of itself, generating billions in revenues for law firms, arbitrators, and arbitration providers. It therefore has many proponents.  

But Badgerow, Morgan, Southwest Airlines, and ZF Automotive suggest that SCOTUS is rethinking its prior expansive, and highly-arbitration-friendly approach to the FAA and might be more willing to entertain seriously arguments for interpreting: (a) arbitration agreements less expansively, and more like ordinary contracts; and (b) Sections 10 and 11 of the FAA strictly according to their text and not in an exceedingly narrow manner designed to encourage, arbitration-award-favoring outcomes. These cases may also embolden lower courts, especially the state courts, to do the same. Continue Reading »

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.

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

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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.  

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