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Posts Tagged ‘Manifest Disregard of the Law’

Arbitration Law FAQ Guide: Challenging Arbitration Awards under the Federal Arbitration Act

September 9th, 2018 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration 3 Comments »

Introduction

This two-part Arbitration Law FAQ guide is designed to provide individuals and businesses with a basic overview of what the Federal Arbitration Act has to say about challenging arbitration awards in court. This is Part I and Part II is here.

It assumes that the award is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act; the challenge is made in a federal district court having subject matter and personal jurisdiction; and venue is proper.

This guide is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. If you are an individual or business which wants or has to challenge or defend an arbitration award, or make an application to confirm the award, then you should consult with an attorney or firm that has experience and expertise in arbitration law matters.

  1. I just received an arbitration award against me, which I believe is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”). Does the FAA allow me to appeal the award to a court?

Challenging Arbitration Awards 1

Challenging Arbitration Awards 1

You cannot—at least in any meaningful sense of the word—“appeal” an FAA-governed arbitration award to a court. An appeal involves judicial review by an appellate court under which a panel of judges reviews trial-court rulings on questions of law independently—that is, as if the appellate court were deciding the question for itself in the first instance. The appellate court generally reviews the trial court’s findings of fact on a “clearly erroneous” or “clear error” standard of review, that is, paying a certain degree of deference to the finder of fact (the jury or, in a bench trial, the judge). Appellate review of a court decision is thus fairly broad and searching, particularly where outcomes turn solely on questions of law.

When a person agrees to arbitrate it gives up the right to appellate review, which focuses on issues relating to the merits of the case the court decided or on important litigation-procedure rulings.

  1. Does the FAA permit a party to challenge an arbitration award?

Challenging Arbitration Awards 2

Challenging Arbitration Awards 2

The Federal Arbitration Act provides some limited remedies for challenging arbitration awards where a party can show certain kinds of unusual and material violations of an arbitration agreement by an arbitrator or an opposing party, or an obvious mathematical, typographical, or technical error that appears on the face of the award. The remedies are orders: (a) modifying or correcting the award; or (b) vacating the award in whole or in part.

To vacate an award means to annul it, that is, to declare it null and void. When an award is vacated, then the parties generally must (absent a settlement) go back and re-arbitrate the matters that were the subject of the award.  When an award is modified or corrected, the correction or modification may be made by the court, or the court may remand the matter back to the arbitrators for that purpose. Continue Reading »

Eighth Circuit: Arbitrator did not Disregard Parties’ Missouri Choice-of-Law Provision

August 19th, 2018 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Exceeding Powers, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Comments Off on Eighth Circuit: Arbitrator did not Disregard Parties’ Missouri Choice-of-Law Provision

Introduction

Choice-of-Law Provision 1

Choice-of-Law Provision 1

A choice-of-law provision is as much a part of a parties’ contract as any other, and an arbitrator might manifiestly disregard the parties’ contractual choice-of-law, which might provide grounds for vacating the award under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). But, as well-illustrated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eigth Circuit’s decision in Beumer Corp. v. ProEnergy Servs., LLC, ___ F.3d ____, slip op. (8th Cir. August 8, 2018), the circumstances that might justify such a decision would be very unusual, to say the least.

Beumer Corp. v. ProEnergy Servs., LLC

Choice-of-Law Provision 2

Choice-of-Law Provision 2

Owner and Contractor had a construction contract that contained an arbitration agreement, limitation-of-liability, provision, and a Missouri choice-of-law clause. The Owner complained that the Contractor’s work was deficient and, accordingly, no payment was due. The Contractor commenced arbitration for the amount due under the contract and the Owner counterclaimed for damages.

The parties disputed the scope and enforceability of their contract’s limitation of liability provision, which stated:

Notwithstanding any of the foregoing or any other term in this Contract, the total liability of Contractor for any loss, indemnity, damage or delay of any kind will not under any circumstances exceed 100% of the Contract Sum.

The contract contained a broad Missouri choice-of-law clause, and provided that a prevailing party could collect its attorney’s fees.

The Award

Choice-of-Law Provision 3

Choice-of-Law Provision 3

The Arbitrator ruled that the clause was enforceable, that the Contract Sum (i.e., the liability cap) was $699,702.39., and that the terms “loss, indemnity, damage or delay of any kind” did not include the prevailing party’s contractual right to attorney fees. The Arbitrator thus awarded Beumer: (a) $699,702.39 in damages; (b) $191,680.14 in pre-judgment interest; (c) post-judgment interest at 9%; and (d) $916,027.90 in attorney’s fees and expenses.

On its motion to vacate the Award the Contractor did not dispute that the Arbitrator “arguably construed” the limitation of liability clause, but contended that the Arbitrator exceeded its powers by “disregarding” the Missouri choice-of-law clause, because: (a) the Arbitrator relied on caselaw from four jurisdictions outside of Missouri to support his construction of the limitation of liability provision as exclusive of costs and attorney fees, and did not cite any Missouri decisions on this construction question; and (b) the Contractor claimed that the Missouri cases required a cost-inclusive interpretation of the clause, not a cost-plus one.

The Arbitrator did not Disregard the Choice-of-Law Provision

Choice-of-Law Provision 4

Choice-of-Law Provision 4

Did the Arbitrator exceed his powers by ruling that the limitation of liability clause did not limit liability for contractual attorney fees? The Eighth Circuit, in a well-reasoned decision, said the answer was “no.” Continue Reading »

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

August 3rd, 2018 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Exceeding Powers, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 1 Comment »
Final Award 2 - yay-15399450

Final Award 2

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

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

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

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

Final Award 1 - yay-1618918-digital

Final Award 1

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

First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

May 1st, 2015 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Choice-of-Law Provisions, Confirmation of Awards, Federal Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, Securities Arbitration, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Comments Off on First Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Close Case in Favor of Confirming FINRA Arbitration Panel Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Fenyk

Introduction

Probably most of the Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) outcome-review challenges that parties file are disposed of pretty easily because the applicable highly-deferential standard of review forecloses relief as long as the arbitrators were at least arguably interpreting the parties’ agreement, the applicable law or both. The most challenging cases are those falling either on or close to that imaginary, blurry line dividing arguable interpretation from clear disregard of the contract.  CfChicago Typographical Union v. Chicago Sun-Times, 935 F.2d 1501, 1506 (7th Cir. 1991) (“The zanier the award, the less plausible it becomes to ascribe it to a mere error in interpretation rather than to a willful disregard of the contract. This approach can make the line between error and usurpation waver.”).

yay-14640034-digitalIn Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v.  Corp. v. Fenyk, No. 14-1252, slip op. (3rd Cir. Mar. 11, 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addressed one of those challenging cases. The panel in a FINRA arbitration (the “FINRA Arbitration Panel” or “Panel”) awarded a discharged stock broker $600,000.00 in back pay for wrongful termination, but the district court vacated the arbitration award because it concluded that the FINRA Arbitration Panel did not have the authority to award back pay in the circumstances. On appeal the First Circuit reversed, explaining in clear and cogent terms why the case, while close, was not one warranting Section 10(a)(4) vacatur.

Facts

Mr. Fenyk served as a Raymond James Financial Services (“Raymond James” or “James”) securities broker for seven years. His career there began in New York City, but he worked in Vermont beginning in 2004, managing a small branch office. He had an independent contractor agreement with Raymond James, entitled “Independent Sales Associate Agreement,” which stipulated that Florida law would govern any disputes. He also executed a Business Ethics Policy, which required him to arbitrate disputes “arising out of the independent contractor relationship.”

yay-17336082-digitalIn May 2009 Raymond James, during a routine client-communication review, discovered an e-mail sent to Fenyk’s former domestic partner, which suggested that Fenyk had an alcohol problem.  The e-mail referred to “Fenyk’s ‘slip’ and his ‘need [for] meetings and real sobriety for a dialoug [sic] with you.'” The e-mail also explained that “Fenyk’s ‘new AA friend was very hard on [him] last night.'” Slip op. at 3.

Raymond James terminated its relationship with Fenyk after it learned about Fenyk’s apparent alcohol problem. About  two years later, Fenyk filed suit “in Vermont state court alleging that he had been fired on account of his sexual orientation and his status as a recovering a recovering alcoholic, in violation of Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act (“VFEPA”), Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 495.” Slip op. at 4. Fenyk subsequently agreed to dismiss his complaint and commence a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration, as required by his agreement with Raymond James. Continue Reading »

The First Department Affirm’s Citigroup’s Motion to Vacate an Award based on Manifest Disregard of the Law

April 22nd, 2015 Appellate Practice, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Manifest Disregard of the Law, New York Court of Appeals, New York State Courts, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Comments Off on The First Department Affirm’s Citigroup’s Motion to Vacate an Award based on Manifest Disregard of the Law

yay-1274371Earlier this month, New York’s Appellate Division, First Department affirmed a New York County Supreme Court, Commercial Division judgment vacating an arbitration award for manifest disregard of the law under the Federal Arbitration Act. See Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. v. Fiorilla, No. 14-747, slip op. (1st Dep’t April 9, 2015). The Court’s characteristically brief opinion does not delve very deeply into the facts or explain the Court’s reasoning in detail, but there’s enough there to make the decision worth noting.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s order vacating the award because the arbitrators apparently denied without explanation one of the parties’ motions to enforce a settlement even though the moving party informed the arbitrators of controlling, New York case law requiring the enforcement of settlement agreements. “Although,” said the Court, “arbitrators have no obligation to explain their awards, when a reviewing court is inclined to hold that an arbitration panel manifestly disregarded the law, the failure of the arbitrators to explain the award can be taken into account.” Slip op. at 1 (citing and quoting Matter of Spear, Leeds & Kellogg v. Bullseye Sec., 291 A.D.2d 255, 256 (1st Dep’t 2002) (quotations omitted)).

While the Court does not directly address the question, it appears that the case arose under the Federal Arbitration Act, because cases interpreting arbitration statute (CPLR Article 75) do not recognize “manifest disregard of the law” as a ground for vacating an award. Under Article 75, the only “outcome review” standards are those that permit vacatur of awards that are irrational, violate a strong public policy or exceed clearly an express limitation on the arbitrators’ authority. See, e.g., Wein & Malkin LLP v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 6 N.Y.3d 471, 477-78 (2006); Matter of New York City Transit Auth. v. Transport Workers’ Union of Am., 6 N.Y.3d 332, 336 (2005).

New York cases interpreting the Federal Arbitration Act, however, recognize manifest disregard as a ground for vacating an award. While New York state courts need defer only to the United States Supreme C0urt on federal-law questions, the New York Court of Appeals has traditionally tended to follow established Second Circuit precedent on such issues in Federal Arbitration Act cases. Since the Second Circuit recognizes manifest disregard of the law as a ground for vacating an award under Section 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act, so too have the New York State courts, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has left the question open. See Hall Street Associates, LLC v. Mattel, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 1396, 1403 (2008); see, e.g., T. Co Metals v. Dempsey Pipe & Supply, 592 F.3d 329, 339-40 (2d Cir. 2010) (manifest disregard of the law survives Hall Street); Wein, 6 N.Y.3d at 480-81 (pre-Hall Street New York Court of Appeals follows Second Circuit authority on manifest disregard of the law in Federal Arbitration Act governed case); Tullett Prebon Financial Serv. v. BGC Financial, L.P., 111 A.D.3d 480, 481-82 (1st Dep’t 2013) (applying manifest disregard of the law standard to Federal Arbitration Act governed case post-Hall Street).

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One question the First Department decision prompts is whether resort to manifest disregard of the law was even necessary. The U.S. Supreme Court has unequivocally endorsed post-Hall Street what some refer to in shorthand as the “manifest disregard of the agreement” standard, or “essence from the agreement” standard, under which a court may vacate an award where the arbitrators do not even arguably interpret the agreement. See Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S. Ct. 2064, 2098 (2013); Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758, 1767 (2010).

Presumably what happened in this case (though the opinion does not say) is that the parties had an agreement that contained an arbitration agreement, and the dispute arose out of or related to that main agreement. One or both parties demanded arbitration, the parties agreed to settle and one of the parties sought to enforce that agreement, which obviously arose out of or related to the main agreement, and was within the scope of issues that the parties agreed to submit and submitted to arbitration.

Under these circumstances it makes little sense to say that the manifest disregard of the agreement standard does not apply because the agreement that was manifestly disregarded was not the main agreement. And if, as the Court said, the arbitrators simply denied the motion to enforce the settlement agreement without comment, it seems to us that it did not even arguably interpret the settlement agreement and thus manifestly disregarded the parties’ agreement.

The opinion, however, relies solely on manifest disregard of the law. Given the uncertainty surrounding whether manifest disregard is a viable ground for vacatur, and the corresponding certainty that manifest disregard of the agreement is a valid basis for vacating an award under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, that sole reliance has the potential to cause relying solely on that standard without any explanation might confuse litigants who are not well-versed in Federal Arbitration Act practice and procedure. We are quite certain, however, that was not the Court’s intention, and there may well be good reasons why the court did not rely on manifest disregard of the agreement as at least an alternative basis for its sound conclusion.

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

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

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

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

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Armstrong Arbitration Award

Part III.A: What are the Issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

July 19th, 2013 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. at 4-5 (U.S. June 10, 2013) (Kagan, J.), unanimously reaffirmed that Section 10(a)(4) of the FAA authorizes courts to vacate awards that are not even arguably based on an interpretation of the parties’ agreement.

While the Court broke no new ground, Associate Justice Elena Kagan’s well-written opinion—together with Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito’s opinion in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010)—defines in fairly clear terms the scope of contract-based judicial review Section 10(a)(4) authorizes. Justice Kagan’s opinion raises not only some issues specific to class and consolidated arbitration, but also some relevant to Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)-governed arbitration in general. Continue Reading »

The Agency Model of Arbitral Power: University of Chicago Law School Law and Economics Professor Tom Ginsburg Explains Why Deferential Review Does Not Necessarily Make Arbitration an Effective Substitute for Adjudication

April 7th, 2010 Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on The Agency Model of Arbitral Power: University of Chicago Law School Law and Economics Professor Tom Ginsburg Explains Why Deferential Review Does Not Necessarily Make Arbitration an Effective Substitute for Adjudication

In George Watts & Son v. Tiffany & Co., 248 F.3d 577 (7th Cir. 2001), then Circuit Judge (now Chief Judge) Frank H. Easterbrook of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said:   “What the parties may do, the arbitrator as their mutual agent may do.”  248 F.3d at 581.   Chief Judge Easterbrook made this statement in the course of defining the “manifest disregard” standard of review.  Applying his “agency model,” he concluded that “the ‘manifest disregard’ principle is limited to two possibilities:  an arbitral order requiring the parties to violate the law.  .  . , and an arbitral order that does not adhere to the legal principles specified by contract, and hence unenforceable under § 10(a)(4).”   Id

Chief Judge Easterbrook’s “agency” model of arbitral authority is instructive.  Just as agents derive their authority by the consent of the principal (subject to the rules of apparent and implied authority), arbitrators derive their authority from the parties via the arbitration agreement and the submission.  Subject to any restrictions in the arbitration agreement, the arbitrators’ powers to resolve a dispute under a broad arbitration agreement are arguably co-extensive with those of the parties that appointed them. 

But the model is not perfect.  First, unlike agents, arbitrators are not subject to the control of their principals and owe them no fiduciary duties.  Second, analogizing arbitrators as agents of the parties in the way Chief Judge Easterbrook does effectively empowers arbitrators not only to decide cases, but to negotiate settlements that the parties could have entered into.  It therefore does not require arbitrators to even arguably interpret the contract or apply the law:  As long as the arbitrators do not require the parties to violate the law, and as long as the arbitrators are at least arguably faithful to the parties’ expressed choice-of-law, if any, they can reach whatever decision they wish, whether by application of facts to legal norms or by a compromise settlement that may or may not be rooted in the parties’ agreement.    That arguably does not comport with the parties’ presumed, legitimate expectations.  For the arbitrator’s job is to decide cases; settlement is a matter for the parties, and should be subject to the parties’ control. 

University of Chicago Law School Professor Tom Ginsburg has written an excellent white paper that argues that the deferential standard of review espoused by Watts and other courts does not necessarily make arbitration an attractive substitute for litigation.  See Tom Ginsburg, John M. Olin Law & Economics Working Paper No. 502 (2d Series), The Arbitrator as Agent: Why Deferential Review Is Not Always Pro-Arbitration  (Dec. 2009) (copy available here).  He argues that a more searching standard of review would make the market for arbitrators more transparent, and thus more effective.  He advocates using Chief Judge Easterbrook’s agency model as an analytical framework for allowing parties to choose whether they prefer a very deferential standard of review, like that prescribed in Watts; something akin to de novo review, like that available in litigation; or something in between the two.  Professor Ginsburg is in the process of publishing in the University of Chicago Law Review an article based on his white paper. Continue Reading »

Fourth Circuit Vacates Securities Arbitration Award: Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Bishop

March 2nd, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Securities Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 1 Comment »

I.  Introduction

Arbitration is not a perfect process for resolving disputes, but neither is court adjudication.  One advantage of court adjudication is a fairly rigorous standard of review:  appellate courts generally review the trial court’s factual findings for clear error and legal conclusions de novo.  By contrast, courts review arbitration awards under the very deferential standards of review prescribed by Sections 10 and 11 of the Federal Arbitration Act.  The trade-off is one of informality, speed and reduced expense for a heightened risk that the decision maker will commit unreviewable legal and factual errors — even some pretty egregious ones.   

But every so often an arbitration award can be so far off the mark that one of the parties is deprived of the benefit of the bargain it made when it agreed to arbitrate.  These are not cases where the arbitrators merely did a shoddy job, but ones where the arbitrators did not do the job the parties asked them to do.  These are the cases that Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act was designed to address:  ones where “the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final award on the subject matter was not made.” 

Today we take a brief look at Raymond James Financial Serv., Inc. v. Bishop, ___ F.3d ___, No. 09-1038, slip op. (4th Cir. Feb. 22, 2010), a recent example of one of those rare cases.  And we’ll see how how confusion about the scope of Section 10(a)(4) resulting – quite unintentionally – from the United States Supreme Court decision in Hall Street Assoc., L.L.C. v. Mattel , Inc, 552 U.S. ___, slip op. at __ (March 25, 2008) apparently motivated the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to decide the case solely on the ground that the arbitrators were not authorized to rule on the claim on which they admittedly based their award.  (See, generally,Hall Street Meets Pearl Street: Stolt-Nielsen and the Federal Arbitration Act’s New Section 10(a)(4).”)

The Court reached the right result, but its decision is of limited utility in future cases.  For under many broad arbitration agreements and submissions the arbitrators have authority to rule on pretty much any claim that is related to the subject matter of the  parties’ dispute.  Abitrators may have the authority to resolve a claim, but may do so in a way that has not even a barely colorable justification under the law and facts.   

We would have liked to see the Court rule not only on the authority issue, but also on two other grounds relied upon by the district court:  manifest disregard of the law and the award’s failure to “draw its essence” from the parties’ agreements.  As we have said before, we believe that those grounds are statutorily permitted by Section 10(a)(4), and that they provide a useful safety valve for addressing those (thankfully) rare cases where the arbitrators resolve a dispute within the scope of their authority, but do so in a way that completely deprives one of the parties of the benefit of its arbitration agreement.    Continue Reading »