main image

Posts Tagged ‘Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter’

Class Arbitration, Absent Class Members, and Class Certification Awards: Consent or Coercion?

January 6th, 2020 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Authority of Arbitrators, Class Action Arbitration, Class Arbitration - Class Certification Awards, Clause Construction Award, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Consent to Class Arbitration, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, First Principle - Consent not Coercion, Practice and Procedure, Rights and Obligations of Nonsignatories, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit No Comments »
absent class members | class arbitration

On November 29, 2019 we posted Absent Class Members, Class Arbitration, Class Certification Awards, Consent, Coercion, and the Second Circuit, which discussed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 18-153-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. November 18, 2019) (“Jock IV”).

In Jock IV the Second Circuit reversed a district court order vacating an arbitrator’s class certification award, which the district court vacated because it made tens of thousands of absent class members part of a certified class even though none: (a) was a party to the class arbitration; (b) opted in to the proposed class; or (c) participated in or otherwise consented to the class arbitration. The Second Circuit held it was enough that the absent class members, like all other employees, had executed an identical, form pre-dispute arbitration agreement (the “Agreement”), which required the absent class members to submit, among other things, arbitrability and arbitration procedure disputes to arbitration.

Absent Class Members: The Federal Arbitration Act’s First Principle and Consent to Class Arbitration

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)’s “first principle” is that “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80, 684 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted); see, e.g., Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 1417 (2019); Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 295 & n.7, 294 n.6 (2010); AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U. S. 643, 648 (1986).

Beginning in Stolt-Nielsen,and most recently in Lamps Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized the importance of consent to class arbitration. In Stolt-Nielsen, the Court required a “contractual basis” for imposing class arbitration, and explained that “[a]n implicit agreement to authorize class arbitration, however, is not a term that the arbitrator may infer solely from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.” 599 U.S. at 685.  

Most recently, in Lamps Plus the Court imposed a federal presumption against consent to class arbitration under which silent or ambiguous contract language cannot establish consent to class arbitration, and under which the FAA is deemed to preempt state-law contract interpretation rules that are not intent-based—such as contra proferentem, the rule that ambiguities are, at least in the absence of any other extrinsic evidence of intent, construed against the contract’s drafter. See Lamps Plus,139 S. Ct. at 1416-19.

The Lamps Plus presumption requires more than simply “a contractual basis” for finding consent to class arbitration. As a practical matter it means that the parties must clearly and unmistakably consent to class arbitration. (See, e.g., our Lamps Plus post, here.)

What does the Agreement Have to Say About Class Arbitration?

The Agreement is a form dispute resolution agreement that was signed by each of an employer (the “Employer”)’s many employees. By signing the Agreement the signatory Employer and employee agreed to arbitrate their disputes, “waiv[ed] [their] right to obtain any legal or equitable relief . . . through any government agency or court, and . . . also waiv[e] [their] right to commence any court action.”

The Agreement provides that the employee “may. . . seek and be awarded equal remedy” under the Agreement, that “‘[t]he Arbitrator shall have the power to award any types of legal or equitable relief that would be available in a court of competent jurisdiction[,]’ and that any claim arising thereunder will be arbitrated ‘in accordance with the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association.’” Jock IV, slip op. at 4 (citations omitted).

The Agreement does not purport to be, or evidence consent to, a multi-lateral agreement – i.e., a collective Agreement between the employer and all the tens of thousands of other employees. Employees signing the Agreement do not purport to assign rights or delegate duties to other nonsignatory employees, nor do they purport to confer any authority upon any nonsignatory employees to arbitrate, or otherwise act on behalf of, the signatory employee.

The Agreement did not mention class arbitration, although the Arbitrator found in a June 1, 2009 Clause Construction Award, that the Agreement implicitly permitted class arbitration. In 2011 the Second Circuit in Jock I ruled that the arbitrator’s award should have been confirmed because, by finding that the language of the agreement implicitly permitted class arbitration, the arbitrator had at least arguably interpreted the contract.

The Jock IV Court said that the absent class members were bound by the Clause Construction Award even though they were never parties to the class arbitration, the Clause Construction Award, the certification award, or any of the Federal Arbitration Act enforcement proceedings (including Jock I, II, III, or IV, or any of the district court proceedings), and even though they never opted in to the class or otherwise consented to any of the arbitration or arbitration-related proceedings.

The Jock IV Court said that was so because each of the absent class members had signed an Agreement identical to the ones signed by the class representatives and employees who had opted into the class, and had agreed to submit arbitrability disputes to an arbitrator.

Further, said the Court, the absent class members could not collaterally attack the Clause Construction Award because the Agreement clearly and unmistakably authorized an arbitrator to decide both arbitrability questions and questions concerning procedure. Consequently, the absent class members were not entitled to a de novo determination of whether they consented to class arbitration, which, under Lamps Plus, would require the class arbitration proponents to demonstrate that the parties clearly and unmistakably consented to class arbitration.

What Result if the Court Determined the Class Arbitration Consent Issue on a De Novo Basis?

To test the soundness of the Jock IV Court’s conclusion, let’s assume that the Court should have determined on a de novo basis whether the absent class members consented to class arbitration, or, alternatively, whether the absent class members consented to be bound by Clause Construction and certification awards, which were made by arbitrators the absent class members had no part in selecting, and to which those absent class members did not consent after being given an opportunity to opt in to the class.

Lamps Plus requires clear and unmistakable consent to class arbitration. There is no possibility the arbitration agreements signed by the parties could satisfy that demanding requirement. As Jock I demonstrates, at most the Agreement was susceptible to an interpretation under which one might infer implied consent to class arbitration. But it was also susceptible to one or more other interpretations under which it contemplated only bilateral arbitration.

It was therefore ambiguous, and were the Court to have analyzed class arbitration consent on a de novo basis under Lamps Plus standard, then the Court would presumably have determined that the absent class members did not consent to class arbitration and therefore could not be made part of a class.

Did the Jock IV Court Err by Deeming the Absent Class Members to be Bound by the Clause Construction Award?   

The soundness of Jock IV thus depends on whether the absent class members’ signing of arbitration agreements identical to those signed by the Jock class representatives and opt-in class members can legitimately be construed to evidence their consent to be bound by a nearly-decade-old Clause Construction Award decided (a) by an arbitrator they played no part in selecting under (b) a legal standard that has been superceded by a 2019 United States Supreme Court decision (Lamps Plus). 

Continue Reading »

Absent Class Members, Class Arbitration, Class Certification Awards, Consent, Coercion, and the Second Circuit

November 29th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Confirm Award | Exceeding Powers, Consent to Class Arbitration, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 1 Comment »
absent class members

While federal, and many state, courts have class-action procedural rules that permit them to bind absent class members to a judgment or settlement, arbitration is different because it is based on party consent, not coercion. While the critical, threshold issues presented in class arbitration is party consent to class arbitration, class certification disputes arising out of a class arbitration proceeding can be just as challenging, especially when they involve absent class members who have not opted in to the proposed or certified class (“absent class members” or “absent members”).

Suppose Employer A requires each of its employees to sign a form arbitration agreement that clearly and unmistakably authorizes the arbitrator to decide all disputes arising out of or relating to the employment relationship as well as arbitrability and procedural issues. More than 250 employees (including putative class representatives) assert that an arbitrator (the “Arbitrator”) should determine whether Employer A consented to class arbitration. Employer A submits that issue to the Arbitrator.

The Arbitrator hears and considers the evidence and arguments and makes a Clause Construction Award, which rules that Employer A and each of the employees consented to class arbitration by signing the employment agreement. Employer A challenges the award as exceeding the arbitrator’s powers under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, but the challenge fails because an appellate court finds that the Arbitrator was at least arguably construing the employment agreement. .

After further proceedings the Arbitrator makes another award, this one certifying a class consisting of approximately 44,000 employees, which included not only the more than 250 persons who were either class representatives or opted in to the class, but also tens of thousands of persons who were absent class members in the sense that they had been notified of the class arbitration and proposed class but had not opted in to the class and had not otherwise appeared in the arbitration proceedings.  

Did the Arbitrator have the power to make that class certification award, which purports to bind each of the 44,000 class members, the vast majority of whom were never parties to the arbitration and had never submitted to the Arbitrator any of the issues that were decided by the Arbitrator’s Clause Construction and class certification awards?  

On November 18, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the answer to that question was “yes.”  But with all due respect to the Second Circuit, and understanding that reasonable minds can and do differ on this subject, we think the better answer would have been “no.”

This post briefly discusses the Second Circuit’s decision.

A subsequent post will explain why we believe the Second Circuit should have held that the arbitrator in that case did not have the authority to bind absent class members, who were not parties to the Clause Construction Award, did not opt into the class, did not otherwise agree to be bound by the Clause Construction Award or the class certification award, and did not otherwise submit to the Arbitrator the issues decided by the Clause Construction and class certification Awards.

 The result would be that the class arbitration could proceed, albeit with a far smaller, certified class (which might be expanded to accommodate any absent members who might be given an additional opportunity to opt-in). But that result, we think, is consistent with the consensual nature of arbitration— a dispute resolution method that is fundamentally different from its coercive counterpart, court litigation.   

Absent Class Members: Background and Procedural History of Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc.

The Second Circuit’s recent decision was the fourth appeal in the Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. case, a long-running class arbitration dispute. The first of these appeals,  Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc., 646 F.3d 113 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Jock I”), was decided in 2011—the most recent one, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., No. 18-153-cv, slip op. (2d Cir. November 18, 2019) (“Jock IV”), and the subject of this post, was decided November 18, 2019.

Jock and her co-plaintiffs are retail sales employees of Sterling Jewelers, Inc. (“Sterling”). Back in 2008 they sought relief on behalf of a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and under the Equal Pay Act, alleging Sterling, based on their gender, paid them less than their similarly situated male co-workers. 

Sterling employees, including Jock and her co-plaintiffs were required to sign a “RESOLVE Program” agreement (the “Agreement”), which imposed mandatory arbitration. By executing the agreement employees expressly “waiv[ed] right[s] to obtain any legal or equitable relief . . . through any government agency or court, and . . . also waiv[ed] [their] right[s] to commence any court action.” The Agreement provided that they “may. . . seek and be awarded equal remedy through the RESOLVE Program.”

The Agreement provided that “[t]he Arbitrator shall have the power to award any types of legal or equitable relief that would be available in a court of competent jurisdiction[,]” and that any claim arising thereunder will be arbitrated “in accordance with the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes of the American Arbitration Association.”

Class arbitration ensued, and the arbitrator construed the Agreement to permit class arbitration. The district court overturned the award on the ground that the class construction award exceeded under the arbitrator’s powers for the reasons stated in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010).

Jock I

But the Second Circuit in Jock I reversed the district court’s judgment. As the Court explained in Jock IV, the Jock I Court “reversed, holding that the District Court impermissibly substituted its own legal analysis for that of the arbitrator instead of focusing its inquiry on whether the arbitrator was permitted to reach the question of class arbitrability that had been submitted to her by the parties.” Jock IV, slip op. at 5-6. The Jock I Court also “explained. . . that the arbitrator had a colorable justification under the law to reach the decision she did.” Jock IV, slip op. at 6.

Jock I “distinguished Stolt-Nielsen on the ground that the parties in Stolt-Nielsen stipulated that their arbitration agreement contained ‘no agreement’ on the issue of class arbitration, whereas the plaintiffs in [Jock I] merely conceded that there was no explicit agreement to permit class arbitration, thus leaving open the possibility of an ‘implied agreement to permit arbitration.’”  Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (citation omitted). 

The Class Certification Award

After Jock I the arbitrator made a class certification award, certifying a class of “approximately 44,000 women, comprising the then-254 plaintiffs as well as other individuals who had neither submitted claims nor opted in to the arbitration proceeding (‘the absent class members’).” Jock IV, slip op. at 6 (parenthetical in original). The arbitrator’s class certification was limited to those with Title VII disparate impact claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The district court denied Sterling’s motion to vacate the certification award. As Jock IV explains, the district court reasoned “that Sterling’s argument that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers in ‘purporting to bind absent class members who did not express their consent to be bound’ was ‘foreclosed by’ this Court’s holding in Jock I that ‘there is no question that the issue of whether the agreement permitted class arbitration was squarely presented to the arbitrator.’” ”  Jock IV, slip op. at 7 (citation omitted).

Jock II

The district court’s decision refusing to vacate the class certification award resulted in the second appeal, Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 703 Fed. Appx. 15 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order). (“Jock II”). In July 2017 we wrote a short post (here) about Jock II.

Jock II vacated and remanded the district court’s decision refusing to vacate the certification award because it purported to bind absent members, who (because of their absence) could not have “squarely presented” to the arbitrator the question whether the agreement authorized class procedures, let alone the issue of whether they should be deemed part of a class in a class arbitration to which they had not consented. See Jock II, 703 Fed. Appx. at 16, 17-18 (quotation and citation omitted).

In Jock II, the Second Circuit directed the district court to “consider[] on remand. . . ‘whether an arbitrator, who may decide. . . whether an arbitration agreement provides for class procedures because the parties “squarely presented” it for decision, may thereafter purport to bind non-parties to class procedures on this basis.’”) Jock IV, slip op. at 7-8 (citation omitted).  

The Jock II Remand

The district court vacated the class determination award on remand for two reasons. First, the district court said that it had ruled in 2010 that the Agreement did not authorize class procedures and that, accordingly, the absent class members had not consented to class arbitration.

Second, the submission by the plaintiffs and defendants (not the absent members) to the arbitrator of the question whether the Agreement authorized class arbitration did not confer on the arbitrator the authority to make a ruling binding on the absent members (who did not submit the issue to the Arbitrator). “The District Court[,]” said the Second Circuit, “reasoned that, even if the arbitrator’s ‘erroneous interpretation’ of the [Agreement] could bind the 254 plaintiffs who had ‘authorized the arbitrator to make that determination by submitting the question to her or opting into the proceeding, that erroneous interpretation could not bind absent class members.” Jock IV, slip op. at 8.

The Jock IV Appeal

The district court ruling on the Jock II remand resulted in the Jock IV appeal. (The Jock III decision was the dismissal of an appeal of a district court ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to vacate an interim decision rendered by the arbitrator. Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 691 F. App’x 665 (2d Cir. 2017) (summary order).) 

Since the issue before the district court on the Jock II remand  was whether the arbitrator’s class certification decision should be vacated under Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, the applicable standard of review was the manifest disregard of the agreement standard set forth in Stolt-Nielsen and Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568-69 (2013). See Jock IV, slip op. at 9-11. (For discussion of that deferential standard, see here, here, here, and here)  

Sterling (the “Award Challenger”) argued, consistent with the district court’s decision,  that the deferential standard should not apply to the question whether the absent members had consented to class arbitration, because they were not parties to the class construction award that was the subject of Jock I, did not submit the issue of class consent to the arbitrator, or otherwise agree to be bound by a determination of consent to class arbitration to which they were not parties.

But the Second Circuit did not agree with the district court or the Award Challenger. It agreed with the plaintiff-appellants (the “Award Defending Parties”), who “argue[d] that the absent class members have, in fact, authorized the arbitrator to determine whether the [Agreement] permits class arbitration procedures.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11.  They urged “that because all Sterling employees signed the RESOLVE Agreement, all Sterling employees “agreed that, if any of them initiated a putative class proceeding, the arbitrator in that proceeding would be empowered to decide class-arbitrability—and, if he or she found it appropriate, to certify a class encompassing other employees’ claims.” Jock IV, slip op. at 11-12.

The Award Defending Parties asserted that “the District Court erred by ‘never ask[ing] what authority absent class members conferred on [the arbitrator] by joining the RESOLVE Program [i.e., signing the Agreement],’ a question that is a matter of contract interpretation.” Jock IV, slip op. at 12.

The Second Circuit determined that, by signing the Agreement, the employer and the absent class members agreed that: (a) any other employee who signed the Agreement was authorized to arbitrate on behalf of any absent member of a yet-to-be certified class the issue of consent to class arbitration, irrespective of whether the absent class member was a party to the arbitration, and irrespective of whether the absent member had notice of, and consented to, the arbitration; (b) any absent class member would be bound by the outcome of such a class-arbitration-consent arbitration proceeding, even though the absent class member did not participate in the arbitration, did not consent to the arbitration (apart from signing the Agreement), and did not play any role in the selection of the arbitrator who presided over the arbitration; and (c) the decision on class arbitration reached by the arbitrator in his or her absence would be subject to review under the exceedingly deferential Oxford/Stolt-Nielsen standard only, and the absent members would be bound by the result of that judicial review even though they were not parties to the Clause Construction Award or to the judicial proceeding in which the Clause Construction Award was reviewed.  

Absent Class Members: What to Make of Jock IV?

We’ll discuss that in an upcoming post….

Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?

April 17th, 2019 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Contract Interpretation Rules, Exceeding Powers, Grounds for Vacatur, Manifest Disregard of the Agreement, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Outcome Risk, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, United States Supreme Court, Vacatur Comments Off on Can Arbitrators Exceed their Powers by Making an Award in Manifest Disregard of the Parties’ Agreement?
authority

Suppose arbitrators decide an issue within the scope of their authority but do so in manifest disregard the parties’ contract. Do they exceed their authority by making an award that has not even a barely colorable basis in the parties’ contract or in applicable law?

The answer to that question, is, of course, “yes,” and over the years we’ve discussed in a number of posts how arbitrators can exceed their powers under Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) or Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act by making awards in manifest disregard of the parties’ agreement. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum Posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) As discussed in those posts, the U.S. Supreme Court has on multiple occasions ruled that commercial and labor arbitrators can exceed their powers by making an award that manifestly disregards—or does not “draw its essence” from—the parties’ agreement. See Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Inc., 130 S.Ct. 1758, 1768-70 (2010); Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S.Ct. 2064, 2067, 2068 (2013); Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000); Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 599 (1960); Paperworkers v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987).

In our April 12, 2019 post (here) we reviewed how it is that the limited review powers courts have to vacate commercial and labor arbitration awards are designed to provide a limited, but very important, safety net to protect parties against egregious, material violations of arbitration agreements. Without that limited protection, the risks associated with agreeing to arbitrate would be intolerably high and parties would be much less apt to opt for arbitration over court litigation.

Courts vacate arbitration awards where arbitrators act outside the scope of their authority by ruling on issues that the parties did not agree to submit to them. That’s what happened in Brock Indus. Servs., LLC v. Laborers’ Int’l Union., __ F.3d ___, No. 17-2597, slip op. (7th Cir. April 8, 2019), which we discussed in our April 12, 2019 post here.

But to obtain vacatur of an award based on manifest disregard of the agreement, however, an award challenger must satisfy an exceedingly demanding standard. We’ve addressed the parameters of that standard in a number of other posts. (See, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Our blog has also tried to give a feel for how Courts apply (or are supposed to apply) the standard by comparing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stolt-Nielsen, which held that an award should be vacated for manifest disregard of the agreement, to the Supreme Court decision in Oxford, which held that an award should not be vacated under that manifest disregard standard. (See Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Law Forum posts here, here, and here.) And from time-to-time we’ve reported on other cases that have applied the standard.

While challenges to awards based on manifest disregard of the agreement are not uncommon, a very large majority of those challenges are either virtually certain to fail or at least highly unlikely to succeed. It is a relatively small universe of remaining, close cases that pose the biggest challenges for parties and courts.

Today we’ll look at one of those close cases, which was decided by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and explain why the case failed to satisfy the demanding standard, even though, at least at first glance, it may be difficult to square the arbitration award with the parties’ agreement.

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 »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Acknowledgements:

All photos used in the text portion of this post are licensed from Yay Images and are subject to copyright protection under applicable law. The Yay Images abbreviations of the photographer’s name for each of the two images are:

Image 1: CartoonResource

Image 2: stuartmiles

 

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

May 20th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Provider Rules, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.4: The Panel’s Remedial Authority

Introduction: Remedial Powers of Arbitrators under the Federal Arbitration Act

yay-1617269-digital2copy_edited-1

The third issue the Armstrong Panel addressed was: “What jurisdiction, if any, does this Tribunal have to award sanctions?” This was a question of the Panel’s remedial authority — assuming the Panel had the authority to decide the dispute, what remedies were the arbitrators authorized to award?

The Panel determined that Armstrong had committed fraud and testified falsely, and had by those unlawful means procured the Settlement Agreement and Consent Award. All else equal, had the Armstrong Parties testified truthfully, and been prepared to do so from the outset of the dispute, then presumably the Armstrong Parties: (a) would not have claimed the $7.5 million in prize money; or (b) would have submitted to arbitration the question whether the Armstrong Parties’ use of performance enhancing drugs barred them from recovering the prize money under their contracts with the SCA Parties. If the Armstrong Parties chose option (a) above, then the SCA Parties would not have incurred any time or money costs dealing with the Armstrong Parties’ Claims. Had the Armstrong Parties chosen option (b), then the SCA Parties’ time and money costs would likely have been pretty modest, and in any event, nowhere near what they turned out to be.

Given that the Panel identified a breach of duty that caused harm, the next question from the standpoint of the merits was: what (if anything) should be the remedy? The SCA parties apparently argued that the Panel should grant a sanctions remedy, which the Panel apparently viewed as serving both deterrent and compensatory purposes.

Where, as here, an arbitration panel that has the authority to resolve a dispute is considering what relief (if any) it should award to the prevailing party, that raises a remedial authority question: what remedies have the parties authorized the Panel to award? Under a broad arbitration agreement, remedial authority questions are typically not controversial, for parties ordinarily tend to seek standard remedies: damages, declaratory relief or traditional forms of equitable relief (such as rescission or reformation).  One party asks for the relief in its submission in the arbitrators and the other party doesn’t object because there is no reason to do so.

But where other non-standard forms of relief are requested—and particularly where the parties’ contract express a clear intent to limit remedial powers—then remedial authority can become more controversial.

The Armstrong Arbitration involved a claim for sanctions arising in unusual circumstances. While the parties’ contracts did not purport to limit the Panel’s remedial authority, the Armstrong Parties challenged the Panel’s authority to award sanctions and the Panel addressed that challenge in a reasoned award.

This segment of our Armstrong-Award Anatomy series focuses exclusively on whether the Panel had the authority to make an award of sanctions. It reviews the general rules concerning arbitrator remedial authority, considers the standard of review that a court reviewing the award will presumably apply if the Armstrong Parties contest the Panel’s remedial authority in court, discusses the Panel’s analysis and conclusions concerning sanctions and explains why we think it unlikely that a court will find that the Panel exceeded its authority by making an award of sanctions.

Our next Armstrong Arbitration Award Anatomy segment will address the related—but analytically distinct—issue whether the Panel had the authority to make a $10,000,000.00 sanctions award in the circumstances.

General Rules Governing Arbitrator Remedial Authority

yay-974131-e1425250054241As a general rule, where the parties have agreed to require each other to submit to arbitration a broad range of a disputes that might arise out of or relate to their legal relationship, the law presumes they intended to confer equally broad remedial powers on the arbitrators. See, e.g., ReliaStar Life Ins. Co. v. EMC Nat’l Life Co., 564 F.3d 81, 86-87 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing cases). Sometimes, arbitration-provider rules—such as Rule 47 of the American Arbitration Association Commercial Rules (formerly Rule 43)—expressly confer broad remedial authority on arbitrators. Rule 47, for example, states: 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).

yay-15509952

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.

Arbitrator-Imposed Claims Protocols, Honorable Engagement and Access-to-Records: First State Ins. Co. v. National Cas. Co.

April 10th, 2015 Access to Records, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitrator-Imposed Claims Protocols, Authority of Arbitrators, Claims Handling, Follow-the-Settlements/Follow-the Fortunes, Grounds for Vacatur, Honorable Engagement, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Practice and Procedure, Reinsurance Arbitration, Reinsurance Claims, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Comments Off on Arbitrator-Imposed Claims Protocols, Honorable Engagement and Access-to-Records: First State Ins. Co. v. National Cas. Co.

Introduction

yay-10424184---CopyAt first glance the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s opinion in First State Ins. Co. v. National Cas. Co., No. 14-1644, slip op. (1st Cir. Mar. 20, 2015) appears to be an honorable engagement clause case, but it is really an arbitrator-imposed-claims-payment-protocol case.  First State concerned a claims protocol (the “Claims Protocol”) which said claims payments “may be made subject to an appropriate reservation of rights by [the reinsurer] in instances where it has or does identify specific facts  which  create a reasonable question regarding coverage under the subject reinsurance agreement(s).” It also explained that “[p]ayment obligations on the part of [the reinsurer] are not conditioned upon the exercise of its right to audit or the production of additional information or documents, other than those provided by [the cedent] as described . . .[in the portion of the protocol specifying the cedent’s proof-of-loss requirements].” Slip op. at 3.

yay-15654810-digital

The reinsurer contended the protocol’s reservation-of-rights procedure impaired its contractual rights to access of records, including its right to recoup claim payments in circumstances where, as of the time the Claims Protocol required the reinsurer to pay a  claim, the reinsurer had not yet been given the opportunity to inspect the cedent’s records concerning the claim and thus would not have the opportunity to determine whether there were “specific facts which create a reasonable question regarding coverage.  .  . ”  That, argued the reinsurer, denied or effectively impaired its contractual rights in a least two ways: (a) once it paid a claim as required by the Protocol without reserving its rights based on “specific facts” creating a reasonable question about coverage, then the Cedent could refuse to provide it access to its records of the claim; and (b) even if the cedent provided post-payment access-to-records, and even if the reinsurer’s post-payment audit uncovered for the first time specific facts demonstrating the claim was invalid, the Protocol’s reservation of rights feature would foreclose the reinsurer from obtaining recoupment of the claim unless the reinsurer somehow had knowledge of those specific facts, and asserted them at the time it was required to pay the claim.

Had the reinsurer’s interpretation of the Claims Protocol’s reservation of rights procedure been the only one to which it was susceptible, then the reinsurer’s Section 10(a)(4) challenge might have succeeded. As it turned out, there was at least one other interpretation of the Protocol, and under that interpretation, the reinsurer’s access-to-records and recoupment rights were not foreclosed by the reinsurer not making a Claims-Protocol-compliant reservation of rights.

So the Court quite correctly affirmed the district court’s decision to confirm the award. But National Casualty did not walk away empty handed. As we’ll see, the Court’s opinion confers upon National Casualty a deserved benefit that is arguably as valuable as would have been a decision reversing the district court’s judgment with instructions to vacate the arbitration award.

Let’s first briefly review what transpired in First State, and what the Court, in Senior Circuit Court Judge Bruce M. Selya’s sometimes arcane and colorful—but always clear, concise and well-organized— prose, had to say about it. Continue Reading »

SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.1: Panel Issue No. 1: the Panel’s Authority to Decide the SCA Parties’ Sanctions Claims

March 29th, 2015 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Attorney Fees and Sanctions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on SCA v. Armstrong: Anatomy of the Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award—Part III.B.1: Panel Issue No. 1: the Panel’s Authority to Decide the SCA Parties’ Sanctions Claims

Part III.B.1

Panel Issue No. 1: the Armstrong Panel’s Authority to Decide the SCA Parties’ Sanctions Claims

Introduction

Part III.A of our Lance Armstrong Arbitration Award series identified (a) the categories of issues (the “Issue Categories”) that a court can address on a motion to vacate an arbitration award on the ground the arbitrators exceeded their powers (the “Issue Categories”); and (a) the four specific issues that the Panel addressed in its award (the “Panel Issues”).

Panel Issue No. 1 was, as phrased by the arbitrators: “Does this Arbitration Tribunal have the jurisdiction or authority to decide and resolve the existing disputes between the named parties?” That issue falls into Issue Category No. 1: Issues concerning whether the parties delegated to the arbitrators—or were required to delegate to the arbitrators—the power to decide particular disputes.

summer-10343058Arbitrability

Whether or not the Panel had the authority to decide the SCA Parties’ claims against  Armstrong and Tailwind (the “Armstrong Parties”) depends on whether at least one 0f the parties requested the arbitrators to adjudicate those claims; and the other party either: (a) expressly or impliedly consented to the arbitrators deciding the dispute; or (b) objected to the request, but the claims were within the scope of the parties’ written pre- or post-dispute arbitration agreement.   Disputes what issues the parties submitted—or were required to be submit—to arbitration present questions of arbitrability. See, e.g., Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 83-86 (2002); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 543 U.S. 938, 942-45 (1995).

Relationship Between Arbitrability and the Post-Award Standard of Judicial Review

Ordinarily, questions of arbitrability are— in the allocation-of-decision-making-power scheme of things—for the court to decide, unless the parties have clearly and unmistakably agreed to delegate them to arbitrators. See, e.g., First Options, 543 U.S. at 944-45. Under a typical broadly-worded pre-dispute arbitration agreement, the vast majority of disputes that may arise between the parties—including disputes about arbitration procedure—are presumptively arbitrable, that is, they are subject to arbitration unless the parties clearly a nd unmistakably exclude them from arbitration. But when a dispute presents a question of arbitrability, then it is presumptively for the court to decide, that is, they are not subject to arbitration unless the parties clearly and unmistakably include them within the universe of disputes that must be submitted to arbitration.

yay-12776482

Where as here, an arbitrability issue arises at the award enforcement (or back-end) stage of the proceedings—rather than the pre-arbitration,  arbitration-agreement-enforcement (or front-end) stage (i.e., on a motion to compel arbitration or stay litigation)—then whether or not an issue is a question of arbitrability affects the standard of review. The standard of review is, in essence, the degree of deference to  which a court pays the arbitrators’ decisions on matters that are material to applications to confirm, vacate or modify arbitration awards. Continue Reading »