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Posts Tagged ‘performance’

Up Narrow Arbitration Clause Creek without a Papalote?—Narrow Arbitration Clauses and the Difference between Interpretation and Performance

March 26th, 2019 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Federal Arbitration Act Section 4, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit 1 Comment »
Narrow Arbitration Clauses: Papalote
Hang Glider or Papalote

I am told “papalote” is a Spanish word meaning “kite” or “hang glider.” It also appears in the name of a party to a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concerning narrow arbitration clauses, Papalote Creek II, L.L.C. v. Lower Colo. River Auth., No. 17-50852, slip op. (5th Cir. Mar. 15, 2019) (“Papalote II”). The party was Papalote Creek II, L.L.C. (“Papalote”). It won the appeal.

What was the appeal about? Narrow arbitration clauses, and in particular whether a dispute about maximum, aggregate liability under a wind-energy purchase and sale contract was a dispute “with respect to performance” within the meaning of the parties’ narrow arbitration clause.

The appeal was not the first, but the second, and the procedural history was tangled, both in terms of what transpired in the disputed arbitration and in the district court. The first appeal, Papalote I, resulted in a remand because at the time the district court compelled arbitration, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The issue on which the arbitration proponent sought arbitration was not ripe, even though it became ripe during the time Papalote I was pending. See Lower Colo. River Auth. v. Papalote Creek II, L.L.C., 858 F.3d 916 (5th Cir. 2017) (“Papalote I”).

By the time Papalote I was decided, the arbitration panel had ruled against Papalote, the arbitration opponent. But Papalote I obligated the district court to vacate the arbitration award and to reconsider the issue of whether arbitration should be compelled under the narrow arbitration clause.

On remand the district court adhered to its previous decision that the dispute fell within the scope of the narrow arbitration clause, which resulted in another order to compel arbitration and the second appeal, Papalote II.

On the second appeal the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on arbitrability, ruling that the dispute was not about “performance,” but about “interpretation.” Going forward that means that the parties will either have to settle their dispute or litigate it in court, even though they’ve both no doubt already spent not only a good deal of time, but money, litigating about arbitration, and arbitrating a dispute they did not mutually consent to arbitrate. (Perhaps for Papalote that’s not necessarily a bad outcome, but it’s just speculation on our part.)

Bottom line: Irrespective of whether the parties considered the potential consequences associated with their narrow arbitration clause, at least one of them (and perhaps even both) may, at least to some extent, now feel like they’re up that proverbial creek without a paddle—or even a papalote….

This post takes a closer look at Papalote II, focusing exclusively on the issue whether the dispute fell within or without the scope of the parties’ narrow arbitration clause.

Narrow Arbitration Clauses: Papalote II Background

Narrow Arbitration Clauses

In Papalote II the Fifth Circuit held that a narrow arbitration clause that covered disputes about the “performance” of a contract did not cover a dispute concerning the meaning of an aggregate liability provision in a wind-energy contract. That dispute, said the Court, concerned the interpretation of the contract, not its performance, and therefore the arbitration opponent was not required to submit it to arbitration.

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