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

July 25th, 2022 Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Award Procured by Fraud and Corruption, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Corruption in the Arbitrators, Corruption or Undue Means, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Corruption, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur No Comments »

Introduction: Section 10(a)(2) Corruption 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another question is whether under Section 10(a)(2) there must be a nexus between the corruption and the award, and if so, what the nature and extent of that nexus must be. Under Section 10(a)(1), in addition to establishing “corruption, fraud or undue means” by clear and convincing evidence, a claimant must demonstrate “that that the fraud [, corruption or undue means] materially relates to an issue involved in the arbitration. . . .”  International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 519 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2003); Renard v. Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2015); MCI Constructors, LLC v. City of Greensboro, 610 F.3d 849, 858 (4th Cir. 2010); A.G. Edwards Sons, Inc. v. McCollough, 967 F.2d 1401, 1404 (9th Cir. 1992); Bonar v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 835 F.2d 1378, 1383 (11th Cir. 1988); see Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 35.

As respects Section 10(a)(1)’s materiality requirement, Section 10(a)(1) states that the “award” must be “procured” by “corruption, fraud or undue means,” which arguably suggests a causal nexus between the proscribed conduct and the award. While under Section 10(a)(1) the conduct must “materially relate to an issue in the arbitration,” the Circuits are split on whether the fraud, corruption, or undue means must be outcome determinative—that is whether the party seeking relief must show that award would have been different but for the fraud, corruption, or undue means, or whether it is enough to show that the dishonest conduct tainted the award because it materially related to an issue in the arbitration. Some courts require the challenger to show that the corruption, fraud or undue means “caused the award to be given.” See PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 994 (“there must be some causal relation between the undue means and the arbitration award”); A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 967 F.2d at 1403 (“the statute requires a showing that the undue means caused the award to be given”). Others say that the challenger is required to show a “nexus” between the conduct and the award—that is, materiality—but need not “establish that the result of the proceedings would have been different had the fraud[, corruption, or undue means] not occurred.” See, e.g., Odeon Capital Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196 (2d Cir. 2017) (citing cases); Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383.

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

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

Another issue concerns waiver. In Section 10(a)(1) cases the challenger must show “that due diligence would not have prompted the discovery of the fraud [corruption or undue means] during or prior to the arbitration.” United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d at 503; Renard, 778 F.3d at  569;  MCI Constructors, 610 F.3d at 858; A.G. Edwards, 967 F.2d at 1404; Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383. Evident partiality under Section 10(a)(2) is also subject to waiver. (See prior posts here, here, and here.)

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

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

What’s Next?

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

Please note. . .

This guide, including prior instalments, and instalments that will follow in later posts, does not purport to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law pertinent or potentially pertinent to the issues discussed. It is designed to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will help educate them about the legal challenges they may face in arbitration-related litigation and how engaging a skilled and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Nor is it a “do-it-yourself” guide for persons who represent themselves pro se, whether they are forced to do so by financial circumstances or whether they elect voluntarily to do so.

If you want or require arbitration-related legal advice, or representation by an attorney in an arbitration or in litigation about arbitration, then you should request legal advice from an experienced and skilled attorney or law firm with a solid background in arbitration law.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or the services that the Loree Law Firm offers, then please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation. He is licensed to practice law in New York and before various federal district and federal appellate courts.

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

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Evident Partiality | Disclosure | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part III

July 7th, 2022 Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Evident Partiality, Exceeding Powers, FAA Chapter 1, FAA Chapter 2, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Federal Arbitration Act Section 9, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Section 9, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | 10(a)(4), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur No Comments »

Introduction: Arbitrator Disclosure and Evident Partiality

Disclosure | Evident Partiality Part II of our Businesspersons’ Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) FAQ guide on evident partiality discussed evident partiality standards and how they are designed to enforce the parties’ expectations of neutrality without significantly undermining the finality of arbitration awards. (See Part II.) This Part III discusses arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements and how, as a matter of arbitration procedure, they implement evident partiality standards and facilitate judicial determination of whether an arbitrator is guilty of evident partiality. It also provides a list of certain U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cases that have either held that an arbitrator was guilty of evident partiality or remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on evident partiality.

Evident Partiality and Disclosure: Presumed v. Actual Bias

“Evident partiality” challenges typically arise out of one of two scenarios.  First, there are “presumed bias” cases in which the arbitrator’s relationships or interests would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the arbitrator is biased, even though the challenger cannot prove actual bias.

Second, and considerably less frequently, there are evident partiality challenges based on allegations of actual bias.  Suppose a neutral said on the record during the proceedings prior to deliberations:  “Party A, frankly I have distrusted your company’s business motives for many years before I was appointed arbitrator in this matter, but hearing your witnesses’ testimony has simply confirmed what I’ve known all along.”  While the chances of an arbitrator making such a statement (let alone on the record!) are exceedingly slim to non-existent, it would provide the basis for an evident partiality challenge (which would probably succeed) based on proof of actual bias. See Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 84 (2d Cir. 1984).

The difference between “presumed” and “actual” bias (or prejudice) is essentially one of proof. As its name suggests, “presumed” bias is established by circumstantial evidence, principally relationships or interests, that supports a sufficiently powerful inference of bias. For example, direct evidence of the arbitrator having a material financial interest in the outcome of an arbitration is strong circumstantial evidence that the arbitrator, whether he or she is conscious of it or not, would, as a matter of human nature and experience, likely be predisposed to rule in a way that advanced that financial interest. James Madison’s famous words in Federalist 10 sum it up well: “[n]o man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” The Federalist No. 10, p. 59 (J. Cooke ed. 1961) (J. Madison)); see Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868, 876 (2009).

Of course, there is at least a possibility that an arbitrator might not be swayed by her interest in the outcome. Therefore, direct evidence of interest in the outcome does not prove directly that the interested arbitrator was biased or prejudiced. But the inference of bias or prejudice caused by a financial or personal interest in the outcome is sufficiently strong that the Second Circuit, and other circuits, consider clear evidence of an arbitrator’s personal or financial interest in the outcome to be sufficient to establish evident partiality. They require proof of “presumed,” not “actual,” bias.

“Actual bias” (or “actual prejudice”) is established when there is direct evidence that the arbitrator harbored an inappropriate disposition against one party or in favor of another. Since bias and prejudice is a state of mind, direct evidence is exceedingly rare. See Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84 (“Bias is always difficult, and indeed often impossible, to ‘prove.’ Unless an arbitrator publicly announces his partiality, or is overheard in a moment of private admission, it is difficult to imagine how ‘proof’ would be obtained.”)

Our focus will be on “presumed bias” cases because they understandably arise with greater frequency.  Because judicial evident partiality standards, including the Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard, require a showing less than actual bias, evidence of actual bias sufficient to establish evident partiality would necessarily establish evident partiality under the “reasonable person” standard.

Implementing Evident Partiality Standards Through the Disclosure Process

The now-familiar requirement that arbitrators disclose at the outset of the proceedings non-trivial conflicts of interest (such as a significant, ongoing business  relationship with one of the parties) and any other relevant information bearing on the arbitrator’s ability to meet the parties’ expectations of neutrality, was developed to address practical challenges arbitration parties face, facilitate implementation of evident partiality standards, and provide a framework for courts to assess evident partiality claims. Continue Reading »

Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part II

February 3rd, 2022 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration and Mediation FAQs, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Law, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitration Providers, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Awards, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Nuts & Bolts, Nuts & Bolts: Arbitration, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Section 10, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Vacate Award | 10(a)(2), Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on Evident Partiality | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide | Part II

Evident Partiality

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Evident partiality standards are designed to enforce the parties’ expectations  of neutrality without significantly undermining the finality of arbitration awards. This part II of our Businesspersons’ FAQ guide on evident partiality explains why that is so.  

Evident Partiality Standards and their Source

The subject of what constitutes neutrality for judicial decision makers has long been the subject case law and statutes. Unlike the standards for disqualifying judges, which are set forth for federal judges in 28 U.S.C. § 455, arbitrator neutrality standards in Federal Arbitration Act cases are not expressly set forth by statute—FAA Section 10(a)(2) merely authorizes a court to vacate an award if an arbitrator is “guilty” of “evident partiality.” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2).

While the FAA Section 10(a)(2) deems “evident partiality” a ground for vacating an award, the FAA does not define the term or establish a baseline impartiality standard that must be met by every arbitrator.  This contrasts starkly with the English Arbitration Act 1996, which imposes on all arbitrators effectively the same standards of impartiality applicable to English judges. See, generally, Arbitration Act 1996 § 33(1).

What constitutes “evident partiality” under the FAA is a question that the federal courts have answered in various ways over the past several decades. In general, evident partiality is assessed according to a sliding scale of sorts, depending on the parties’ agreement and the surrounding circumstances. That should come as no surprise since the whole point of the FAA is to enforce the parties’ agreement to arbitrate according to its terms. See, e.g., Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l, 559 U.S. 662 (2010) (“[W]e have said on numerous occasions that the central or primary purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”) (citations and quotations omitted).

What is the Standard in the Second Circuit?

The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have adopted various evident partiality standards, which are based principally on differing interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Commonwealth Coatings Corp. v. Continental Cas. Co., 393 U.S. 145 (1968), a case that we will discuss in detail in an upcoming segment dealing with arbitrator disclosure. Rather than engage in a broad survey and parsing of the various evident partiality standards adopted by various federal courts, let’s focus on the so-called “reasonable person” evident partiality standard that has been adopted by the Second Circuit and a number of other courts.

Under Second Circuit authority an award may be vacated “if a reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was biased against one party or partial in favor of another. See Morelite v. N.Y.C. Dist. Council Carpenters, 748 F.2d 79, 83-84 (2d Cir. 1984); National Football League Mgmt. Council v. National Football League Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527, 549 (2d Cir. 2016) (“NFL Council”); Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 668 F.3d at 64; Applied Indus. Materials Corp. v. Ovalar, 492 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir. 2007).

The Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard has been construed and applied by many courts since the Second Circuit’s 1984 decision in Morelite, and has been adopted by the First, Third, Fourth, and Sixth Circuits.  See, e.g., UBS Fin. Servs. v. Asociación de Empleados del Estado Libre Asociado de P.R., 997 F.3d 15, 17-20 (1st Cir. 2021) (citing cases); Freeman v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, 709 F.3d 240, 253-54 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing cases); ANR Coal Co. v. Cogentrix of North Carolina, Inc., 173 F.3d 493, 500-01 (4th Cir. 1999); Apperson v. Fleet Carrier Corp., 879 F.2d 1344, 1358 (6th Cir. 1989).

The standard does not require a showing that an arbitrator was actually biased against one party or partial toward another, only that a reasonable person would have to conclude that was so. A determination that a reasonable person would have to conclude that an arbitrator was financially or personally interested in the outcome, or not independent, would likewise satisfy the standard.

Absent disclosure and a waiver, an arbitrator should be free from any relationships with the parties that a reasonable person would have to conclude would materially compromise his or her ability to decide the case in an impartial manner. See Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84-85 (father-son relationship); Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72 (“Among the circumstances under which the evident-partiality standard is likely to be met are those in which an arbitrator fails to disclose a relationship or interest that is strongly suggestive of bias in favor of one of the parties”).

Evident Partiality Standards versus Judicial Impartiality Standards 

In the Second Circuit and elsewhere, the standard for disqualifying a judge for partiality or bias is less demanding than that required to vacate an award for evident partiality. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72; see, e.g, Merit Ins. Co. v. Leatherby Ins. Co., 714 F.2d 673, 681 (7th Cir. 1983). While in the Second Circuit one must demonstrate that a “reasonable person would have to conclude” that an arbitrator is biased against or partial to a party, Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; Scandinavian Re, 668 F.3d at 72, federal judges are disqualified for bias or partiality “in any proceeding in which [their] impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” See 28 U.S.C. § 455(a).

Though neither the judicial nor the arbitral standard requires a challenger to establish “actual bias,” see Morelite, 748 F.2d at 84, and even though demonstrating judicial partiality or bias is difficult to do, showing that a person “might reasonably” “question” a decisionmaker’s impartiality is a considerably less daunting task than showing that the same “reasonable” person “would have to conclude” that an arbitrator was partial or biased.

The Second Circuit also imposes a heightened evidentiary standard on evident partiality claims. Like fraud claims, they must be established by “clear and convincing evidence.” See NFL Council, 820 F.3d at 548; Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Tr., 729 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2013).

The particularly demanding standard for establishing evident partiality of a neutral arbitrator certainly serves to make arbitration awards less susceptible to challenge, thereby increasing the odds that an arbitration award and its confirmation  will be the last step in the dispute resolution process, not a starting point for intensive post-award litigation and further arbitration.

It is at least ostensibly designed to reflect realistically what reasonable expectations of neutrality a party who agrees to arbitrate may have. “Parties agree to arbitrate precisely because they prefer a tribunal with expertise regarding the particular subject matter of their dispute,” said the late Circuit Judge Irving R. Kaufman, speaking for the Court in Morelite, and “[f]amiliarity with a discipline often comes at the expense of complete impartiality.” Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83:

Some commercial fields are quite narrow, and a given expert may be expected to have formed strong views on certain topics, published articles in the field and so forth. Moreover, specific areas tend to breed tightly knit professional communities. Key members are known to one another, and in fact may work with, or for, one another, from time to time. As this Court has noted, ‘[e]xpertise in an industry is accompanied by exposure, in ways large and small, to those engaged in it….’ .  .  .  .  [T]o disqualify any arbitrator who had professional dealings with one of the parties (to say nothing of a social acquaintanceship) would make it impossible, in some circumstances, to find a qualified arbitrator at all. Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83 (quoting Andros Compania Maritima, S.A. v. Marc Rich & Co., 579 F.2d 691, 701 (2d Cir.1978); other citations omitted).

By not requiring neutrals to comply with judicial standards of partiality courts balance the parties’ expectations with the realities of the marketplace.  Particularly in industry arbitration, sought-after arbitrators often have many years of industry experience, which may inform their perspectives on issues important to the industry. Intra-industry issues can pit one segment of the industry against another, and a qualified neutral may have experience in one or both segments.  Some degree of institutional predisposition comes with the territory and does not necessarily disqualify the neutral.  And as industry insiders, arbitrators may know the lawyers and the parties socially and professionally, but those relationships generally do not disqualify the arbitrator from service. 

These practical realities demand what Judge Posner aptly termed a “tradeoff between impartiality and expertise” – the parties bargained for dispute resolution by an industry expert and the benefit of that expertise carries with it the burdens of greater entanglement with the parties, the industry and the issues.  Indeed, if courts required the industry arbitrators — or even commercial arbitrators without an industry-specific focus — to shed or be free from this proverbial baggage, then qualified umpire candidates would be hard to come by.  See Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679 (“people who arbitrate do so because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of the subject matter.”)

Another reason the law does not hold neutral arbitrators to the same standards as judges is because arbitration is voluntarySee Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. “Courts are coercive, not voluntary, agencies,” and “fear of government oppression” has, over time, prompted the creation of “a judicial system in which impartiality is prized above expertise.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679. Persons elect to submit their disputes to arbitration “because they prefer a tribunal knowledgeable about the subject matter of their dispute to a generalist court with its austere impartiality but limited knowledge of subject matter.” Leatherby, 714 F.2d at 679.

Evident Partiality Standards in Tripartite Arbitration 

An arbitration agreement providing for a single arbitrator is ordinarily presumed to provide for arbitration by a neutral arbitrator, whose neutrality is assessed under the prevailing evident partiality standard. But arbitration agreements often call not for single arbitrators, who are presumed to be neutral, but three-person (a/k/a “tripartite”) panels. 

In reinsurance, and certain other industry arbitrations, for example, the agreement typically requires each party to appoint an arbitrator and for the party-appointed arbitrators to attempt to agree on an umpire or select one by lot drawing, coin toss, Dow Jones pick or like tie-breaking procedure. Unless the arbitration agreement provides otherwise, courts generally presume that the parties intended their appointed arbitrators to act as advocates of a sort:

[I]n the main party-appointed arbitrators are supposed to be advocates. In labor arbitration a union may name as its arbitrator the business manager of the local union, and the employer its vice-president for labor relations.  Yet no one believes that the predictable loyalty of these designees spoils the award. (Emphasis in original; citations omitted). Sphere Drake Ins. Co. v. All American Life Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002); Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyd’s of London v. Florida Dep’t of Fin. Servs., 892 F.3d 501, 508 (2d Cir. 2018): The principles and circumstances that counsel tolerance of certain undisclosed relationships between arbitrator and litigant are even more indulgent of party-appointed arbitrators, who are expected to serve as de facto advocates . . . The ethos of neutrality that informs the selection of a neutral arbitrator to a tripartite panel does not animate the selection and qualification of arbitrators appointed by the parties. Id. (citations and quotations omitted).

The tripartite panel structure is supposed to provide the best of two worlds: (a) two experienced and knowledgeable industry professionals, each acting as an advocate of sorts on behalf of his or her appointing party; and (b) an equally experienced and knowledgeable umpire, who either casts the tie-breaking vote or brokers a consensus. 

An industry’s general acceptance of an advocacy role for party-appointed arbitrators is sometimes evidenced by a practice of the parties authorizing ex parte contact between party-appointed arbitrators and their appointing parties (which may be subject to an agreed cut-off point, such as the submission of pre-hearing briefs).

In the Second Circuit and a number of other jurisdictions, evident partiality standards are generally designed to apply to neutral arbitrators, but not to party-appointed arbitrators, which the parties did not intend to be neutral. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 509-10. According to the Second Circuit, absent arbitrator qualification language to the contrary, “[e]xpecting of party-appointed arbitrators the same level of institutional impartiality applicable to neutrals would impair the process of self-governing dispute resolution.” 892 F.3d at 510.

The Second Circuit, however, does not hold that there are no relationships or other facts  that may establish evident partiality of a non-neutral party-appointed arbitrator. An appointed arbitrator’s violation of a contractual requirement concerning partiality or bias, such as a requirement of “disinterestedness,” may establish evident partiality. Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510. Thus, if an arbitration agreement requires a arbitrator to be “disinterested,” the qualification “would be breached[,]” and evident partiality established, “if the party-appointed arbitrator had a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” 892 F.3d at 510.

In addition, the Second Circuit may vacate an award for a party-appointed arbitrator’s evident partiality “if the party opposing the award can show that the party-appointed arbitrator’s partiality had a prejudicial effect on the award.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510-11 (citations and quotations omitted). In theory at least, such prejudice might, in an appropriate case, be established where the record shows that the neutral wanted and attempted to obtain information from a party-appointed arbitration concerning what to make of the party-appointed arbitrator’s arguments and the party-appointed arbitrator provided misleading or false information in response. Cf. Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 623 (“[W]e have not been given any reason to think that umpire Huggins wanted more information from Jacks in order to know what to make of Jacks’ arguments during the panel’s deliberations.”)

Other courts say that evident partiality is ordinarily not a ground for disqualifying a partisan arbitrator, evident partiality is available only if it prejudices the challenging party, or the parties’ diminished expectations of party-appointed arbitrator impartiality should be considered as part of the evident partiality calculus. See, generally, Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 620;  617, 620 (7th Cir. 2002) (“evident partiality” ground can be waived by consent); Winfrey v. Simmons Foods, Inc., 495 F.3d 549, 552 (8th Cir. 2007) (requiring a showing of prejudice); Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640, 645-46 & 648-49 (6th Cir. 2005) (figuring into the mix the parties’ diminished expectations of impartiality and suggesting that undisclosed social or business relationship may establish evident partiality if it is related “to the subject matter of the” arbitration.)

Although courts will (absent contract language to the contrary) ordinarily assume that the parties intended party-appointed arbitrators to play an advocacy role, there may be disagreement within the industry or among particular parties concerning the degree of partiality permissible.  For example, there are some who believe that robust advocacy is appropriate, while others believe the party-appointed arbitrator should strive to give the appointing party the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately decide the matter according to the evidence and applicable law, custom and practice.  Others may have different views.

The upshot is that the line between the acceptable and unacceptable is both difficult to draw and blurry.  To at least some extent checks on rampant partisanship are imposed by economic considerations:  Party-appointed arbitrators that overstep what other panel members perceive to be proper ethical boundaries risk diminished credibility, influence, and effectiveness, which in turn, may result in fewer appointments. The use of partisan arbitrators, which continues in certain types of industry arbitration, has fallen out of favor in commercial arbitration in general. Rule 18 of the American Arbitration Association’s Commercial Arbitration Rules and Mediation Procedures (amended and effective October 1, 2013) (“AAA Commercial Rules”) reverses the presumption that party-appointed arbitrators should be non-neutral. Rule 18(a) says “Any arbitrator shall be impartial and independent and shall perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and shall be subject to disqualification for:”

(i) partiality or lack of independence, (ii) inability or refusal to perform his or her duties with diligence and in good faith, and (iii) any grounds for disqualification provided by applicable law. AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(a).

Rule 18(b) further provides that “The parties may agree in writing.  .  .  that arbitrators directly appointed by a party pursuant to Section R-13 shall be nonneutral, in which case such arbitrators need not be impartial or independent and shall not be subject to disqualification for partiality or lack of independence.”  AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(b).

The AAA rules vest in the AAA the power to “determine whether the arbitrator should be disqualified under the grounds set out above, and shall inform the parties of its decision, which decision shall be conclusive.” AAA Commercial Rules R. 18(c).

Rule 7(c) of the JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures likewise reverses the presumption of non-neutrality: “Where the Parties have agreed that each Party is to name one Arbitrator, the Arbitrators so named shall be neutral and independent of the appointing Party, unless the Parties have agreed that they shall be non-neutral.” JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures Effective June 1, 2021 (the “JAMS Rules”) Rule 7(c).

Reversal of the presumption of party-appointed arbitrator non-neutrality are common in arbitration rules (including in international arbitration rules), and where parties incorporate by reference arbitration rules into their contract, those rules will ordinarily be deemed a part of the contract, requiring party-appointed arbitrators to be neutral. See Idea Nuova, Inc. v. GM Licensing Group, Inc., 617 F.3d 177, 180-82 (2d Cir. 2010) (“An agreement to submit commercial disputes to ‘AAA arbitration for resolution’ is properly construed to agree to arbitration pursuant to the AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules and to incorporate those rules into the Agreement.”)

Tripartite Arbitration: Umpires or Neutral Arbitrators 

Umpires and neutrals are held to higher standards of impartiality than partisan party-appointed arbitrators, and it is to them that ordinary standards of evident partiality apply, such as the Second Circuit’s “reasonable person” standard. Parties expect them to be fair, objective, open-minded in deliberations and not predisposed to rule in favor of either party before hearing the evidence.  They are supposed to be impartial, but, as previously discussed, they are nevertheless not held to the same rigorous, statutory standards of impartiality applicable to United States federal judges.  See Sphere Drake, 307 F.3d at 621; Morelite, 748 F.2d at 83; see, generally, 28 U.S.C. § 455 (disqualification standards for federal judges). The next instalment will discuss arbitrator disclosure procedures and requirements, which are designed to implement and enforce evident partiality standards; and examples of what does and does not constitute evident partiality.

Contacting the Author

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. The author has written about it extensively over the years, including hereherehere, and here, as well as in other publications. The author has briefed, argued, or both, a number of U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district court cases on the subject over the years, including, among others, Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyds of London v. State of Florida, Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501 (2018); and Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640 (2005). Both of these important cases are cited in this article.  

If you have any questions about this article, arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, or the services that the Loree Law Firm offers, then please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has more than 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation. He is licensed to practice law in New York and before certain federal district and federal appellate courts.

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

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.  

Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

September 16th, 2020 Bad Faith, Businessperson's FAQ Guide to the Federal Arbitration Act, Challenging Arbitration Awards, Corruption or Undue Means, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Fraud, Fraud or Undue Means, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Petition to Vacate Award, Post-Award Federal Arbitration Act Litigation, Practice and Procedure, Small Business B-2-B Arbitration, Vacatur Comments Off on Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means | Vacating, Modifying, and Correcting Awards | Businessperson’s Federal Arbitration Act FAQ Guide

corruption, fraud and undue meansSection 10(a)(1) of the Federal Arbitration Act authorizes courts to vacate awards where “the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). Cases vacating awards on Section 10(a)(1) grounds are rare, presumably because the circumstances that would trigger relief are relatively rare.

Section 10(a)(1) is an excellent example of how Section 10 is designed to provide relief in situations where putting a court’s imprimatur on an award would deprive one of the parties of the benefit of its freely-bargained-for arbitration agreement. It says that corruption, fraud, or undue means in the procurement of an award, whether perpetrated by the arbitrators or a party, spoils the award (assuming the aggrieved party timely moves to vacate). See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1).    

There is nothing particularly controversial about that. Persons who agree to arbitrate do not implicitly consent to awards procured through chicanery. And who would want to agree to arbitrate if they would have no recourse against such an award? (See here.) 

“Fraud” and “corruption” describe dishonest, illegal, and deceptive conduct, whereas “undue means” arguably broader in scope. But “[t]he term ‘undue means’ must be read in conjunction with the words ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’ that precede in the statute.” PaineWebber Group, Inc. v. Zinsmeyer Trusts P’ship, 187 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 1999) (citing Drayer v. Krasner, 572 F.2d 348, 352 (2d Cir. 1978)). To establish “undue means” courts therefore require “proof of intentional misconduct” or “bad faith,” interpreting “undue means” as “connoti[ing] behavior that is immoral if not illegal.” PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 991 (quotations and citations omitted).

The burden for obtaining relief under Section 10(a)(1) is heavy. It must be “abundantly clear that [the award] was obtained through ‘corruption, fraud, or undue means.’” Karppinen v. Karl Kiefer Machine Co., 187 F.2d 32, 34 (2d Cir. 1951); accord Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Trust, 729 F.3d 99, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2013). That “abundantly clear” requirement is often described as one of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud or undue means. . . .” International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 519 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 335 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2003); accord Renard v. Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2015); MCI Constructors, LLC v. City of Greensboro, 610 F.3d 849, 858 (4th Cir. 2010); A.G. Edwards Sons, Inc. v. McCollough, 967 F.2d 1401, 1404 (9th Cir. 1992); Bonar v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 835 F.2d 1378, 1383 (11th Cir. 1988).

In addition to establishing “corruption, fraud or undue means” by clear and convincing evidence, a Section 10(a)(1) claimant must demonstrate: (a) “that that the fraud [, corruption or undue means] materially relates to an issue involved in the arbitration[;] and [b] that due diligence would not have prompted the discovery of the fraud [corruption or undue means] during or prior to the arbitration.” United Parcel Serv., 335 F.3d at 503; Renard, 778 F.3d at 569; MCI Constructors, 610 F.3d at 858; A.G. Edwards, 967 F.2d at 1404; Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383; see Karppinen, 187 F.2d at 35.

A party will ordinarily be deemed to waive the right to vacate the award under Section 10(a)(1) if it failed to exercise due diligence in discovering the corruption, fraud or undue means during the arbitration; if it discovered the improper conduct during the arbitration but did not seek relief from the arbitrators; if it unsuccessfully sought relief and failed to object to the arbitrator’s pre-final-award denial of relief; or if the denial of relief was first made in the final award, to preserve its objection by informing the arbitrators that a failure to grant relief would constitute grounds for vacating the award. 

As respects the materiality requirement, Section 10(a)(1) says that the “award” must be “procured” by “corruption, fraud or undue means,” which arguably suggests a causal nexus between the proscribed conduct and the award. While the conduct must “materially relate to an issue in the arbitration,” must it also be outcome determinative? In other words, must the party seeking relief show that the award would have been different but for alleged fraud, corruption or undue means, or is it enough to show that it tainted the proceedings simply because it related materially to an issue at stake?

The circuits are split on this point. Some courts require the challenger to show that the corruption, fraud or undue means “caused the award to be given.” See PaineWebber, 187 F.3d at 994 (“there must be some causal relation between the undue means and the arbitration award”); A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 967 F.2d at 1403 (“the statute requires a showing that the undue means caused the award to be given”). Others say that the challenger is required to show a “nexus” between the conduct and the award—that is, materiality—but need not “establish that the result of the proceedings would have been different had the fraud[, corruption, or undue means] not occurred.” See, e.g., Odeon Capital Grp. LLC v. Ackerman, 864 F.3d 191, 196  (2d Cir. 2017) (citing cases); Bonar, 835 F.2d at 1383.

Section 10(a)(1) is probably the least commonly invoked ground for vacating an arbitration award. That said, it provides an important safety valve to address rare, but extremely important cases where an award is the product of corruption, perjured testimony or other egregious, dishonest misconduct, and where the challenger was unable to address the problem adequately before the arbitrators.

The next instalment of this series shall address a more commonly invoked ground for vacatur: evident partiality.

Please note. . .

This guide, including prior instalments, and instalments that will follow in later posts, does not purport to be a comprehensive recitation of the rules and principles of arbitration law pertinent or potentially pertinent to the issues discussed. It is designed to give clients, prospective clients, and other readers general information that will help educate them about the legal challenges they may face in arbitration-related litigation and how engaging a skilled and experienced arbitration attorney can help them confront those challenges more effectively.

This guide is not intended to be legal advice and it should not be relied upon as such. Nor is it a “do-it-yourself” guide for persons who represent themselves pro se, whether they are forced to do so by financial circumstances or whether they elect voluntarily to do so.

If you want or require arbitration-related legal advice, or representation by an attorney in an arbitration or in litigation about arbitration, then you should request legal advice from an experienced and skilled attorney or law firm with a solid background in arbitration law.

Contacting the Author

If you have any questions about arbitration, arbitration-law, arbitration-related litigation, this article, or any other legal-related matter, please contact the author, Philip Loree Jr., at (516) 941-6094 or at PJL1@LoreeLawFirm.com.

Philip J. Loree Jr. has 30 years of experience handling matters arising under the Federal Arbitration Act and in representing a wide variety of clients in arbitration, litigation, and arbitration-related litigation.

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

Photo Acknowledgment

The photo featured in this post was licensed from Yay Images and is subject to copyright protection under applicable law.                

The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit

November 18th, 2019 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Providers, Award Vacated, Confirmation of Awards, Evident Partiality, FAA Chapter 1, Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Repeat Players, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Vacate Award | Evident Partiality, Vacatur Comments Off on The Repeat Player, Arbitration Providers, Evident Partiality, and the Ninth Circuit
Evident Partiality | Disclosure | Repeat Player

Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) Section 10 permits Courts to vacate awards “where there was evident partiality. . . in the arbitrators. . . .” 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(2). If an arbitrator fails to disclose an ownership interest in an arbitration provider, which has a nontrivial, repeat player relationship with a party, should the award be vacated for evident partiality?

What constitutes evident partiality and under what circumstances is a controversial and sometimes elusive topic. We’ve written about it extensively over the years, including here, here, here, and here, as well as in other publications. The author has briefed, argued, or both, a number of U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district court cases on the subject over the years, including, among others, Certain Underwriting Members of Lloyds of London v. State of Florida, Dep’t of Fin. Serv., 892 F.3d 501 (2018); and Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 429 F.3d 640 (2005).

The most recent significant evident partiality development is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s 2-1 decision in Monster Energy Co. v. City Beverages, LLC, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-55813, slip op. (9th Cir. Oct. 22, 2019), a case that involved an award made in favor of a repeat player party in an administered arbitration. Monster held that an arbitrator who failed to disclose his ownership interest in an arbitration provider was guilty of evident partiality because the arbitration provider had nontrivial business relationship with the repeat player party.

The Repeat Player Problem

In administered arbitration the (inevitable) existence of repeat players raises important questions that bear on evident partiality. Repeat players are parties who use the services of an arbitration provider on a regular basis, and therefore are a source of repeat business for the provider.

Arbitrators who are part of an arbitration provider’s appointment pool have earned their appointments by satisfying certain criteria set by the arbitration provider, and may also be trained by the arbitration provider. Ordinarily they are not employees of the arbitration provider, and, at least ostensibly, are independent from the arbitration provider.

But the economic interests of these arbitrators are aligned with those of the arbitration provider. What’s good for the arbitration provider is generally good for the arbitration provider’s pool of arbitrators. Repeat business is good for arbitration providers, just as it is good for lawyers and others.

Let’s assume that an arbitrator appointed in an arbitration administered by provider X has never before served as an arbitrator for parties A and B. If the contract between A and B is a form contract used by Party A that appoints X to administer arbitrations, and the contract concerns a subject matter in which disputes are fairly common (e.g., a consumer, employment, or franchise matter), then the arbitrator knows or has reason to know that the customer is either a repeat player or is likely to be one in the not too distant future.

If party B is, for example, a consumer, employee, or franchisee, and is not a repeat player, then one might suggest that our hypothetical arbitrator has at least an indirect interest in the outcome of the arbitration, specifically, one that would be best served by an outcome favoring party A, the repeat player.

That creates a potential evident partiality problem, for to be neutral, arbitrators have to be not only independent, and unbiased, but also disinterested. To be disinterested, the arbitrator cannot have have “a personal or financial stake in the outcome of the arbitration.” Certain Underwriting Members, 892 F.3d at 510 (citations and quotations omitted).

Does the kind of indirect and general financial or personal interest in the outcome described above, without more, establish evident partiality? It should not, although arbitrators are well-advised to disclose the existence of such indirect or general financial or personal interests.

We think an argument for evident partiality based solely on an arbitrator having reason to believe that one of the parties is a repeat player with respect to the arbitration provider’s services would prove too much. Carried to its logical conclusion it would destroy, or at least severely diminish, the utility of the arbitration-provider-administered arbitration model in a large number of cases.

But that doesn’t mean that administered-arbitration awards in favor of repeat players and against non-repeat-players are immune from evident partiality challenge in all circumstances. Monster Energy provides an example and may be a harbinger of closer scrutiny of repeat player evident partiality challenges. 

We discuss the majority opinion in Monster Energy below. In a future post or posts, we will discuss the dissenting opinion, what to make of the case, and how it might (or not) influence how other courts address repeat-player-related issues that may arise in future cases.

Continue Reading »

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 »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faithful to the “First Principle” of Arbitration Law, the Texas Supreme Court Shores up the “Cornerstone of the Arbitral Process”

August 5th, 2014 American Arbitration Association, Appellate Practice, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Provider Rules, Arbitrator Selection and Qualification Provisions, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Confirmation of Awards, Contract Interpretation, Drafting Arbitration Agreements, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Party-Appointed Arbitrators, Practice and Procedure, State Courts, Texas Supreme Court Comments Off on Faithful to the “First Principle” of Arbitration Law, the Texas Supreme Court Shores up the “Cornerstone of the Arbitral Process”

Introduction  

Anyone versed in arbitration-law basics knows that “arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 678-80 (2010) (citation and quotations omitted). That is the “first principle” of arbitration law (the “First Principle”) set forth in the Steelworkers’ Trilogy.[1] See, e.g., 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).

The First Principle is integrally intertwined with “the central or primary purpose of the [Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)][,]” which is “to ensure that  private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.” Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 679 (citations and quotations omitted). To “enforce” an arbitration agreement “courts and arbitrators must give effect to the contractual rights and expectations of the parties.” Id. When courts do not give effect to the parties’ contractual rights and expectations, they violate the First Principle.

Courts and arbitrators are supposed to apply the First Principle faithfully and rigorously whenever  they interpret or apply material arbitration-agreement-terms, and in “doing so [they] must  not lose sight of the purpose of the exercise: to give effect to the intent of the parties.” See Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 679-81. And if that admonition applies with special force in any particular context, it would be in the interpretation and enforcement of arbitrator selection and qualification provisions.

Arbitrator selection provisions are what Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner once dubbed the “cornerstone” of the parties’ agreement: “Selection of the decision maker by or with the consent of the parties is the cornerstone of the arbitral process.” Lefkovitz v. Wagner, 395 F.3d 773, 780 (2005) (Posner, J.); see, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 5 (“If in the agreement provision be made for a method of naming or appointing an arbitrator or arbitrators or an umpire, such method shall be followed.  .  .  .”); Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Art. V(1)(d), June 10, 1958, 21 U.S.T. 2519, T.I.A.S. No. 6997 (a/k/a the “New York Convention”) (implemented by 9 U.S.C. §§ 201, et. seq.) (award subject to challenge where “[t]he composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties”); Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 668, 670 (one of the FAA’s “rules of fundamental importance” is parties “may choose who will resolve specific disputes”) (emphasis added; citations omitted); Encyclopaedia Universalis S.A. v. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., 403 F.3d 85, 91-92 (2d Cir. 2005) (vacating award by panel not convened in accordance with parties’ agreement); Cargill Rice, Inc. v. Empresa Nicaraguense Dealimentos Basicos, 25 F.3d 223, 226 (4th Cir. 1994) (same); Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc. v. Garage Employees Union, 791 F.2d 22, 25 (2d Cir. 1986) (same).

Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer

On June 20, 2014, a divided Texas Supreme Court in Americo Life, Inc. v. Myer, ___ S.W.3d __, No. 12-0739, slip op. (Tex. June 20, 2014), adhered to and correctly applied the First Principle by holding that an arbitration award had to be vacated because it was made by a panel not constituted according to the parties’ agreement.  Five Justices of the nine-member Court determined that the parties had agreed that party-appointed arbitrators need not be impartial, only independent. Because the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”) had, contrary to the parties’ agreement, disqualified the challenging party’s first-choice arbitrator on partiality grounds, the panel that rendered the award was not properly constituted and thus exceeded its powers. See Slip op. at 10. Continue Reading »