Removing Anger in a Mediation Allowed Parties to Settle

StephenGilbert By Stephen P. Gilbert

I conducted a mediation several years ago between two companies in the healthcare field, one a small high-tech company (“Company A”) and the other a much larger conglomerate. The smaller company had invented certain cutting edge technology (“Technology A”), which held great promise but required a substantial investment of money and personnel (scientists and engineers), each of which Company A had little of, to finish the R&D work and bring Technology A to market.

Company A had entered into a joint development agreement with the conglomerate to conduct the R&D work and, if possible, commercialize the technology, which Company A hoped would be used in some of the conglomerate’s products. The agreement provided that if Technology A were commercialized and used in the conglomerate’s products, the conglomerate would pay a running royalty to Company A. The few scientists and engineers of Company A worked closely with the scientists and engineers of the conglomerate and disclosed significant confidential information to them to aid in the R&D work. The conglomerate also loaned substantial capital to Company A (covered by a promissory note) because Company A was operating on a shoestring.  The agreement contained a stepped dispute resolution clause: in case of a dispute, executives of the two companies were to confer to try to resolve the dispute; if that did not work, they would go to mediation; and if that did not work, to arbitration.

A year or two after entering into the joint development agreement, the conglomerate acquired a small company (“Company B”), which had developed its own technology (“Technology B”), which, with sufficient and successful R&D work, could be used instead of Technology A in the conglomerate’s products. Both Technology A and Technology B were also potentially useful in third-party products, not just the conglomerate’s products.

Sometime after acquiring Company B, the conglomerate terminated the joint development agreement, requested payment on the promissory note (as it had the right to do) and eventually started marketing products incorporating Technology B.

Company A accused the conglomerate of purposely trying to harm Company A and prevent commercialization of Technology A. The actions of the conglomerate to which Company A pointed included acquiring Company B, terminating the joint development agreement, demanding payment of the debt, and using Company A’s confidential information to help develop and commercialize Technology B. Company A said it would now have to try to raise money to pay the debt and at the same time would have to try to find a new R&D partner, since it still could not afford the R&D work required (nor did it have sufficient personnel) to commercialize Technology A.

Company A said commercialization of Technology A would now be substantially delayed or altogether prevented and that it might have to cease operations. It noted that the conglomerate would not have to pay any royalty for using Technology B in its products because the conglomerate owned that technology through its acquisition of Company B and, if the conglomerate wished to do so, it could license Technology B to third parties without worrying about competition from Technology A, since Technology A was not yet ready to be commercialized (and might never be).

After reviewing the two confidential mediation statements and speaking ex parte with each side prior to the mediation session, it seemed settlement was possible but getting there would not be easy.

There were about ten people from each side present at the joint mediation session: Company A had business people, investors, technologists, and outside counsel; the conglomerate had business people, in-house lawyers, and outside counsel. There were no technologists from the conglomerate present. I suspected this mediation was make or break for Company A; I doubted it had the money to litigate against the conglomerate.

Each side made a short, polite opening statement, and we then split up for caucus sessions. I started with the Company A team. It was the first time I was speaking in a caucus session with anyone on the Company A team other than its outside counsel. Company A did not mince words: it was positive that all of the conglomerate’s actions had been part of a long-term plan to harm it and delay commercialization of or kill Technology A. Everything it said about the conglomerate was laced with anger.

I went to see the conglomerate team. The conglomerate felt it had done nothing wrong. That was the same message that had been conveyed to me by its outside counsel during my discussions with them before the mediation session.

One of the conglomerate’s in-house counsel who was present had been involved with the joint venture when he was a junior member of the conglomerate’s legal department (he was now significantly higher up in the department). I asked what he had done with respect to the joint venture, and it became apparent he was a goldmine of information. He had participated in drafting the joint venture agreement, had helped “administer” that agreement for the conglomerate, knew about the substantial money it had spent and R&D efforts its technologists had made on Technology A, knew (at a high level) about the technical problems that had been encountered, and knew (at a detailed level) how the decisions to abandon the technology and terminate the agreement had been made. He also knew about the “wall” the conglomerate had put in place between its people working on Technology A and those working on Technology B.

During the pre-mediation session ex parte discussions, I had asked each side that, if possible, people familiar with the joint venture relationship be at the mediation, but the depth and breadth of this individual’s knowledge was more than I could have hoped for. I asked if he would feel comfortable sharing some of this information with the other side, and I also asked lead in-house and lead outside counsel if they would feel comfortable with his doing so. They asked why; I said I thought it might be helpful, added that I didn’t see any downside (since all the information would likely be disclosed during discovery if mediation didn’t work), and received yesses from everyone. Then I went to see the Company A team.

I told them I had had a helpful discussion with the other side and asked if they would be interested in hearing some information directly from the other side (since I could never do as good a job as the conglomerate’s people could of imparting the information). The Company A team said it saw no downside, and I asked both sides to reconvene for a joint session.

It was less than two hours since the original joint mediation session had started. I asked the in‑house counsel who had given me all the information to address the other side. I said that in particular what might be helpful for the other side to hear was the history of the conglomerate’s effort to develop Technology A, the problems it had encountered, and how it had come to make the decisions to abandon Technology A and terminate the agreement.

The conglomerate’s in-house counsel began by recounting the history of his involvement and then turned to the R&D efforts that had been made and the money that was spent. At first, the Company A team just listened but soon started asking questions, which the in-house counsel answered without hesitation. I didn’t speak again until there seemed to be a logical break point, at which time I suggested we have lunch.

After lunch, he was asked more and more questions by a few members of the Company A team, some rather pointed. Others from the conglomerate’s team started to chime in. It was a lively, sometimes loud discussion. I said little except to suggest breaks when I felt it was appropriate and to remind everyone it would be better if people spoke one at a time so everyone could hear what was being said. We broke for dinner and agreed to reconvene the next morning.

The next morning, the Company A team started by discussing what it would like to see in a settlement. Bargaining ensued. Agreement was reached late afternoon, and a heads of agreement (which provided for subsequent negotiation of a comprehensive agreement) was negotiated and executed, after which we all shook hands, each side thanking the other for participating and congratulating it on reaching agreement.

It was then that the key decision-maker of Company A shared with me and with the key decision-maker of the conglomerate the following. At the end of the first day, while the Company A team was returning to its hotel, he said to his team that in view of what they had heard from the conglomerate’s in-house counsel who had spoken at length and provided answers to their questions, they might have been wrong about what had happened and about what they had been sure was the conglomerate’s bad faith. His team sat at dinner that evening talking about what they had heard and came to agree with him. Once that happened, their feelings of anger dissipated and they started to focus on how to resolve the dispute.

We were lucky to have in attendance a smart individual from the conglomerate’s side who had sufficient first-hand knowledge of the entire situation and could present information (including answering probing and pointed questions from the other side) in a non-confrontational, believable way. There is no way of my knowing, but I think it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to have reached settlement at that time if the anger Company A felt and had expressed to me so strongly had not been removed.

Stephen P. Gilbert (www.spgadr.com) is a CPR Distinguished Neutral, CEDR Accredited Mediator, American Arbitration Association Commercial Master Mediator, Fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitrators, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Fellow of the American College of e-Neutrals, Member/Panelist of the Silicon Valley Arbitration & Mediation Center, and was a computer programmer, a chemical engineer, and a patent attorney.

Facebook, Latest Leading Co. to Demand Greater Diversity in Legal Services

We can’t like this enough so we thought we’d share it as well: Facebook is one of the latest well-known companies to make necessary strides in the area of diversity in law, apparently now requiring that women and ethnic minorities comprise at least 33 percent of outside legal teams working on its legal matters.

According to a New York Times article on this development,Numbers alone, however, are not enough, under a policy that went into effect on Saturday. Law firms must also show that they ‘actively identify and create clear and measurable leadership opportunities for women and minorities’ when they represent the company in litigation and other legal matters.” The article also referenced a similar MetLife legal diversity policy to be announced later this month. 

This is great news, but it is still only a start. More needs to be done–not only by other companies large and small, but by all stakeholders to the dispute resolution process. And not only with respect to law firms, but mediators and arbitrators as well.

As CPR President & CEO Noah Hanft noted in his March 20 New York Law Journal Article, “Making Diversity Happen in ADR: No More Lip Service,” there are key roles for just about everyone to play in this process:

In-House Counsel: You are the drivers here.  According to Hanft, “You need to say not only that diversity is important to you, but to show that it is.” Referenced in both the NYT and NYLJ articles, and under the innovative leadership of GC Kim Rivera, CPR member HP announced in February that it would actually withhold fees – a 10% “diversity holdback” with certain conditions – from law firms that failed to comply with diversity requirements. 

Law Firms: “Try to learn of neutrals that you have not used,” Hanft suggests here. “What would be the harm when sending out the typical law firm memo asking whether anyone knows a good mediator in a copyright case, to specifically ask about diverse neutrals in that space? Be brave enough to do what your clients have told you they expect you to do in your own firm.”

Other ADR organizations: In the NYLJ article, Hanft lists education, mentorship and recruitment as important items on his own organization’s To Do list. He concludes, “But, most important, we must utilize our very best efforts to include those diverse candidates on slates; remind decision-makers of the benefits of diversity on the quality of the decision-making process; and then actively encourage the selection of diverse candidates.”

In sum, and in order to for diversity in law and ADR to “go viral,” we all have a social role to play. Tell your friends.

Shall We Have an Adult Conversation About Legitimacy?

[A summary of the keynote address of Jan Paulsson on 2 March 2017 at the Annual Meeting of the CPR Institute at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, which has also been archived on CPR’s Facebook page.]

By Jan Paulsson

It is difficult to know when history is being made. Important developments tend to be incremental, and perceived only in hindsight. Yet I am willing to wager that we are in the middle of a decade this decade in which the international arbitral process seriously comes to grips with the existential need to secure acknowledgment of its legitimacy. This is not being done, and cannot be done, by individual arbitrators. The exemplary work of 50 is done in silence; the misconduct of one may become a first-page scandal. The heavy lifting must be done by arbitral institutions.

The three evils they must combat are: transparency deficits, entrenchment, and capture. Not all of the hundreds of arbitral institutions who purport to handle international disputes will do their part, because some of them were created and remain dominated by special interests, and like things the way they have them. They have other priorities than ensuring a fair and neutral process. These are not the successful institutions, but it is vital – lest all be tarred with the same brush – that they are recognized by tangible criteria for what they are. The test is not what institutions proclaim, but what they do; does their conduct prove a commitment to fairness and neutrality?

Thirty years ago Professor Hans Smit proposed in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (Vol. 25, p 30) that there should be a single global arbitral institution charged with the supervision of the arbitral process. If this could not be achieved by a voluntary process of federation, he suggested that the same goal could be reached by the establishment by the International Chamber of Commerce of a network of conveniently located branches around the world.  Existing institutions would be invited to “merge” into those branches, failing which the ICC would proceed alone. This may not have been a good idea at any time, given the dangers of bureaucratization and monopolistic complacency, not to mention prohibitive cost. And today it is surely an impossibility, given the emergence of a number of deservedly successful and robust institutions in a number of regions of the world. Still, Smit’s idea was founded on the crucial insight that international arbitration will suffer from the misconduct of what one might call its weakest links, and that it is necessary to be very clear about what the criteria of legitimacy are so that waywardness can be exposed by objective measurement.

This is not rocket science. The premise of international arbitration is that all commercial disputes, even those with stakes of billions of dollars, will be decided by three arbitrators, or even a sole arbitrator, and that the outcome is final. Let’s be frank; this is asking for a lot. Losing parties are often extremely unhappy, and quick to think that something has gone seriously wrong. When the institution has not been properly “designed for legitimacy”, the ultimate sad irony may be that each side thinks that its opponent has some occult advantage, and that each side therefore seeks achieve some compensatory secret trump card – even though their reciprocal suspicions had no foundation. This can be something like a death spiral.

Today I have the good fortune of having been asked to address the annual meeting of an organization which is known for having been created not by the service providers, but by consumers of dispute resolution services. How fitting it is therefore that in 2002 CPR took the unique initiative of developing a template for universal best practices suggested as suitable if not essential for any institution anywhere. This was called the CPR/Georgetown Commission’s 2002 Principles for ADR Provider Organizations. Much ground has been covered since then at the individual reforming initiatives of the leading institutions, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

It seems that I have achieved modest notoriety for expressing doubts about the wisdom of the widespread practice of unilateral appointments of arbitrators. Given how insistently those who disagree with my ideas on this subject distort what I say, I could perhaps be forgiven if I concluded that the propositions I articulate must be very powerful. From where I’m standing today, I cannot tell if this audience is dominated by experienced lawyers or younger ones. Younger audiences are of course idealistic and invariably agree with me.  Older audiences are cynical and set in their ways, and always protest. So obviously I prefer the latter. It’s much more fun.

My opponents say that I want to do away with the fundamental right of parties to name their arbitrators. This is unfair; I do not that at all. In the first place, I believe in the freedom of consenting and informed adults. If arbitrants agree that each of them can name its best friend or favorite lawyer as arbitrator, that’s fine with me as long as everything is out in the open. I’m not sure the result deserves the name “arbitration”, but hey – what’s in a name? Second and more importantly, my animadversions against unilateral appointments have not led me to want to tear down the temple or destroy icons, but just to a modest proposal. Here it is: the default rule should be that if the parties have agreed to a three-member tribunal all three members should be agreed by both sides, or else by an appointing institution. It’s only a default rule, but I suggest it should not be varied by agreement until the dispute has arisen. That day the claimant can measure whether the dispute is going to be civilized or brutal. If the former – and perhaps that will be the case most of the time – it takes only a phone call to agree that each side can name one of the arbitrators in the usual way. If the latter, the claimant may well have reason to rejoice, faced with a bitter clash with a party who wants to break off relations forever and is likely to deploy scorched earth tactics, that the default rule is the one I suggest.

I have written at length about the disadvantages of the practice of unilateral appointments and will not go through them here. (See The Idea of Arbitration, Oxford University Press, Sections 5.4 and 9.4.) All experienced practitioners in the international field know what it is like when unilateral nominees misbehave, or when losing parties suspect undue influence. It’s an on-going concern, and I am not mollified by the “if it ain’t broke thesis.” Things may be tolerable most of the time, but most of the time is not good enough.

This was brought home to me when I read the heart-felt account published a couple of weeks ago of the experience of a lawyer participating in his first ICSID arbitration. I do not know him, but I am certainly aware that he is a prominent fixture of several decades’ standing in the Miami legal community. Indeed his office is only a mile away from the beautiful hotel where we are meeting now.  I will call him Mr X.  His account is interesting precisely because this is a sophisticated and articulate lawyer who discovers a process with which he is not familiar and feels compelled to express serious concerns. We do well to take the concerns of such thoughtful individuals to heart. I do know the two other arbitrators involved in the case, with whom I have participated in more arbitrations I can count. From what one can read in the award and the dissenting opinion, my only sources of information about this case, all three arbitrators behaved perfectly honorably and none should be embarrassed if I named them, but I will not do so since but I would find it a distraction to personalize a matter which I am using only as an illustration of what I believe to be a frequently recurrent and seriously troubling unease, maybe even a malaise.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. The case involved Costa Rica, which is all I have to say to enable anyone here with a laptop to learn as much as I know about the case.  From the parties’ point of view, the case was over in March 2014, when the parties filed post-hearing briefs.  After that date, the process seems (to the uninitiated reader) to have entered a black box, as the next recorded event is a challenge by the claimant, like a bolt out of the blue, to all three members of the arbitral tribunal. This dramatic event occurred in June 2015. You heard me: a year and three months later which the parties were presumably waiting passively, if with mounting impatience, for the award to come out. Something was obviously not right. We do know that the claimant’s complaint was based on the fact that the Tribunal’s legal secretary, a lawyer on the ICSID staff who as part of their function are present during deliberations and typically assist in such useful ways as retrieving documents from a voluminous file which the arbitrators are unlikely to transport in its entirety to the place of arbitration from their various home offices, had left ICSID’s employ to join the law firm representing the respondent. In other words, the claimant was complaining about a form (I might perhaps venture to say a mild form) of capture.

The challenge was dismissed nine months later in accordance with the relevant rules and practice. I say nothing about that.  The arbitrators, thus confirmed in their function, went about their duty to render a final award, which they did a few weeks ago, in January.  It turned out to be one of those cases where a number of issues  were decided 2-to-1, with each of the co-arbitrators finding himself either part of the majority or in dissent, and the presiding arbitrator always part of the majority. Mr X wrote the dissent which captured my attention. The first thing to say about it is that it is entirely respectful of the other arbitrators, with whom Mr X writes that he was “honored” to serve. He explained in lucid terms some significant differences of substance with respect to which he was disappointed to find himself in disagreement. Such things happen; reasonable people differ. But then we get to the troubling passages.

Mr X notes that “the period that followed the hearing was delayed by the embarrassing and unnecessary issues caused by the change in employment of the Panel secretary and other issues related to the impartiality of the panel.” What these “other issues” involved is not specified, and the challenge decision itself has not been published as far as I know. I have seen press articles referring to information to the effect that these issues had to do with the prior relations between the presiding arbitrator and the other co-arbitrator; such complaints are frequently raised by losing parties, sometimes on quite flimsy grounds, but let’s not pay heed to gossip or speculation or anonymous sources. Mr X then goes on to write that “I choose not to add any further comment on the issue of the secretary’s employment, but do wish to address the issue of the constitution of the panel and the issues of conflicts and impartiality.”

What Mr X then has to say is notably that “the arrangement whereby two of the panel members are selected by the parties to the agreement creates an uncomfortable aura of conflict which permeates, in my view, the proceedings” and that, although “I have worked hard to neutralize his factor as I am sure my esteemed [co-arbitrator] colleague has done”, the only panelist who did not have “an inherent conflict” was the chairman. Mr X concluded that the “appointment by a party of a judge to rule on the party’s claim creates an unnecessary barrier to pure objectivity” and recommended that ICSID consider prohibiting the practice of unilateral appointments.

This is not the occasion to discuss the feasibility or even desirability of such a prohibition, particularly in the case of ICSID since its rules are constrained by the text of the international treaty by which it was created. My point is rather to insist that this measured but heart-felt comment is one that all institutes and arbitrants should take to heart, recognize as not being an isolated phenomenon, and take as a compelling reason to consider ways in which this kind of unease can be alleviated.

I think I have heard and examined at length in writing all conceivable arguments against my suggestion that we move away from the practice of unilateral appointments as a default rule, and I challenge any one of you to a debate because I am confident that I will prevail. Prevail, that is, except if you make the one argument which is Kryptonite and will defeat me every time. Here is how you win the argument: you look me in the eye and say “I don’t trust the institution, and so as long as I can name one of the arbitrators I feel that I will reduce the risk of a runaway tribunal doing something crazy – but unappealable.”

That argument is indeed made, like it or not. Decent arbitral institution cannot fail to realize that it is a disappointing and sobering message, indeed something of an indictment. They must absorb this reality, and do try to do two things about it. The Big Thing is to earn such trust that this kind of worry about a runaway tribunal evaporates. The Little Thing is far easier, and may in practical terms be just about as good. It is to focus on the involvement of the parties in the selection of arbitrators, and to attend to the numerous adaptations and refinements that may take the edge off the disadvantages of what one might call unreconstructed unilateralism.

The CPR Institute took a noteworthy step in this direction with the well-known Rule 5.4 of its Rules for Administrated Arbitration of International Disputes, for which it deservedly won a prize as the best innovation of 2016 [from Global Arbitration Review]. It introduces what CPR calls a “screened selection process,” which allows parties to choose among proposed arbitrators but in a manner designed to keep the ultimately appointed panel members from knowing individual parties’ preferences. We need to see how this works in practice, and how similar initiatives function elsewhere. There will always, believe me, be attempts to game the system. If I may put it as a paradox, the only thing that must be constant is the readiness to change as we learn. The poacher never rests; neither can the gamekeeper…

But this is not enough. Institutions should not only be inventive themselves, but encourage parties to be inventive as well. Most often this concerns the parties’ lawyers. Why are we lawyers, so unbelievably inventive in argument, stuck in the mud when it comes to patterns of process? Can’t we all agree that in ideal circumstances an arbitral tribunal should operate as a team, and not as three sole arbitrators cobbling together something of dubious coherence that achieves an unappealable result but does not deserve to be called “consensus?” If we agree want cohesive tribunals capable of producing greater quality than their individual members, aren’t presiding arbitrators the captain of those teams? Why not give them an important role in the constitution of the team – perhaps identifying a number of individuals they find compatible, or complementary, and asking the parties to rank them. (This, by the way, seems to be a more likely route to diversity than to expect it from unilateral appointments by parties whose entire focus in making appointments is to win the case. The presiding arbitrator might say “I’m comfortable with the industrial context, but would like a member of the tribunal to be conversant with public international law; then we’ll be all set so the third member can be someone less experienced whom I believe will make a solid contribution and who merits the experience and exposure.”) Or how about each side giving the presiding arbitrator a list from which to chose each co-arbitrator on the basis of compatibility? Or even, when full confidence reigns, go all the way and allow the presiding arbitrator simply to come up with the two others, constrained by nothing except perhaps observations by the parties as to what kind of qualities or experience the case calls for?

Parties have also been known to achieve quite surprising things – if only they will pick up the phone and try. I have observed an interesting dynamic when two lawyers with a minimum of mutual respect agree (between themselves) to give each a right of veto with respect to the unilateral nominees, maybe once or twice. A cynic might say that the result will be that each will immediately propose wholly unacceptable names and then move on – but I say that such is not the unavoidable result, and no harm trying.  Or how about saying “If I appoint A, whom will you appoint? Are you saying B? Oh, no, then I’d appoint C.  What’s that, you like A? Well then, think of someone other than B”.

The possibilities are limited only by our imagination, and it is urgent that we unleash our capacity for innovation. As we have heard this morning from Noah Hanft as he enters his third year of leadership of the CPR, he and his staff are determined to give fresh impetus to the vigorous improvement of the dispute resolution process in all of its forms, and it behooves all of us to take a sympathetic interest in their efforts, which can only benefit all who believe that legitimacy in the resolution of disputes should not be negotiable.

Jan Paulsson is a founding partner of Three Crowns LLP, a specialist international arbitration firm. He holds the Michael Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair as professor of law at the University of Miami. 

 

 

Gorsuch on Mediation

By Russ Bleemer

U.S. Circuit Court cases referencing mediation aren’t unusual. Since most cases settle before they get to a courthouse, and long before they reach the appellate levels, the intervention of a third-party neutral is commonplace part of the recounting of the case histories that ultimately appear before appeals courts.

But it’s comparatively rare for a U.S. Circuit Court to write and rule on mediation mechanics.

Last night’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Tenth U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, of Denver, has written about the mechanics and effects of mediation in his decade on the bench at the circuit’s home in Denver.

In Hand v. Walnut Valley Sailing Club, Case No. 11-3228 (10th Cir. April 4, 2012)(available at http://bit.ly/2jVWsO7), a unanimous Tenth Circuit panel strongly backed mediation confidentiality in an order and judgment written by Gorsuch—a rare pronouncement on mediation and how it works by a federal circuit court.

For fans of mediation, it’s an instructive and fun read for its support of the ADR process, even though the appeals court’s support of a district court dismissal because a litigant abused mediation confidentiality rules was focused on a pleading technicality.

In the unanimous, three-judge panel order, Gorsuch details a move by the plaintiff, a member of the defendant sailing club, to tell “at least” 44 club members and others why a mediation of the plaintiff’s suit against the club failed.

The email sent by the plaintiff “disparage[ed] the club’s positions and relat[ed] all the details of the mediation, including what the mediator said and the amount of the club’s settlement offer,” the order states.

The plaintiff, according to the Gorsuch judgment, had complained to Kansas’s governor “that a storage shed owned by [the] sailing club didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The club revoked the plaintiff’s membership, and the plaintiff filed suit.

The plaintiff had claimed ignorance of the mediation confidentiality law, but in dismissing the case, Gorsuch pointed out that the issue hadn’t been briefed in the district court.  The Tenth Circuit order says that the plaintiff’s contention that his lack of knowledge of the law was in an accompanying affidavit wasn’t sufficient where “both sides’ briefing, all prepared by retained counsel, proceeded on the premise that he knew the mediation was supposed to remain confidential. [The plaintiff] argued merely that the club’s request for dismissal was a disproportionate sanction.”

That was the sole issue, Gorsuch wrote, that the appeals panel saw as “worthy of mention,” noting that without the briefing, the issue couldn’t be considered.

But that conclusion followed the Tenth Circuit panel’s strong endorsement of mediation confidentiality. “Our review confirms that the district court did not abuse its discretion,” wrote Gorsuch, adding that the plaintiff

committed a serious violation of the confidentiality rule. He didn’t just share a few tidbits about the mediation with a friend, he revealed extensive and prejudicial details about the mediation to over forty people, many likely witnesses in the case. And he did so not accidentally but intentionally. In his deposition, [he] explained that he “absolutely” disclosed mediation information because he believed club members “had a right to know.”

Earlier in the order, Gorsuch reiterated the U.S. District Court holding that his panel was affirming, boosting the ADR process and noting that the plaintiff’s disclosures

“demonstrated complete disrespect for the confidential mediation process.” [Citation omitted.] In discussing the importance confidentiality plays under the congressional scheme created by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1998, see 28 U.S.C. § 652(d) (requiring district courts to “provide for the confidentiality of the alternative dispute resolution processes and to prohibit disclosure of confidential dispute resolution communications”), the court recognized that an assurance of confidentiality encourages parties to participate in mediation with candor and is essential to the success of mediation programs. The need for confidentiality, the court said, is particularly strong where a mediation program is, as here, mandatory, “because participants are often assured that all discussions and documents related to the proceeding will be protected from forced disclosure.” [Citation omitted.]

Still, the Gorsuch-written Hand order isn’t a published opinion and comes with a caveat:  “This order and judgment is not binding precedent, except under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, and collateral estoppel. It may be cited, however, for its persuasive value consistent with Fed. R. App. P. 32.1 and 10th Cir. R. 32.1.”

***

Gorsuch also had to address the effect of a mediation settlement agreement in A.F. v. Espanola Public Schools, No. 14-2139 (Sept. 15, 2015)(available at http://bit.ly/2ki2QAa).

The case was mediated as per the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and settled.  But the IDEA’s procedures contemplate moves for further relief under other statutes, but only after the act’s procedures have been exhausted.

Both parties took advantage of the mediation step in the act, according to the 2-1 Gorsuch opinion.  The case settled.

Then, the plaintiff filed suit on behalf of her daughter under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, making the same allegations in federal court that she had made in her original administrative complaint, and which were successfully resolved in mediation.

The Gorsuch opinion affirmed a district court decision that said the plaintiff hadn’t exhausted her remedies under the IDEA scheme for the second suit.

The plaintiff claimed that because she had mediated her claim under the IDEA procedure scheme, the procedures’ application to her new claim had been exhausted, or were inapplicable.

Gorsuch’s opinion didn’t take issue with the mediation results itself, and even agreed that the plaintiff’s court case could proceed under the other statutes, so long as it followed the IDEA procedures required for the other laws.

But the opinion said that the IDEA procedure enabling the subsequent suit also required exhaustion of the claims, under the statute’s plain terms.  The mediation wasn’t enough. For those claims using the statute to launch the plaintiff’s subsequent lawsuit, the opinion said, more is required for exhaustion of the IDEA resolution procedures than the mediation for the first IDEA claim.

A dissent stated that a more reasonable interpretation of the IDEA is that a mediated resolution constitutes exhaustion for the pursuit of other permitted claims.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute.

See also: “Gorsuch on Arbitration”

Gorsuch on Arbitration

By Russ Bleemer

A review of the arbitration opinions involving Tenth U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, who last night was nominated to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, doesn’t provide a definitive indication on how his arbitration votes might fall if the U.S. Senate approves of his nomination.

The 49-year-old Gorsuch, who has been on the Tenth Circuit bench since President George W. Bush nominated him and he was confirmed by the Senate in 2006, has participated in appellate panels that have backed awards, compelled arbitration and reversed a failure to compel arbitration.

But the narrow scope of arbitration cases in which the circuit judge has participated, and the issues on which the cases were decided, don’t show a pronounced tilt toward business or consumers.

Adherence to Contract Law Principles, Combined with Customary View of FAA

In his most arbitration-centric decision, Gorsuch’s preferred path is adherence to contract law principles, combined with a customary view of the Federal Arbitration Act among federal judges.

“Everyone knows the Federal Arbitration Act favors arbitration,” Gorsuch wrote in the opening to Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, No. 13-3061 (10th Cir. April 8, 2014)(available at http://bit.ly/2jTm6Wi), but, he emphasized, “before the Act’s heavy hand in favor of arbitration swings into play, the parties themselves must agree to have their disputes arbitrated.”

He continued, “While Congress has chosen to preempt state laws that aim to channel disputes into litigation rather than arbitration, even under the FAA it remains a ‘fundamental principle’ that ‘arbitration is a matter of contract,’ not something to be foisted on the parties at all costs.”

Possible Role in Employment Contract Class Action Waiver Cases

There is little in the 38 arbitration opinions that the Tenth Circuit website produces in a search of Gorsuch’s work—mostly incidental mentions–that rises to the level of significance of the preemption of state law and class waiver issues that have steadily appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent history.

But if confirmed quickly, Gorsuch could find himself participating in the decisions on three cases taken by the Court on Jan. 13 that will be argued together this term, and will settle whether employees can be required as a condition of employment to arbitrate their workplace disputes individually, while waiving their rights to a class process.

The long-simmering group of cases is a clash between the National Labor Relations Act and the Federal Arbitration Act, and an extension to the employment arena of the leading class waiver/mandatory arbitration case in consumer contracts, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), which Gorsuch was quoting directly in the passage above.

Arbitration watchers who want to try to handicap the Court’s path likely will need to become acquainted with Gorsuch’s by now well-publicized animosity toward the so-called Chevron Doctrine, in which the U.S. Supreme Court has backed deference to administrative agency determinations.  See Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984)(available at http://bit.ly/1EirXXt).

In an immigration law decision last year, Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, No. 14-9585  (Aug. 23, 2016)(available at http://bit.ly/2kPDvh5), Gorsuch blasted Chevron in a concurrence, writing that its deference to the executive branch agencies in derogation of legislative power runs counter to the Constitution’s separation of powers checks-and-balance system.

The issue could control the arbitration outcome in the three employment arbitration cases at the Court, which currently are being briefed and not yet scheduled for oral argument. They emanate from a January 2012 opinion by the National Labor Relations Board.

In one of the three cases, the Board itself is a party, appealing a Fifth Circuit decision which overturned its earlier administrative decision. See NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA Inc., No. No. 16-307 (U.S. Supreme Court case page is available here: http://bit.ly/2kOPxal. Scotusblog’s page including briefs and a link to the Fifth Circuit opinion is available here: http://bit.ly/2kPvTyi).

If the Chevron Doctrine doesn’t figure in a Gorsuch view of the current arbitration cases, the NLRB’s moves to preserve class actions by forbidding mandatory arbitration may be another hot button for the former U.S. Supreme Court clerk.

Gorsuch on Class Actions

Gorsuch has problems with class actions in securities cases.  When he was in private practice, he wrote that “economic incentives unique to securities litigation encourage class action lawyers to bring meritless claims and prompt corporate defendants to pay dearly to settle such claims.” Neil M. Gorsuch and Paul B. Matey, “Settlements in Securities Fraud Class Actions: Improving Investor Protection,” Critical Legal Issues–Working Paper Series No. 128 (Washington Legal Foundation April 2005)(available at http://bit.ly/2kTBDCZ).

Two Opinions, One Dissent

Despite involvement as a panel member in cases producing about a dozen opinions or orders, the Howard case discussed above is one of only three arbitration writings exclusively by Gorsuch in his decade-long tenure on the court.  One of the three is a dissent.

The Tenth Circuit website revealed Gorsuch’s opinions, and orders with judgments, but didn’t produce unpublished opinions in which Gorsuch may have participated.

In Howard, Gorsuch wrote that the customarily swift determination by a lower court of whether the parties in the suit agreed to arbitration didn’t take place—fast or slow.

The plaintiff had filed a class action for overcharges against the propane supplier defendant.  The defense asked for arbitration, and Gorsuch described how the lower court botched its inquiry.  He first noted that the district court, “[u]nsure whether [defendant] Ferrellgas had shown an agreement to arbitrate in its initial motion, . . . entertained discovery and further motions practice.”

The trial court, Gorsuch reported, found “too many unresolved factual questions remained and proceeded to invite yet more discovery followed by yet more motions practice.”

Nearly a year and half after the defendant filed its motion to compel arbitration, the district court, Gorsuch wrote, “issued an order in which it found that material disputes of fact still prevented it from saying for certain whether or not the parties had agreed to arbitrate. But rather than proceeding to resolve the conflicting factual accounts through trial as the Act requires, the court entered an order denying arbitration outright.” [Emphasis is Circuit Judge Gorsuch’s.]

“That was error,” continued Gorsuch, exhibiting his breezy writing style in an area dry even by circuit law standards, explaining, “In these circumstances, the [Federal Arbitration] Act’s summary trial can look a lot like summary judgment. But when, as in this case, a quick look at the case suggests material disputes of fact do exist on the question whether the parties agreed to arbitrate, round after round of discovery and motions practice isn’t the answer. Parties should not have to endure years of waiting and exhaust legions of photocopiers in discovery and motions practice merely to learn where their dispute will be heard. The Act requires courts process the venue question quickly so the parties can get on with the merits of their dispute in the right forum. It calls for a summary trial—not death by discovery.”

Then, Gorsuch spread the blame around for arbitration disaster.  “Of course, the parties here didn’t exactly help themselves,” he wrote, adding, “They were anything but quick to seek the trial promised by the Act. In fact, they seemed content enough to haggle along together in the usual way of contemporary civil litigation, all about discovery disputes and motions practice and with only the most glancing consideration given to the possibility of trial.”

The case is a war over a contract, and whether and when it took effect.  Gorsuch explained that it was unclear from the record whether an oral contract for the propane tank and initial delivery was followed by a written contract for future deliveries containing the arbitration clause—and restricting it to the subsequent deliveries.

Regardless, Gorsuch–joined by his two fellow appeals panel members–ruled that with material facts in dispute, the district court should have proceeded to a trial on whether an arbitration agreement existed, and should not have denied the request to arbitration.

He wrote that the Federal Arbitration Act should have shown the path to the case’s resolution.  “We appreciate both sides’ evident frustration at how long this case has lingered at the transom without having entered either the door into arbitration or litigation,” Gorsuch concluded, adding, “It’s understandable that everyone might want us to give the case a firm nudge (one way or the other) so the parties’ dispute can finally progress past preliminary venue questions to the merits. But unresolved material disputes of fact block our way—disputes that could and should have been resolved years ago according to the procedures the FAA provides.”

Taking a Broader FAA View

Gorsuch took a broader FAA view in a dissent in a 2-1 Tenth Circuit arbitration case, Ragab v. Howard, No. 15-1444 (Nov. 21, 2016)(available at http://bit.ly/2gCL3pn).  The dissent—in a case where his panel affirmed a lower court’s ruling that conflicting arbitration agreements in six contracts between two parties should not be arbitrated because there was no meeting of the minds as to conducting the arbitration—appears to be is his most demonstrative view of the FAA’s effect on state laws.

Gorsuch strongly rejects the majority’s use of a New Jersey case that struck arbitration where multiple contracts conflicted on the terms of arbitration.  He notes that the New Jersey ruling had little application to Colorado laws, but also explains that it may not pass muster with the Supreme Court for its disregard of the FAA.

The New Jersey ruling, he explains, was a deep dive into the state’s consumer protection laws, in a case where the Tenth Circuit Colorado plaintiff more closely resembled a merchant.  But he noted that federal preemption is a big issue:  “Whether or not the FAA would preempt New Jersey’s special ‘extra clarity’ rule for certain kinds of arbitration agreements, that possibility undoubtedly exists and seems to me to counsel against endorsing it without a good deal more careful investigation than the parties offer us in this case.”

He wrote that with six of the parties’ interrelated commercial agreements containing arbitration clauses, and other circumstances, “In my view, parties to a commercial deal could have hardly demonstrated with greater clarity an intention to arbitrate their disputes and I see no way we might lawfully rescue them from their choice.”

Procedural holes are frequently filled by the parties, he explained, in providing “two easy workarounds that I believe would be more consistent with the parties’ expressed purposes than the course my colleagues chart.”

Additional Arbitration Work

Gorsuch was the author of one additional unanimous panel order and judgment on the Tenth Circuit’s website that backed a lower court’s refusal to compel arbitration for a former top executive who was fired by a pharmaceutical company. Genberg v. Porter, No. 13-1140 (May 12, 2014)(available at http://bit.ly/2kpuRs7).

The bulk of Gorsuch’s arbitration work appearing on the Tenth Circuit website, at www.ca10.uscourts.gov, was as part of a panel where others wrote the opinion or order. Among the opinions, Gorsuch joined his fellow circuit judges in backing a lower court ruling that a suit by a union under the Railway Labor Act  belonged in mandatory arbitration (BMWE v. BNSF Railway, No. 12-3061 (March 2, 2010)(available at http://bit.ly/2kpIwif).

In addition, he participated in panels in the following cases but didn’t write the unanimous opinion or order and judgment:

  • An order noting that an arbitration acts as a res judicata bar against a subsequent suit related to the wrongful discharge suit by an ex-Department of Veterans Affairs employee, backing a Merits Systems Protection Board order. Johnson v. DOVA, No. 14-9619 (May 22, 2015)(available at http://bit.ly/2kOYaBK).
  • An order strongly backing a major defense contractor’s mandatory arbitration clause contained in its employment dispute resolution program. Pennington v. Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems Corp., No. 07-2250 (March 14, 2008)(available at http://bit.ly/2jTh49F).
  • An affirmance of a Colorado court that overturned an arbitration award against a company which claimed that an arbitration notice presented by its Chinese business partner didn’t put the company on notice of a deadline it missed to participate in the ADR process. CEEG (Shanghai) Solar Science v. Lumos, No. 15-1256 (July 19, 2016)(available at http://bit.ly/2kOUorT).
  • An nonprecedential order and judgment as to arbitration backing a lower court that refused to compel arbitration, noting that the defendants seeking ADR didn’t establish that an arbitration agreement existed. Bellman v. i3Carbon, No. 12-1275 (May 2, 2014)(available at http://bit.ly/2kp3FJT).
  • An order, also nonprecedential as to the FAA, sending a case to arbitration and entitling the party to attorneys’ fees and costs “incurred in enforcing its right to arbitrate.” The order reversed a federal district court denial of arbitration. The winning defendant in the Tenth Circuit was a builder that sold the plaintiffs two condominiums with a mediation and arbitration clause in the sales agreement. Lamkin v. Morinda Properties Weight Parc, No. 11-4022 (Sept. 19, 2011)(available at http://bit.ly/2jTdKeS).
  • A case affirming dismissal of an employee’s wrongful termination suit after it had been arbitrated, citing claims preclusion under the arbitration award. Lewis v. Circuit City Stores, 05-3383 (Aug. 31, 2007)(available at http://bit.ly/2keVY6J).
  • A decision reversing two federal district court denials of arbitration against an employer charged by workers with violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and an Oklahoma labor law, focusing on the scope of an arbitration clause, but in the remand order asking the lower court to consider whether the arbitration agreement preserves FLSA rights. Sanchez v. Nitro Lift Technologies, 12-7046 (Aug. 8, 2014)(available at http://bit.ly/2kT2Ple).
  • A determination that one of “two factually distinct injuries” related to a commercial contract fell under an arbitration clause, reversing in part a magistrate judge and a federal district court which had found that the case couldn’t be arbitrated. Chelsea Family Pharmacy PLLC v. Medco Health Solutions Inc., No. 08-5103 (June 2, 2009)(available at http://bit.ly/2jtiefT).

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute.

*Updated at 12 p.m.

Making the Mandatory Argument: Arbitration, Class Waivers and the Practitioners’ Role

By Russ Bleemer

Legislative and court arguments over whether ADR processes can be used to defray class litigation are moving toward a decisive 2017 conclusion.

New regulations barring the use of class waivers associated with mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts, like credit card agreements or wireless telephone service agreements, are due for release soon by the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The CFPB had issued a proposal in May and accepted public comments until August.

In the December Alternatives, Sanford Jaffe and Linda Stamato, longtime conflict resolution process theorists, designers, and practitioners at the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., backed the move.  They argue that the mandatory arbitration processes that prohibit class litigation that the CFPB targets indeed should go.

But with the intervention of last month’s election, the prospects for the vitality and longevity of the coming regulation has dimmed.

So the authors also argue that the responsibility for preserving the integrity of alternative dispute resolution processes by breaking the link between mandatory processes and class waivers lies with practitioners themselves.

“Rarely seen are misgivings about mandatory arbitration expressed by dispute resolution professionals,” the authors write. “But we ought to be heard in the hearings and rule-making processes, and in social and print media, to support the proper use of the processes we have worked to design, develop, apply and evaluate.  We need . . . to defend the principles upon which this field is grounded, not the least of which is choice. We need to return to the attitudes and beliefs with which the field started decades ago, to fulfill the promises of the architects of the field.”

In addition to discussing mandatory arbitration in contracts over which the CFPB regulates, Jaffe and Stamato discuss mandatory arbitration in the employment context, noting the line of cases involving the clash between the Federal Arbitration Act and the National Labor Relations Act.

Three federal circuit courts have held that the FAA permits employers to use class waivers in requiring arbitration to resolve workplace disputes, while two circuits have gone the other way, saying that the NLRA preserves a right to class processes, including litigation, under the law which says that employees may “engage in . . . concerted activities.” See CPR Blog post from Aug. 23 HERE.

Since the December issue of Alternatives was released (HERE free on CPR’s website for members logged in; HERE with archives on publisher John Wiley’s site) , the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled five FAA-NLRA cases for discussion at its Jan. 6 case conference.

Experts believe the Court will accept one or more of the cases—perhaps one favoring the defense view upholding mandatory arbitration with a class waiver, and one backing the National Labor Relation Board’s ruling that class processes must be preserved—to finally decide the matter, which has been brewing since the NLRB struck the mandatory arbitration/class waiver provision it found in D.R. Horton Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184, 2012 WL 36274 (Jan. 3, 2012)(PDF download link at http://1.usa.gov/1IMkHn8), enforcement denied in relevant part, 737 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 2013)(Graves, J., dissenting)(PDF download link at http://bit.ly/1XRvjrM), reh’g denied, No. 12-60031 (Apr. 16, 2014).

Meantime, the viability of the CFPB’s yet-to-be-released regulations is in doubt in light of President-elect Trump’s anti-regulation views, including his loathing of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which authorized the CFPB.  While the agency is committed to a forthcoming final regulation, it’s unlikely it will stand without attack.

In the forthcoming January issue of Alternatives, available at the links above on or around Jan. 4, Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr partner Alan Kaplinsky will counter the December Alternatives commentary discussed above with an outline of the options to challenge to the CFPB’s regulation, which some analysts say may emerge before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

As Kaplinsky points out, a Congressional repeal may not even be necessary.  A new Trump appointee replacing current CFPB Director Richard Cordray could roll back the roll-out, restore (or reassert) mandatory arbitration and class waivers, and delay or change the regulations via the Administrative Procedure Act.

The December Alternatives commentary, “Private Justice: Losing Our Day in Court,” by Sanford M. Jaffe and Linda Stamato, is available now for all readers HERE.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute.

A Mock Challenge under the CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes – An Overview

By Ksenia Koriukalova

On December 6, 2016 CPR’s Young Attorneys in Dispute Resolution (“Y-ADR”) and New York International Arbitration Center (“NYIAC”) hosted a seminar in New York City. The event featured a panel discussion on hot topics in international dispute resolution in 2016, as well as the mock challenge of an arbitrator under the CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes (“CPR Rules”).

The mock exercise was based on a hypothetical case involving the challenge of an arbitrator after a draft award had been circulated based on his alleged connection to the officer of the winning party, as well as on the views he expressed in his prior publications. The arbitrator in question served on a three-member panel which rendered a unanimous award in favor of one of the parties. The draft award signed by all three arbitrators was circulated to the parties by the chairman of the tribunal, and indicated that it would become effective if no comments were received from either party within 10 days.  The award was not delivered by CPR as required under its Rules. The losing party filed a request to correct the award within 20 days of the date of the Award, as provided for under Rule 15.6 of the CPR Rules. It simultaneously challenged one of the arbitrators. The challenge alleged “evident partiality” based on the fact that the arbitrator had been connected to the winning party’s CFO on LinkedIn for four years, and the two of them served on several committees of the college they had both graduated from. Another ground for the challenge was the alleged issue conflict, based on the arbitrator’s prior publications on the legal questions raised in the arbitration.

The mock challenge was considered by a panel of three CPR Challenge Review Board members, which included James H. Carter of WilmerHale, Lawrence W. Newman of Baker & McKenzie, and Hon. Curtis E. von Kann (Ret.). Anna Tevini of Shearman & Sterling LLP argued the case on behalf of the challenging party, while Ank Santens of White & Case LLP represented the party opposing the challenge.

The challenging party argued that the challenge was admissible, and that the challenge should have been granted, as the circumstances of the case allegedly gave rise to justifiable doubts as to the arbitrator’s impartiality. The challenge was based on Rules 7.5 and 7.6 of the CPR Rules, as well as on the provisions of the CPR Challenge Protocol.

The counsel stated that the challenging party had timely filed the challenge within 15 days of the time it had become aware of the respective circumstances, as provided for in the CPR Rule 7.6. She explained that submitting the challenge at the late stage of the proceedings was due to the arbitrator’s failure to disclose the relevant facts, which he allegedly had a duty to do. She also pointed out that, although the challenge was filed after the 10-day period for commenting on the draft award had lapsed, that did not make the award effective and the challenge – inadmissible, as the latter was submitted within the 20 days granted under CPR Rule 15.6 for seeking corrections of the award.

On the merits of the challenge, the counsel argued that the arbitrator’s connections to the other party’s CFO on LinkedIn and via college committees, his prior publications expressing views favoring the winning party’s position in the arbitration, and his failure to disclose these circumstances gave rise to justifiable doubts as to his impartiality. She referred to the 2004 Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Disputes to support the argument that even the “appearance of partiality”, not necessarily actual partiality, satisfied the justifiable doubts standard.

The party opposing the challenge argued that the challenge was inadmissible, because the challenging party had been able to learn about the relevant facts from public sources well before the time of the challenge. The counsel referred to U.S. case law, the practice of England, France and Switzerland, as well as to the provisions of the American Arbitration Association and the CPR Rules applicable to challenges to prove that the right to challenge had been waived.

She further argued that the CPR Rule 7.5 “justifiable doubts” standard for arbitrator disqualification was not satisfied. The counsel referred to the IBA Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest in International Arbitration, which put arbitrators’ social media contacts on a “green list” and as such do not create even an appearance of bias, and thus do not require disclosure by an arbitrator. The same is true about prior expression of opinion on an issue arising in an arbitration, where such opinion does not focus on the case at issue. Finally, counsel argued that the arbitrator had no duty to disclose the facts at issue, and, in any event, non-disclosure was not an independent ground for disqualification.

After the oral arguments, the members of the CPR Challenge Review Board panel deliberated in front of the audience. They concluded that the challenge should be denied, as none of the facts referred to by the challenging party created grounds for disqualification of the arbitrator.

The mock was an interesting exercise which not only focused the attention of the attendees on current legal questions, but also demonstrated how the challenge of an arbitrator under CPR administered arbitration works in practice. Stay tuned for other upcoming Y-ADR events in 2017!

Ksenia Koriukalova is a CPR Fall intern

Y-ADR Mock Procedural Hearing under CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes – An Overview

By Ksenia Koriukalova

On September 8, 2016 CPR’s Young Attorneys in Dispute Resolution (“Y-ADR”) held the Mock Procedural Hearing under the CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes at the offices of Williams & Connolly LLP in Washington, DC.

The mock case involved a multi-million-Euro energy dispute between business parties from both sides of the Atlantic. Vento, a French energy business company, and Vento España, its wholly-owned Spanish subsidiary operating a windmill plant, initiated arbitration against Wind Corporation, a windmill manufacturer based in Chicago, Illinois. The claim arose out of the purchase by Vento España of 25 windmills produced by Wind Corporation, at the price of €1 million per unit, with the right of first refusal with respect to 25 additional units to be produced by the manufacturer following the execution of the contract. Claimants alleged that Respondent breached the right of first refusal provision by selling windmills to a different buyer.

In late June 2016, Claimants filed their notice of arbitration based on the arbitration clause found in Vento España’s contract with Respondent, which called for arbitration under the CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes (CPR Rules). One month later, Respondent submitted its notice of defense and counterclaim objecting to the tribunal’s jurisdiction on the grounds that one of the Claimants, Vento, did not sign the contract containing the relevant arbitration clause.

Meanwhile, three arbitrators were appointed to hear the case on August 1, 2016. Two of the arbitrators were appointed pursuant to CPR’s screened selection process provided in Rule 5.4 of the CPR Rules. Under this selection process, two out of three arbitrators are designated by the parties without them knowing which party designated each of them. It is worth noting that CPR’s unique Screened Selection Process was the winner of the 2016 Global Arbitration Review (GAR) Innovation Award.

Pursuant to Rule 9.3 of the CPR Rules, the arbitrators scheduled the initial pre-hearing conference promptly after their appointment to discuss the procedural issues of the case. The Y-ADR event simulated this pre-hearing procedural hearing before the tribunal composed of Dana MacGrath (Sidley Austin LLP), Patrick Norton (Law Offices of Patrick M. Norton), and Allan B. Moore (Covington & Burling LLP). David L. Earnest of Shearman & Sterling LLP, C.J. Mahoney of Williams & Connolly LLP, Mallory B. Silberman of Arnold & Porter LLP, and Laura J. Stipanowic of Smith, Currie & Hancock LLP played the roles of party representatives and counsel.

The first issue argued before the tribunal was whether the question of the tribunal’s jurisdiction should be considered separately leading to bi- or even trifurcation of the arbitral proceedings. Respondent stated that because one of the Claimants, Vento, was not a signatory of the contract containing the relevant arbitration clause, the tribunal had no jurisdiction over its claims. In support of its argument on separate consideration of the question of jurisdiction over the non-signatory, counsel for Respondent referred to Guideline 2 of the CPR Guidelines on Early Disposition of Issues in Arbitration, which lists jurisdiction and standing as issues for which early disposition may be appropriate. The tribunal ruled against separate consideration of Respondent’s jurisdictional objections, primarily due to the tight time-frame of the arbitration. According to the arbitration clause, the arbitrators had to conduct an oral hearing on the merits within six months and render the award within nine months of its constitution. Another reason for denying the request for bi- or trifurcation were potential overlaps between the facts of the case relevant for deciding both on Respondent’s jurisdictional objections and on the merits of the dispute.

Next, the parties and the tribunal discussed the necessary length of the merits hearing and the dates suitable for all expected participants. This task appeared to be not an easy one because of the parties’ different positions on the optimal hearing length, other commitments of the chair of the tribunal, and the approaching holiday season.

The third issue the arbitrators had to decide was the number, sequence and content of written submissions, as well as the timing and scope of the disclosure. Claimants, European companies, insisted on limited document exchange and referred to the CPR Protocol on Disclosure of Documents and Presentation of Witnesses in Commercial Arbitration to support their position. Respondent, a U.S. corporation, sought broad discovery and depositions, and argued that they were possible under the CPR Protocol if allowed by the tribunal or agreed upon by the parties. Claimants and Respondent also had different views on the number and content of submissions. The arbitrators ordered to have two rounds of simultaneous pre-hearing submissions, with the first round containing full positions of each party supported by evidence, and the second one being the response to the opposing party’s brief. The tribunal also decided that the discovery process with the use of the Redfern schedule should take place before the first round of written submissions. Respondent’s request for depositions was denied.

At the end of the procedural hearing, the chair of the tribunal asked the parties to consider settlement negotiations, and draw their attention to relevant Rules 9.3(e) and 21 of the CPR Rules.  Rule 9.3(2) of the CPR Rules expressly provides the possibility for the parties to engage in settlement negotiations, with or without the assistance of a mediator, as one of the matters to be discussed during the pre-hearing conference. Counsel and their clients discussed the possibility but, ultimately, there was no agreement between the parties to engage in mediation.

The mock pre-hearing conference provided a realistic picture of how various procedural issues are discussed and determined at an early stage of arbitral proceedings. It also demonstrates how CPR Rules and other tools available to the parties in CPR arbitrations are used in practice. Well-prepared party representatives and arbitrators made the proceedings very dynamic and interesting to observe. The recording of the hearing is available to CPR members (who are logged into the website) HERE.

Ksenia Koriukalova is a CPR Fall intern

Avoiding and Resolving Information Technology Disputes (CPR Master Guide)

By Meghna Talwar

The latest survey released by Queen Mary University of London, in collaboration with Pinsent Masons (“the Survey”), highlights the growth of ADR in Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) disputes. The Survey records 67% of the total disputes which are IT related.

Foreshadowing this important development, in 2005, CPR’s IT Committee released its master guide titled “Avoiding and Resolving Information Technology Disputes” which provides detailed information about resolution of IT disputes with the help of ADR mechanisms. The master guide’s 7 chapters provide different methods for addressing IT disputes from avoiding them in the first place to resolving them by arbitration. The first chapter gives companies a head start to set things in place prior to dealing with external parties. The chapter provides cues on how companies can assess, prioritize and define their goals and identify the possibility of dispute in the long run in order to plan their resolution techniques right from the beginning.

Chart 5 of the Survey states that 61% of the disputes related to IT systems are caused due to delay. The survey also mentions that such delay may be caused due to several attributing factors rather than one cause. Chapter 2 of the master guide suggests practices which companies may adopt to avoid delay. The chapter which is titled “Avoiding Disconnect Between Negotiation and Implementation” describes ways in which companies can formulate healthy negotiations with other parties thereby building a strong working relation with them. The chapter also focuses on how parties can develop a good understanding of the project as well as their own interpersonal relations which could ultimately lead to limiting the risk of contracting any disputes.

While Chapter 2 discusses building strong relations, Chapter 3 encapsulates the technique of building a strong project foundation based on strong partnerships. The chapter highlights the advantage of building partnerships at an early stage and describes methods to sustain such partnerships once they are formed. Also, the chapter offers interesting suggestions on conducting workshops with stakeholders to create synergistic relationships.

Often guidelines are limited to dos and don’ts of a process which are purely theoretical in nature. However, Chapter 4 of the master guide carries out case study of an IT dispute which enables companies to understand the practical implications of the master guide. The case study is an interesting concoction of facts and analysis with suggestions from the IT professionals who comprised the CPR IT Committee. Thus, the master guide provides a well-rounded view of IT disputes and the complications involved therein.

The Survey states that 50% of the respondents prefer mediation followed by 47% who prefer arbitration. Hence, there is an earnest intention on the part of the companies to resolve disputes without resorting to courts. However, it would be effective to resolve disputes at a preliminary level. Chapter 5 of the master guide speaks about the use of hierarchical positions to defuse disputes at an early stage. The chapter also emphasis on the need for protecting stakeholders, thereby maintaining a dispute-free atmosphere.

Chapter 6 introduces the concept of appointing a standing neutral. The chapter describes a standing neutral as someone who is appointed as a neutral in advance of any conflict. The appointment of a standing neutral could save the parties a substantial amount of time and cost in a way that the parties would get neutral assistance immediately on detecting a dispute without having to search for it when the dispute arises.

It is understandable that in certain cases it is impossible to avoid disputes despite adopting prevention mechanisms. Proliferation of social media is an example of unavoidable disputes. The Survey recorded 93% disputes arising out of social media attacks and 54% disputes arising out of traditional media attack. Chapter 7 of the master guide describes the dispute resolution program which companies may adopt if avoidance strategies do not work. The Survey points out the importance of Dispute Resolution (DR) policies which companies adopt. It stated that only 25% of the respondent companies did not have a DR policy. Thus, Chapter 7 could be helpful for companies which fall within the 25% bracket and could give the remaining 75% some tips for improvement, if required. The chapter also introduces the CPR Rules on Expedited Technology Dispute Resolution which includes rules for both arbitration and mediation proceedings.

The CPR master guide was introduced long before the introduction of the Survey. However, from the Survey it is quite evident that the issues revolving around IT disputes that were discussed in the manual remain to be a cause of concern, even today. Hence, the master guide proves to be an effective tool for addressing such problems and acts as a catalyst to innovate and introduce mechanisms for resolving IT related disputes.

Meghna Talwar is a fall intern at CPR.

To order a copy of CPR’s Master Guide, “Avoiding and Resolving Information Technology Disputes,” click HERE. And be sure to browse our many other publications in The CPR Store HERE.

 

Commercial Questions: CPR Board Chair John Kiernan Assesses ADR Progress and Suggests a Future Path

 

kiernan

John S. Kiernan

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Chairman John Kiernan recently told the Association for Conflict Resolution of Greater New York 2016 Annual Conference that conflict resolution practices had made great strides, and the processes and practitioners are widely used.

But he warned that in some ways, they are still facing not only growing pains, but even issues of general acceptance.

Kiernan, who also is president of the New York City Bar Association and co-chairs the Litigation Department at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he is a partner in the New York office, addressed the June 16, 2016, luncheon following ACR-GNY’s presentation of an ADR Achievement Award to Kiernan for his work in the field.

The Association for Conflict Resolution of Greater New York is the New York City metropolitan area chapter of the national, 7,000-member professional association of neutrals, educators, and others involved in the conflict resolution field. Its membership includes professional and volunteer mediators, government employees, lawyers, arbitrators, environmental public policy specialists, community and consensus-building facilitators, ombuds, educators, students, and others.

Kiernan then delivered the following address:

“It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to gather and break bread with this impressive collection of ADR practitioners and fans. In the presence of dispute-resolvers like the folks in this room, advocates like me can practically feel the ‘adversarial-ity’ drain right out of us. If we can just infuse our clients, our clients’ adversaries and their lawyers with the same peace-mongering hormones, maybe we can get something accomplished.

“Gatherings like this provide an opportunity to pause and check the scorecard on how ADR is really doing in practice and in the general marketplace of ideas. The range of answers you can get from asking this question is broad, but the best answer from this litigator’s perspective appears to be that there has definitely been progress, to the point where partisans of ADR rightfully believe there is a widely recognized first level (as it might be called) of increased openness to ADR that did not exist in the same measure a few decades ago. And that ADR methods truly have established themselves as able to foster resolution of disputes faster, more efficiently and less expensively than litigation would do, but ADR remains far short of its full, what might be called “Level Two Maturity.”

“Universal buy-in remains held back by shortcomings in individual participants’ particular experiences with ADR efforts; by disputants’ understandable preference for winning over compromise so long as winning seems potentially achievable without intolerable expense; by institutional or personal priorities that cause litigants to feel a need for a judicial resolution, and by a wide array of cultural sensibilities among disputing parties that can be deeply felt and are hard to shake.

“Where is the progress?

“In the commercial sector, certainly, senior lawyers can all remember times when even highly sophisticated litigators and clients would breezily dismiss suggestions to consider mediation with statements like, “We can’t profitably talk settlement until we have inflicted some of the pain of litigation on the other side and seen how the case develops. Later, if the other side really becomes ready to talk settlement, we won’t need a mediator because I and my adversary can accomplish as much by talking to each other nose-to-nose, as old warhorses, as any mediator can accomplish.”

“That sensibility hasn’t disappeared, and by the way sometimes it’s exactly correct. But too many of us have seen too many disputes resolved through mediation, sometimes after efforts at bilateral negotiation have gone nowhere, for the categorical form of this view to feel like the reflexive majority sensibility today.

“Instead, it now feels as though discussion of mediation or some other form of ADR will be part of the vocabulary attached to a big percentage of disputes, often at multiple different points in the dispute.

“To the extent that ADR partisans want to claim a universally accepted new paradigm about how disputes should be resolved, though, that might be a little more self-congratulatory than the objective evidence suggests. In lots of contexts, at least absent court mandate, mediation remains exceptional rather than normal.

“Some of the best expansions of mediation have occurred because particular messes involved too many parties and too many different subgroups that had to sort out their own separate side agreements for a normal bilateral settlement negotiation to seem even potentially workable.

“Some mediations have worked simply because mediation created a process for compelling the personal attention of key business decision-makers who, unless scheduled and directed to sit in a room until a deal got negotiated, otherwise were too susceptible to getting distracted by other demands to focus as needed on the hard work of negotiating a resolution.

“Sometimes parties are drawn to ADR because they just plain need a decision so they can move on, and because they can’t get what they want from courts in a satisfactory fashion or acceptable timetable. That certainly seemed to be a big factor in the ADR boom in California that ran distinctively ahead of East Coast practice in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example.

“Or sometimes the parties, unable to agree on anything else, have been able to agree that they simply couldn’t stand that such a large percentage of the pool of money available to resolve a dispute was being paid to litigators rather than to the settlement pot.

“In some contexts–particularly ones where the plaintiffs are individuals who feel personally aggrieved and the defendants have no principled objection to paying something or taking other formal actions if that will enable them to achieve peace–courts and other bodies have also seen that procedures giving claimants an outlet to tell their stories and then negotiate an early settlement can have a high success rate if the narratives get managed effectively and the mediators do their jobs well.

“These increasingly popular sources of resort to ADR are important. Having ADR available in these circumstances significantly advances the cause of achieving workable resolutions of disputes at tolerable costs.

“But before we over-celebrate, it’s worth recognizing the continuing ways that mediation and other forms of ADR remain in their relative infancy, with major distances yet to travel, in both the commercial marketplace and general public sensibility.

“We can take as a given that many people who bring lawsuits, and most people who are sued, correctly view the lawsuit as a problem that needs to be solved, as to which litigation to a final resolution is only one of a wide range of potential outcomes. Litigants uniformly want to win their disputes, but tend to recognize that if the case can’t be resolved or transformatively narrowed by an early dispositive motion, litigation to final judgment will likely be the most expensive possible mechanism for getting the dispute resolved.

“So if you set aside the important set of cases that seem readily susceptible to an early dispositive or narrowing motion, and accept the general starting reality that most litigations will settle instead of getting litigated to final judgment, and that expenditure of litigation dollars before any negotiations will not always significantly alter the risk-discounted value of the dispute or the price of settlement, that should objectively lead the most thoughtful participants in the process to certain kinds of pragmatic thinking and conduct.

“Now, in the face of those realities, ask any random sampling of experienced commercial litigators or in-house litigation counsel the following questions:

1. How often is your first approach in a new litigation, as a matter of agreement between litigator and client, to take an immediate deep dive into the merits as necessary to develop, at the very outset of the dispute, your best truly objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the claims, the probability of success and failure, and the range of possible outcomes? For most disputes, the most common answer would probably be more often now than a decade ago, but still not very often.

2. How often do clients communicate by words or body language, or do outside litigators develop on their own, the strong sense that the client wants its litigators to be “true believers” in its position, such that no matter how the client nominally asks for the lawyers’ assessment, provision of truly objective assessments of the dispute’s merits and risks or fully candid discussion about the expected range of outcomes or the advantages of early consideration of settlement carries a major risk of damaging the client’s confidence in the lawyer’s expected zeal as an advocate–or maybe even of preventing the lawyer from getting hired?

3. When lawyers are asked to advise on disputes challenging the conduct of particular individuals within an institution, how rigorously does the client work to separate the decision-making regarding the dispute from the understandable instinct of the attacked individuals to defend their conduct, so that the risks are evaluated objectively?

4. How often do either outside or in-house lawyers think that the time would be ripe to begin exploring settlement in a litigation–in that further litigation will not likely change the settlement price by an amount exceeding the costs of that litigation–but that they can’t yet do so with any force because the ultimate business client is not ready to think in those terms? On the flip side, how often do plaintiffs’ lawyers approach mediation with the view that their goal is not to settle but to establish a floor of commitment by the defendant that can become a starting point for negotiations further down the line?

“In the arbitration world, meanwhile, how many of us have heard highly skilled outside lawyers or in-house clients say they won’t ever agree to arbitrate as a matter of policy, based on a bad experience with a mismanaged arbitration, a belief that arbitrators merely split the baby, or a hatred of giving up appeals?

“As a result of this view, these executives have preferentially consigned complex disputes to horrendously overworked trial judges who can’t set the case for trial for many years and may hand the case to someone else for trial, and to juries that likely won’t understand the issues in sophisticated ways.

“Why don’t they consider it indisputable that they would have a better prospect of avoiding unwarranted results by instead selecting highly experienced arbitrators who would carefully study the record, responsibly streamline the process, and understand the most complex issues far better than the judge will likely have time or the jury will likely have capacity to do?

“These questions aren’t offered to criticize any participants in the dispute process–a litigation is a profound human experience, and it’s usually extremely important to both parties to aim for an outright win and view that outcome as the only tolerable one. There are often highly creditworthy institutional or personal reasons for parties to a litigation to fight to a final decision rather than press for the earliest possible resolution.

“The more modest point is that further advancement of ADR will require a continuation of the evolution of cultural sensibilities–and, ultimately, the wills of disputing parties and the perspectives of their most trusted advisers–that have already advanced mediation and other forms of ADR from a position of near-institutional invisibility a few decades ago.

“Although, as many of you in today’s audience know, it has always existed in families, communities and some kinds of institutions where disputes needed to be resolved.
“So what is the next wave of ADR sensibilities that folks at CPR, JAMS, the [New York City Bar Association] and this and other organizations are thinking about?

“Maybe we aren’t too far away from the time when the pursuit of negotiated resolutions stops getting postponed for long periods because each side is unwilling to make the first overture out of a belief that introducing the subject is a sign of weakness that will cost big settlement dollars.

“Maybe others will emulate the Fortune 100 in-house head of litigation who recently addressed his company’s nine-digit annual litigation spend, and overwhelmingly directed to disputes with his enterprise’s biggest competitors by setting up a monthly lunch with his counterparts at each of those competitors–a step that led to a wide range of different forms of alternatives to litigation for resolving disputes, and a massive reduction in dispute-related costs.

“We have been seeing mandatory mediation or streamlined arbitration clauses in contracts and in some court rules for the past decade or two. Maybe we will increasingly see settlements actually get reached as a result of those provisions, to a degree that alternatives to litigation like these will become a matter of reflex–not only for parties that need to continue doing business with each other but also for other counter-parties that hate the pain and distraction of protracted litigation almost as much as its cost.
“Maybe, in contexts where neither party sees a major advantage in a jury trial, clients will increasingly come to value and hire lawyers in part based on their nimbleness in figuring out and working with their adversaries on ways to resolve the dispute more quickly and less expensively.

“Some recent experiences of mine–one with some really good in-house lawyers at a client who ultimately redirected their company’s business strategy based on a rigorous and candid pre-litigation assessment of a massive and complicated dispute in which no complaint was ever filed, and another matter with an unusually resourceful and pragmatic adversary where the parties found themselves litigating a billion dollar dispute under a contract provision requiring that arbitration hearings conclude no more than 45 days after they were initiated–have strongly suggested to me that these kinds of thoughts about improving the process for resolving disputes do not necessarily involve looking generations into the future.

“That kind of second-wave thinking about ADR will not eliminate the need to litigate when one or both parties feel a need for the litigation process or a determination to get to a decision, win or lose, and it will not put litigators out of a job, because there will always be disputes.

“Lawyers who think creatively about different ways to help their clients resolve disputes, and who have the capacity to pursue ADR as effectively as they pursue traditional litigation, should remain in great demand.

“It’s great to have a conference to tease out some of this new thinking, and to have a chance to talk to you about the Level 2 sensibilities of ADR that may lie in our futures. But it’s also important to remain attuned to the timing sensibilities of the mediator who, asked whether he considers himself facilitative or evaluative as a mediator, responded,

“I’m highly facilitative, relentlessly so, until about 4:30.”

“Time for me to stop talking and for you to enjoy each other’s company and your lunches. Many thanks.”