Lincoln & ADR: Pepperdine’s Stipanowich Discusses Evolution in Arbitration

By Alice Albl

The second series of New York Law School’s Conversations in Conflict drew to a close Sept. 23 with an interview featuring Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law Prof. Thomas J. Stipanowich.

The discussion centered around the progress of arbitration since the release of Stipanowich’s five-volume treatise on federal arbitration law in the 1990s; his expansive view included advancing the practice with lessons taken from the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Stipanowich’s theories focused on a tension between familiarity and efficiency. In drawing from what they know as lawyers, neutrals in arbitration may bind the process too closely to the establishment of litigation, he explained.

While neutrals may believe that apparently tried-and-true procedures inspired by litigation form the best avenues to successful dispute resolution, this mindset hinders the use of more creative, and potentially more effective, methods.

Instead, Stipanowich invited neutrals to follow in the footsteps of President Lincoln, whom he considered to be a “super functional” arbitrator. Like Lincoln, modern ADR community members should seek to work for the parties’ interests and not a nominal win.

But when Stipanowich began studying arbitration in the 1980s, neutrals weren’t the focus. Back then, arbitration suffered from a lack of procedural structure, most notably missing protocols for discovery and case management, he said.

In the ensuing years arbitrators filled these gaps. Stipanowich described this as the “legalization” of ADR, a process by which neutrals appropriated features from the practice of law into their work.

While legal processes may be effective in arbitration, their familiarity causes them to monopolize the roles they serve. Stipanowich cited examples in both the United States and abroad to demonstrate that the dominant legal processes are not necessarily the best.

Domestically, Stipanowich discussed the double-blind arbitration process used in contracts by the Writers’ Guild of America. Under this process, the disputants’ and arbitrators’ identities are not known to each other. This has the practical purpose of preventing conflict in the industry beyond the dispute, but it may also prove for a more equitable resolution beyond the reach of “legalized” ADR.

Abroad, Stipanowich, who is former president and chief executive officer of the CPR Institute, which publishes this blog, looked to the “multi-lane” duties neutrals performed in other cultures, such as the way German arbitrators help craft settlements or Chinese arbitrators often double as mediators.

U.S. arbitrators seem to be gradually warming to the idea of building multi-lane brands, something that Stipanowich encourages. He praised those who use a variety of roles and techniques to find the true conflict in disputes.

Stipanowich emphasized that finding the true conflict as early as possible will allow a neutral to spend more time balancing resolution with the interests and relationships among parties. After 40 years of study, he has found that this balance is key to success in ADR.

For Stipanowich, few could exemplify care for interests and relationships more than Abraham Lincoln. He closed the session by emphasizing the icon’s willingness to look beyond wins and vengeance during the Civil War, instead focusing on a goal of rights and equity. To see beyond the fray toward a fair resolution, Stipanowich says, is what ADR is about.

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Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.  

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

[END]

Supreme Court Rejects Decade-Old Class Arbitration Employment Discrimination Case

By Cristina Carvajal

A contentious employment discrimination case now focusing on whether an arbitrator is within her authority to bind a class of employees who did not affirmatively opt-in or consent to class arbitration will not resurface now at the Supreme Court.

This morning, in its first 2020-2021 term order list (available at https://bit.ly/3la3Y72), declined to hear Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit decision in the case last year will return the case to federal district court in New York for more proceedings ahead of arbitration in the 12-year-old-case.

The nation’s top Court today denied cert in Sterling Jewelers Inc. v. Jock, No. 1382 (Supreme Court case page available at https://bit.ly/3lgflL2). While the opt-in is the issue most recently litigated, the Court considered and rejected today a petition by the national jewelry chain on an event broader question presented,

Whether an arbitrator may compel class arbitration—binding the parties and absent class members—without finding actual consent, and instead based only on a finding that the agreement does not unambiguously prohibit class arbitration and should be construed against the drafter.

The employment case’s gender-based discrimination claim was first filed in 2008 by then-present and former women Sterling Jewelers employees. All workers were required to sign its Resolve agreement subject to American Arbitration Association rules, which included a mandatory arbitration clause, as well as a litigation waiver. For more, see Anne Muenchinger, “Still No Arbitration: In Its latest Jock decision, Second Circuit Reverses for More Contract Interpretation,” 38 Alternatives 77 (2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2GuxplA).

Not only has this case been moved from New York’s Southern U.S. District Court to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals four times, but today’s rejection was its second at the Supreme Court. Today’s decision puts the case back on a road to the case’s arbitrator, former New York Southern District magistrate Kathleen A. Roberts, now a JAMS Inc. neutral in the firm’s New York office.

David Bouffard, vice president of corporate affairs at Signet Jewelers Ltd.in Akron, Ohio, notes in a statement,

While we respect the Court’s decision, we believe the claims in this matter are without merit and are not substantiated the relevant facts and statistics. We will continue to vigorously defend against these claims, which do not accurately reflect our company or our culture. Indeed, we have long been committed to fostering a culture of respect, integrity, diversity, and inclusion where all employees feel safe, supported, and empowered—this is a tenet of who we are. In particular, Signet is a recognized leader among companies for gender diversity, with women filling 74% of store management positions and gender parity in both the C-Suite and Board of Directors. Under the leadership of our CEO, Gina Drosos, we continue to champion diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority, as we have been honored to be included on the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for two consecutive years.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Joseph M. Sellers, a Washington, D.C., partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, declined to comment on the cert denial.

In its latest decision last year, the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s judgment and held “that the arbitrator was within her authority in purporting to bind the absent class members to class proceedings because, by signing the operative arbitration agreement, the absent class members no less than the parties, bargained for the arbitrator’s construction of their agreement with respect to class arbitrability.” Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit referred to its previous decisions as Jock I, Jock II and Jock III. (For more on the case’s knotty procedural history, see the Alternatives’ link above). Noting that a court’s standard of review of arbitrator decisions is highly deferential, the unanimous panel in the opinion written by Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall reasoned that the arbitration agreement’s incorporation of the AAA Rules, in particular the Supplementary Rules which give an arbitrator authority to decide if an arbitration clause permits class arbitration, makes it clear that the arbitrator can decide on the question of class arbitrability.

The panel further noted the arbitration agreement itself provides that “’[q]uestions of arbitrability’ and ‘procedural questions’ shall be decided by the arbitrator.” Id.at 624.

The decision underscored that while in Jock II the panel pointed out that Jock I did not address “whether the arbitrator had the power to bind absent class members to class arbitration given that they . . . never consented to the arbitrator determining whether class arbitration was permissible under the agreement in the first place.” (Quoting an earlier decision in the case.)

That fact, however, was not a basis to alter the Second Circuit’s analysis given that class actions in arbitration and courts may bind absent class members as part of mandatory or opt-out classes.

 The Second Circuit noted that its “use of ‘consent’ as shorthand” left unclear “the possibility that the absent class members consented in a different way to the arbitrator’s authority to decide class arbitrability.” Id.at 626.

In remanding the case, the Second Circuit left open for the District Court to decide “whether the arbitrator exceeded her authority in certifying an opt-out, as opposed to a mandatory, class for injunctive and declaratory relief.” The Second Circuit already reversed an affirmative determination on that issue, but in the 2019 decision, the panel states that the lower court may revisit the issue “after allowing the parties an opportunity to present renewed argument in light of any subsequent developments in the law.”

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The author, a third-year student at the City University of New York School of Law, is a Fall 2020 CPR Institute student intern.  Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation editor Russ Bleemer assisted with reporting for this post.

[END]

How Litigants View the ADR Options in Courts

By Alice Albl

At the Sept. 17 online CPR Institute Mediation Committee meeting, University of California, Davis, School of Law School Prof. Donna Shestowsky presented her research about the role courts play in encouraging alternative dispute resolution over a trial.

The study revealed that litigants seem to be unaware of ADR options when going to court, although knowing about some of these options—specifically, mediation–improve litigants’ opinions of the court itself.

This lack of awareness stayed relatively consistent among demographics, even among those with legal representation.  

“Repeat player” litigants were less likely than first timers to report uncertainty or confusion whether ADR options were available.

Shestowsky’s research observed the experiences of more than 350 litigants spread among the court systems of three different states.

The first system, in California, allowed litigants to choose between a trial, or opting into mediation or arbitration.

The second system, in Utah, assigned mediation as the default option but allowed litigants to convert their cases into an arbitration or trial.

The third system, in Oregon, statutorily required nonbinding arbitration for cases involving amounts in controversy less than $50,000. Litigants could opt-out by filing a “Motion for Exemption from Arbitration,” or by agreeing with their opposition to enter mediation.

All three court systems posted information online about available ADR programs and kept a list of approved neutrals on file. None required attorneys to educate their clients about the available ADR options.

Litigants in the study took a survey before and after their journey through the courts. The questions sought to gauge litigants’ awareness about relevant court-sponsored ADR programs, whether legal representation affected their awareness, and how awareness of court-sponsored ADR affected litigants’ opinions of the court offering the options.

The data Shestowsky reaped from these surveys revealed some unexpected findings. While roughly half of the litigants were unsure whether mediation and arbitration were available to them, another 20% wrongly stated these options were unavailable.

Without knowledge of the court systems’ sponsorship for mediation or arbitration, litigants most often considered negotiation as a means for dispute resolution, even before the prospect of a trial.  

While about a third of litigants considered mediation, knowing that the method was a court-sponsored option generally improved their opinion of the sponsoring court system.

Arbitration was only considered by about one quarter of the litigants, and knowledge of court sponsorship did little to affect litigants’ opinions of sponsoring courts. Shestowsky attributed this to the possibility that litigants had low opinions of arbitration as an option for their court-filed cases, which aligned with findings from her past research.

Having a lawyer did not make litigants more aware of ADR options, even when those options were offered, or even mandated, by the court system.

Shestowsky pointed out this universally low awareness rate of ADR options as an issue to address among courts, especially given how awareness seemed to improve court favorability.

One possible solution would be rules that require attorneys to properly educate clients about ADR options before engaging the courts, which could be enforced using penalty fees or an affidavit.

Shestowsky also suggested that courts implement “direct education.” This could involve bolstered advertisement of ADR options, a dedicated ADR helpdesk, and periodic information sessions. The professor, who serves as UC Davis School of Law’s Director of the Lawyering Skills Education Program, even envisioned an artificial intelligence-powered digital aide that could recommend options based on litigants’ specific needs.

While Shestowsky cautioned that her research focusing on three court systems may not perfectly reflect the general state of ADR awareness, the consistency of data among the diverse systems could point to a greater trend. To gauge this, the professor recommended that courts across the nation buck the trend of measuring success for ADR programs by their usage rates, and first look to their awareness rates by surveying those who do not use their ADR programs.

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Donna Shestowsky previously discussed her research at “New Research Sheds Light on How Litigants Evaluate the Characteristics of Legal Procedures,” 34 Alternatives 145 (November 2016) (available at https://bit.ly/2ScA71w), which adapted and updated material from Donna Shestowsky, “How Litigants Evaluate the Characteristics of Legal Procedures: A Multi-Court Empirical Study,” 49 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 3 (2016) (available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2729893).

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

‘VUCA’ in the EU and Beyond: Highlights from a CPR European Conference Session

By Joseph Famulari

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

When reading these words, one may assume they mean to describe 2020’s chaotic nature. But while this may be partly true, the acronym serves as an example for how leaders across the commercial spectrum, including in the ADR community, look to reflect, learn and adapt to the circumstances living in a “VUCA” world entail.

The overall theme of this year’s CPR European Conference on Business Dispute Management, held online, was present during “Evaluating and learning from disputes in a VUCA world,” a seminar that took place on the conference’s first day, Sept. 15.

Moderated by Noradèle Radjai, a partner in the international arbitration team at the Swiss Law firm Lalive, the panel explored how unpredictable conflict requires agile thinking, adaptability, and a growth mindset. Panelists answered vital questions such as “How do companies learn?” “What is the role of firms and in-house counsel in promoting learning?” and “How does one grow a learning mindset among dispute specialists?”

Laura Abrahamson, former Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, and Head of Litigation for AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure company based in Los Angeles, led the panelists to emphasize “presentness” to counter the world’s hectic nature–that is, problem-solving strategies should be implemented in real-time, to get ahead of issues that may arise, rather than tackling issues far after the fact.

She stressed that corporations must have the vision to align stakeholders against a common goal, to counter volatility and display agility to adapt and counter ambiguity. By scaling back in real-time problems present in disputes, companies can achieve adapt by adopting practices of collaboration, and reflecting and measuring the outcome against agreed-to metrics.

Abrahamson emphasized that organizational learning must take place to learn from disputes and speed best practice adoption. Using slides, Abrahamson highlighted that organizational learning should be a critical role of inside and outside counsel to speed best practices adoption; by developing a root-cause analysis capability, counsel can convert findings to actionable improvements.

Also, organizational learning involves developing a post-mortem after disputes to establish and communicate lessons learned. Once these learnings are channeled to continuing or new projects, the root-cause analysis can promote corrective action to the prior failures, build upon the successes, and speed best practices adoption for the company.

Next, Mallory B. Silberman, a partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., led with an explanation of how the VUCA world is present all around us–including her dogs waiting anxiously for her just outside the confines of the virtual panel. Silberman explained that the solution to VUCA—again volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity–is a different VUCA: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility, with an emphasis on understanding.

Through this, Silberman expanded on how teaching is complex, and detailed how this complexity comes into play through education roles’ fluidity and how the role between teachers and students often becomes interchangeable.

She explained three types of students in her experience: The first type is actual students, the ones she teaches in the classroom, developing practical skills in advocacy. Next are clients that are advised on practical and procedural issues, how to conduct virtual hearings, and who counsel details on how to bring fair and equitable treatment to investors. The third category is colleagues and peers–meaning that everyone can learn from everyone’s experiences, through teaching colleagues within the firm and organizing hearing simulations, and a platform for improved empathy and more precise expectations develops.  The student/teacher relationship is essential to maintaining and streamlining information.

Focusing on these relationships adequately and improving methods of conveying and receiving new information is vital to a firm’s success in an ever-increasing VUCA world.

Silberman highlighted the receptivity of the student categories, and expanded on the point by stating, “Will this benefit them somehow?” She concluded by saying, “If you follow up with a quick check-in after a filing/hearing, it is more likely to promote learning going forward.”

Finally, Reza Mohtashami, a London partner at the Three Crowns LLP law firm, addressed how dispute specialists embrace a learning mindset. “Every dispute arises in a volatile, complex set of parameters,” he said.

In Mohtashami’s eyes, every day operates in a VUCA world. To highlight this, he went on to discuss the most cataclysmic events in the Middle East and MENA (Middle East, North Africa)  region:

  • The events of the Arab Spring, which were not widely predicted and understood at the time;
  • The nuclear accord entered into by the U.S. and other nations with Iran, and the Trump administration’s rollback of the deal, with foreign investors realizing the possibility of reimplementation and maintaining their own levels of protection, and
  • The Qatar blockade, highlighting the capacity of the Qatar government to retool its economy in the face of isolation by four big regional powers.

He discussed how dispute lawyers are adapting their practices always under scrutiny; with the contentious process making dispute lawyers more nimble than transactional lawyers. In highlighting these instances, Mohtashami painted a picture of how events such as these can foster a learning mindset among dispute specialists.  In tune with the prior speakers, an emphasis on quick-thinking, self-preservation, and adaptability are key. Though about the Qatar blockade, he says another lesson learned is, “if the country affected has deep pockets and is able to cushion the blow from an embargo on its economy, it will always be ready.”

Noradèle Radjai asked, “Do we first have to unlearn some practices” to succeed in a VUCA world? Mohtashami answered, “To some extent, yes, experienced arbitrators have a set way of conducting their arbitrations. But on the whole, people learn to adapt with best practices because it’s a competitive practice, and if you don’t do that, you get left behind.”

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York. CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern Cristina Carvajal, a student at the City University of New York School of Law, assisted with the research and writing of this article.

[END]

Dispositive Motions in Arbitration: Authority, Rules and Practical Tips

head shot 1By Janice L. Sperow

As companies, parties, and their lawyers across the nation debate whether they may, or even should, resolve their disputes in court or arbitration, courts and arbitrators—both faced with pandemic-generated, unprecedented backlogs—seem more willing to entertain docket clearing motions.

For some practitioners, dispositive motion practice in arbitration presents a new challenge. Yet, dispositive motions have existed in arbitration almost as long as arbitration itself. Now, however, both parties have embraced them. Recently, arbitrators have witnessed an increase in requests for leave to file them as parties dealing with the economic fallout of the pandemic attempt to resolve disputes sooner, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively. As more practitioners turn to arbitration to resolve disputes, they increasingly look to dispositive motion practice to promptly adjudicate them.

Still, some arbitrators have questioned their authority to entertain dispositive motions. Others hesitate to dispose of the arbitration before it really starts when it may well be the claimant’s only course of redress. Still others, like the author, view dispositive motions as a potential opportunity to narrow and resolve issues fairly and efficiently for both parties. So where do arbitrators obtain the power to consider dispositive motions?

The Parties’ Contract

Like the arbitration itself, the authority often starts with the parties’ contract. The arbitrator can and will allow dispositive motions if the parties’ arbitration clause provides for them. Many litigants now specifically provide in their arbitration agreements that the arbitrator shall have the authority to resolve jurisdiction, arbitrability, and many other threshold or dispositive issues. Indeed, astute drafters will frame their arbitration clauses to include the right to bring a dispositive or threshold motion to avoid the arbitrator’s exercise of discretion. Arbitrators will typically enforce such clauses if both parties may reciprocally invoke them.

Practical Tip: Explicitly provide the arbitrator with the authority to entertain dispositive and threshold motions directly into the parties’ arbitration agreement rather than incorporating them indirectly by reference to court rules, civil procedure rules, or forum administration rules. Court, civil procedure, and forum rules might include other provisions, which the parties may consider less desirable and which they may not want to incorporate wholesale into their agreement. The parties should also determine if they want to have the automatic right to bring such motions or merely grant the arbitrator the authority to entertain them at her discretion or upon a specified showing. If the parties intend to provide contractually for the application of a specific arbitral forum’s rules, review that forum’s dispositive motion rule and determine if the parties wish to modify it in the contract. Most arbitral fora expressly allow the parties to modify in writing the application of any rule. Finally, provide for reciprocity to enhance the clause’s enforceability.

Post-Dispute Agreement

If the contract itself does not mention the authority to hear dispositive motions, the parties may always agree to them in a written stipulation or even orally after the dispute has arisen or after the arbitration has begun. Contentious litigants may yet find common ground and agree to resolution of a threshold issue upfront if it will save time and expense. They will also routinely agree post-dispute to motions to resolve choice of law, jurisdiction, contract formation, forum rule applicability, and other threshold issues which will govern the rest of the case moving forward.

Practical Tip: Reduce the post-dispute agreement to writing whether by stipulation or in the arbitrator’s order. Identify the specific scope of the agreement including the precise issues to be determined by motion, page limits, and a briefing schedule. Decide if, pending the motion’s resolution, discovery should be stayed, continued, or restricted to information necessary to adjudicate the motion. Agree upon an early deadline for the resolution of the motion to maximize its cost savings and efficiency. Also set a cutoff date by which all dispositive or threshold issues must be brought. Early resolution saves the most time and expense; a dispositive motion brought on the eve of arbitration merely disrupts the process and often adds to, rather than minimizes, the costs of arbitration. Finally, proffer a dispositive motion agreement in writing to opposing counsel even if he will not likely agree; then track the fees spent on that issue at hearing and seek to recover them if the arbitrator rules in your favor on that point. Even if your side loses on the ultimate merits of a claim, the arbitrator may offset the prevailing party’s fee award if the other side incurred unnecessary fees on an issue, which could have been summarily adjudicated.

The Arbitral Forum’s Rules

The arbitration rules applicable to the dispute will usually permit dispositive motion practice. For example, in 2011, the pioneering  International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) specifically allowed for dispositive motion practice in the arbitral forum when it issued its 2011 Guidelines. In 2013, the American Arbitration Association also championed the arbitrator’s authority to entertain dispositive motions when it amended its rules to explicitly permit the filing of dispositive motions. Likewise, CPR’s first edition of Administered Rules promulgated in 2013 expressly authorized dispositive motions. Now, most arbitration associations include a dispositive motion rule. For example, JAMS’ Comprehensive Rule 18 explicitly authorizes them. Only the Financial Industry Neutral Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which involves primarily customer complaints, generally prohibits them; but even FINRA allows them under a few exceptions. We will explore the AAA and CPR rules in more depth because they provide parties with the most specific and comprehensive guidance.

The AAA Dispositive Motion Rules

Notably, the AAA did not adopt a uniform dispositive motion rule. Instead, it wisely chose to tailor its rules to the type of arbitration. The AAA Commercial Rule 33 now provides: “[t]he arbitrator may allow the filing of and make rulings upon a dispositive motion only if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” Likewise, the AAA Consumer Rule 33 and Employment Rule 27 state: “[t]he arbitrator may allow the filing of a dispositive motion if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown substantial cause that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” The AAA Construction Rule 34 provides: “[u]pon prior written application, the arbitrator may permit motions that dispose of all or part of a claim or narrow the issues in a case.”

Interestingly, the dispositive motion rule applicable to consumer and employment cases, which involve individuals arbitrating against companies, require a higher initial showing than the dispositive motion rule applicable to commercial cases, which involve two companies arbitrating against each other. The consumer and employment rules require the moving party to show “substantial cause” that the motion is likely to succeed while the commercial rule only requires the moving party to show that the motion is likely to succeed. “Substantial cause” suggests more ample, considerable, or abundant cause whereas “likely to succeed” evokes mere feasibility and reasonableness – a fair chance rather than a good chance.

Conversely, the construction rule does not require proof of a likelihood of success but merely a written application showing that the motion will “dispose of all or part of a claim or narrow the issues in a case.” Of course, the written application itself will be more persuasive if it demonstrates the motion’s likely success. Unlike the construction rule, the AAA employment, commercial, and consumer dispositive motion rules do not technically require a written application. However, most arbitrators require them, nonetheless. At a minimum, arbitrators will expect an email requesting leave, not just an oral request.

While the specific rules differ in some key respects, they also share some important commonalities. For example, all the AAA dispositive motion rules – and indeed many if not most arbitral fora rules – allow dispositive motion practice only at the arbitrator’s discretion. AAA Commercial Rule 33, Consumer Rule 33, and Employment Rule 27 (“arbitrator may allow”); Construction Rule 34 (“arbitrator may permit”). Unlike civil litigation, arbitration does not include an automatic right to file a dispositive motion. Parties must request leave to file a motion, which the arbitrator may grant or deny within her discretion.

The three rules all also require the moving party to make some initial showing to convince the arbitrator why she should exercise her discretion to permit the dispositive motion. AAA Commercial Rule 33 (“only if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown”); AAA Consumer Rule 33 and Employment Rule 27 (“if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown substantial cause”); AAA Construction Rule 34 (“upon prior written application”).

All three also require the moving party to show that the motion will “dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” Hence, in addition to the required degree of success, the moving party must demonstrate that the motion, if granted, will eliminate an issue, or at least narrow the scope of the hearing. Basically, the AAA’s rules all require two different types of proof: merit and efficiency – some likelihood of success and some cost savings over a hearing on the issue or claim.

But the AAA’s rules all require only either disposition or narrowing of the issues, not both. Accordingly, if the motion will achieve some economies of scale, the arbitrator can and should properly entertain the motion even if it does not completely dispose of an issue.

Practical Tip: Practitioners who wish to use the rules to narrow, rather than dispose of, issues should still present adequate proof of efficiency. For example, the moving party may want to demonstrate that early resolution of the issue may eliminate the need for expert or other witnesses who would not otherwise testify, may reduce the number of exhibits, may limit the necessary scope of discovery, or may reduce hearing time in some other way or even encourage settlement. 

Arguably, the rules do not require the complete disposition of a claim. For example, Construction Rule 34 explicitly provides that the motion may dispose of all “or part” of a claim. While the AAA’s Commercial, Employment, and Consumer Rules do not contain the same express language, they likely also permit partial disposition of a claim because they all permit the motion if it would narrow an issue and an arbitrator will likely find that partial resolution of a claim will indeed narrow the issues in the case.

Practical Tip: As noted, the parties can choose to include the right to file motions in their arbitration clause or post-dispute agreement rather than leave it to the arbitrator’s discretion. They can also set the applicable standard that they want to govern the grant or denial of the motion if they do so in writing. If the rules apply as written, consider a two-step proffer to save costs: during the first step, the moving party shows the rule’s satisfaction in a short letter or email without a response from the opposing party during which time the case and discovery proceed; then, in the second step, if the arbitrator finds that the moving party has satisfied the applicable standard, the parties set a full briefing schedule and suspend all or some discovery pending the motion’s resolution. In whatever manner litigants decide to tackle dispositive motion practice in arbitration, plan ahead and raise the issue early in the initial case management conference to allow sufficient time to schedule the motion(s) well before the hearing date in order to maximize cost savings for all parties. Consider the desirability of two different deadlines: an early one for purely legal or threshold questions and a later one at the close of discovery, if appropriate, for remaining disputes.

CPR’s Dispositive Motion Rule

In 2013, ADR industry leader CPR also issued its rules to expressly provide for dispositive motion practice. Under Rule 12.6, a party may apply to file “a motion for early disposition of issues, including claims, counterclaims, defenses, and other legal and factual questions.” CPR 2019 Administered Arbitration Rules, Rule 12.6(a). Rule 12.6 then instructs the applicant to include the issues to be resolved, the basis for the motion, the relief requested, how early disposition would “advance efficient resolution of the overall dispute” and a proposed procedure for resolving the issues. Rule 12.6(b).

CPR’s standard for the granting of the application differs slightly from the AAA’s Rules. CPR requires the arbitrator to find “a reasonable likelihood that hearing the motion for early disposition may result in increased efficiency in resolving the overall dispute while not unduly delaying the rendering of a final award.” Rule 12.6(c). If the arbitrator finds the motion “appropriate,” she will then establish the governing procedure, which may involve “written submissions, witness testimony by affidavit or other written form, limited hearings, or in any other manner.” Rule 12.6(d).

While the CPR and AAA Rules may differ somewhat in terminology, they represent a fairly uniform standard at least in the commercial arbitration context. The AAA Commercial Rule 33 requires “likely” success whereas the CPR Rule 12.6(c) requires “reasonable” success. Yet, they essentially require the arbitrator to undertake the same analysis in evaluating the burden of proof since “likely” evokes a fair, reasonable chance of success, whereas the AAA Consumer Rule 33 and the AAA Employment Rule 27 with their “substantial cause” requirement demand a higher quantum of proof.

But the rules do differ slightly more when it comes to what the applicant must prove: under the AAA Rules, the arbitrator will determine if the applicant has shown that the motion will dispose of or narrow the issues whereas the CPR Rule requires the arbitrator to focus on the motion’s overall efficiency without added delay. The CPR Rule technically does not focus on the likely success of the motion itself but rather reasonable likelihood of gaining efficiencies if the arbitrator grants the motion. The difference is nuanced, however, and may ultimately result in the same outcome as motions which dispose of or narrow the issues will necessarily promote efficiency.

The real difference between the AAA and CPR rules centers on the concept of delay. CPR specifically directs the arbitrator to consider the potential delay caused by adding a dispositive motion practice to the arbitration process, while the AAA rules do not mention delay to the final award as a specific consideration. Under the CPR Rule, an arbitrator may rightfully deny an application for leave to file a dispositive motion if it would unduly delay the rendering of the final award. Thus, under the CPR Rule, an arbitrator is much more likely to deny leave to file a dispositive motion the closer the parties get to the scheduled hearing. Indeed, CPR’s emphasis on “early” disposition of issues encourages the parties to use dispositive motions during the preliminary stages of the arbitration before or after limited discovery.

Practical Tip: As the applicant, counsel should consider raising issue identification and disposition, especially of legal questions, at the very first case management conference to forestall any delay argument. If the parties and the arbitrator calendar the motion from the outset of the case, the nonmoving party will be hard pressured to argue undue delay. To further minimize delay, allow discovery to proceed on the factual issues while the arbitrator considers the legal issues. Conversely, as the nonmoving party, counsel should insist on the discovery necessary to fully adjudicate the issues before any motion practice. Be prepared to identify with particularity the discovery needed on each issue for which the applicant seeks early disposition.  

CPR’s Dispositive Motion Guidelines

More than just a rule, CPR provides arbitrators and parties well-considered guidelines on the process. CPR issued formal “Guidelines on Early Disposition of Issues in Arbitration,” (“Guidelines”), which strike a fair balance between unmeritorious motions and issue winnowing. The Guidelines clarify that the parties may use dispositive motion practice to narrow and simplify the issues for hearing and not just to dispose of the entire case. They also encourage arbitrators to take an active role in promoting early issue identification and disposition. Guideline 1.1. They also warn the parties and the arbitrator to consider efficiency to the case overall. In other words, the arbitrator may properly deny leave to file a dispositive motion if, even if granted, it would not materially reduce the total time and cost involved in the arbitration. Guideline 2.4.

Court Approval & Inherent Authority

The Sixth Circuit recently relied upon AAA Rule 27 to uphold an arbitral tribunal’s summary judgment disposition in a AAA employment arbitration. McGee v. Armstrong No. 18-3886, October 29, 2019. McGee did not explicitly address Rule 27’s language. McGee merely cited R-27 and held “as such, the arbitrators did not exceed their power.” While the court based its decision upon Ohio’s state vacatur statute, the statute contains nearly identical grounds for vacatur as the FAA. Consequently, McGee teaches us that courts will not likely vacate a dispositive award by arbitrators under the FAA or state law as an excess of power if it satisfies the requirements of the applicable arbitration rules authorizing arbitrators to summarily dispose of matters. However, even before the AAA and the CPR adopted their dispositive motion rules, the courts routinely held that arbitrators had inherent authority to entertain dispositive motions. See, e.g., Schlessinger v. Rosenfeld, Meyer & Susman, 40 Cal. App. 4th 1096 (Cal. App. Ct. 1995).

Types of Dispositive Motions

Dispositive motions typically fall into three groups: (1) threshold or pre-discovery motions; (2) post-discovery summary adjudication motions; or (3) tactical motions. Threshold motions often raise procedural issues, such as venue, necessary parties, arbitrability, jurisdiction, applicable arbitral rules, scope of the arbitration, mootness, standing, res judicata, collateral estoppel, joinder, small claims election, or consolidation. But they can present substantive issues as well, such as contract formation, contract existence, contract validity, waiver, laches, plain meaning, estoppel, choice of law, failure to state a claim, right to punitive damages, right to attorneys’ fees, statute of limitations, tolling, statutory construction, statute applicability, consent, irrevocable consent, contract provision enforceability, liquidated damages availability, injunctive relief, defenses based upon contractual covenants, statutes of fraud, release, and more.

Substantive post-discovery motions are akin to partial or complete summary adjudication but can also include a motion to amend the claim based upon newly discovered facts, a failure to state a claim based upon undisputed facts, or even a motion on the pleadings.

Parties sometimes use tactical motions, not necessarily for their merits, but to educate the arbitrator early on about a key issue or to get a pre-mediation or pre-settlement “read” from the arbitrator on a key issue. They may seek to eliminate an expert or other witness by removing the issue from the arbitration’s scope. They may simply hope to delay the proceedings, raise the costs to the underfunded party, or disqualify counsel. Fortunately, CPR’s rule specifically considers any delay caused by the motion as an explicit factor in denying leave to seek a dispositive ruling. Some have even used AAA Commercial Rule 57 to defeat jurisdiction: they move to amend the claim, increasing the amount of damages, which in turn increases the AAA administrative fees, which defeats jurisdiction pending payment of the augmented fees.

Practical Tip: Regardless of the type of motion, all should result in a written award or order, which specifies the basis for the denial or grant of the motion. The movant should craft a well-written proposed order for the arbitrator as part of the motion but so should the opponent. Consider whether to request an opportunity for renewal after the completion of discovery or an aspect of discovery if the arbitrator denies the motion. The proposal should also identify the discovery completed up to the motion to circumvent an attack based on incomplete discovery or evidence. The opponent should identify the discovery still needed before the arbitrator can fairly resolve the issue. If the motion only partially disposes of the dispute, identify the remaining issues to be decided at the hearing.

Bottom line: As long as an arbitrator provides the parties a fair opportunity to present their cases, she can grant a dispositive motion without violating the right to a fundamentally fair hearing—the touchstone for whether or not a court will vacate an arbitral award. So, when you can, consider threshold and dispositive motion practice in arbitration as a way to cost-effectively narrow or resolve the arbitration.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The CPR Institute.

________________________

Janice Sperow is a full-time arbitrator, mediator, hearing officer, and prevention facilitator. She serves on the CPR’s mass claims, employment, commercial, banking, financial services, dispute prevention, mediation, flat fee mediation, and pro bono panels as well as the AAA’s commercial, large case, employment, technology, healthcare, consumer, pro se, and workplace investigation panels. Also serves as a neutral for the San Diego Superior Court (where she sits as a Judge Pro Tem), the Financial Industry Neutral Regulatory Authority, the National Arbitration FORUM, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the National Futures Association, the National Association of Arbitrators and Mediators, and the Better Business Bureau. Member, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals. Serves as Hearing Officer for the Port of San Diego. Former President of the National Association of Women Lawyers and Vice-President of California Women Lawyers, Member, ABA Dispute Resolution and Business Law Sections. www.sperowadr.com.

A Boxer’s Day: First Circuit Refuses to Compel the WBO’s In-House Arbitration Scheme

By Alice Albl

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a judgement to enforce an arbitration agreement, ruling that the contract between a professional boxer and sanctioning organization was unconscionable because it allowed the organization to select arbitrators from its own staff. 

In Trout v. Organización Mundial de Boxeo Inc., 965 F.3d 71 (1st Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2FNdUEF), the First Circuit Court remanded a case against the World Boxing Organization to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico. The court called the arbitrator-selection provision in the WBO’s Appeal Regulations “unconscionable.”

After declaring this selection process invalid, Circuit Judge David Barron, writing for a unanimous panel, left it to the federal district court to determine whether a severability clause from the separate but applicable WBO Championship Regulations would allow arbitration under the Appeal Regulations to continue.

In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk wrote that, though the panel had declared the WBO arbitration setup unconscionable, it had omitted saying whether that determination would have to fall under state or federal law. Dyk noted that the court had avoided contribution to the thorny debate over how the Federal Arbitration Act may preempt state arbitration laws.

For now, according to the WBO’s attorney, Edward Ricco, a director at the Rodey Law firm in Albuquerque, N.M., the case can either proceed in the district court or transition into litigation. Ricco did not mention any plans to seek certiorari or a rehearing.

Professional boxer and World Boxing Organization member Austin Trout filed suit in a New Mexico state court in November 2015 alleging that “the WBO’s decision to remove him from its rankings for a certain weight class cost him a chance to pursue the world championship in that class,” as described in the opinion. Trout called the act a violation of the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act (“MABRA”), and added claims under Puerto Rico law for breach of contract, fraud and negligence.

The WBO claimed that Trout had caused his own removal by committing to another fight while scheduled for a ranking match. The WBO invoked its Championship Regulations, which bound Trout as an organization member, and transferred venue to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico.

There, the WBO filed a motion to compel arbitration. It cited a provision of the Championship Regulations that required disputes to be arbitrated under its separate Appeal Regulations.

The motion was granted despite Trout’s insistence that a MABRA complaint was entitled to federal court adjudication. Trout included this contention along with three others in an appeal to the First Circuit.

While the First Circuit was quick to disarm Trout’s claim about MABRA requirements, along with two other claims, it focused on his assertion that a provision in the Appeal Regulations was unfair.

 This provision notes that arbitrators are gathered into a Grievance Committee of “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO. Those chosen served for “indeterminate terms” and were “subject to replacement by the nomination of the President of the WBO.”

Trout contested the WBO’s President’s power to freely choose and replace arbitrators as unconscionable.

The WBO countered by indicating additional language stating: “the Grievance Committee shall act as a fair and independent arbitrator of any grievance arising out of WBO Participation and it shall conduct all of its proceedings as Amiable Compositeur, Ex Aequo et Bono.”

It drew parallels between the regulations’ phrasing, and clauses deemed acceptable by other courts. Those clauses required the selection of arbitrators who were “qualified and independent.’”

That, held the First Circuit, was the problem. While cited precedent called for individuals who were “independent,” the WBO only required that an arbitrator’s performance be independent. Its selection provision called for “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO, none of whom may be members of the WBO Executive Committee.”

But the contract permitted the president to select biased individuals, even from within the WBO itself. “In fact,” the First Circuit opinion notes, “at oral argument the WBO conceded that the Appeal Regulations give the WBO’s president the power to nominate his or her own assistant to serve on the Grievance Committee.”

Allowing arbitrators to be biased toward one side of a dispute, even if expected to perform in an “independent” manner, was unconscionable, according to the First Circuit opinion.

With the selection provision struck as unconscionable, the First Circuit sent the case back to the district court to determine whether a severability clause that would allow the arbitration to continue applied. The severability clause was written not among the terms of the Appeal Regulations it was intended to preserve, but in the Championship Regulations which compelled WBO members to arbitrate.

In his concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Dyk, sitting by designation from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, commented on an issue unaddressed by the court. Although the WBO’s selection provision was soundly unconscionable, he wrote: “whether arbitration-clause-specific issues of unconscionability (and certain related defenses) are governed by individual state law or federal common was up for debate.”

Dyk’s comment referred to a fiery debate ignited by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/363u7jW) centered around whether the FAA preempts conflicting state law defense arbitration or rather acts a guideline for it. This topic, he concluded, “we appropriately leave to another day the question[…].”

While Trout awaits further action in the San Juan federal court, WBO counsel Edward Ricco says that he believes that the case’s impact on ADR practice will go back to contract construction. “I imagine the case will warn drafters away from the sort of arbitrator-selection provision at issue,” he said, “certainly in the First Circuit and presumably in other jurisdictions where the Trout decision may have persuasive value.”

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

[END]

As the Singapore Mediation Convention Enters Into Force This Week, It Is Wait-and-Watch on Its Use

By Yixian Sun

It’s a historic ADR beginning.

The 46 countries—including the United States, China, India, Japan, Israel, and Switzerland—that last year signed the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, known best as the Singapore Mediation Convention, have been joined by seven more since August 2019.

And now, the treaty is set to go into effect.

That group of 53 will preside over the treaty’s official effectiveness date, this week, on Sept. 12.  Under the treaty’s Art. 14, when Qatar became the third nation to ratify the treaty on March 12, effectiveness takes place automatically six months afterward.

The backers will commemorate the effectiveness with an “Entry into Force Celebration” which will stream live here on Saturday: www.singaporeconvention.org/events/scm2020.

The original group signed on last September in Singapore, providing the treaty’s name, and setting the stage for ratifications and effectiveness. 

Official acceptance happened fast. The treaty, which ensures that mediation parties can take their agreements across borders and get them enforced, automatically takes effect upon ratification by three countries. 

Fiji and Singapore had signed the treaty into law in their nations on Feb. 25, which Qatar followed six months ago.  Saudi Arabia, Belarus and Ecuador also ratified the treaty this year.

For an updated status of the Convention, see at https://bit.ly/3bc4Ww3.  

The interest demonstrated with the initial signings is an impressive number compared to, for example, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, well-known in the alternative dispute resolution community as the New York Convention. That 1958 treaty had 24 signatories when it came into force.

Indeed, the world’s view toward ADR has changed fundamentally since 1958.

The Singapore Convention applies to international settlement agreements resulting from mediation and concluded in writing by parties to resolve a commercial dispute. State parties to the Convention undertake to enforce such settlement agreements. The new Convention seeks to establish a streamlined and harmonized framework for cross-border enforcement of commercial settlement agreements, thereby promoting the use of mediation for the resolution of disputes arising from international business and trade.

Find a brief introduction and the full text of Singapore Mediation Convention are at the official website at www.singaporeconvention.org.

Within the past year in the CPR Institute’s Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation newsletter, Piotr Wójtowicz and Franco Gevaerd provided an overview of some key features of the Convention, with a focus on the basic requirements for the treaty’s application to a specific settlement agreement.  See the authors’ analysis at “A New Global ADR Star is Born: The Singapore Convention on Mediation,” 37 Alternatives 141 (October 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3gJf7JI) and also their discussion of the grounds for States’ or parties’ refusal of enforcement, “How the Singapore Convention Will Enforce Mediated Settlement Agreements Across Borders,” 1 Alternatives 9 (January 2020) https://bit.ly/3jAMdNL).

Some treaty features already have proven to be of great importance in the age of Covid-19. For example, in the face of increasing acceptance of, or at least acquiescence to, online ADR, the Singapore Convention does not incorporate the concept of a “mediation seat.” According to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, best known as UNCITRAL, while an arbitral award usually has a place of issuance to help determine its “foreign” nature, it can be difficult to connect a settlement agreement to a specific place or legal seat due to mediation’s inherently flexible nature. Report of Working Group II, UN Doc. A/CN.9/861 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2QIgopO).

The treaty also will not just be concerned with the differences between mediation and arbitration, but also about how business disputes are resolved in the 21st century. Negotiations are conducted in video conferences; agreements are developed and reached via emails, and multiple jurisdictions can be involved in one cross-border mediation.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating these activities, since parties likely can’t travel to mediate, and at least some mediation sessions have to take place remotely even for those who prefer in-person meetings.

Wherever or however the mediation is conducted, the resulting agreement will qualify as “international” under Article 1 of the Convention (i) as long as  at least two parties to the settlement agreements have their places of business in different States; or (ii) when the parties have places of business in the same State, that State “is different from either [S]tate where the obligations of the mediated settlement agreement are to be performed, or the [S]tate with which the subject matter of the mediated settlement is most closely connected.” Timothy Schnabel, “The Singapore Convention on Mediation: A Framework for the Cross-Border Recognition and Enforcement of Mediated Settlements,” 19 Pepperdine Disp. Resol. L.J. 1, 21 (2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2GIGtmQ). The settlement agreement itself, however, is essentially “a stateless instrument.” Id. at 22.

Indeed, many have found mediation the most appropriate and least cumbersome commercial dispute resolution forum during the pandemic. It serves as an efficient and manageable process where parties are encouraged to sit together and come up with creative solutions to preserve both sides’ economic interests and long-term partnership. See, for example, Ivana Nincic, “The Impact and Lessons of the Covid-19 Crisis as Regards the Efficiency of Justice and the Functioning of the Judiciary–a View from the Mediator’s Lens,” International Mediation Institute (available at https://bit.ly/2YQmNDw).

One may even question if international mediation will become the “new normal” for many disputes. Nadja Alexander, “International Mediation and COVID-19–The New Normal?” Kluwer Mediation Blog (May 21, 2020) (available at  https://bit.ly/352B30f). See generally the CPR Institute’s web page ADR in the Time of Covid-19 at www.cpradr.org/resource-center/adr-in-the-time-of-covid-19.

Yet it is one thing to celebrate mediation’s increasing prevalence, but another to predict how successful the Singapore Mediation Convention is going to be. To be more specific, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent the potential users of the new treaty, namely multinational corporations, will be willing to invoke this brand-new framework and make necessary adjustments to their business and legal arrangement accordingly.

Here is an example raised in a panel discussion by Mark Califano, Chief Legal Officer at Nardello & Co., a New York-based international consulting firm that conducts investigations for corporations,  at this year’s American Society of International Law’s Annual Meeting. Under Convention Article 4(1)(b), mediators are expected to sign off on the settlement agreement or use other methods to indicate their involvement. Under Article 5(1)(e), serious misconduct by the mediator is a ground for refusing to grant relief.

While this design may be a reasonable requirement for the purpose of transboundary enforcement, it is, to certain extent, inconsistent with the common practice in places like the United States, where the process of mediation is highly confidential and the behavior of mediators is rarely subject to litigation.

Therefore, parties may want to draft a contract clause beforehand to make sure that whatever settlement agreement that comes out of the mediation process fulfills the requirements imposed by Singapore Convention. The Singapore Convention on Mediation and the Future of Appropriate Dispute Resolution, ASIL 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting (June 25, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/34PHKT3).

In addition, the Singapore Convention’s limited application scope may prevent it from breaking the hegemony of the powerful, “all-encompassing” New York Convention.

Settlement agreements attained via mediation and negotiation and confirmed by the arbitral tribunal are enforceable under the New York Convention. On the contrary, Article 1(3) of the Singapore Convention excludes settlement agreements that have been approved and are enforceable as judgments or as arbitral awards from its scope of application.

As a result, cross-border businesses used to hybrid dispute resolution procedures might prefer to keep mediation as part of the arbitration proceeding, where “the success or failure of mediation will not affect the enforceability of the final award rendered by the arbitral tribunal.” Ashutosh Ray, Is Singapore Convention to Mediation what New York Convention is to Arbitration? Kluwer Mediation Blog (Aug. 31, 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/32FEjf7).

Aside from international treaties, the Singapore Convention may need to compete with the pre-existing domestic or regional legal regimes in different jurisdictions. Under Article 12(4), the Convention should not prevail over conflicting rules of a regional economic integration organization if relief is sought in a member State of that organization.

Thus, if the European Union adopted the Convention, practitioners would need to explore how to reconcile the Convention with the EU Directive on Mediation, which does not authorize direct enforcement of settlement agreement. Iris Ng, The Singapore Mediation Convention: What Does it Mean for Arbitration and the Future of Dispute Resolution? Kluwer Mediation Blog (Aug. 31, 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/34Sdw1U).

In Singapore, parties to international mediated settlement agreements are allowed to pick and choose between mechanisms of the Singapore Mediation Act 2017 and the Singapore Convention according to their needs and features of individual cases. Nadja Alexander & Shou Yu Chong, Singapore Convention Series: Bill to Ratify before Singapore Parliament, Kluwer Mediation Blog (Feb. 4, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3bbGlYf).

Despite all of this, we should agree with Piotr Wójtowicz and Franco Gevaerd who noted with their Alternatives articles linked above that the Singapore Mediation Convention is another milestone in international dispute resolution. The fact that the Convention was drafted and finalized in fewer than five years is itself an encouraging indication that “joint international effort is still viable,” the authors noted in their second article in January.

International businesses and lawyers will not refuse to diversify and expand their toolkit with a simplified enforcement framework. What the ADR world needs now is more practical experience and some legal precedents for the Convention to mature.

The author, a student at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., was a 2020 Summer Intern at the CPR Institute, which publishes CPR Speaks.

The CPR European Advisory Board presents: “Meet CPR Distinguished Neutrals Based in Europe: Klaus-Olaf Zehle”

The CPR European Advisory Board (EAB) continues it series “meet CPR’s Distinguished Neutrals in Europe” and today it presents its next Q&A, with Klaus-Olaf Zehle.

Klaus-Olaf is a German ADR practitioner based in the northern part of German.  His activity focuses on mediation, moderation of meetings and workshops and coaching.  A qualified industrial engineer, Klaus-Olaf spent 20 years in leadership positions at local and international IT consulting firms. He also sat on the board of a public telecommunication and outsourcing provider.  In 2004, he started a second career as mediator, coach, moderator and leadership trainer with a natural special focus on customers from technology and engineering.  He is a Certified Mediator from the International Mediation Institute (IMI), Den Haag and qualified as Certified Mediator according to German law. In addition to the CPR Panel of Neutrals, he is also on the panel of mediators for commercial disputes and an arbitrator for IT conflicts at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.  Klaus-Olaf is very active in mediation in and around Hamburg where he lives: he teaches mediation in the Masters in Programme Management at the International School of Management and Networking & Network Building in the Masters in Corporate Management at the Business and Information Techology School.  He speaks and practices in German and English.

Klaus-Olaf has kindly agreed to contribute to our series and give us his insight on his mediation practice:

How did you get your start as a neutral?

Before any education on mediation, I got my first experiences as an Executive in a company by solving conflicts between departments which had different targets.

Who is your dispute resolution hero/heroine?

Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein from the Center for Mediation in Law are my mediation heroes. Not only did I benefit from two practitioner trainings with them, but they have also influenced the German mediation scene from the early days of mediation in the country. Nearly all of my coaches in mediation had undertaken their first education in mediation from Gary and Jack.

Their concentration on the power of understanding characterizes the way in which I now personally conduct mediation.

From Germany my mediation experience was mainly influenced by Stephan Breidenbach and Jutta Lack-Strecker.

What advice would you give to the younger generation looking for a first appointment as neutral?

Do not expect to be the neutral that all parties in dispute are waiting for.

It takes a long time to build a reputation. Networking in local and nationwide mediation associations is helpful. There, you can get experience from other neutrals.

Also, local events are very important; you should try to make presentations or speeches about the benefits of mediation and other dispute resolution processes at such events. It’s all about educating your potential clients.

Short articles or essays about dispute resolution in local newspapers or journals also can be of help.

Were you ever the first in doing something?

Yes, on many occasions, I was an innovator or early adopter. In my profession as a consultant, I was one of the first to offer mediation. A lot of my colleagues followed me in this specialization.

Together with three colleagues, we developed a specific consulting concept for disputes within a corporation, which is based on the principle of disputes resolution by a neutral dispute. We named this concept equidistance consulting.

We also developed a new methodology called Congruation (Congruence & Integration).  This process refers to the need to show the differences in the positions and interests of the various members of a team or a board in order to solve latent conflicts.  This is a paradigm I learned from coaching by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein,

What makes your conflict resolution style unique?

While I am conscious that it is not – from a purist point of view – part of a neutral’s role or acceptable, I sometimes switch from a mediator role to that of an experienced person with an outside view of the situation and provide advice and ideas on how to resolve the conflict. I always do this with the prior full consent of all parties involved.

One example: During a mediation process with several partners of a law firm and relating to managing issues, I switched my role at some point and reported to them on best practices that I teach in leadership courses. These best practices are intended to give the parties the possibility to learn from each other.  The parties are free to decide together whether they want to follow this kind of best practice or an adjusted version of the same.

What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced as a neutral?

I mediated a team conflict, which after some discussions resulted in there being one person opposed to nearly ten colleagues. I was convinced that even in this specific setting the conflict could be resolved by mediation. During the process, the significant imbalance of one against ten became more and more obvious, and I started to feel inclined to support the one-person party. I therefore recommended that they reduce the number of participants in the group of ten persons. This proposal was not accepted, and we stopped the mediation process.

What is the most important mistake you see counsel make?

Counsels who insist on prolonged discussions after a clear getting to “yes” phase. They should accept that their client does not need additional reasons or to reopen the discussion.

I sometimes have the feeling, that counsels like to make themselves valuable by showing that their view – when it is different from the negotiated agreement – is still the only right way.

If you could change one thing about commercial arbitration, what would it be?

Mediation should be mandatory before going to court or arbitration.

Now let’s turn to a specific topic: what is your approach to cybersecurity and data protection in international dispute resolution?

Online mediation is one of the most efficient ways to resolve disputes among parties who are located far away from each other. The current discussion on security risks of some platforms should be addressed at the beginning.  The benefits should be balanced against the risks of confidentiality. All parties have to agree on the video conference platform to be used. Those documents that contains material worthy of protection could be shared in encrypted form via a separate communication channel and parties should be instructed not to share such material on screen during the video conference.

In your view, what makes CPR unique? 

During my master studies in mediation, I learned about CPR in conjunction with the CPR pledge. I liked this idea and based my master thesis on this topic. The CPR pledge is for me still one of the key elements to dispute resolution.

Do you have any concluding remarks or an anecdote you would like to share?

My 2005 published master thesis on “Enhancing the acceptance of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practices between corporations through voluntary commitment, considering the example of the CPR Pledge and its transferability to the German market” was included in a PWC Study on ADR, which has had a lot of impact in establishing a series of conferences on ADR in Germany. Out of these conferences a round table of large corporations was established which now developed a pledge for Germany. CPR has indirectly influenced the acceptance to ADR in Germany.

When News Coverage Mediates Between Parties

By Alice Albl

For the Aug. 26 session of the Conversations in Conflict series hosted by New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program, reporter-turned-mediator Carol Pauli discussed the similarities between her past and present professions.

First published in a 2007 paper that earned the CPR Institute’s Student Article Award, Pauli’s theory asserts that journalists often become mediators while adhering to their profession’s ethical demands to maintain neutrality and respect all sources. The narratives that journalists shape can act as bridges of understanding between oppositions. Carol Pauli, News Media as Mediators, 8 Cardozo J. Conflict Resol. 717 (2007) (available at https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/570).

Two interviews by former CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite were Pauli’s first example of the media as mediator. Cronkite had organized consecutive talks with the heads of mutually hostile nations, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel.

Going first, Sadat expressed a willingness to come to Israel if invited. In the second interview Cronkite mentioned this to Begin, who immediately extended the invitation. Days later Sadat was in Israel and the two countries were closer than ever to peace. In this story, Pauli recognized the flow of a “classic” mediation.

Pauli, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Ft. Worth, Texas,  then explained that other mediation styles can manifest themselves through journalism. The story-uniting goal of “narrative” mediation was met when a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., newspaper wrote several articles about Jaime Gil Tenorio, a migrant worker killed in a local hit-and-run.

Tracing Tenorio’s life led the newspaper to the village of San Augustin Yatareni, Oaxaca, in Mexico. People there often made Poughkeepsie their destination for work to support their families. As recognition for their sacrifices, Poughkeepsie sent gifts to the village, among them computers for staying connected with migrated family members.

Pauli did not discuss the Mexico locales by name in her presentation, but for more information see, e.g. Maria Rose, “Oaxacan Immigration to Poughkeepsie,” Welcome to the Hudson Valley: A Guidebook of Topics in Local Environmental History (June 3, 2013) (available at https://bit.ly/3juDDQB).

Thanks to the articles, said Pauli, the usual U.S. story of malicious “invader immigrants” had been forced to reconcile with the migrants’ realities of hardship and love. The result was a new, shared narrative that any mediator would proudly tout.

While the harmony of respect and neutrality could transform journalists into mediators, Pauli closed her presentation telling mediators to watch what journalists do when the two clash. Their solution in tempering neutrality with compassion might not lead to the perfect scoop, but it does build bridges.

* * *

Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.

* * *

The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

Meet CPR’s Appellate Panel: Hon. James Eyler

Hon. James Eyler

Periodically, CPR showcases various members of our Distinguished Panel of Neutrals. Today, we continue our new feature, “Meet CPR’s Appellate Panel,” speaking with Judge James Eyler, of Eyler Dispute Resolution.

Eyler has engaged in both court ordered and private mediation, arbitration and neutral evaluation since May 1, 2012. He was a member of the law firm of Miles & Stockbridge, PC from 1968 -1995, and Chairman of the firm from 1991 to January 8, 1996. He served as Judge, Court of Special Appeals (COSA), Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, from January 9, 1996 until retirement in May 1, 2012. Since that time, he continues to serve on the Court part time as a recalled judge.

Eyler’s primary practice areas at Miles & Stockbridge, PC included torts, contracts, business disputes, appellate issues, mass torts, professional malpractice and commercial disputes. As an incumbent judge, he managed the Court’s prehearing conference program, including a mediation subprogram and conducted hundreds of conferences. Litigants may appeal as of right to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court’s jurisdiction extends to all cases appealed from trial courts with the exception of election law cases.

1.     How did you get your start as a neutral?

While in practice from 1968-1995, I enjoyed settling cases because I found that settlement was usually better for the parties than a trial. In the early 90s, I became interested in ADR and took beginning and advanced courses. After appointment to Maryland’s intermediate appellate court at the end of 1995, I assumed the role of prehearing conference judge, in addition to regular opinion assignments. This meant that I had occasion to utilize various methods of dispute resolution prior to briefing and argument. Since retirement, I have spent the bulk of my time conducting mediation, arbitration, settlement conferences and neutral evaluation.

2.     Were you ever the first to do something (e.g., in your law school class, your family, at your firm)?

I was the first in my family to go to college.

3.     Do you have any general words of wisdom for parties entering into deals and contracts, when it comes to anticipating future disputes and the right to appeal?

Understandably, when negotiating contracts, parties focus on the substance of the deal and often do not pay enough attention to dispute resolution provisions.

4.     What makes your style of conflict resolution in the appellate context unique? How is it different from dispute resolution, pre-appeal? Do you have a particular philosophy or approach?

Cases often have issues that cannot be raised on appeal. Alternative resolution provides an opportunity to resolve all issues. A unique aspect of cases on appeal is that the parties’ experience up to that point usually is a reminder that the court system is not perfect and “winning” is often unsatisfactory.

5.     Describe the most difficult challenge you have faced as a neutral and how you approached its resolution.

One of the most difficult challenges is getting through to people who articulate a goal or interest but insist on conduct that is inconsistent with their own goal/interest.

6.     What is your favorite part about being a CPR Distinguished Neutral?

A neutral gets more hugs than a judge or lawyer.

7.     Which types of conflicts would you recommend for ADR and why?

Any conflict which the parties want to settle and, therefore, approach with interest. Cases with a long history of animosity, revenge, distrust and the like are difficult. Cases that turn on a pure legal question that has ramifications beyond the case are difficult.

8.     What is the biggest mistake you see advocates make in an arbitration/mediation?

Treating it as traditional litigation.

9.     How can parties help to ensure progress when they reach an impasse?

Just keep talking. An impasse at 9 a.m. often turns into a solution at 5 p.m.

10. If you could change one thing about commercial arbitration/mediation, what would it be?

No suggestions. In mediation, my approach is to be flexible and use any and all techniques that may work. All cases have similarities but also have differences. I attempt to adjust my approach to the case.

11. What do you see as the “next big thing” in global dispute prevention and resolution?

Video conferencing

12. What in your view are the most unique and/or beneficial features of CPR’s Appellate Arbitration Procedure?

It provides an opportunity for correction in those infrequent cases in which the process goes awry.