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