Supreme Court Preview: An Airline and an Employee Will Argue Over the Reach of an Exclusion from the Federal Arbitration Act

By Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes Monday morning to hear oral arguments in the third of four arbitration matters before the justices in a nine-day period.

Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309, may have the biggest impact on workers of any of the cases.  It presents a Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 1 question:

Whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.

The distinction of whether a worker is operating in interstate commerce has a knotty history.  A restrictive reading could eliminate a workplace dispute arbitration obligation for many employees nationwide. An expansive reading could eviscerate employment agreement dispute resolution clauses.

The Court hasn’t been sympathetic to workers avoiding arbitration.  But the view isn’t categorical. A notable exception is the three-year-old FAA Sec. 1 case, New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S. Ct. 532 (2019) (available here), in which an 8-0 opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch held that an independent contractor—a long-haul truck driver—was exempt from arbitration because there was no employer-employee relationship.

FAA Sec. 1 defines the statute’s application to maritime transactions and commerce. The section ends noting that “nothing [in the statute] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”

Southwest Airlines likely will require a similar textual analysis of the so-called Sec. 1 residual clause–which New Prime needed for “contracts of employment”–on “interstate commerce” characteristics.

The Court has interpreted the law to mean that the exception from FAA application is only for transportation workers “engaged in” interstate commerce. Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105 (2001) (available at https://bit.ly/2HhwYLu).

Original plaintiff Latrice Saxon, now the Supreme Court case respondent, is a “Ramp Agent Supervisor for Southwest Airlines who occasionally loads and unloads passenger baggage from airplanes,” according to Southwest Airlines’ cert petition, which is available at the docket link above.

Saxon works at Chicago’s Midway Airport. She filed a class-action suit against her employer for overtime she contended that the employees were owed under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case (available at https://bit.ly/3rRA8Ln) held that the plaintiff was a transportation worker, and therefore exempt from the FAA, and didn’t have to arbitrate. Southwest Airlines requires all workers who aren’t covered by collective bargaining agreements to arbitrate workplace disputes, according to court papers.

Noting a circuit split, Southwest Airlines appealed, and the nation’s top Court agreed to decide whether the local worker was FAA-exempt, which suggests the examination of the plaintiff’s work in relation to interstate commerce.

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That’s the key inquiry for the amicus filings on both sides. The briefs supporting petitioner Southwest Airlines echo the carrier’s position seeking to have a narrow FAA Sec. 1 definition and define being “engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” as meaning moving goods or people across borders. Southwest Airlines and the amicus parties want the Seventh Circuit decision reversed.  Joining the petitioner are six amicus briefs, from the

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers;
  • Lyft Inc.;
  • Uber Technologies Inc.;
  • Amazon.com;
  • Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative, free-market think tank and public interest law firm (which notes that “The FAA contains a discrete exemption, in § 1, for a few categories of transportation workers. Congress included the exemption not to excuse these classes of workers from arbitration, but merely to enable them to arbitrate through other congressionally created channels. The respondent here is not subject to an alternative channel of this sort; she just wants to avoid arbitration altogether. She seeks to gut the federal policy in favor of arbitration by expanding the § 1 exemption far beyond its proper bounds.”), and
  • Airlines for America, an 86-year-old trade association, which discusses FAA Sec. 1 but also emphasizes the benefits of arbitration for the airline industry.

There are seven amicus filings backing respondent/original plaintiff Latrice Saxon in asking the Court to uphold the Seventh Circuit and retain the ruling that her Chicago-based transportation work was a part of interstate commerce and she is therefore exempt under FAA Sec. 1 from arbitration in her employment agreement. The briefs are from

  • The National Employment Lawyers Association, whose members focus on representing individual workers;
  • The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations–the AFL-CIO;
  • The American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers’ professional organization;
  • A brief on behalf of 17 states, their attorneys general, and the District of Columbia;
  • Public Justice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit law firm, consumer advocacy group, and left-leaning think tank;
  • The National Academy of Arbitrators and the National Association of Railroad Referees, whose brief states, “It may appear puzzling that organizations of professional arbitrators oppose petitioner’s proposal to increase the use of arbitration under the FAA, but it is not. Amici’s position is grounded in their fundamental fidelity to the institution of arbitration, to a clear understanding of Congress’ legislative intent . . ., and to judicial precedent,” and
  • Three legal historians who maintain that the Court has recognized that Congress enacted the FAA Sec. 1 exemption “to avoid unsettling then-established dispute-resolution schemes covering workers like ‘railroad employees’ under Title III of the Transportation Act of 1920 and ‘seamen’ under sections 25-26 of the Shipping Commissioners Act of 1872,” regardless of whether the transportation workers crossed state lines in their employment, relying on Circuit City reasoning. The professors are James Pope, Rutgers Law School, Newark, N.J.; Imre Szalai, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and Paul Taillon, University of Auckland, in Auckland, New Zealand.

The parties’ and the amicus briefs are available on the Supreme Court’s docket page, linked at the top of this article.

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While Southwest Airlines may have the biggest direct impact on workers of the 2021-2022 Supreme Court caseload, it isn’t alone in its arbitration consequences. Four of the six matters before the U.S. Supreme Court involve employment cases at their core, though often arcane legal points have brought them to the Court and will be the focus of the decisions, as well as in the two arguments still to be heard. The effect of the opinions could have a profound effect on workplace disputes . . .  or boost Congressional efforts to change arbitration in Congress. (See report on the recently signed-into-law Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 and the push for further reforms on CPR Speaks here.)

In addition to Southwest Airlines,  on Nov. 2 the Court heard Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, which awaits decision. The case focuses on the limits of state court jurisdiction and the reach of federal court jurisdiction over the provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act.  The case was brought by a financial services employee against her bosses and company for harassment and other workplace claims.  More on the November argument on CPR Speaks here.

Last Monday, the Court examined a suit by a former Taco Bell employee who claimed that the franchise company had waived its right under her employment agreement to arbitrate their wage dispute.  The original plaintiff was contesting an Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found for the company because the employee had not been prejudiced by the company’s conduct.  The former employee challenged the prejudice requirement and asked the Court to focus on the company’s actions. The case of Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328,  is expected to be decided before the current Court term ends in June; more on the argument earlier this week on CPR Speaks here.

Next Wednesday’s Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, No. 20-1573, focuses on the relationship between the FAA and California’s Private Attorneys General Act. The Court will likely revisit its extensive history on federal preemption of state laws.

The PAGA law enables an individual employee to seek a court judgment for breach of California labor laws as a “private attorney general” on behalf of the state of California. Thousands of cases have been filed under the law and, many employers say, skirt employment agreements requiring arbitration for workplace disputes. For background on Viking River, see Mark Kantor, “US Supreme Court to Review Whether Private Attorney General Action Can Be Waived by an Arbitration Agreement,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 16) (available here).

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A preview and an analysis of the 2021-2022 Supreme Court arbitration docket can be found at Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022), and Imre Szalai, “Not Like Other Cases: SCOTUS’s Unique Arbitration Year,” 40 Alternatives 28 (February 2022), both available for free at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK.

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A live audio stream of Monday’s argument will be available at the Court’s home page, here. Archives of recordings and transcripts for cases this term, including the three arbitration cases argued so far, are available on the Court’s website here.

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation at altnewsletter.com for CPR.

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Highlights from Cardozo’s Melnick Symposium on ‘The Death and Resurrection of Dialogue’

By Ellen Waldman    

Each year, the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at New York’s Yeshiva University,  enlightens the local mediation community with its annual Jed D. Melnick Symposium.

This year’s symposium was titled, “The Death and Resurrection of Dialogue,” covering the media, politics, communities, racial divides, and in mediation itself. (The symposium agenda, from March 11, is at the link.)

The timely topics ranged from  the impact of various media on political discourse, Ohio State’s Divided Community Project and efforts to stimulate productive community dialogue, the ascendance of remote practice, the disappearance of the joint session in mediation,  and  finally, mediation’s role in addressing the inequities of structural racism.

This blog post focuses on this last, most-challenging topic, and the panelists’ efforts to address what may be mediation’s unwitting contribution to continued racial imbalance and oppression.

The panel was introduced by Bobby Codjoe, Cardozo’s Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and moderated by Prof. Maurice Robinson, an adjunct faculty member in Cardozo’s Kukin Program for Dispute Resolution. The speakers included Prof. Ellen E. Deason, emeritus at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law in Columbus, Ohio, Prof. Isabelle R. Gunning at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, and Prof. Sharon B. Press, Director of the Dispute Resolution Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minn. 

A central question the panel posed was whether a mediator charged with maintaining impartiality and neutrality can be an anti-racist. To understand this question, it is necessary to analyze the distinction between being a non-racist and being an anti-racist, a distinction that Prof. Robinson helped the audience understand.

Being a non-racist means refraining from personally inflicting harm or behaving in negatively biased way toward BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals or groups. But non-racism entails a passive response to BIPOC’s generational pain and trauma, and the structures of oppression that maintain and reinforce them.

By contrast, being an anti-racist means taking any effort or action designed in direct opposition to racism, bias, oppression, marginalization and brutalization of any group of POC. It requires acknowledging that racism is a real and present day system. It interrogates the racialized frameworks people have grown up with which asserts the superiority of White people and the inferiority of BIPOC, and maintains caste-based hierarchies through a web of legal rules, policies and cultural practices.

To be an anti-racist, according to the program panel, is to recognize that the heart of racism is the denial of this system. To be an anti-racist is to work to recognize, identify, and take affirmative actions toward  changing this system. 

Prof. Gunning, when considering how mediator neutrality meshes with the imperative of an anti-racist to affirmatively “call out” racist structures and systems began by asserting that neutrality was an inherently problematic concept. Mediator obeisance to the supposed dictates of neutrality encourages White mediators to stay silent in the face of injustice and risks thwarting  the self-determination of BIPOC in the process. Gunning suggested that neutrality, for many mediators, serves as a proxy for trust and offered that mediators talk instead about the values they seek to enact in the process: equality, dignity and respect.

Prof. Deason began her remarks by delineating two specific instances where a White mediator is most at risk of complicity with structural racism. The first is when the mediator remains blind to racial stereotypes and unaware of the mediator’s own unconscious bias. 

The White mediator, in saying, “I don’t see color,” may, in fact, be simply affirming her or his own White reality as the status quo,  thereby denying the reality or experience of the BIPOC  parties in the mediation room.  A mediator’s determination to adhere to a neutral stance may affect how the mediator chooses to respond to the dynamic between the parties.

Deason revealed some skepticism that mediators can ever be truly neutral and noted that research reveals that mediators engage in selective facilitation, elevating the stories they find most compelling and silencing those stories that are less resonant to them. Both Profs. Deason and Press speculated that for White mediators, that story often will be the White story, whether consciously or not. 

Prof. Press noted that as mediation becomes ever more institutionalized within a court system that prioritizes efficiency and settlement over root-cause problem-solving, the challenges increase. When the goal is to relieve dockets, not surface underlying needs and redress wrongs, the risks that mediation will simply buttress existing racial inequities is significant.

Press and Deason noted that the standard mediator exhortation that parties treat each other with respect and avoid interruptions smacks of “tone policing,” just as the insistence that parties look forward, not back, can rob traditionally disenfranchised groups of the moral context and righteous indignation that undergirds their claims.

The panelists agreed that mediation needed to reconnect with its original emphasis on voice, both in the  community and court settings.  Additionally, they noted that the work of examining embedded whiteness and promoting racial healing is not the task of mediators alone; rather, dispute system designers and stakeholders in related fields, such as conciliators and group facilitators, must also take up the cudgel of self-reflection and modification.

In fact, restorative justice practitioners have started that work. See, e.g., Edward C. Valandra & Waŋbli Wapȟáha Hokšíla, Eds., Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities (Living Justice Press 2020) (in which 18 authors who are restorative justice practitioners and scholars explore the racism and colonization within the field of restorative justice/restorative practices), and Fania E. Davis, The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation (Justice and Peacebuilding) (Good Books (2019).

It is true: the hour was filled with more questions than answers. But the very fact of the conversation reveals that the work  has, indeed,  begun.

* * *

The author is Vice President, Advocacy & Educational Outreach at CPR.  Her bio on CPR’s website can be found here.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Whether Section 1782 Allows Discovery for Use Before International Arbitration Tribunals

By John Pinney & Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard almost two hours of argument on whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782 allows parties to seek a federal district court order for discovery of evidence for use before international arbitral tribunals.  

In consolidated cases this morning, the Court not only heard arguments from the parties’ counsel but also conducted a potentially pivotal discussion with an attorney from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.  The government sided with the petitioners and argued against Section 1782’s application for both private international and investor-state arbitrations.

A key issue that emerged during today’s argument was whether the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” should be the focus or whether the single word “tribunal” alone should form the basis of the court’s consideration of whether Section 1782 allows U.S. federal district courts to provide judicial assistance to international arbitral tribunals. 

The Court itself was hesitant about arbitration matters’ inclusion in the law, which is titled “Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals.” There are “too many problems extending this,” said Justice Stephen G. Breyer to respondent counsel urging foreign arbitral tribunals’ access to the law, asking whether the decision should simply be, “[G]o to Congress [and] get it worked out.”

Soon after, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that including arbitration tribunals “runs very counter to our intuitions that arbitration which is that it is supposed to be quick. . . . And [Sec.] 1782 is a very liberal grant of discovery.”

The cases were differentiated by the types of arbitration involved.  ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, is a private arbitration, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, is investor-state arbitration, involving the government of Lithuania.

The Court granted certiorari for the two cases argued today in December, shortly after another case addressing the same issue argued today was dismissed in late September.  That case, Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce, PLC, No. 20-794, was voluntarily dismissed on the eve of argument that had been set for Oct. 5, during the first week of the Court’s 2021-2022 term. 

[CPR Speaks blog publisher CPR filed an amicus brief in Servotronics and today’s AlixPartners urging the Court to take the cases because of the significance of their issues to international arbitration, but not in support of either side. These briefs were written principally by co-author John Pinney. For details, see John Pinney, “International Arbitration Is Back at the Supreme Court with Today’s Cert Grant on Two Section 1782 Cases,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 10) (available here).]

The first of the two consolidated cases argued today was ZF Automotive, which arises from a private commercial contract with ZF Automotive’s German parent that requires any disputes to be arbitrated before the German Arbitration Institute.  The ZF Automotive case was brought in Detroit prior to commencement of any private international arbitration in Germany.  The district court allowed the requested discovery.  On appeal to the Sixth Circuit, ZF Automotive, in a most unusual move, petitioned for certiorari before judgment to bypass waiting for the Sixth Circuit to decide its appeal. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on Dec. 10.

The second case, AlixPartners, involves an investor-state arbitration arising from a bilateral investment treaty between Russia and Lithuania.  Interestingly, the AlixPartners case is an appeal from the Second Circuit, which in its decision distinguished NBC (see details below), as well as the Second Circuit’s more recent In re Guo, 965 F.3d 96 (2d Cir. 2000), to allow Section 1782 discovery for investor-state cases.

By accepting both a private international arbitration case (ZF Automotive) and an investor-state arbitration case (AlixPartners), the Supreme Court is poised to decide definitively whether any non-governmentally created tribunal can be a “foreign or international tribunal” within the meaning of Section 1782. That was the key focus in today’s arguments.

The cases have attracted 12 amicus briefs – five in support of the petitioners opposing Section 1782 discovery, four in favor of Section 1782 discovery, and three in support of neither side. 

The most significant amici is the United States, which opposes Section 1782 discovery in both private and investor-state arbitrations, arguing that the term “tribunal” does not include international arbitral tribunals, whether they be created either for private international arbitrations or under bilateral or multi-national investment treaties.  The Solicitor General requested and was granted the right to argue orally for the United States today in support of petitioners.

Today’s Arguments

As noted above, a key issue that emerged early in today’s arguments was whether the Section 1782 phrase “foreign or international tribunal” should be the focus or whether the single word “tribunal” alone should form the basis of the court’s consideration of whether the law allows U.S. federal district courts to provide judicial assistance to international arbitral tribunals.   

The 58-year-old statute states, “The district court of the district in which a person resides or is found may order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal, including criminal investigations conducted before formal accusation.  . . .”

The petitioners opposing Section 1782 discovery–Roman Martinez, deputy office managing partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Latham & Watkins on behalf of ZF Automotive, and Joseph T. Baio, senior counsel at New York’s Willkie Farr & Gallagher, for AlixPartners–argued that the entire phrase, “foreign or international tribunal,” must be considered, and that the phrase has never been used with respect to an arbitral tribunal.

The respondents, on the other hand, focused on the word “tribunal” and argued that it has frequently been used with respect to arbitral tribunals, both contemporaneously in 1964 when the statute was enacted and in current usage. The respondent attorneys arguing on behalf of, respectively, Luxshare and the Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign State, were Andrew Rhys Davies, a New York partner at Allen & Overy, and Alexander A. Yanos, a New York and Washington partner in Alston & Bird.

Veteran Assistant Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler’s argument, which split the four party appearances, appeared to be given weight, especially in relation to how allowing discovery under Section 1782 might affect the United States’ relations with foreign governments.  His argument contended that there is no meaningful distinction between private international arbitral tribunals and arbitral tribunals established under investment treaties, mainly because neither are “governmental.” 

If you have a U.S. court engaged in discovery, said Kneedler, “it creates the potential for . . . controversy and . . . for having the United States involved . . . in something that is really none of its business.”

The takeaway from Kneedler’s arguments was that the Court should be cautious in accepting respondents’ arguments because any expansion of the scope of Section 1782’s reach should be addressed by Congress.  Congress “had specifically in mind formality,” he concluded.

Kneedler’s point resonated with both Justices Gorsuch and Breyer in the argument that immediately followed by Andrew Rhys Davies, arguing for Luxshare to allow discovery under Sec. 1782 for the company’s arbitration in Germany.  Davies had a difficult time answering Gorsuch’s repeated inquiries on why a definitive Sec. 1782 extension shouldn’t be left to Congress.  Davies ultimately countered that there was no need because the full statute answers the application question by putting it in the U.S. District Court’s hands.

Breyer shrugged the answer off, and said there may be too many problems extending the statute, referring to timing of the discovery requests in the arbitration proceeding, including before a tribunal is established.

Davies insisted the statute as it currently exists contemplates those decisions by the federal court, but Gorsuch jumped back into the conversation immediately, noting that such moves runs counter what arbitration is supposed to be, characterizing Sec. 1782, as noted, as “a very liberal grant of discovery.”

Source of the Review

The Court’s review on this issue can be attributed to a 3-to 2-circuit split created when the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Abdul Latif Jameel Transp. Co. v. FedEx Corp., 939 F.3d 710 (6th Cir. 2019) (“FedEx”).  At the time, the only circuit court decisions on the issue had been decided in 1999 by the Second Circuit (National Broadcasting Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co., 165 F.3d 184 (2d Cir. 1999)) and the Fifth Circuit (Republic of Kazakhstan v. Biedermann Int’l., 168 F.3d 880 (5th Cir. 1999)). In both cases, the courts ruled that the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” in Sec. 1782 did not apply with respect to private international arbitral tribunals. 

After the Sixth Circuit decided FedEx, the Fourth Circuit followed the Sixth Circuit in Servotronics Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d 209 (4th Cir. 2020), but in a parallel case also brought by Servotronics, the Seventh Circuit instead followed the Second and Fifth Circuits in Servotronics Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC, 975 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. 2021), holding that Sec. 1782 did not apply with respect to private international arbitral tribunals.

All of these cases came in the wake of the only U.S. Supreme Court facing Section 1782 head on, Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004). Today’s arguments discussed extending discovery to arbitration tribunals in light of Intel’s inclusion of matters quasi-judicial and administrative bodies.

* * *

For an amicus argument against allowing Sec. 1782 discovery, see analysis by Derek T. Ho & Eliana M. Pfeffer, “Discovery in Aid of Foreign Arbitration Proceedings Unfairly Imposes Tremendous Costs on U.S. Companies,” 40 Alternatives 58 (April 2022) (available at https://bit.ly/3JUXs13).

* * *

Today’s consolidated cases are expected to be decided before the Court’s term ends at the end of June. The transcript and audio of the Sec. 1782 arguments are available on the Supreme Court’s website here. Justice Clarence Thomas has missed this week’s arguments — hospitalized with an infection, according to the Court’s Sunday announcement — but will participate using the briefs and the transcript.

While Court watchers’ eyes this week have been on the confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the continuing business of the nation’s top Court is a two-week deep dive into arbitration. The arbitration focus will resume with arguments on Monday morning with Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309. That employment case will consider whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.

Highlights from Morgan v. Sundance Inc.No. 21-328 — an employment arbitration case that was the first of the March arbitration cases, argued earlier this week — can be found on CPR Speaks here. The four-case run will conclude next Wednesday with Viking River Cruises v. MorianaNo. 20-1573, which focuses on the relationship between the FAA and California’s Private Attorneys General Act. For background on Viking River, see Mark Kantor, “US Supreme Court to Review Whether Private Attorney General Action Can Be Waived by an Arbitration Agreement,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 16) (available here).

And one 2021-2022 term arbitration case, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, awaits decision. Details on the case from the Nov. 2 arguments is available on CPR Speaks here.

* * *

Pinney is counsel to Graydon Head & Ritchey in Cincinnati. On CPR’s behalf, he acted as counsel of record in an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the Servotronics and AlixPartners cases, as detailed above. Details on the brief can be found on CPR Speaks here. His AlixPartners brief on CPR’s behalf can be found on the Supreme Court docket page linked at the top or directly at https://bit.ly/3pzZpHj. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR at altnewsletter.com.  Tamia Sutherland, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., assisted with the preparation of this post.

[END]

Supreme Court Preview: Wednesday’s Combined Arguments Will Seek to Extend Federal Discovery Law to Arbitration Tribunals

By Tamia Sutherland

The U.S. Supreme Court will continue its two-week, four-argument deep dive into arbitration law and practice on Wednesday morning with an international law case.  It will consider the consolidated arguments in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518.

The issue that the Court has agreed to decide is whether 28 U.S.C. § 1782 can be invoked in international arbitrations to obtain U.S.-style discovery for evidence. The question is whether the statutory language—“foreign or international tribunal”—extends to arbitration panels.

There is a circuit split on the issue, which is detailed at length at John Pinney, “International Arbitration Is Back at the Supreme Court with Today’s Cert Grant on Two Section 1782 Cases,” CPR Speaks (Dec 10, 2021) (available here).

ZF Automotive US, ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF AG) is a German corporation. It sold its Global Body Control Systems business unit to respondent Luxshare, a Hong Kong limited liability company. Luxshare alleges that after the deal with ZF AG closed, it learned that ZF US―a Michigan-based automotive parts manufacturer and a subsidiary of ZF AG―fraudulently concealed material facts during the negotiation and diligence process.

The Master Purchase Agreement provided that the transaction is to be governed by German law, and requires that all disputes be resolved “by three (3) arbitrators in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the German Institution of Arbitration (DIS).”

In contrast to the private arbitration of ZF Automotive, AlixPartners focuses on investor-state arbitration, in which one of the parties is the government. In AlixPartners, the respondent Fund now before the Supreme Court is a Russian entity pursuing claims before an ad hoc UNCITRAL-rules arbitral tribunal against Lithuania for investors’ financial losses resulting from the insolvency of a Lithuanian bank.

The Fund brought its § 1782 request for discovery in New York against AlixPartners, a financial consulting firm that had advised the Lithuanian government regarding the bank’s insolvency.

More information on the cases and their parallels to Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce, PLC, No. 20-794 , a case dismissed by the Court last September before its hearing in the wake of an arbitration award, is available in John Pinney’s post linked above. [The post also contains links to a CPR amicus brief in AlixPartners authored principally by Pinney urging the Court to take the case, but not in support of either side.]

On Wednesday, the consolidated arguments will include an argument by the U.S. Solicitor General, Elizabeth Barchas Prelogar.  In an amicus brief in support of the petitioners, Prelogar and her office argue that Section 1782 “does not authorize judicial assistance to obtain discovery for use in an arbitration, before a nongovernmental adjudicator, to which the parties consent.”

The amicus defines a foreign or international tribunal under the law as “a governmental adjudicator that exercises authority on behalf of one or more nation-states. It criticizes the approaches of the two federal circuits courts permitting arbitration discovery as “unsound.”

The Court’s calendar with the arguments’ timing is available here; the arguments will be available live, audio-only, via www.supremecourt.gov.

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For an amicus argument against allowing Sec. 1782 discovery, see analysis by Derek T. Ho & Eliana M. Pfeffer, “Discovery in Aid of Foreign Arbitration Proceedings Unfairly Imposes Tremendous Costs on U.S. Companies,” 40 Alternatives 58 (April 2022) (available at https://bit.ly/3JUXs13).

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

[END]

Supreme Court Reviews the Role of Prejudice to a Party in Determining Arbitration Waiver

By Russ Bleemer

This morning’s U.S. Supreme Court arbitration arguments in Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, reviewed what appeared to be a simple case of whether a plaintiff needs to show prejudice as a pivotal factor in claiming that a defendant has waived its right to arbitration.

But it wasn’t so simple. The arguments ranged over multiple possible standards for including the factor, as well as how to do so if it stays.

The question of whether the Federal Arbitration Act supports prejudice as a factor in waiving the right to arbitration stood next to evaluating the defendant’s actions for waiver in the arguments, with the petitioner soon attacking whether prejudice should be a part of the determination.

The solution likely will be anything but simple. Today expansive arguments lasted nearly an hour and a half–wiith just two attorneys–showed the Court wrestling with the need and content of a prejudice evaluation that has split the circuits.  The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on review today had held that “[a] party waives its right to arbitration if it: (1) knew of an existing right to arbitration; (2) acted inconsistently with that right; and (3) prejudiced the other party by these inconsistent acts.” 

In its summary ahead of the question presented, the Supreme Court noted that eight other federal courts of appeals and most state supreme include the requirement that the waiving party’s inconsistent acts caused prejudice in the waiver analysis, while three federal courts of appeal, and at least four state supreme courts  “do not include prejudice as an essential element of proving waiver of the right to arbitrate.

With nearly everyone in the courtroom stressing the need for a simple evaluation, both sides missed opportunities to offer one.  Karla Gilbride, co-Director of the Access to Justice Project at Washington, D.C., a nonprofit public interest law firm Public Justice, and attorney for petitioner Robyn Morgan, compellingly noted that the prejudice requirement was “atextual” and “all over the place.”

But she didn’t draw a bright line by noting that employees would be prejudiced by expending time or money on cases where employers delayed their arbitration requests until after they took litigation steps.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, a partner in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis, facing Justice Neil Gorsuch’s option that the Court eschew a Federal Arbitration Act analysis and send the case back to the lower court for a pure Iowa state law analysis, said that if that path is taken, the Court instead of offering a ruling, should dismiss Morgan entirely as improvidently granted.

And the Court wasn’t helping the advocates by invoking layers of state contract law doctrines, federal statutes, and case interpretations in order to establish a standard for evaluating waiver and whether to include prejudice.

Every member of the Court had pointed questions for the advocates in today’s arguments.  Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t participate, however; the Court announced Sunday that he had been hospitalized with an infection, but it noted this morning that he would participate in the case based on the filings and the arguments’ transcript.

Petitioner attorney Gilbride opened, with an argument that centered around the case issue of whether the the Eighth Circuit ruling favored arbitration, in violation of AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011), and FAA Sec. 2, which says that arbitration contracts are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”

She maintained that the prejudice requirement has become specific to arbitration. She said there was a lot of discussion in the briefs about waiver and default, but the Eighth Circuit should have applied generally applicable Iowa law.  Then, she explained, if it found waiver, the court would still have to assess if the actions of employer Sundance, which owns Taco Bell franchises, were in default of proceeding.

“So whether Sundance’s actions constituted default is a secondary question,” said Gilbride, “not a replacement for the first-order waiver inquiry.”

Gilbride was moving from her FAA Sec. 2 analysis to FAA Sec. 3, and urging the Court to adopt a two-step analysis for evaluating waiving a right to arbitration. She was countering an argument made by Paul Clement in his Court briefs, who maintained that FAA Sec. 3 could be dispositive.

FAA Sec. 3 deals with motions to stay proceedings in favor of arbitration:

If any suit or proceeding be brought in any of the courts of the United States upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration, the court in which such suit is pending, upon being satisfied that the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under such an agreement, shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance with the terms of the agreement, providing the applicant for the stay is not in default in proceeding with such arbitration.

“Prejudice,” declared Gilbride, “has no part to play in either of these inquiries.”

Under initial questioning from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan, Gilbride offered that the Court could remand for analysis of Iowa’s generally applicable waiver doctrines, but instead the Eighth Circuit looked at federal law and erroneously required prejudice. See Morgan v. Sundance Inc., 992 F.3d 711 (8th Cir. 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3nqL7sJ). She conceded that prejudice could be a part of the state contract law, and that each case needed individual determination at the trial court level. 

At the same time, she noted that there could be a statutory default under federal law in FAA Sec. 3.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. pressed Gilbride on how state law would affect the analysis if it in some way provided something different for arbitration cases than for other contract cases. She warned that arbitration-specific standards wouldn’t likely survive in analyzing three hypothetical Alito treatments of state law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Gilbride her analysis was confusing, with the FAA Sec. 3 default meshing with FAA Sec. 4 on federal court jurisdiction over parties who refuse to honor arbitration agreements for purposes of compelling the process. Sotomayor appeared uncomfortable with the need to find a federal law default standard under Sec. 3 after finding the state law waiver standard needed for Sec. 2 in Gilbride’s sequential analysis proposal.

Sotomayor summarized, noting, “Some of my colleagues are troubled by the fact that states differ in how they define waiver.  I am troubled by the fact that the circuits define prejudice in different ways.”

At that point, Gilbride offered a bright-line standard. She noted that the requirement is “atextual” and not applied uniformly. “A presumption that a party should raise their defense of arbitration . . . by the time they file their first responsive pleading, by the time of their answer . . . before their answer if they file a motion,” she said, “that would be presumptively enough to get someone not to be in default in proceeding.”

The analysis Gilbride proposed, countered Chief Justice Roberts, will “increase the complexity and delay in arbitration proceedings.  . . . [It is] creating a whole new battleground before you even get to arbitration about whether or not there’s been . . waiver under state law. It seems quite contrary to the policy behind the FAA.”

Gilbride quickly countered that the prejudice requirement “actually increases delay and increases the sort of skirmishing in court . . . before anyone resorts to the arbitral forum that the FAA was designed eliminate.

In response to a comment by Justice Stephen G. Breyer that delay cases are fact intensive, Public Justice’s Karla Gilbride insisted that the analysis isn’t “any more complicated than questions about . . . who is bound by the contract or whether a particular dispute fall within the terms of the contract.  . . . State courts and federal courts applying state law answer those questions . . . within the parameters of the FAA all the time . . . without anything seeming to have ground to a halt.”

* * *

Sundance’s Paul Clement said that his client wasn’t in default under FAA Sec. 3, because there was no violation of a contract or a law. “[U]under all relevant state law doctrines, one has to show prejudice before a contractual right is lost because you litigated or waited too long to assert it,” he said at the outset, adding, “The most straightforward way to affirm the decision below is to apply Section 3 and its stay absent default direction.”

Client Sundance, Clement explained, moved under FAA Sec. 3 to stay the litigation, and “it is not in violation of any contractual deadline, any court rule, or any other legal obligation.”

He said the problem wasn’t a waiver by the respondent of its right to arbitrate.  “[W]hat is at issue is simply not asserting a right soon enough,” he said.

Chief Justice Roberts was skeptical, asking, “Waiver plays no role in regard–evaluating that situation at all?”

Clement said that in the absence of filing deadlines, courts will assess a variety of factors–including prejudice to the other side.  

Justice Neil Gorsuch pressed him on assessing a waiver in the absence of an intentional act, and Clement said that the lower court really meant a forefeiture. 

At that point, Gorsuch suggested it would make sense to send the case back for that state law analysis stating that the Eighth Circuit made a mistake using a federal law analysis.  That’s when Clement said that the Court should dismiss the case instead.

“The Eighth Circuit wasn’t saying this is absolutely waiver and ‘that’s why we’re applying this three-factor test,’” explained Clement.

The circuit court, he continued, “applied the three-factor test presumably as–if you go back in their case law . . .– as a gloss on the [FAA Sec. 3] statutory phrase ‘in default.’ And [the appeals panel] said, as a general matter, ‘This is when it’s too late to invoke your right to arbitrate, and we have a three-factor test, and the plaintiff in this case fails under the third factor.’ Importantly, [the Eighth Circuit] didn’t even definitively resolve the second factor [acting inconsistently with the right to arbitration], which is the only thing that actually even goes to an inconsistency that possibly could get to an implied waiver. And there’s not a hint in the decision that they thought they were talking about the explicit waiver that your question alludes to.”

Clement emphasized under tough questioning from Justices Breyer and Kagan that there was no dispute about the arbitration agreement’s existence, and attempts to resolve state law issues preliminarily under such circumstances belong with arbitrators, at one point invoking to Breyer the opinion the justice wrote on arbitrator versus court determinations in Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 537 U.S. 79 (2002) (available at https://bit.ly/2yiejeh).

“The arbitration agreement is valid,” said Clement. “Nobody questions that.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked whether the failure to raise the arbitration defense to a court action in the first responsive pleading could be a review standard for waiver, but Clement rejected it. He said it wasn’t fair to his client. “[If you want to write an opinion in my client’s favor and suggest to the rules committee that they amend the rules to give clear notice to parties, then I could live with that.”

Clement followed up when Kavanaugh pressed further to note that the line drawn by courts generally isn’t the first responsive pleading, but when there already has been extensive discovery.

Kagan returned to Clement’s point that missing a deadline would satisfy FAA Sec. 3’s requirement that a stay wouldn’t be issued if the party asking for the stay was in default. “Where does this federal common law rule come from as to what counts as default?” she asked.

“It’s a gloss on the statutory phrase ‘in default,’” responded the former solicitor general, “and I think everybody agrees ‘default’ means you violated a legal obligation.”

Justice Sotomayor recounted Sundance’s moves in the matter, and maintained that the company intentionally waived arbitration to see how it would do in litigation, and then reversed course.  Clement resisted, but noted also countered that the strategy was sound and adhered to its arbitration contract.  

He responded:

I think what the parties bargained for here was not just arbitration but bilateral arbitration. And when the other side decides not just to violate the arbitration agreement but to seek a nationwide collective action, I think my client is perfectly within its rights, and it’s what I would advise my client to do under the circumstances[–]don’t make a motion to compel arbitration because you might get a motion to compel nationwide collective arbitration, and pretty much every defendant on the planet agrees that’s the worst of both worlds. So you wait.

Sotomayor said that Sundance should have raised that objection in its motion to compel.

“I suppose we could have,” responded Kirkland’s Paul Clement, “and with the benefit of that additional advice, maybe that’s what I’d tell my clients to do. But I’d still say, OK, at worst, we failed to make a motion. At worst, we’re in the realm of forfeiture, and we still have the ability to make this motion under [FAA] Sec. 3.”

The case is expected to be decided before the Court’s current term ends in June.  The audio of Supreme Court oral arguments, as well as transcripts, can be found here. For more background on Morgan, see Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022) (available here), and Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15, 2021) (available here).

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The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR at altnewsletter.com.

[END]

Supreme Court Preview:  Monday’s Morgan Argument Expected to Define When a Party Waives Its Contractual Rights, Kicking Off Two Weeks of #Scotus #Arbitration Cases

By Russ Bleemer

Monday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments in Morgan v. Sundance Inc., No. 21-328, are the opening act for two weeks in which the nation’s top Court will take a deep dive into arbitration law and practice.

The Court’s unprecedented 2021-2022 term arbitration docket includes six cases, two of which are consolidated into one argument which also will take place next week.

Morgan involves the extent to which a federal court may defer to an arbitration agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act. 

Following the March 21 Morgan case arguments, and before the calendar turns to April, the Court will hear

  • On Wednesday, March 23, the consolidated arguments, including the U.S. Solicitor General, in ZF Automotive US Inc. v. Luxshare Ltd., No. 21-401, and AlixPartners LLP v. The Fund for Protection of Investor Rights in Foreign States, No. 21-518, international cases on the application of 28 U.S.C. § 1782 discovery to overseas arbitration;
  • On Monday, March 28, Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, No. 21-309, an FAA Sec. 1 question, “Whether workers who load or unload goods from vehicles that travel in interstate commerce, but do not physically transport such goods themselves, are interstate ‘transportation workers’ exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act.”
  • On Wednesday, March 31, Viking River Cruises Inc. v. Moriana, 20-1573, whether the FAA requires enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement providing that an employee cannot raise representative claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act, which, like a class action, allows employees to seek monetary awards on a representative basis on behalf of other employees.      

A Nov. 3 arbitration case, Badgerow v. Walters, No. 20-1143, awaits decision.  The case is expected to address the limits of federal court jurisdiction on confirming and overturning arbitration awards under the FAA. For more, see Russ Bleemer, “Supreme Court Hears Badgerow, and Leans to Allowing Federal Courts to Broadly Decide on Arbitration Awards and Challenges,” CPR Speaks (Nov. 2) (available here).

The Court’s calendar with the arguments’ timing is available here; the arguments will be available live, audio only, via www.supremecourt.gov.

The first of this month’s arbitration matters, Morgan, will examine the question whether a defendant’s actions are enough to constitute a waiver of a contractual arbitration, or if the plaintiff must show prejudice to his, her or its case.  The matter is expected to decide a circuit split.

The specific issue will be “Does the arbitration-specific requirement that the proponent of a contractual waiver defense prove prejudice violate this Court’s instruction [in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011)] that lower courts must ‘place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts?’”

The plaintiff is a former Taco Bell employee who is arguing that the defendant franchise owner had forfeited its right to arbitrate her wage claims by litigating the case.  An Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision held that the employee was not prejudiced by the franchise owner’s pursuit of litigation before arbitration.

Business groups have filed amicus briefs backing the Taco Bell franchisee.  They include the Washington Legal Foundation, the Restaurant Law Center, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

The petitioner-employee is supported by five amicus briefs. The briefs are from the American Association for Justice; the National Academy of Arbitrators; state attorneys general representing 18 states and the District of Columbia; Public Citizen; and a group of 31 U.S. law professors.  For more on the law professors’ views, see Richard Frankel, “Working with Waiver: Supreme Court to Review Law on When an Employer Drops and then Reinstates Arbitration,” 40 Alternatives 43 (March 2022) (available here). All of the amicus briefs are available on the Supreme Court’s Morgan docket page, linked at the top of this page.

For more on Morgan, see Mark Kantor, “U.S. Supreme Court Adds an Arbitration Issue: Is Proof of Prejudice Needed to Defeat a Motion to Compel?” CPR Speaks (Nov. 15) (available here).

For articles on the individual cases the Court will hear discussed above, use the CPR Speaks search function and search on the case names and/or Supreme Court on the upper right of this page.  For a summary and discussion of all of the cases, and an analysis of the Court’s arbitration caseload, see Russ Bleemer, “The Supreme Court’s Six-Pack Is Set to Refine Arbitration Practice,” 40 Alternatives 17 (February 2022), and Imre Szalai, “Not Like Other Cases: SCOTUS’s Unique Arbitration Year,” 40 Alternatives 28 (February 2022), both available for free at https://bit.ly/3GDEJEK.

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The author edits Alternatives for the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, which is published with John Wiley & Sons in print, on Lexis and Westlaw, and archived in the Wiley Online Library at altnewsletter.com.

[END]

#CPRAM22 Highlights: Hot Topics/Initiatives in ADR

By Andrew Ling

Lucila Hemmingsen, a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding practicing international commercial and investment arbitration and public international law, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on cutting-edge topics in ADR. The panel focused on arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, new arbitration legislation, an initiative to reduce arbitration’s carbon footprint, and diversity in ADR.

Hemmingsen was joined at the March 4 online #CPRAM22 session by three panelists:

  • Angela Downes, who is assistant director of experiential education and professor of practice law at University of North Texas Dallas College of Law;
  • Benjamin Graham, an associate at Williams & Connolly, in Washington, D.C., who focuses on complex commercial litigation and international arbitration. He has represented sovereign states and multinational corporations in investment-treaty disputes before ICSID and commercial disputes before leading arbitral institutions, and
  • Rachel Gupta, a mediator and arbitrator with her own New York City-based ADR practice, Gupta Dispute Resolutions. She is a mediator for state and federal court ADR panels and is an arbitrator and panelist for CPR, the American Arbitration Association, and FINRA.

Graham and Downes began the discussion by reviewing arbitration cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Downes highlighted Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, in which the question concerned whether a delegation provision in an arbitration agreement constitutes clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intend the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability.

Traditionally, courts are presumed to decide whether a dispute is subject to arbitration, phrased as the “question of arbitrability.” But in recent Supreme Court decisions, the Court has looked at the parties’ agreement and allowed the arbitral tribunal to decide questions of arbitrability if there is clear and unmistakable evidence indicating parties’ intent to delegate the authority to arbitrators.

Panelist Angela Downes said she views the fundamental Henry Schein issue as the drafting of the arbitration agreement, noting that disputes often arise when the agreement or provision lacks clarity. She pointed out that the case, which was dismissed a month after the oral arguments in January 2021 in a one-line opinion in which the Court said that it had “improvidently granted” review in the case, leave the status of delegation agreement still unsettled enough for potential future litigation.

Rachel Gupta then led the discussion on recent legislation on arbitration, focusing on H.R. 4445, titled Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.

The panel discussed the Congressional backdrop to the bill, which was signed into by President Biden on March 3, the day before the panel discussion. In many employment contracts, employees have been bound by arbitration agreements and prohibited from bringing sexual harassment claims to a court. Arbitration proceedings are generally confidential, and the amount of an arbitral award tends to be lower than the damages rendered by a court. And when parties settle the dispute, employees are usually required to sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, victims of sexual harassment are often silenced.

There are four amendments to the Federal Arbitration Act. First, it does not categorically ban arbitration agreements between employers and employees, but it allows plaintiffs to bring sexual harassment claims to courts. Second, plaintiffs have the option to bring the case individually or on behalf of a class, even if the employer’s arbitration agreement prohibits class arbitration. Third, FAA applicability will be decided by a federal court, not the arbitral tribunal. Finally, the amendments are retroactive.

Gupta pointed out that the bill does not address non-disclosure agreements. Angela Downes said she believed the omission was intended as a compromise to gain bipartisan support for the bill. In addition, many lawmakers and sexual harassment victims view binding arbitration agreements as the cause of the “broken system,” not the non-disclosure agreements.

The new law, the panel suggested, could drastically change employment arbitration practices. As Rachel Gupta commented, it will be interesting to observe if lawmakers intend to make similar amendments to other areas of arbitration, such as consumer class arbitration.

On reducing arbitration’s carbon footprint, Gupta first discussed the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations, founded by U.K. arbitrator Lucy Greenwood in 2019. The Campaign developed a set of Green Protocols to reduce the environmental impact of international arbitrations, such as using electronic correspondence and organizing virtual conferences.

Moderator Hemmingsen shared several changes in international arbitration practice: sending iPads to arbitrators instead of papers; reducing in-person meetings, and using advanced technology to take construction-site photos instead of traveling. She also predicted that more conferences and hearings would be held virtually.

The panel concluded by discussing diversity and inclusion among arbitrators and mediators. There have been several initiatives on appointing diverse neutrals and offering training and networking opportunities, such as the Ray Corollary Initiative, the JAMS Diversity Fellowship Program, New York Diversity and Inclusion Neutral Directory, the ADR Inclusion Network, and the Equal Representation in Arbitration pledge. Many arbitral institutions have taken action to place more women in arbitration panels. And CPR incorporated a “Young Lawyer” Rule in its Administered, Non-Administered and International Arbitration Rules to increase opportunities for junior lawyers to take a more active role in arbitration hearings (see Rule 12.5 in the rules available at https://www.cpradr.org/resource-center/rules/arbitration).

The panelists agreed that promoting diversity among arbitrators and mediators must be a concerted effort from ADR providers, arbitrators, law firms, and clients. Progress in diversity and inclusion is needed to grow the profession and benefit the next generation of ADR practitioners.

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The author, a third-year law student at the University of Texas School of Law, in Austin, Texas, is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

[END]

#CPRAM22 Highlights: Why Do I.T. Outsourcing Projects Fail? How to Keep Them Going with Dispute Resolution Boards and Standing Neutrals

By Katerina Karamousalidou

A second-day CPR 2022 Annual Meeting panel last week analyzed why information technology outsourcing projects fail, and highlighted ways to keep them going with dispute resolution boards and standing neutrals.

The panel included moderator Zachary Hill, a partner in Morgan Lewis’s San Francisco office; Cherrie Fisher, a civil engineer and ADR neutral and consultant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; David Frydlinger, managing partner at the Stockholm, Sweden law firm of Cirio Advokatbyra AB, and Kate Vitasek, an adjunct faculty member at the Halsam College of Business, University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.

After the panelists’ introduction, the March 3 discussion started with addressing common IT outsourcing projects, how they sometimes fail, the consequences of such failure, and then evolving to the use of a standard neutral from an academic and practical perspective to help resolve problems.

Zachary Hill, who represents clients in the technology, energy, and pharmaceutical industries, with a focus on contract disputes involving business software, addressed the issue of IT outsourcing in the software implementation context. More specifically, he explained how even large organizations lack the necessary in-house expertise to handle that type of implementation and, therefore, hire hundreds of consultants and programmers to ensure that the software components function properly.

But given the complexity of such software, projects can often fail at multiple points. Considering the potential risks of software implementation and the failures and high litigation costs associated with such disputes, using a standing neutral is usually useful.

The standing neutral is “a trusted neutral expert selected by the parties at the beginning of their contracting relationship to be readily available throughout the life of the relationship to assist in the prompt resolution of any disputes.” James P. Groton, “The Standing Neutral: A ‘Real Time’ Resolution Procedure that also Can Prevent Disputes,” 27 Alternatives 177 ( December 2009) (available at https://bit.ly/3hSWoy4). See also, Kate Vitasek, James P. Groton, and Dan Bumblausakas, “Unpacking the Standing Neutral: A Cost Effective and Common-Sense Approach for Preventing Conflict,” (University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business Fall 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3pSD1d4).

The standing neutral originated in construction projects.

Panelist Kate Vitasek, who works on global supply chain issues, focused on the importance of preventing conflict, rather than resolving it. For this reason, pre-selecting and appointing a standing neutral as part of the governance team, who will assist the parties in resolving misunderstandings before they escalate, communicate effectively, and engage in constructive dialogue is extremely useful.

The construction industry began to use dispute review boards to prevent conflict; adding standing neutrals can be effective in every type of industry. The parties can decide upon the expertise they need from their standing neutral–from being a lawyer, or a mediator, to being an industry expert, or an engineer.

Panelist Cherrie Fisher, who acts as a standing neutral herself, emphasized the importance of dispute avoidance from the beginning of a construction project, because most problems arise early, such as a scheduling delay, or a differing site condition.

Then, she focused on analyzing the importance of both construction partnering facilitation and dispute resolution boards working simultaneously to assist parties in dispute prevention.

Panelist David Frydlinger, an attorney focusing on complex customer and supplier contracts, explained that standing neutrals are continuously involved during the project in advising parties and providing them with their neutral perspective.

Videos from #CPRAM22 will be posted; watch www.cpradr.org for updates.

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The author, an LLM student focusing on international commercial arbitration at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in Malibu, Calif., is a Spring 2022 CPR Intern.

[END]

#CPRAM22 Highlights: Ethics in the Evolving World of Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person ADR

By Tamia Sutherland

During its March 2-4, 2022, Annual Meeting, CPR–a New York-based conflict resolution think tank, ADR provider, and publisher of this CPR Speaks blog–presented a virtual panel on alternative dispute resolution ethics. The panel discussed ethical guideposts for lawyers, mediators, and arbitrators; challenges and solutions in the new post-pandemic business environment; the rise of the hybrid procedures online and in person; and takeaways for meeting the continuing challenges.

Steven Bierman, a former partner and co-head of litigation at Sidley Austin and founder of Bierman ADR LLC, based in New Canaan, Conn., moderated the panel that included: 

The presentation began with an overview of the main sources of ethical standards, which include the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA/American Arbitration Association/Association for Conflict Resolution Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, and ABA/AAA Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Dispute.

Under the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct, panelist Waldman introduced Model Rules 1.1, and 1.6(a), (c) for consideration. MRPC 1.1–Competence states, “[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

More specifically, she focused on Comment Eight, maintaining competence, which explains what is necessary to maintain the requisite competence: “. . . a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.  …”

With the rise of virtual proceedings and the rise of cybersecurity issues and data breaches, Comment 8 is more relevant now than ever before. Moreover, it interacts with another pivotal ethical rule, MRPC 1.6(a), which covers confidentiality: “[a] lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) [which lists exceptions for disclosures such as ‘to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm’].”

This can pose an issue in a virtual environment where accidental screen sharing, screenshots, and unauthorized recordings have become commonplace—especially in light of MRPC 1.6(c), which  reads, “[a] lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”

Under the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, panelist Waldman highlighted Standards IV, V, and VI. Standard IV–Competence, states that “[a] mediator shall mediate only when the mediator has the necessary competence to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the parties … [and] should attend educational programs and related activities to maintain and enhance the mediator’s knowledge and skills related to mediation.”

Standard V–Confidentiality states that “[a] mediator shall maintain the confidentiality of all information obtained by the mediator in mediation, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or required by applicable law.”

Standard VI–Quality of the Process explains that “[a] mediator shall conduct a mediation in accordance with these Standards and in a manner that promotes diligence, timeliness, safety, presence of the appropriate participants, party participation, procedural fairness, party competency and mutual respect among all participants.”

Under the Code of Ethics for Arbitrators, key rules include Canon IV, titled “An arbitrator should conduct the proceedings fairly and diligently,” and Canon VI, titled “An arbitrator should be faithful to the relationship of trust and confidentiality inherent in that office.”

Additionally, Howard University School of Law Prof. Homer La Rue, founder of the Ray Corollary Initiative (a plan for increasing diversity among the ranks of ADR neutrals), and a CPR Board Member, shared the National Academy of Arbitrators Formal Advisory Opinion No. 26 on video hearings, issued on April 1, 2020, in the chat. The advisory opinion states that “in order to provide an ‘adequate hearing’ by way of video, the arbitrator must be familiar with the platform offered to the parties, and must be confident that the parties have such familiarity as well, or have reasonable access to an effective alternative platform. …”

Before identifying three common themes in the different sources of ethical standards, CPR introduced its model rule amplification proposition that requires third-party neutrals to act diligently, efficiently, and promptly, decline to serve in matters in which the lawyer is not competent to serve, maintain the confidentiality of all information acquired, use reasonable efforts to conduct the process with fairness to all parties, and be especially diligent that unrepresented parties have adequate opportunity to be heard. This referenced both the 2021 CPR Annotated Model Procedural Order for Remote Video Arbitration Proceedings, and the 2002 CPR-Georgetown Commission on Ethics and Standards In ADR Model Rule for the Lawyer as Third-Party Neutral.

The three common rules’ themes discussed were competence, confidentiality, and fairness/quality. The panelists discussed the practical application of each of the themes in practice. They emphasized the importance of using pre-hearing meetings to ensure that the technology does not get in the way of the process, and does not to begin operation until all parties have an even playing field considering the socioeconomic digital divide, as well as the need to consider the effects of zoom fatigue on the parties present.

Videos from #CPRAM22 will be posted; watch www.cpradr.org for updates.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

[END]

Getting Online Justice, from AALS’s Annual Meeting

By Ellen Waldman

At the January American Association of Law Schools annual meeting, the organization’s Section on Alternative Dispute  Resolution teamed with the Section on Commercial Law and Consumer Law, and the Section on Creditors’ and Debtors’ Rights, to host a panel discussion titled “Online Dispute Resolution in the Post-Pandemic Era.”

The virtual panel featured speakers Alicia  Bannon from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School in New York City; Prof. Jean Sternlight from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez, of Texas’s Southern District in Houston. The moderators were Prof. Christopher Bradley of the University of Kentucky’s J. David Rosenberg College of Law, in Lexington, Ky., and Prof. Amy Schmitz from Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, in Columbus, Ohio.

Noting that the pandemic pushed many forms of dispute resolution, including trials, into a virtual format, the panel focused its attention on both the promise and peril of widespread adoption of online dispute resolution. 

On the promise side of the ledger, panelists agreed that the shift to virtual platforms had the potential to increase the ease with which disputants could access dispute resolution proceedings, cutting down on cost, time and inconvenience. 

Judge Lopez, who presides over roughly 3,000 individual and corporate bankruptcies and, as of the conference, had conducted about 20 online mediations since proceedings went virtual in early 2020, was particularly enthusiastic about his court’s use of online evidentiary hearings and mediations. He observed that that stressed debtors juggling multiple jobs and parenting commitments need not take time off from work in order to “go to court.” 

Allowing litigants the option to tune-in from their computers and cell phones conserved scarce time and money, helping debtors, in Lopez’s view, “keep their cars” and “stay in their houses.”

But panelists agreed that the rush to pivot online was not without its perils. Alicia Bannon, co-author of a report on best-practice  principles for remote court proceedings, noted that the balance courts were   being asked to strike was delicate: how best to adhere  to public health guidelines while continuing to serve constituent communities, and to expand efficiencies while preserving  fairness.

Courts, she suggested, should not be going it alone, but should engage with a diverse array of stakeholders, including, as noted in the report, “community advocates, public defenders and prosecutors, civil legal service providers, tenant representatives, survivors of domestic violence, public health experts, disability rights advocates, court employees, and more.”  

The panelists emphasized the traditional courthouse as a place where litigants access legal information and guidance, and suggested that alternative forms of support needed to be built into remote proceedings.  Pro se litigants were a particular source of concern as, in addition to being unfamiliar with the justice system, they may have limited computer literacy and may struggle with accessing and engaging with the required technology.

Recognizing and attending to the digital divide was a consistent theme. For those litigants with counsel and a sophisticated mastery of video-camera technique, online proceedings present obvious benefits.  But, for those without counsel and no easy access to or understanding of computer-assisted communication, the dangers presented are equally obvious. Static reception, dropped calls, an inconsistent or shaky camera, distracting background visuals and ambient noise all influence a  disputant’s ability to communicate, absorb information, and engage with other dispute resolution participants.

And, if one aim of dispute resolution procedures is to foster a disputant’s sense of procedural justice–the experience of having a voice and being heard–technology failures can render that goal  impossible.

Prof. Sternlight in particular emphasized the importance of adopting a context-sensitive approach.  Drawing on her research into the psychological impacts of varied forms of technology with co-author Jennifer Robbennolt, Sternlight suggested that different communication channels affect disputant behavior and experience in important ways. 

For example, certain modes of communication are better suited to the expression and understanding of emotion. We can “read” upset or anger better in face-to-face or even video-conference meetings, as  opposed to text or email exchanges.

Similarly, the perceived anonymity of an Internet-based communique can disinhibit disputants who would otherwise maintain a more polite discourse. Asynchronous technological formats such as email can slow down exchanges, leading to more thoughtful and deliberate decision-making. But the leanness of the medium and lack of interpersonal cues can lead to conflict escalation where rapport or goodwill in the relationship is lacking. 

At an earlier moment in dispute resolution’s development, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Emeritus Prof. Stephen Goldberg and the late Frank Sander of Harvard Law School advocated for a form of triage where policymakers considered both a dispute’s characteristics and the particular attributes of litigation, arbitration, and mediation, and “matched the forum to the  fuss.” Stephen B. Goldberg & Frank E.A. Sander, “Fitting the forum to the fuss: Factors to consider when selecting an ADR procedure,” 12 Alternatives 48 (April 1994) (available at https://bit.ly/3sAj8sT).  

In today’s environment, panelists urged that we similarly match our technologies to the “fusses” that face us.  When determining whether a dispute should be handled in-person, by phone, via video-conference or through an Internet chat, decision-makers must consider their goals for the process, the characteristics of the disputants, and the nature of the dispute or particular task at hand. See Jean R. Sternlight & Jennifer K. Robbennolt, “High-Tech Dispute Resolution: Lessons from Psychology for a Post-Covid-19 Era,” DePaul Law Review (forthcoming) (Sept. 9, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3HPjqBx).

All the speakers acknowledged that online dispute resolution proceedings pose new, previously unknown questions. Judge Lopez said that he has been spending a great deal of time thinking through the confidentiality issues that arise when litigants screen-share sensitive financial information that can be easily photographed and distributed.

He also noted that judges had to ensure that there was no “home court” advantage, and that litigants appearing in person receive no special attention compared to those appearing virtually.  Panelist Alicia  Bannon called attention to a study conducted in an immigration court that revealed detainees appearing virtually in immigration proceedings were more likely to be deported than those facing the judge in person.  Appearing by video alone, however, apparently was not the determinative factor. Rather, those detainees who accessed court via video-conference also accessed legal services at lower rates than their “in-person” counterparts and seemed generally less engaged with the judicial process. In this way, the perception that online proceedings may provide a lessor form of justice becomes a self-fulfilling reality.

The discussion ended on a final point that resonated with the audience of educators. Courts need to train attorneys to be proficient with new online technologies and provide resources for disputants so that they can competently participate in virtual proceedings.

Similarly law schools need to emphasize technological competence as they work to prepare lawyers, mediators, arbitrators and other dispute resolution for our brave, new, online world.

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The author is Vice President, Advocacy & Educational Outreach at CPR.  Her bio on CPR’s website can be found here.

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