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By Antranik Chekemian
Here are notes on the Jan. 28 closing panel of the second day of CPR’s 2021 Annual Meeting. Moderator Deborah Greenspan, a Washington, D.C. Blank Rome partner focusing on mass torts and complex disputes, served as moderator for the Ethics session.
She introduced the panel, starting with Dana Welch, an arbitrator for nearly 20 years who is based in Berkeley, Calif. Welch focuses on complex commercial and employment matters. She is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the College of Commercial Arbitrators, where she is an executive committee member. Before she became an arbitrator, she was the general counsel of a San Francisco-based investment bank, and a Ropes and Gray partner.
The second panelist was David Pryce, the managing partner of Fenchurch Law Ltd. in London, which is the first U.K. law firm to focus exclusively on representing policyholders in insurance disputes. His practice focuses primarily on construction industry risks. Wherever possible, said Greenspan, Pryce tries to approach disputes in a way that maintains or ideally strengthens the commercial relationships between those involved
The third panelist was Adolfo Jimenez, a partner in the Miami office of Holland and Knight. He is a litigation attorney focusing on international disputes. He heads the firm’s International Disputes team, and he is chair of the Miami International Arbitration Society.
Greenspan opened by discussing the ethical challenges faced in arbitration, focusing on disclosure, in a session that provided Ethics continuing legal education to qualifying attendees. The panel’s first topic was the issue of repeat players, where an arbitrator is repeatedly selected or appointed by a particular entity or a law firm.
Pryce started off the conversation by presenting a recent U.K. Supreme Court case, Halliburton v. Chubb. He described the case’s background for the online audience.
Halliburton Co. had provided services for Transocean Ltd., the owner of Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf of Mexico oil rig that exploded in 2010. Halliburton faced various claims along with oil company BP and Transocean. They were all part of the same proceedings. Halliburton settled those claims against it for about $1.1 billion.
Halliburton made a claim under the general liability policy it had with insurer Chubb. Chubb refused to pay the claim on the basis that Halliburton had entered into settlements that were unreasonable. A dispute ensued and the general liability policy provided for an ad hoc London arbitration with three arbitrators, one arbitrator to be chosen by each of the parties and a third arbitrator chosen by the party-appointed arbitrators.
If the arbitrators couldn’t agree, the third arbitrator was to be appointed by the High Court in London. In front of the High Court, each of the parties put forward several candidates. After a contested hearing, the High Court chose Chubb nominee Kenneth Rokison QC, an arbitrator in Reigate, U.K. Rokison was “a regular arbitrator in uniform arbitrations,” explained Pryce, “and Halliburton’s perception . . . was that he was someone that is generally appointed by insurers rather than policyholders.”
Prior to him being appointed, Rokison disclosed relevant points to the proceedings. Rokison said that he previously acted as an arbitrator in several other arbitrations including Chubb. He acted as a party-appointed arbitrator by Chubb and he was currently acting as an arbitrator in relation to references that included Chubb.
The High Court didn’t regard any of those appointments as being an impediment to his appointment in the Halliburton-Chubb dispute and they didn’t call into question Rokison’s impartiality.
Three months after his first appointment in 2015, Rokison accepted a further appointment by Chubb to act as an arbitrator in relation to a claim against it by Transocean, which as the overall owner of Deepwater Horizon was also facing similar claims to the ones that Halliburton had been facing. The dispute between Chubb and Transocean also related to the reasonableness of settlements which Chubb refused to pay on a similar basis for the reasons it refused to pay Halliburton.
Rokison disclosed his involvement in the Halliburton arbitration to Transocean, but he did not disclose to Halliburton that he accepted the Transocean appointment.
The following year, Rokison accepted another appointment in relation to an arbitration between Transocean and different insurers, and that was not disclosed either.
After finding out about the second and third appointments, Halliburton wrote to Rokison and raised concerns about these appointments.
Rokison responded that it had not even occurred to him that he was under any obligation to disclose the second and third appointments to Halliburton. Halliburton called for him to resign, raising concerns about his impartiality with regard to Chubb.
It’s apparent that Halliburton was just as concerned, explained David Pryce, and perhaps even more concerned, about a second issue–that Chubb would potentially gain a tactical advantage as a result of being able to find out what Rokison’s views were on certain issues, because they would be making submissions in the second arbitration which will be relevant to the decision that Rokison was facing in deciding the Halliburton arbitration.
A High Court claim was issued by Halliburton seeking Rokison’s removal under U.K. Arbitration Act Section 24, dealing with situations where circumstances exist for a justifiable doubt about the arbitrator’s impartiality.
The High Court and the Court of Appeal both dismissed Halliburton’s application, so it went to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court made the following key observations in reaching the decision:
- First, the obligation of an arbitrator to act fairly and impartially is a core principle of arbitration, and under English law, the duty of impartiality applies just as much to party-appointed arbitrators, sole arbitrators, and presiding arbitrators. Presiding arbitrators like Rokison in Halliburton v. Chubb aren’t required to be any more impartial than party-appointed arbitrators–“Everyone is required to be impartial,” explained Pryce.
- Second, the Supreme Court confirmed that the test under English law to establish whether an arbitrator had a real possibility of biases is an objective test. “When the fair-minded informed observer is looking at that, they should take into account various considerations including the factual matrix of the case , . . the role of the arbitrator in the case, and expectations regarding what an objective observer may take into account,” said Pryce. In that regard, market practices are relevant, but in some areas, overlapping appointments may be more likely to give rise to an appearance of bias than others.
- Finally, in relation to the arbitrator’s duty of disclosure, the Supreme Court held the disclosures are not a question of best practices and that disclosures can only be made if the parties that confidentiality obligations are owed give their consent.
The key takeaway from this case is that “disclosure is not an option,” said Pryce, because disclosure doesn’t trump confidentiality.
“The unfair advantage is not the same thing as a lack of impartiality,” Pryce said, adding, “There is just no remedy for unfair advantage.” Even though repeat business might suggest bias in some cases, it is going to depend on market practice.
He further added that in some areas like treaty reinsurance, overlapping appointments are commonplace and parties are not concerned as there are repeat users “all the time.”
Pryce added that it is much more challenging when where there is a one-off user in a dispute with a repeated user. “From the perspective of someone who was a policyholder such as Halliburton,” said Pryce, “a one-time user in this situation, against an insurer who’s going to be a repeat user, the Supreme Court decision for me feels a little bit tougher.”
Panelist Dana Welch said, “I’m not sure a U.S court would have reached the same decision. . . . We take it for granted in the United States that you have to disclose every business relationship that comes to mind.”
She then shared that California’s Judicial Council has enacted a rule that requires that the arbitrators not only have to disclose looking backward, but they have a duty to disclose looking forward. Arbitrators are required to disclose at the time of appointment whether they are willing to take future business from either a party who is appearing in that case or a law firm that is appearing in that case.
If the arbitrator discloses that they can take future business, they can be disqualified at that point if someone objects. Once the arbitrator accepts the possibility of future business, and then proceeds in the future to take that business, they must provide notice to the previous parties and the law firm that they have done so. At that point, the parties have no right to disqualify the arbitrator.
Panelist Adolfo Jimenez also shared that from an ethical perspective, repeat business in arbitration presents two problems that also were identified in the Halliburton case.
“You can have a situation where you’re going to have one party that’s better informed and an arbitrator that’s hearing evidence that is related to two separate cases,” said Jimenez, “but they are related cases that may influence their view while a set of attorneys who aren’t parties to that other proceeding is ignorant of all . . . that evidence, all that information.”
Second, Jimenez noted, is the risk of inappropriate communications. “Simply because you can does not mean that you should,” said Jimenez, noting that there can be as a result of such contacts an erosion of trust in the process, with one of the parties believing that they’re being affected.
Dana Welch also emphasized that the arbitrators should be careful in order to preserve the integrity of the process in the face of repeat business. She said:
There is a financial incentive if you get repeat business. And for each one of us who serves as a neutral, every time we get repeat business, we really need to think long and hard about whether we can truly serve as a neutral in a proceeding with a law firm that appoints us a lot or a party that appoints us a lot. . . . What Adolfo said is right: There’s a difference between ‘can’ and ‘should,’ and it’s an extremely important difference in order to preserve the integrity of the process.
After a participant asked about the future of London-based insurance arbitration in light of the Halliburton decision, David Pryce responded that a single decision shouldn’t call into question the city’s role in insurance arbitration. He said that when there is a situation with a “one-off” buyer of arbitration services and a repeat user of arbitration services, the court should be extra careful not to go for the appointment of someone who is used frequently by repeat buyers.
“It was an unfortunate choice by the High Court,” said Pryce, adding that if that sort of choice is repeated again and again, “it looks like the deck is being stacked against policyholders,” and that would be a problem for insurance arbitration in London. But he added that as a policyholders’ representative, he did not think the deck is usually stacked against his clients.
[For even more on Halliburton, see the latest issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation: Adam Samuel, “Multiple Appointments, Multiple Biases: The U.K. Supreme Court Does Arbitrator Disclosure,” 39 Alternatives 19 (February 2021) (available directly at https://doi.org/10.1002/alt.21880).
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Moderator Deborah Greenspan then invited panelists to discuss the expectations parties have about the status of a party-appointed arbitrator.
Panelist Adolfo Jimenez started off the conversation by saying that the duty of impartiality permeates throughout the entire U.K. and U.S. legal systems, and that most arbitral institutions require that arbitrators be neutral.
Jimenez also noted, however, that there sometimes are justifications for repeat businesses–for example, specialized arbitration proceedings such as those at the London Maritime Society of Arbitrators, where parties prefer arbitrators that are particularly qualified. When there is a limited number of qualified individuals, repeat business is an option, said Jimenez.
A second justification is to allow for party autonomy.
He further noted that the Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Disputes adopted by CPR Dispute Resolution has the assumption that the arbitrators will be neutral. Even in jurisdictions which allow for repeat business, he noted, neutrality is still expected and required.
Panelist Dana Welch also noted an important reality in arbitration. She said, “When a party chooses an arbitrator, even if it’s a sole arbitrator and not a party-appointed arbitrator, all parties hope that the arbitrator is going to rule on their behalf. Therefore, they are looking for somebody who is going to see things from their point of view.”
She further noted that CPR Dispute Resolution rules provide a process for challenging a party-appointed arbitrator if either side believes that a party appointed arbitrator is not neutral. Reading from CPR Administered Arbitration Rule 7.5, she said: “Any arbitrator may be challenged if circumstances exist or arise that give rise to justifiable doubt regarding that arbitrator’s independence or impartiality. . . .” She praised the rule and its challenge process for when neutrality isn’t observed.
Greenspan then asked the panelists about the ideal steps parties should take when selecting arbitrators.
Welch said she is a strong advocate of both parties interviewing the arbitrators to understand their management style or their approach to the issues.
Jimenez added that one should be allowed to communicate with an arbitrator to make sure that the arbitrator is comfortable with the cases’ technical issues but should not get into discussing the substance or facts of the case, noting that a red line exists in between.
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Moderator Greenspan then asked the panelists on how to deal with the reality that people from different backgrounds and different jurisdictions have different expectations when it comes to ethical challenges.
Jimenez agreed that different jurisdictions have different norms. He suggested that practitioners can look to journal articles and general expectations of limits that are employed for international disputes. He pointed out that “what may be improper or incorrect in one place is going to be perfectly acceptable [elsewhere]–that’s a real challenge when you’re dealing with a cross-border dispute.”
Greenspan then discussed how parties can enhance trust when implicit or explicit biases exist. When arbitrators are appointed by a party, Welch responded, “it would be the height of denial, to say that there isn’t some impetus that you feel or allegiance that you feel to that party. You really have to struggle against that and understand that you’re a neutral in all senses.”
Welch added that arbitrators need to be conscious of the kind of bias that arises when a party picks them just like they need to be conscious of the kind of bias that can arise when they have repeat businesses.
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The next topic of the panel was about disclosures.
Welch first expressed that the level of disclosure is an interesting question in this age “where everything is known about everybody,” and so much information is out already on social networks. The question, she asked, is “How much is there an obligation for us to disclose versus a party to investigate?”
She then presented two cases.
In the first case, an arbitrator ruled against a claimant, and the respondent was a law firm. Afterward, the claimant did an Internet search and revealed a 10-year-old resume of the arbitrator with a recommendation from a partner from the respondent’s firm. An appellate court decided this was enough to vacate the award.
Welch concluded, “What it shows is that the courts will look at the arbitrator for disclosure rather than . . . say to the parties to investigate that.”
The second case she presented was decided just a month ago, she said. An arbitrator rendered an award against the claimant. The claimant then found on the Internet that the arbitrator was a founding member of GLAAD, an organization supporting gay rights. The claimant then argued that because he was active in the Catholic Church, and because the arbitrator is active in social justice causes like gay and lesbian rights, the arbitrator had an inherent bias against the claimant.
The Court of Appeals rejected this claim, Welch reported, as it could not find any relationship between the claimant’s allegation and facts of the case. She noted that “even California” has limits on challenging impartiality. Welch concluded:
What you need to draw from these cases is that the main obligation of disclosure is on the arbitrator, not on the parties. You need to disclose everything that comes to mind. If it comes to mind, you should be disclosing it, but you don’t need to disclose who you voted for president, or what you are active in unless there is a specific issue in that case before you.
Fenchurch’s David Pryce said that “there is a dividing line between . . . bias, something that gives the appearance of bias and what is simply just having better knowledge.” Having better knowledge on its own, he said, doesn’t give rise to either risk of or appearance of bias.
He further reflected on Halliburton v. Chubb. The disclosures, which relate to the same party in another “really high-stakes arbitration . . . about sums over a billion dollars” and issues that are almost exactly the same in both arbitrations, “aren’t insignificant things.”
But, said Pryce, “if we get to a situation where arbitrators feel they need to disclose lots of insignificant things, then I think everyone’s time is just going to be wasted unnecessarily.”
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Greenspan presented the ethics panel’s final topic: “If you’re a mediator in a case and then you are later asked [in a case that doesn’t settle] to be an arbitrator, or if you are an arbitrator and then you’re asked to mediate the case,” how should such a situation be approached?
David Pryce said the moves are uncommon in the United Kingdom. He added that huge challenges for the med-arb, mixed-mode ADR setup exist, because in mediation, parties are hoping to take advantage of the ability to share things with a mediator that they wouldn’t share with their opponent–and certainly not with the person that needs to make a decision about their case where the neutral is acting as an arbitrator.
The next question was about a situation where somebody had assisted an entity with developing its internal resolution guidelines or contractual terms to use to resolve disputes, and then also became the arbitrator or the mediator in a dispute which is affected by those guidelines. The question was whether this would constitute a problem.
Dana Welch noted that such a situation raises fewer ethical issues as the person only designed the process, as opposed to being involved in a dispute, and that the person does not know confidential information about the dispute—he or she just comes in understanding the process. Welch says that courts have backed such arbitrators but the focus must be on extensive consents after disclosure.
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The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.