Part I: How Workplace ADR Will Evolve Under the Biden Administration

By Antranik Chekemian

Anna Hershenberg, Vice President of Programs and Public Policy & Corporate Counsel, welcomed an online audience of nearly 200 attendees for the CPR Institute’s webinar “What Labor and Employment ADR Will Look Like Under a Biden Administration?” The Feb. 24 webinar was presented jointly by CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee and its Government & ADR Task Force.

This is the first of two CPR Speaks installments with highlights from the discussion.

Hershenberg shared background information for attendees who were new to CPR, and reviewed CPR activities. [Check out www.cpradr.org for future public and members-only events, including the March 25 program on Managing Conflict in the Workplace Remotely. For information on access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.]

Hershenberg then turned the program over to Aaron Warshaw, a shareholder in the New York office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, who is chair of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee. Warshaw described the Employment Disputes Committee as “made up of in-house employment counsel, management-side attorneys, employee-side attorneys, and neutrals. Throughout its long history, the committee … [has provided] a platform for all of the stakeholders to come together and explore ways to resolve disputes in employment matters,”.

Last year, the committee presented a panel discussion about COVID-19-related employment claims. (Video available here.) There was also a panel discussion on mass individual arbitration claims during last year’s CPR Annual Meeting in Florida.

Warshaw also noted that the committee is currently working on soon-to-be-released administered employment arbitration rules, and a workplace disputes programs. “There is also an active committee currently revising CPR’s Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol,” he said.  The release of these projects will be announced at www.cpradr.org and on social media.

Warshaw then introduced the panel moderator, Arthur Pearlstein, who is Director of Arbitration for the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, a Washington, D.C.-based independent agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation. He also directs FMCS’s Office of Shared Neutrals and has previously served as the agency’s general counsel.

Pearlstein opened the conversation stating that “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ran a campaign that reflected a closer alignment with organized labor than I think we’ve seen in a very long time.”

Pearlstein pointed out the remarks made by President Biden a week ahead of the CPR program, where the president called himself a “labor guy,” and referred to labor people as “the folks that brung me to the dance.” Pearlstein, however, noted that Biden “did hasten to add, ‘There’s no reason why it’s inconsistent with business-growing either.’”

Pearlstein further said that even though it had been just a month since the inauguration at the time of the panel discussion, already dramatic steps had been taken.  He cited the firing of the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel.

The president has also issued a number of executive orders and halted some regulations. “He definitely wants to be seen as a champion of worker rights,” said Pearlstein.

Pearlstein added that Biden backs “the most significant piece of labor legislation since perhaps Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, . . . the PRO Act, that would dramatically change the landscape in the labor relations world in a way that’s very favorable to unions.” See Mark Kantor, “House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions,” CPR Speaks (March 10) (available at https://bit.ly/38u5w87).

Biden also supports the FAIR Act which, if passed, could end mandatory employment arbitration, said Pearlstein, adding that Covid-19 in the workplace and the rights of gig workers are also important administration considerations. See Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1).

Pearlstein introduced the panelists.

  • Mark Gaston Pearce is a Visiting Professor and Executive Director of the Georgetown University Law Center Workers’ Rights Institute. Formerly a two-term board member and chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Pearce previously taught at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
  • Kathryn Siegel is a shareholder in Littler Mendelsohn’s Chicago office, representing employers in matters of both employment law and labor relations before federal and state courts and federal agencies like the NLRB and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as state agencies.

Mark Kantor started off the conversation by focusing on two general areas:

a) the prospects for legislative change in the Congress for arbitration of employment and labor issues; and

b) the prospects for regulatory measures by independent or executive agencies in the absence of new legislation.

Kantor pointed out that the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act was reintroduced in the House and the Senate. The House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on the matter on Feb. 11.

He noted that, in the previous Congress, the legislation passed the House of Representatives by a 225-186 vote–all Democrats plus two Republicans. When it reached the Senate, however, “it went nowhere,” he said. “Not surprising,” he said, under Republican control, “There were no hearings, there were no committee markups, no committee activity, and the FAIR Act certainly never reached the floor of the Senate.”

In the current Congress, however, he noted, “We can expect the FAIR Act to pass the House of Representatives again, and then go to the Senate. Matters in the Senate might be a little different than they were in the last Congress. We can . . . expect committee activity, hearings, possibly a markup, maybe getting the legislation to the floor of the Senate.”

He said that Senate floor challenges exist for the legislation, because substantive measures are subject to a filibuster. Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes.

He added that Republicans are united in their opposition to the FAIR Act as it currently stands. Moreover, trying to avoid the filibuster by altering Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster runs into the problem that there are at least two Democratic Senators who will oppose that: Sen. Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. Therefore, he said, “overriding a filibuster seems highly unlikely.”

A way to avoid the filibuster is budget reconciliation, said Kantor, which is the route that was  taken for the Covid-19 stimulus legislation. He noted, however, that the FAIR Act’s anti-arbitration provisions are unlikely to fall within the scope of budget reconciliation. He further explained:

That means there are very few formal ways to avoid the filibuster. Some people have suggested that Vice President Harris might simply override a parliamentary ruling that the legislation is outside the scope of budget reconciliation. That is also not likely to go anywhere, because Senators Manchin and Sinema will not support that. Consequently, you don’t have 50 votes out of the Democrats and you’re certainly not going to get any Republican votes to reach the threshold to allow Vice President Harris to make that decision.

Kantor then noted that there could still be other prospects for passage:

  1. Appending the FAIR Act or other legislation to a “must pass” piece of legislation:  “That’s exactly how restrictions on arbitration for consumer finance and securities arbitration, and whistleblower protections, was passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Act [in 2010], which did get 60 votes in support, because it was ‘must pass’ legislation,” he said.

  2. Narrow legislation: Kantor noted that during the Feb. 11 hearing, “the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. [Ken Buck, a Republican] from Colorado, did signal an interest in supporting two narrow areas of restriction. One was for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, and the other was to override non-disclosure agreements for those two types of disputes.” Kantor added that Buck’s support sends a signal that Republicans on the Senate side also may be “open to focus targeted legislation, aiming at those two narrow areas.”

Kantor also pointed out that a provision in the National Defense Appropriations Act, which is renewed annually, “prohibits mandatory pre-dispute arbitration for sexual harassment and Title VII claims under procurement contracts in the national defense area and subcontracts for those procurements. That is not controversial in the national defense contracting community.”

But the bottom line here, he said, is that the filibuster will determine whether the FAIR Act or any of the other pieces of legislation like the PRO Act, which contain restrictions on pre-dispute arbitration for employment and labor, have a chance of Senate passage.

On regulatory measures, Kantor pointed out that the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision “set a very high barrier to utilizing preexisting general statutory authority for administrative agencies, independent, or executive agencies. It said that in order to prevail, the claim must show ‘clear and manifest’ intention to displace the Federal Arbitration Act.”

He continued: “Congress would be expected to have specifically addressed preexisting law, such as the Federal Arbitration Act. That meant ‘no’ for the [Fair Labor Standards Act], ‘no’ for the [National Labor Relations Act], and in subsequent court decisions, also ‘no’ for Title VII, [the Americans with Disabilities Act], [and the Age Discrimination in Employment] arguments.”

As a result, he added, one “can’t generally rely on pre-existing labor relations legislation to override mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements.” But Kantor provided two possible avenues agencies could explore in order to not run into an Epic Systems problem. He explained:

One is that you could avoid Epic Systems by focusing on the prohibition of class procedures, and prohibiting a prohibition of class procedures in any forum–that would be litigation and arbitration, and therefore would be nondiscriminatory. Indeed, the Epic Systems decision says, in essence, the Federal Arbitration Act sets up a nondiscrimination approach to whether or not other acts can be utilized to prevent arbitration. If it’s focused only on a fundamental attribute of arbitration, then there might be conflict preemption by the FAA. On the other hand, if it spreads more generally, there might not be.

The second avenue would be to look at nondisclosure agreements as Rep. Buck mentioned during the Feb. 11 hearing. Kantor added that the FAIR Act covers employment, civil rights, class action, antitrust legislation, and consumer disputes. If passed, it would also prohibit pre-dispute joint-action waivers of those disputes in any forum.

* * *

Mark Gaston Pearce’s highlights focused on what is to be expected from the National Labor Relations Board with the Biden Administration.

Pearce started off with a focus on the composition of the five-member NLRB. by pointing out that even though Biden is in office, the majority of the NLRB is still Republican appointees, and that this will not change until August 2021.

He then discussed some of the NLRB cases. “There is a lot to be undone by the Trump board since the Trump board did a whole lot of undoing itself,” he said. He explained: “Among those things that the Trump board did was weakening the election reforms that were made in 2015,” said Pearce.

He explained that the Trump board changed union election rules by providing employers an increased ability to challenge and litigate certain issues prior to the election, and increased the length of time between the filing of a petition and the election date. “They were mandating that there should be a certain minimum time period to pass before an election,” he said.

Moreover, the Trump Board “lengthened the time period for an employer to serve a voter list and lengthened the time period for which an election is to be held if there was going to be a challenge to the [NLRB] Regional Director’s decision,” he said. [Among other things, Regional Directors are empowered to administer union elections.  See the NLRB’s Organization and Functions, Sec. 203.1 (available at https://bit.ly/3ls48Ij.]

Pearce explained, “All of those provisions and a few more were struck by a [federal] district court judge once [they] went into effect. The basis for . . . striking . . . those provisions was that the board had determined that these actions were strictly procedural, and therefore under the . . . Administrative Procedure Act, they were not obliged to go through the full notice and comment requirements.” The district court decision, however, has been appealed and it is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he said.

Pearce added that it is unlikely a decision will be issued before a new majority is in place. He noted that “it’s very likely that a new majority will withdraw that appeal and those provisions of the new rule will never see the light of the day.”

Pearce said MV Transportation standards–from a 2019 NLRB decision on whether an employer’s unilateral action is permitted by a collective-bargaining agreement—will affect  arbitrators. In the case, he explained, the NLRB abandoned a standard requiring the employer to bargain over any material changes to a mandatory subject of bargaining unless the union gave a “clear and unmistakable waiver” of its right to bargain on the changes. The new standard is based on the “contract coverage.”

The “clear and unmistakable waiver” standard, Pearce explained, generally hindered an employer’s ability to make changes, so instead the board adopted the broader contract coverage standard for determining whether unionized employers’ unilateral change in terms and conditions of employment violated the National Labor Relations Act.

Pearce predicted that “MV Transportation will be revisited because the outgrowth . . . has been that unions, fearing that their position would be waived, are negotiating contracts with so many provisos or are likely to negotiate contracts with so many provisos in it that contract negotiations have become fairly untenable.”

He noted, however, that “with respect to arbitrators, there was always going to be an issue of whether or not, in fact, there is truly a contract coverage for the change that is being proposed,  and I don’t think parties are going to want to constantly go to arbitration over every little thing that they plan on doing.”

Pearce then discussed recent developments in the area of higher education. He noted that there was a proposed rule that graduate students not be considered as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. He added, however, that it was unlikely for that rule to be adopted as the majority will likely object to such status. He said he predicts that there is going to be an “increase in petitions filed for graduate student bargaining units in the universities.”

“On the other hand,” Pearce explained, “[Last year’s NLRB decision] Bethany College, which reversed [a 2013 board decision,] Pacific Lutheran, . . . has resulted in a policy that has emanated from the courts that religious universities do not have to show much to consider themselves to have a religious bent and direction and therefore exclude faculty from being able to unionize.”

He directed attendees to the recent NLRB General Motors decision. “General Motors changed the standards with respect to offensive speech . . . during the course of protected concerted activity,” he said. Pearce added that cases involving sexist and racist remarks set on the picket line is an area that should not have received protections under the NLRA, though he said he backed the board’s decision in the case.

* * *

In a soon-to-be-posted Part II on the Feb. 24 CPR Employment Disputes Committee event, CPR Speaks will focus on the remarks of panelist Kathryn Siegel, and include a discussion among Moderator Pearlstein and Panelists Kantor, Pearce, and Siegel.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.

[END]

House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions

By Mark Kantor

Yesterday, the proposed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 225-206 vote, with five Republicans voting Yay and one Democrat voting Nay.  The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration. 

While much arbitration-related attention in the new Congress has focused on the arbitration-only FAIR Act (for details and links, see Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1)), the PRO Act contains significant provisions that, if finally enacted, would limit employment arbitration.

Most important, the PRO Act would make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to prevent employees requiring arbitration agreements that obligate an employee “not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction.” 

Note that the coverage of the proposed PRO Act encompasses both employment contracts of adhesion and individually negotiated employment contracts, as well as covering individual independent contractors.  See Section 101(b) of the legislation at the act’s link above.

Section 104 of the PRO Act would override Epic Systems v. Lewis,138 S. Ct. 1612 (May 21)(available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8), with respect to employment arbitration and class proceedings. 

According to the accompanying section-by-section analysis released by the House, “ . . .  on May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court held in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that … employers may force workers into signing arbitration agreements that waive the right to pursue work-related litigation jointly, collectively or in a class action. This section overturns that decision by explicitly stating that employers may not require employees to waive their right to collective and class action litigation, without regard to union status.”  (The analysis is available at https://bit.ly/2OGrKNj).

The ultimate Senate fate of the PRO Act is linked to the fate of the filibuster.  As Politico states:

But the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which advanced mostly along party lines, is unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for passage in the narrowly controlled Senate. And already, some union leaders — who hold outsize sway in the Biden administration — are amping up pressure on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster so they can see one of their top priorities enacted.

Eleanor Mueller and Sarah Ferris, “House passes labor overhaul, pitting unions against the filibuster,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/3vbgFEu). For the latest on the limited prospects for overturning the filibuster in the Senate, see Burgess Everett, “Anti-filibuster liberals face a Senate math problem,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/2ObVou0). 

The filibuster affects large swaths of proposed legislation coming out of the House of Representatives and the Biden Administration agenda. We can anticipate daily media attention to every word any member of Congress or the administration speaks about the topic for some time to come.

The operative PRO Act text in Sec. 104 overriding Epic Systems reads as follows:

(e) Notwithstanding chapter 1 of title 9, United States Code (commonly known as the ‘Federal Arbitration Act’), or any other provision of law, it shall be an unfair labor practice under subsection (a)(1) for any employer—

“(1) to enter into or attempt to enforce any agreement, express or implied, whereby prior to a dispute to which the agreement applies, an employee undertakes or promises not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction;

“(2) to coerce an employee into undertaking or promising not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee; or

“(3) to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against an employee for refusing to undertake or promise not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee: Provided, That any agreement that violates this subsection or results from a violation of this subsection shall be to such extent unenforceable and void: Provided further, That this subsection shall not apply to any agreement embodied in or expressly permitted by a contract between an employer and a labor organization.”;

Also, according to the proposal’s section-by-section analysis, PRO Act Section 109(c) would create a private right of action in U.S. federal court if the NLRB fails to pursue a retaliation claim.

(c) Private right to civil action.  If the NLRB does not seek an injunction to protect an employee within 60 days of filing a charge for retaliation against the employee’s right to join a union or engage in protected activity, that employee may bring a  civil  action  in  federal  district  court. The  district  court  may  award  relief  available  to employees who file a charge before the NLRB.

Yesterday’s hearings have gone viral via fiery words backing the act’s passage by Tim Ryan, D., Ohio, who chided Republicans for failing to support workers.  “Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” shouted Ryan in the House chambers, adding, “Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!”

Republican opponents immediately fired back, saying that the bill would hurt workers by hurting business and the economy. For details, see Katie Shepherd, “Tim Ryan berates GOP over labor bill: ‘Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us,’” Washington Post (March 10) (available at http://wapo.st/3bz2YaF).

* * *

Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, he was a partner in the firm’s Corporate and Project Finance Groups. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). He also is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management. He is a frequent contributor to CPR Speaks, and this post originally was circulated to a private list serv and adapted with the author’s permission. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed to the research.

[END]

Supreme Court Denies Review on the Interplay Between the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Arbitration Act

By Amy Foust

The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in GE Capital Retail Bank v. Belton, No. 20-481, an arbitration case in a bankruptcy matter.  The question presented by petitioner GE Capital, and rejected in this morning’s order list by the Court, was “whether provisions of the Bankruptcy Code providing for a statutorily enforceable discharge of a debtor’s debts impliedly repeal the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.”

The U.S. Bankruptcy Code section in question, 11 U.S.C. § 524(a)(2), provides in part:

A discharge in a case under this title— …

(2) operates as an injunction against the commencement or continuation of an action, the employment of process, or an act, to collect, recover or offset any such debt as a personal liability of the debtor, whether or not discharge of such debt is waived[.]

The case, on cert petition from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, suggests a tension between this section of the bankruptcy code and the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that written agreements to arbitrate are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable” (9 U.S.C. §2), and that if there is no issue with the making of the agreement, a court “shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement.” 9 U.S.C. §4. 

The underlying dispute was a putative class action related to GE Capital’s efforts to collect debts discharged in bankruptcy.  The plaintiffs–the discharged debtors–brought contempt proceedings under § 524 arguing a violation of the injunction against continued recovery.  GE Capital moved to have the dispute referred to arbitration. 

The case of Respondent Belton and two others similarly situated were addressed in a consolidated decision by the federal bankruptcy court in New York’s Southern District, finding that referring these cases to arbitration would defeat the purpose of seeking bankruptcy protections.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District reversed the bankruptcy court and sent Belton’s case to arbitration. 

But around the same time, the Second Circuit decided Anderson v. Credit One Bank, N.A., 884 F.3d 382 (2d Cir. 2018), a case involving similar facts to GE Capital. In Anderson, an appeals panel found an inherent conflict between § 524 and the FAA because the discharge injunction is critical to the bankruptcy code’s purpose; the contempt claim requires the bankruptcy court’s continuing supervision, and denying the court the power to enforce its own injunctions would undermine bankruptcy code enforcement. 

In response to a request for reconsideration in view of Anderson, the U.S. District Court reversed itself and denied the motion to compel arbitration.  GE Capital appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed the district court. 

GE Capital then appealed to the Supreme Court, framing the issue as an implied repeal of the FAA, citing the Court’s support from Epic Systems v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612, 1627 (2018), where the Court rejected a request to have the National Labor Relations Act override the Federal Arbitration Act. 

In a response to GE Capital’s request asking the nation’s top court to decline to hear the case, Respondent Belton had argued that the Second Circuit was correct in its analysis of this narrow issue, which is not the subject of any circuit split and did not merit the Court’s attention.

So the Second Circuit decision stands, allowing the respondents to proceed with contempt sanctions against major banks for continuing attempts to recover debts that had been subject of a bankruptcy discharge.

* * *

The author is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

[END]

#CPRAM21: Committing to More Diversity in ADR

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

By Amy Foust

The CPR 2021 Annual Meeting’s final panel presentation encouraged participants to take action for a more equitable alternative dispute resolution community, and focused on CPR’s Diversity Commitment

The Jan. 29 third-day panel was hosted and moderated by CPR’s Anna M. Hershenberg, who is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy, as well as CPR’s Corporate Counsel.

The discussion, “Time To Move The Needle! CPR’s Diversity Commitment and Model Clause–and How to Track for Accountability,” included panelists

  • Hannah Sholl, Senior Counsel, Global Litigation & Competition at Visa Inc.;
  • Brenda Carr, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer in Washington, D.C.;
  • Tim Hopkins, a senior consultant at McKinley Advisors, also in Washington; and
  • Linda Klein, a partner in the Atlanta office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.

The panel offered insights, simple practice changes, neutral selection templates, and diversity tracking tools for promoting diverse ADR panels.

Moderator Hershenberg kicked off the presentation with a poll of attendees, which asked, “What is the number one reason holding you back from selecting a diverse arbitrator or mediator for your matters?” The most popular answer, with 26% of the audience, was “I’m too nervous to select a neutral I don’t know or who my colleagues haven’t recommended.”

Hershenberg also reviewed the requirements under the CPR Diversity Commitment, including recruiting and hiring diverse neutrals.  She noted early Commitment adopters, including  Baker Donelson, ConocoPhillips Co., KPMG LLP, Shell Group, and Visa, among many others.  (Companies and law firms may sign the commitment on CPR’s website at www.cpradr.org/about/diversity-commitment.) Hannah Sholl discussed Visa’s process of managing diversity in light of adopting and signing the commitment.

These efforts, of course, raise the question of why practitioners don’t know more diverse neutrals.  Linda Klein, acknowledging research into affinity bias, said that in ADR, “the parties choose their judges, the arbitrators, and most people are comfortable with people who come from similar backgrounds.” 

Klein recommended applying the Mansfield Rule, which suggests ensuring that any slate of candidates includes at least 30% candidates who self-identify as diverse in some way. See, e.g., Homer C. La Rue, “A Call—and a Blueprint—for Change,” Dispute Resolution Magazine (Feb. 17 (available at http://bit.ly/2ZZ3zvJ).

The panel agreed that an easy way to identify diverse candidates is to request a slate from an institution like CPR, which strives to include diverse candidates.  Klein suggested that it is appropriate to complain if an institution provides a slate that is not diverse, and to request a substitute slate that includes a significant number of diverse candidates. 

The panel agreed that it might be helpful to reach beyond customary contacts to seek input on a neutral, but noted that inclusion on a provider institution panel alone is an indication that the proposed neutral has been vetted.

The audience and the panel repeatedly noted a variety of resources available to identify and research diverse candidates in addition to CPR Dispute Resolution, including the National Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the African Arbitration Association, the American Bar Association, JAMS, Arbitral Women, the American Arbitration Association, and REAL-Racial Equality for Arbitration Lawyers.  The panel also provided extensive advice for potential neutrals on entering the field and for current neutrals on increasing their exposure and, ultimately, appointments.

Tim Hopkins and others noted that it can be helpful to sign the CPR Diversity Commitment or a comparable business pledge, and then checking to see if other parties to the dispute have signed similar diversity or corporate pledges.  It might be easier to convince other stakeholders to enlist an unfamiliar neutral if they have made a commitment to advance diversity–especially a specific commitment to advance diversity in ADR.

A simple, practical tip the panel provided was adding diverse neutrals clauses to organizations’ standard contract templates, so that there is a default to require specifically a diverse slate. There also was consensus that those clauses rarely generate mark-ups or controversy, and putting them in a template makes it that much more likely they will be added to a draft agreement. CPR provides a model clause that calls for at least one member of a tripartite panel to be diverse. (See link above.)

Other easy, low-cost tips, according to the panel, included praising diverse neutrals, so that their skills are recognized; confronting bias when it arises (e.g., statements like “Are you sure she can handle a $100 million case?”); including diverse neutrals in recommendations to rating services and providers; and, especially with travel restrictions in view of Covid-19 reducing the cost of attendance at virtual hearings, providing exposure by including diverse attorneys in ADR activities so that they are developing the required skills.

Attendee comments presaged the importance of measuring progress, and the panel agreed with the audience comments. Linda Klein proposed setting up a table of neutral qualifications before preparing a candidates’ list to facilitate an impartial selection process.

Brenda Carr presented a spreadsheet for tracking not only the panelists’ individual talents, but also the composition of the slates for those panels, and which candidates were selected.  Carr explained that tracking progress also helps to identify roadblocks—it allows advocates and parties to “have the conversations if you’re presenting a particular arbitrator as a possibility and you notice that the client is constantly turning them down. Maybe you want to follow up and have a conversation about why this person isn’t someone that you are ultimately selecting.” 

Looking at the tracking programs presented by the law firm representatives, Visa in-house counsel Hannah Sholl said that seeing this kind of work, presented in this way, “speaks a lot, and perhaps even more sometimes than … filling in the boxes and the ABA Diversity Commitment  [see https://bit.ly/3sGQ3tc]. You know . . . the firm [that] is tracking this cares about it, . . . is going through a process . . . and they have had a commitment.”

Overall, the panel agreed that the important thing was to start: Whether by signing a diversity commitment or tracking ADR diversity in just one department or working group, that first step is important.

* * *

The author is an LLM candidate studying dispute resolution at the Straus Institute, Caruso School of Law at Malibu, Calif.’s Pepperdine University, and an intern with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

[END]

#CPRAM21: Managing Workplace Conflicts, On-site and Remote

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

By Antranik Chekemian

Kimberley Lunetta, who represents management in employment matters as of counsel at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on state-of-the-art best practices for addressing and resolving workplace disputes. The panel mainly concentrated on managing employees and disputes in the current remote environment, and how to set up an ADR program in order to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The Jan. 29 session included four panelists:

  • Alfred G. Feliu, who heads his own New York firm, is a longtime panelist for CPR Dispute Resolution and the American Arbitration Association’s commercial and employment arbitration and mediation panels. He is past chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section and a fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitrators and the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.
  • Wayne Outten is chair and founder of New York’s Outten & Golden LLP, which focuses on representing employees. He has represented employees for more than 40 years as a litigator. He has long advocated for using mediation in employment disputes. His practice focuses on problem solving, negotiating, and counseling on behalf of employees.
  • Cheryl M. Manley is a veteran labor employment attorney with more than 25 years of  experience, and since 2005 has been at Charter Communications, where she is senior vice president and associate general counsel of employment law, leading the broadband/cable operator’s Employment Law Group.
  • Andrew J. Weissler is a partner in the labor and employment group of Husch Blackwell. He is a member of the firm’s virtual office, the Link, based in Bloomington, Ill. Weissler advises and represents public and private clients on workplace issues involving difficult personnel decisions.

Feliu and Outten are on a subcommittee of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee that is working on a model workplace disputes program, along with a new version of CPR’s Employment Dispute Arbitration Procedure to be issued soon.

A poll conducted at the beginning of the panel showed that remote working was new for most of the participants.

Lunetta launched the discussion by asking Feliu about the threshold questions employers should ask themselves when considering an ADR program.

If the principal goal is avoiding litigation, responded Feliu, then employers “are really focusing on processing existing or incipient claims.” As a result, he said, employers “are going to focus more on arbitration–on ending up with a process that brings an ultimate result.”

But if the employer’s goal is more on problem solving and identifying tensions before they become disputes and the employer views conflict resolution as a strategic imperative, then the alternative approach of problem-solving should be embraced, he said. Here, the focus is different than pure litigation avoidance. Said Feliu, “Litigation avoidance or reduction of legal costs will be part–will be an effect, hopefully–of the problem-solving process but wouldn’t necessarily be the goal.”

This approach would also help the organization become more competitive, he said–to work more constructively and efficiently while, as an after-effect, avoiding litigation.

Feliu explained, “How do you do this? You do this is by opening up lines of communication, by necessarily undercutting to a certain extent the chain of command. You’re empowering employees to come forward with their disputes at whatever level and whatever the nature. And by doing that, you are creating a different kind of an organization that is less hierarchical, less structured, and more fluid.”

Wayne Outten added that ADR is ideal for workplace disputes. Because there already is an important relationship between both sides and the relationship is typically continuing, said Outten, it “is a perfect place for identifying problems and solving them early on.” He then presented two approaches that companies can embrace for dispute resolution procedures, the legal mentality and the human resources mentality.

The legal mentality, said Outten, is, “Let’s find a way to avoid lawsuits and to maximize the chances that we will win them with the least possible costs.” He said the HR approach is better, with goals of making employees happy and providing an environment where workers can be productive and focus on their jobs in an effective and efficient manner.

With the HR approach, Outten said, a program should start identifying problems at the earliest possible stage. “If a problem ripens into a dispute,” he said, the goal is “resolving the dispute in the simplest, quickest way possible and escalating only as and when you need to.” The HR approach also serves the lawyers’ perspective as it “tends to avoid disputes ripening into the possibility of litigation.”

Lunetta then asked the panelists whether having employees working from home in a number of states, possibly new states to the company, would affect the design of an ADR program.

Al Feliu responded that working from home would not alter or change the program itself, but it increases and amplifies “the need for it to be enforceable across 50 states and 50 jurisdictions.”

Wayne Outten discussed some of the positive and negative changes regarding the nature of workplace disputes that come with remote working. On one hand, the kind of disputes that arise from being in the same place, and having interpersonal reactions, presumably will be reduced with the increase in virtual offices, such as sexual harassment claims and bullying.

“On the other hand,” he said, “the opportunities for disputes are exacerbated because you don’t have as much free-flowing communication, and the ability to address things face to face.” Outten added, “Disputes may fester.”

From the management-side perspective, Husch Blackwell’s A.J. Weissler noted that the HR model Outten mentioned “has changed quite a bit in this remote work environment.” If the employees are typically working remotely, then having difficult conversations over the Internet should be acceptable, he said.  

But if a human resources or corporate employee is working from home while the business has essential workers who have been going to the employer’s worksite, then, says Weissler, “there’s a real disconnect there” that can make the on-site workers feel and sense that the employer is not in touch with the employee.

Moderator Kimberley Lunetta then asked panelists whether CPR has resources that can help employers think through these issues if they are considering any of the dispute resolution options that were discussed.

Outten said that this was the reason for CPR to be founded decades ago, with the goal of helping companies figure out how to avoid and resolve disputes.

Outten announced that CPR and its Employment Disputes Committee will be publishing a new set of rules for administered employment dispute resolution.  Accompanying the rules will include “draft programs that companies can adopt and adapt for their own use, which have within them the various different stages that employers can consider […] including things . . . [like] informal dispute resolution and problem solving, . . . open-door policies that invite people to take their problems up the chain of command,” ombudspersons, peer review processes and “all the way up to mediation which . . . is perfectly suited for employment disputes of all kinds.”

The conversation then revolved around the pluses and minuses for an employer of establishing a mandatory arbitration program.

“In reaching the decision that our arbitration program was going to be mandatory,” responded Charter Communications’ Cheryl Manley, “one of the factors that went into play was either reducing the litigation costs, or perhaps not having to deal with court litigation.” She mentioned that her company’s program was built to resolve issues in a timely manner and on an individualized basis.

She further added that her organization has many steps before getting to the arbitration phase to resolve the employment issue. And “when it finally does get to arbitration, we believe that there’s some certainty,” said Manley, “We believe that both parties have some skin in the game, in terms of selecting the arbitrator and primarily, it’s cost effective and efficient.”

Outten then answered a question about CPR’s employment ADR program and how it can help employers not only set up, but also ensure long-term success.

Outten reiterated the program’s strength in early-stage problem solving and early dispute resolution, and added that the program offers room for flexibility and adaptability in different workplaces.

Mediation with a third-party facilitator, he said, “can be extremely valuable and beneficial. It gives the parties an opportunity to air their grievances.” When it comes to arbitration, he said, every successful workplace ADR program really needs to comply “at a minimum,” with due process protocols.”

He then presented several key features of the due process protections (which CPR has adopted here), which include:

  • “The employee isn’t required to pay more than they would pay if they were going to file in court.”
  • “The arbitrator has the authority and power to provide any remedy that a court can provide so that there’s no takeaway of remedies for the affected employee.”
  • “The employee has a fair opportunity to pick the decision maker–the arbitrator–especially given the binding power of the decision of this person to resolve the dispute.”
  • “The employee has to have a full and fair opportunity to gather information in order to present the case and . . . [any] defenses.”
  • “The employee needs to have an opportunity to have counsel of his or her choosing.”
  • “The hearing itself should be reasonably convenient . . .  so the employee doesn’t have to go a long distance to have his or her day in court.”
  • Finally, “the arbitration should end with a reasoned decision, so the parties know what the arbitrator took into account, what the findings were on the evidence, and what the legal conclusions were in determining” the decision.

A.J. Weissler added that “there are great legal reasons” not to “cram down” arbitration in a workplace disputes program, citing fairness. He said that arbitrator selection is an important factor in presenting a fair process, with a say for the employees.

Al Feliu noted that there is a dearth of diverse panelists, but major providers have made strides and continue to work on the problem to enhance and ensure fairness.

Cheryl Manley agreed with the comments, and emphasized that panelists need to reflect the workplace population.

Manley discussed Charter Communication’s Solution Channel, which she described as a 2017 program to compel arbitration use—a mandatory program for newly signed-on employees, with about 10% of the company’s 90,000 employees opting out when it was launched.  She reported that the complaints are restricted to legal claims—non-legal disputes are addressed in other ways–that are submitted through a third-party vendor which create a record over the claim. She said the American Arbitration Association is the provider.  The company absorbs the AAA filing fees and the arbitrator costs. If either side is unsatisfied with the panel, they return to the AAA for more choices.

Weissler says arbitration should be part of any dispute resolution system but if it’s made mandatory and employees are forced to use it, he said, it is counterproductive and it creates problems going forward due to the “asymmetrical” views.

Weissler said he encourages mediation as a best option. He said he is skeptical of programs that outline steps that do not allow a course of mediation to be developed.

Feliu says he has been mediating for 30 years and familiarity has grown during his period of practice after skepticism.  He agreed with Weissler’s points, but noted that mandatory mediation in New York federal court, where he said he would have expected resistance—mandatory is counterintuitive, said Feliu—it has been just as successful as voluntary mediation over about the past 10 years.

Feliu said sometimes there is grumbling but mostly, when parties get to the bargaining table, they try to settle. And he said that while joint sessions are fading, flexibility is needed.  “Every mediation is different,” he said.

Wayne Outten said that he shared Al Feliu’s experience.  In the mid-1980s, he said, the plaintiffs’ bar “viewed this newfangled process as a conspiracy to take away their rights, and I soon discovered that was not necessarily the case and became a big advocate.”

Over the past 35 years, said Outten, mediation “has become quite normal.” He echoed Feliu again,  noting that when parties attempt mediation in good faith, it is successful.

Even in situations with a lot of open issues, he said, mediation “has a very high success rate, . . .  and is always worth trying.”

Cheryl Manley said that pre-pandemic, her company didn’t want anything done virtually or remotely—all depositions, mediations and arbitration hearings were done in person, exclusively.  The change was swift, she said. “Fast forward seven, eight, nine months, . . . when we finally emerge from this pandemic, we aren’t going to go back to all depositions in person, all mediations in person or hearings,” said Manley, adding, “In fact, I think that there is no reason . . . to start putting people back on planes traveling all over the country.  It is expensive. It’s time consuming.  And it is not efficient. “ She said that the “only issues” are “the occasional technological” problems.

A.J. Weissler said he has participated in virtual matters frequently during the pandemic, and found “an incredible benefit.” Having the people resources ready on video, whether from home or for those back in their offices, has “been an incredible thing,” he said, adding that he strongly supports virtual mediations.

Wayne Outten said he always has had a concern whether real decision makers would be in the mediation room.  “Now with virtual mediations,” he said, “that problem can be more readily addressed.”

Al Feliu said he has only done virtual mediations since his first in March.  “All of the impediments, and all of the arguments against them, have been rebuffed, “ he said. For example, he explained, he can evaluate credibility better on close-up video than across a bargaining table.

Feliu conceded that there is a different feel in an in-person gathering where people have committed to the process.  That intensity, he said, isn’t present where people are sitting on their couches, are more relaxed, with their dogs nearby.  “It’s just a different process,” he said.  “I don’t have the shrieking episodes. I don’t have a lot of emotions.  Is it good or bad? It’s just different.”

The result, he said, has been that he isn’t settling cases on the first day as much as he did at in-person mediations.

Addressing audience questions, Al Feliu said he discusses confidentiality with the parties with heightened concerns, noting that a potentially serious issue could be where extra people are present, and not visible on screen, as well as individuals texting on the side. “These are all serious concerns we need to get equilibrium on” going into the mediation, he said.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed writing and research to this report.

[END]

#CPRAM21: Too Much or Not Enough? The Arbitrator Disclosure Issue, Analyzed

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

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).

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.”

* * *

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.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.

[END]

Let’s Schein Again!

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution presents a CPR Speaks blog discussion of the 1/25/2021 U.S. Supreme Court per curiam decision dismissing Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, and a same-day order declining to hear Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695. Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation Editor Russ Bleemer hosts Prof. Angela Downes, University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law, and arbitrator-advocates contributors Richard Faulkner, also of Dallas, and Philip J. Loree Jr. in New York.

By Russ Bleemer

The panel returns to CPR Speaks and YouTube to analyze the Monday Henry Schein dismissal–a one-line decision–just a month after the Court heard oral arguments on the issue of how a contract carve-out removing injunctions from arbitration affects the delegation of the entire matter to arbitration.

In fact, the Dec. 8, 2020, Henry Schein oral argument repeatedly turned to an issue in the rejected Piersing case on the effectiveness of the incorporation by reference of arbitration rules in designating an arbitration tribunal to decide whether a case is arbitrated, rather than a court deciding whether the matter is to be arbitrated. A cross-petition by Archer and White asking for review of the incorporation by reference of the arbitration contract’s American Arbitration Association rules was declined by the Supreme Court the same day it agreed to hear the carve-out issue last June.

Our panel discussed these issues after the oral argument on this blog.  See “Schein II: Argument in Review,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2VXfyIa) (in which the panelists also discuss their work on an amicus brief in the case, a subject that arose in this post’s video).

You can see today’s per curiam decision on the Supreme Court’s website here.

Monday’s Henry Schein dismissal ends a long period of Supreme Court litigation in the case that also included a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision. For now, the case returns to the Fifth Circuit for proceedings on whether the parties properly intended to arbitrate the case.

Details on the Supreme Court’s Monday cert denial in Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695, are available on CPR Speaks here.

For more analysis on the Henry Schein dismissal, see Ronald Mann, “Justices dismiss arbitrability dispute,” Scotusblog (Jan. 25, 2021) (available at http://bit.ly/2Yh9U4O), in which the Columbia University professor and Scotusblog analyst concludes that

it seems likely that the justices ultimately decided that they couldn’t sensibly say anything about this matter without addressing the question of whether the contract called for arbitration of the gateway question. Because they had declined to call for briefs on that question, it did not make sense to address it here. A logical course of action, then, was to dismiss the matter from the docket, providing a rare victory for a party opposing arbitration.

* * *

The author edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

Scotus’s Henry Schein No-Decision

By Russ Bleemer

If the U.S. Supreme Court appeared frustrated at last month’s arbitration argument in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc., No. 19-963, this morning’s one-line decision confirmed it.

The Court today dismissed the entire case without a decision on the merits.  The entire per curiam decision:  “The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.”

You can view it on the Supreme Court’s website here.

The immediate effect is that respondent Archer and White Sales sees a big win:  It will get the determination of whether its long-running case over a medical equipment contract dispute is to be arbitrated made by a judge, not an arbitrator.  A Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision now stands. See Archer & White Sales, Inc. v. Henry Schein, Inc., 935 F.3d 274 (5th Cir. 2019) (available at http://bit.ly/2NC7EmL).

Archer and White contended that a delegation agreement sending a matter to arbitration did not “clearly and unmistakably” send the case to arbitration because of a contract carve-out for injunctions.

With a one-line dismissal, it’s unknown why the Court did what it did. In shutting down the case, it may be backing Archer and White’s and the Fifth Circuit’s view. 

Or it may have reconsidered a point that Henry Schein’s successor status to the contract didn’t sustain its arbitration demand.

Or, in a point returned to repeatedly in last month’s argument, the Court may have botched the case on its own. When it granted Henry Schein’s cert petition on June 15 on the carve-out issue, the Supreme Court simultaneously rejected Archer and White’s cross petition challenging the determination of arbitrability of the case on a question of incorporation by reference. The cross petition contended that the “clear and unmistakable” evidence of an intent to arbitrate was insufficient; the contract incorporated American Arbitration Association rules that include a provision that arbitrators decide arbitrability.

Even though the Court rejected the cross-petition, the issue returned in the December arguments, at times overwhelming the discussion of the question of the carve-out’s effect. For more on the argument, see “Schein II: Argument in Review,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2VXfyIa).

One thing is certain:  The Court won’t use a follow-up petition to address the incorporation-by-reference issue, which would have interpreted the standard from the Court’s seminal decision on arbitrability, First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995) (available at https://bit.ly/39fAwcR).

That’s because a case that a petitioner and an amicus stated presented the issue cleanly—unencumbered by the carve-out issue and Henry Schein’s long history, including a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision—was denied certiorari 30 minutes ahead of today’s one-line opinion. Details on the Court’s cert denial in Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695, are available on CPR Speaks here.

* * *

The author edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

[END]

Court Again Rejects Review on Incorporating Rules that Define Arbitrability

By Temitope Akande & Russ Bleemer

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to hear a case that presented a persistent arbitration issue: whether the incorporation of a set of arbitration rules that state that an arbitrator decides whether a case goes to arbitration, instead of a court making the arbitrability decision, provides sufficient “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties agreed for the tribunal to make the decision.

It was the second time in eight months that the Court has rejected a significant case on the issue.

Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 20-695, would have analyzed the clear-and-unmistakable evidence standard for delegation to arbitrability from the Court’s First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995) (available at https://bit.ly/39fAwcR).  

The question presented by the petitioner, a former employee of two Domino’s franchisers who had a claim against the parent company, was:

In the context of a form employment agreement, is providing that a particular set of rules will govern arbitration proceedings, without more, “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to have the arbitrator decide questions of arbitrability?

Last June, the Court declined to hear the question on arbitrability in a cross-petition in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales Inc., No. 19-1080 (June 15, 2020), while accepting the case on the original cert petition on another, close issue involving the reach of carve-out provisions in arbitration agreements. 

In its December arguments in Schein, which awaits decision, the discussion of incorporation by reference on arbitrability arose.  See “Schein II: Argument in Review,” CPR Speaks (Dec. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2VXfyIa). In its brief in Piersing, the petitioner “acknowledges that [the] Court recently denied certiorari of a cross-petition presenting a similar question,” citing Schein, adding, “however, the question is presented in this case cleanly and as a stand-alone question.”

In Piersing, the petitioner worked as a delivery driver for a franchisee of respondent Domino’s, and later got an employment offer from Carpe Diem, another Washington state Domino’s franchisee. While the petitioner intended to increase his hours and earnings, the first franchisee fired him based on a no-poach clause in his employment agreement.

He eventually brought a U.S. District Court class-action suit against Domino’s alleging that the hiring rules violated, among other things, antitrust laws.

Domino’s sought to compel arbitration of Piersing’s claims based on the arbitration agreement between the employee and Carpe Diem.  Domino’s asked for arbitration, according to the Sixth Circuit opinion in the case that was the subject of the cert petition (see Blanton v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, 962 F.3d 842 (6th Cir. 2020) (available at http://bit.ly/3sWDlrg)), “because the agreement’s reference to the AAA rules constituted a delegation clause in that the AAA rules supposedly provide for delegation.”

The district court held that equitable estoppel applies to permit franchiser Domino’s to enforce franchisee Carpe Diem’s agreement against Piersing and, according to the petitioner’s cert petition brief, “that the clause providing the AAA rules would govern any arbitration amounted to ‘clear and unmistakable’ evidence of Piersing’s and Carpe Diem’s intent to delegate questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator.”

Piersing appealed the district court’s decision. Relying on Rent-a-Center, West Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010), and more, the Sixth Circuit held that the incorporation of arbitration rules that permit the arbitrator to resolve questions of arbitrability is sufficient to delegate those questions to the arbitrator.

Piersing’s Supreme Court cert petition brief analyzed the holdings in First Options, Rent-a-Center, West, and the first Henry Schein decision, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales Inc., 139 S. Ct. 524 (2019), which wrestled with the question of and the standard for who decides arbitrability, the tribunal or the court.

Based on these precedents, the petitioner argued that the existing circuit court analysis allowing for incorporation of rules that included arbitrators determining arbitrability wasn’t “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to arbitrate.  It emphasized that, particularly for consumers and employees, the cases weren’t sufficiently thorough in light of the First Options standard. The petitioner also noted that the Sixth Circuit’s decision conflicts with the holdings of several state high courts.

Domino’s countered that an agreement incorporating privately promulgated arbitral rules that assign questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator clearly and unmistakably show the parties’ agreement that an arbitrator, not the court, will resolve whether the case is suitable for arbitration.

Domino’s successfully argued for the nation’s top Court to reject the petition and thereby uphold the Sixth Circuit.

An amicus brief in support of the petitioner was filed by Columbia University Law School Prof. George Bermann, who described the issue in the appeal as “a central but unsettled issue of domestic and international arbitration.” Echoing the petitioner, the brief noted the importance of the issue in both Henry Schein Supreme Court cases, but stated that “the delegation question is presented front and center for review in this case.” It also cited the divergence between state and federal court views.

The amicus brief discussed the principle of “competence-competence” in international commercial law—the international equivalent of the arbitrability question under which the tribunal is presumed to be in a position to determine its jurisdiction, and which the Sixth Circuit invoked.  Bermann’s brief discussed the concept under the “clear and unmistakable” agreement standard of parties to arbitrate.

The amicus noted that the competence-competence language does not constitute “clear and unmistakable” evidence. “[A]ll modern arbitral procedure rules contain a ‘competence-competence’ clause,” the brief argued, “so that treating such language as clear and unmistakable evidence of a delegation means that parties will almost invariably lose their right to a judicial determination of what this Court has multiple times referred to as the very cornerstone of arbitration, viz. consent to arbitrate.”

Noting the state-federal divide in the interpretation of whether the incorporation of rules satisfies First Options, the brief concluded, “Only this Court can definitively resolve that issue and ensure that parties do not forfeit their right to a judicial determination of arbitrability unless they manifest that intention clearly and unmistakably.”

For more information on the case and an in-depth discussion of the issues involved, see the Supreme Court’s docket page at http://bit.ly/39Zxed1.

* * *

Akande, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021. Bleemer edits Alternatives for the CPR Institute.

[END]

Extinguishing Intra-EU Bilateral Investment Treaties: Recent Developments

By Krzysztof Wierzbowski and Aleksander Szostak

In line with the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (referred to here as the “CJEU”) in Achmea (formerly Eureko) v. Slovakia (the Achmea Decision) and the political declaration issued by the governments of the European Union member states on Jan. 15, 2019, most of the EU member states, with the exception of Austria, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, have entered into a plurilateral treaty for the termination of bilateral investment treaties between the EU Member States (referred to in this article as “intra-EU BITs” and the Termination Treaty).

The Termination Treaty was signed on May 5, 2020, and entered into force on Aug. 29, 2020. See Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT] (available at http://bit.ly/3iqsTn3).

Portugal, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have made the following formal declarations concerning the Termination Treaty:

  • “Luxembourg calls upon the European Commission and all member states to start, without any delay, a process with the aim to ensure complete, strong and effective protection of investments within the EU and adequate instruments in this regard.” It requests the  European Commission to create a plan for such a process. Declaration of Luxembourg to the Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT].
  • Portugal appears to endorse a view similar to that of Luxembourg and emphasizes its “support to the intensifying of the discussions between the European Commission and Member States with the aim of better ensuring a sound and effective protection of investments within the European Union. To this end, calls to assess the establishment of new or better tools under European Union law and to carry out an assessment of the current dispute settlement mechanisms which are essential to ensure legal certainty and the protection of interests of investors.” Declaration of Portugal to the Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT].
  • The Dutch government confirms that although the Achmea Decision does not affect the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands (as Overseas Countries and Territories), BITs concluded with those territories shall also be terminated pursuant to the Termination Treaty. In this sense and irrespective of the Achmea Decision, the effects of the Termination Treaty will extend to all parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Declaration of the Netherlands to the Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT].

* * *

So what will be the fate of intra-EU BITs and intra-EU investment arbitration?

The conclusion of the Termination Treaty is a direct consequence of the Achmea Decision, in which the CJEU declared that Investor-State Dispute Settlement (the “ISDS”) clauses in intra-EU BITs are not compatible with the EU law. (The decision is available at http://bit.ly/2Kf8OmM.)

In general, the Termination Treaty is based on the premise that all intra-EU BITs shall be terminated and their sunset clauses, providing for the temporarily continued protection of investments existing prior to the termination of the relevant BIT, shall be terminated together with the respective intra-EU BIT and thereby shall not produce legal effects.

Furthermore, it stipulates that new intra-EU investor-state arbitrations may not be initiated and that pending proceedings shall be subject to the management procedure described below.

Interestingly, the Termination Treaty does not resolve the issue of application and compatibility with the EU law of the Energy Charter Treaty (the “ECT”) in the intra-EU investment protection context. In particular, the Termination Treaty stipulates that it does not cover intra-EU arbitrations initiated based on ECT Article 26 and that this issue will be dealt with at a later stage. Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT] at 2. The ECT is available at http://bit.ly/3nUL2u7.

Considering that in recent years we have witnessed rise of the number of intra-EU ECT arbitrations, the uncertainty introduced by the Termination Treaty may put the parties engaged in pending arbitrations, or anticipating initiation of new proceedings pursuant to ECT Article 26, in an adverse position. See,. e.g., Landesbank Baden-Württemberg and others v. Kingdom of Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/15/45, Decision on the Intra-EU Jurisdictional Objection [25 February 2019]; Vattenfall AB and others v. Federal Republic of Germany, ICSID Case No. ARB/12/12, Decision on the Achmea issue [31 August 2018]; Masdar Solar & Wind Cooperatief U.A. v Kingdom of Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/14/1, Award [16 May 2018]; Statistics of ECT Cases (as of Oct. 23, 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3oGCeJz).

Notably, as argued by the Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe in his recently issued opinion in joined cases C‑798/18 and C‑799/18, the ECT ISDS clause does not apply in the intra-EU context,  and the ECT may be entirely inapplicable to intra-EU proceedings. This indicates that if the CJEU follows the Advocate General’s reasoning, EU investors may be deprived of procedural and substantive protection under the ECT in the intra-EU relations. Joined Cases C 798/18 and C 799/18, Opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe [29 October 2020] (available at http://bit.ly/3bEYEHk).

Management of the pending intra-EU proceedings

Pending proceedings, defined as intra-EU investment arbitration proceedings initiated prior to March 6, 2018—the Achmea Decision linked above–and which have not ended with a settlement agreement or with a final award issued prior to March 6, 2018, where the award was duly executed prior to March 6, 2018, or the award was set aside or annulled before August 29, 2020, shall in principle be subject to the so-called Structured Dialogue, which is a mechanism that aims to assist disputing parties in finding an amicable settlement of a dispute. Art. 1(4) and (5) and Art. 9 Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT].

The settlement procedure is overseen by an impartial facilitator who shall find an amicable, lawful, and fair out-of-court and out-of-arbitration settlement of the dispute. Settlement of the dispute shall in principle be reached within six months. Art. 9 (1) – (14) Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT]. It can be observed that the mechanism resembles investor-state mediation.

Going a step further, the Termination Treaty implements an option for investors engaged in pending arbitrations to seek judicial remedies under national law before domestic courts against the host state measure contested in such arbitration proceedings. This option is available to investors under the condition that they withdraw pending arbitration proceedings and waive rights and claims under the relevant intra-EU BIT, or renounce execution of the issued award and commit to refrain from instituting any new arbitration proceedings. Art. 10 Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT]. In such case,  limitation periods would not apply to bringing legal action before domestic courts.

This may have a severe impact on the prospect of lodging a successful claim against a state by the investor, since the legal framework of intra-EU BITs that provided a substantive and procedural legal basis in a pending arbitration will not be applicable in domestic court proceedings.

Doubtful recognition and enforcement of awards

Decisions and/or awards issued in pending, or, as the case may be, new arbitration proceedings may not be effective, because the Termination Treaty stipulates that contracting states shall, in case of domestic court proceedings, request the domestic court, including in any third country, to set the arbitral award aside, annul it, or to refrain from recognizing and enforcing it. Art. 7 (b) Agreement for the termination of Bilateral Investment Treaties between the Member States of the European Union [SN/4656/2019/INIT].

This raises a threat to the effectiveness of guarantees provided under, among others, the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the “ICSID Convention”).

It can be recalled that ICSID Convention Article 54 stipulates that each contracting state shall recognize an award rendered by an ICSID Tribunal as binding and enforce the pecuniary obligations imposed by that award as if it were a final judgment of a court where recognition is sought. This unique recognition mechanism does not leave room for any ground on which the recognition could be refused.

Considering a rather likely scenario in which a domestic court of an EU member state is faced with a request for recognition of award or decision issued by a tribunal in an intra-EU investment arbitration case, it can be noted that such domestic court will need to resolve uncertain and complex situation concerning the conflict of treaty norms. The domestic court will need to decide whether to recognize the award, or issue a decision in accordance with the ICSID Convention, or to comply with the EU law and refuse recognition and thereby, to undermine the ICSID Convention.

Although not addressed in the Termination Treaty, it appears that the CJEU argument in the Achmea Decision regarding incompatibility of the ISDS clauses in intra-EU BITs with the EU law may potentially extend to extra-EU BITs and arbitrations between EU members states and investors from third states.

Clearly, arbitrations initiated on a basis of ISDS clauses contained in such BITs may concern treatment of investors from third states investing in the EU, and therefore the subject matter of such arbitrations may relate to interpretation and application of the EU law.

Such arbitrations may also pose a risk to the proper interpretation and application of the EU law and have an adverse effect on the autonomy of the EU law. See Case C 284/16 Slowakische Republik (Slovak Republic) v. Achmea BV [2018]. Such reasoning, if followed, which is rather unlikely, would further deepen the crisis concerning European Union investment treaty arbitration.

It might be further noted that the competence of the court where the arbitration is seated to set aside the arbitration award may lead to the situation where such court would be a non-EU court and would not be bound by the Termination Treaty.

Furthermore, the winning investor may seek to have the arbitration award recognized and enforced in a non-EU jurisdiction where the defendant’s assets are located.

Taming the lion: The tendency of arbitral tribunals to reject intra-EU jurisdictional objections

Despite the Achmea Decision and clear commitment of EU member states on terminating the intra-EU BITs, arbitral tribunals in intra-EU arbitrations generally reject jurisdictional objections asserting incompatibility of intra-EU BITs.vSee, e.g., Strabag SE, Raiffeisen Centrobank AG and Syrena Immobilien Holding AG v. Republic of Poland, ICSID Case No. ADHOC/15/1, Partial Award on Jurisdiction [4 March 2020]; Vattenfall AB and others v. Federal Republic of Germany, ICSID Case No. ARB/12/12, Decision on the Achmea issue [31 August 2018]; Masdar Solar & Wind Cooperatief U.A. v Kingdom of Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/14/1, Award [16 May 2018]; UP (formerly Le Chèque Déjeuner) and C.D Holding Internationale v. Hungary, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/35, Award [9 October 2018]; Addiko Bank AG and Addiko Bank d.d. v. Republic of Croatia, ICSID Case No. ARB/17/37, Decision on Croatia’s Jurisdictional Objection Related to the Alleged Incompatibility of the BIT with the EU Acquis [12 June 2020].

As emphasized by the tribunal in the partial award on jurisdiction in Strabag SE, Raiffeisen Centrobank AG and Syrena Immobilien Holding AG v. Republic of Poland, EU law does not form part of the law applicable to questions of the tribunal’s jurisdiction, and no extrinsic elements of interpretation under Article 31(3) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties can trump the clear expression of the parties’ common intention to arbitrate. Strabag SE, Raiffeisen Centrobank AG and Syrena Immobilien Holding AG v. Republic of Poland, at par. 8.143. It should be noted, however, that the intention of capital importing states to arbitrate disputes may be considered as no longer existent due to the signing and entry into force of the Termination Treaty.

Notably, the tribunal further considered the issue of the enforceability of an award issued in intra-EU arbitration and recognized its duty to render an enforceable award. It noted, however, that it is not able to predict the future validity, or enforceability of the award before enforcing courts. Id. at par. 8.140-8.142.

More recently, the tribunal in Addiko Bank v. Croatia raised several interesting points when rejecting Croatia’s jurisdictional objection related to the incompatibility of the Austria-Croatia BIT with the EU acquis.

The tribunal reasoned that in light of Article 2(1)(a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the law applicable to the Austria-Croatia BIT consists of the terms of that BIT itself and general principles of international law, which are the sources of law not considered by the CJEU as  incompatible with the EU law.

Furthermore, the tribunal noted that contrary to the BIT concluded between the Netherlands and Slovakia, considered by the CJEU in the Achmea Decision as incompatible with the EU law, the Austria-Croatia BIT does not incorporate EU law as part of its applicable law. Addiko Bank AG and Addiko Bank d.d. v. Republic of Croatia, ICSID Case No. ARB/17/37, Decision on Croatia’s Jurisdictional Objection Related to the Alleged Incompatibility of the BIT with the EU Acquis [12 June 2020] par.267. The tribunal concluded that the Austria-Croatia BIT does not give rise to the same functional concerns, which the CJEU found to be present in the context of the Achmea Decision. Id. at par.269.

This indicates that intra-EU BITs whose applicable law is limited to the terms of the intra-EU BIT itself and general principles of international law are not incompatible with the EU law. Following this reasoning, it can be assumed that the tribunal would reach a different conclusion if the Austria-Croatia BIT included a provision expressly or impliedly incorporating EU law as the applicable law.

* * *

Some of the solutions implemented under the Termination Treaty may indeed be considered controversial. This is particularly the case with respect to the mode of termination of legal effects of sunset clauses, or more broadly, the retroactive effect of the Termination Treaty.

Investors may decide to seek protection under existing BITs concluded with non-EU states and, thereby, engage in the treaty shopping practice. It remains an open question whether such BITs will be affected by the Achmea Decision.

While the Achmea Decision argument has become a popular strategy for defendants in investment arbitration proceedings to challenge jurisdiction of arbitral tribunals, jurisprudence indicates that such arguments are generally rejected.

Although developments contained in mega-regional treaties, such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (available at http://bit.ly/2LXjQh3), may provide a model for the creation of standing investment court, which could replace the ISDS mechanism so far in place, the institutional design of the body must comply with the EU law in order to provide an effective alternative to domestic courts. In this regard, it is important to monitor development of the EU’s initiative concerning the so-called Investment Court System, which could be further developed into a Multilateral Investment Court.

* * *

Krzysztof Wierzbowski is a Senior Partner at Eversheds Sutherland Wierzbowski in Warsaw, Poland. He is a member of the CPR European Advisory Board, which provides EAB posts for CPR Speaks. Aleksander Szostak LL.M. is a lawyer at Eversheds Sutherland Wierzbowski.

[END]