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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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

By Alice Albl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END]

Supreme Court Rejects Decade-Old Class Arbitration Employment Discrimination Case

By Cristina Carvajal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

[END]

Dispositive Motions in Arbitration: Authority, Rules and Practical Tips

head shot 1By Janice L. Sperow

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

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

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

The Parties’ Contract

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

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

Post-Dispute Agreement

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

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

The Arbitral Forum’s Rules

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

The AAA Dispositive Motion Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CPR’s Dispositive Motion Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

CPR’s Dispositive Motion Guidelines

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

Court Approval & Inherent Authority

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

Types of Dispositive Motions

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________

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

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

By Alice Albl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

[END]

A Look Ahead: The Supreme Court’s Arbitration Docket in Focus

In a preview of the September issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, author Heather Cameron discusses the arbitration year at the U.S. Supreme Court with editor Russ Bleemer.

The article wraps up the Court year ended this summer, and previews the new fall 2020-2021 term. [UPDATE: The article is now available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/alt.21852.]

The subject, of course, is the Court’s seemingly favorite business topic, arbitration. 

In this video preview of the article, which will be available at altnewsletter.com on or around Sept. 1, Heather first looks at the GE Energy case, the sole Supreme Court arbitration opinion issued in the last term. GE Energy, which was decided June 1, is about international arbitration practice, an area the Court doesn’t visit often. Heather discusses why the opinion’s guidance is intertwined with the factor the Court avoided discussing, arbitration costs.

Next, Heather looked ahead to the term that starts in October, to the Schein case.  Schein was just decided last year, and now the same case is back on another similar arbitration point.  See our most recent CPR Speaks blog post on the case here.

Finally, in the video and the article, Heather fills us in on a case the Court rejected, and tell us why maybe the Court shouldn’t have declined the case and why its effects are a crucial practice point for arbitration advocates and, especially, neutrals.

Second Circuit: No U.S. Discovery for Private International Arbitration

By Yixian Sun

Does 28 U.S.C. §1782(a), which authorizes “any interested person” in a proceeding before a “foreign or international tribunal” to ask for and receive discovery from a person in the United States, cover private international arbitration tribunals? (Full text available at https://bit.ly/3fvtr8z .)

This is a hot issue in the arbitration world, with cases sprinkled throughout the federal courts. In the latest decision, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held last week that arbitration isn’t covered by Section 1782. In re Application and Petition of Hanwei Gup for an Order to take Discovery for Use in a Foreign Proceeding Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1782 (Guo v. Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.), No. 19-781, 2020 WL 3816098 (2d Cir. July 8, 2020), as amended (July 9, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/38SLd) (Guo).

And that move aggravates a circuit split created in recent months that points to the U.S. Supreme Court in an area that a year ago was considered settled law.

For more than two decades, the answer to the question on Section 1782’s applicability to private arbitral tribunals has been a firm “no.” In National Broadcasting Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co., 165 F.3d 184 (2nd Cir. 1999) (available at https://bit.ly/2UcWfdq) (“NBC”), the Second Circuit held that the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” does not encompass “arbitral bod[ies] established by private parties,” id. at 191. The Fifth Circuit quickly reached the same conclusion in Republic of Kazakhstan v. Biedermann Int’l, 168 F.3d 880 (5th Cir. 1999) (available at https://bit.ly/3gViPB0).

But the tide is turning. In 2019 and 2020, the Sixth Circuit and Fourth Circuit each decided that a private, party-contracted international arbitration panel constituted “tribunals” under Section 1782, in In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings (Abdul Latif Jameel Transp. Co. v. FedEx Corp.), 939 F.3d 710 (6th Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2AFPIB9) and Servotronics Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d 209 (4th Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3h7s0P8), thereby breaking with its sister circuits.

In the new July/August edition of Alternatives, and in an online discussion with Alternatives’ Editor Russ Bleemer, John B. Pinney, a senior trial lawyer at Graydon, in Cincinnati, provided an in-depth explanation on the changing landscape on this seemingly settled legal issue. See CPR Speaks for the discussion, the article, and links to the cases, at https://bit.ly/3gxyPIG.

Lying in the background of this debate is Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004) ((available at https://bit.ly/2zamp9C), the only Section 1782 case considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Intel, writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg held that the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition constituted a “foreign or international tribunal” within the meaning of Section 1782.

Intel did not directly address the issue of whether a private international tribunal is a “foreign or international tribunal.” Ginsberg’s opinion, however, cited a 1965 law review article written by Columbia Law School’s Professor Hans Smit, who has participated in the amendment of Section 1782: “the term ‘tribunal’ … includes investigating magistrates, administrative and arbitral tribunals, and quasi-judicial agencies, as well as conventional civil, commercial, criminal, and administrative courts.” Id. at 248-49 (citing Hans Smit, International Litigation Under the United States Code, 65 Colum. L. Rev. 1015, 1026, n.71 (1965)).

The Intel court’s favorable reference to Smit’s expanded interpretation of “foreign or international tribunals” was used by the Sixth Circuit as an additional support of its inclusion of private international arbitration under Section 1782. In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 724.

This fact was also heavily relied upon by the petitioner in the new Second Circuit Guo decision. As noted, the panel rejected the petitioner’s reasoning, and concluded that “nothing in the Supreme Court’s Intel decision alters [its] prior conclusion in NBC that §1782 (a) does not extend to private international commercial arbitrations.” In re Guo, at *2.

* * *

In 2018, Hanwei Guo initiated arbitration against Guomin Xie, Tencent Music, and several other entities before the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, best known as CIETAC. Id. at *4.

According to Guo, Xie and other respondents, through a series of fraudulent transactions, led him into selling his shares in the companies that later became part of Tencent Music for less than the shares allegedly were worth. Guo asked for compensation and asked to have his equity stake restored. The parties selected an arbitral panel in April 2019, and the matters are still pending. Id. at *3-5.

In December 2018, Guo filed a petition for discovery for information from four underwriters related to Tencent Music’s IPO pursuant to Section 1782 in New York’s  Southern District Court. Following the NBC precedent and determining that the nature of CIETAC is closer to a “private arbitral body,” the SDNY denied Guo’s application in February 2019. In re Application of Hanwei Guo for an Order to Take Discovery for Use in a Foreign Proceeding Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782, 2019 WL 917076, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2019).

The Second Circuit affirmed last week. According to the panel, private international commercial arbitrations are still barred from proceedings under Section 1782 even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Intel decision. The panel also determined that the arbitration before CIETAC is indeed a “non-covered, private, international commercial arbitration.” In re Guo, at *1-2.

Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Debra A. Livingston offered several reasons in defending why NBC remains good law.

The Second Circuit recounted the NBC-Intel history, and tackled the recent Fourth and Sixth Circuit cases going the other way, finding that Section 1782 applied to private arbitrations. 

Judge Livingston noted that the Intel court’s “fleeting reference” of “arbitral tribunals” is merely dicta. Id. at *17. Even if this reference had any legal significance, she added that under Section 1782, “‘arbitral tribunals’ does not necessarily encompass private tribunals,” because even Prof. Smit stated that “an international tribunal owes both its existence and its powers to an international agreement.” Id. (Quoting Hans Smit, Assistance Rendered by the United States in Proceedings Before International Tribunals, 62 Columbia L. Rev. 1264, 1267 (1962); the opinion also points to NBC, 165 F.3d at 189 (citing Smit’s 1962 article)).

Moreover, according to the Second Circuit panel, the legislative history does not warrant recognition of private international arbitration as “tribunals” under Section 1782. While Congress introduced the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” in order to expand the provision’s earlier formulation (which permitted for assistance only for “judicial proceeding[s] in any court in a foreign country”), a survey of House and Senate reports did not reveal the legislators’ intention to promote a “much more dramatic expansion into private arbitration.” Id. at *18-19. (Emphasis is the Second Circuit’s.)

The Second Circuit then found that the CIETAC arbitration did not qualify as an arbitration under a state-sponsored adjudicatory body, noting that “district court correctly concluded that the CIETAC arbitration is a private international commercial arbitration outside the scope of § 1782(a)’s ‘proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal’ requirement.”

In doing so, Judge Livingston analyzed whether “the [arbitral] body in question possesses the functional attributes most commonly associated with private arbitration.”

Several factors were taken into account. First, CIETAC, evolving from a government-sponsored entity, now “possesses a high degree of independence and autonomy” in its administration of arbitral cases, “and, conversely, a low degree of state affiliation.” Id. at *21-22.

Second, the power possessed by the Chinese government to “intervene to alter the outcome of an arbitration after the [CIETAC] panel has rendered a decision” is limited. In fact, such power is similar to that possessed by a U.S. court in setting aside or enforcing a private arbitration award under the Federal Arbitration Act and its incorporation of the New York Convention on the enforcement of international arbitration awards. Id. at *22-24.

Third, the CIETAC panel derives its jurisdiction “exclusively from the agreement of the parties,” rather than “any governmental grant of authority.” Id. at *24.

Finally, the ability of the parties to select their own arbitrators further suggests the private status of the CIETAC arbitration. Id. at *24-25.

* * *

The Second Circuit’s ruling mirrors the Fifth Circuit opinion in El Paso Corp. v. La Comision Ejecutiva Hidroelectrica Del Rio Lempa, 341 F. App’x 31 (5th Cir. 2009) (unpublished) (Available at https://bit.ly/3gXOTU7). There, the Fifth Circuit held that Intel has no negative effect on its Biedermann analysis, and concluded that a private Swiss arbitral tribunal did not constitute a “tribunal” within Section 1782. Id. at *34.

Judge Livingston also responded to the more-recent contrary rulings made by the Sixth and the Fourth Circuits. She pointed out that the Sixth Circuit never said that Intel compels a ruling allowing discovery for private arbitration. Rather, it held that such a way of understanding “was merely consistent” with Intel. In re Guo, at *17 (emphasis is the Second Circuit’s); see also In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 725-26.

The Fourth Circuit’s Servotronics opinion, on the other hand, was based on the finding that the U.K. arbitration at issue was a “product of government-conferred authority,” thereby falling into the same framework as the Second and the Fifth Circuits which limited § 1782 to tribunals “acting with the authority of the State.” In re Guo at *14 (quoting Servotronics, 954 F.3d at 214).

Indeed, the Intel decision neither compelled, nor rejected, the inclusion of private international commercial arbitration under Section 1782.

Therefore, before a directly on-point Supreme Court opinion, lower courts are free to make their own judgments, according to their own statutory construction methodologies, policy considerations, and factors considered in determining the nature of a foreign tribunal.

The Second Circuit relies more on legislative history in understanding the scope of “tribunals,” but the Sixth Circuit uses a textualist approach and looks into the usage of “tribunals” in legal writings. Compare In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 726-28, with In re Guo at *18-19.

The Second Circuit fears that allowing discovery would decrease the efficiency and the cost-effectiveness of private arbitration, whereas the Sixth Circuit appear to dismiss such concerns. Compare In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 728, with In re Guo at *11. The Second Circuit believes that the fact that arbitrations are sanctioned, regulated and judicially supervised by the national authority does not suffice to make them “state-sponsored,” while the Fourth Circuit holds the contrary. Compare Servotronics, Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d at 214-15, with In re Guo at *21-26.

* * *

One thing seems to be certain. A Supreme Court response is strongly called for. In a motion to stay issuance of the mandate, Rolls-Royce, the appellee in the Fourth Circuit’s Servotronics decision, represented that it intended to file a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Now that the Second Circuit refuses to change its position, author John Pinney predicted that the odds of the Supreme Court granting certiorari would increase. John B. Pinney, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (July/August 2020) (available in multiple formats at https://bit.ly/2ZwUt8N).

Other commentators, share similar expectations with Pinney. See, e.g., David Zaslowsky, “Second Circuit Holds That Section 1782 Discovery is Not Available in Aid of Private International Commercial Arbitration,” Global Arbitration News (July 10, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2CDUzne). Stay tuned for the next development.

* * *

The author, a second-year Harvard Law School student, is a 2020 CPR Institute Summer Intern.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court Allow Discovery in Private International Arbitrations?

By Russ Bleemer

Under federal circuit court case law, 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) did not include private international arbitration tribunals under its provisions for ““Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals.”

In other words, “foreign and international tribunals” didn’t include arbitrations.

Suddenly, last fall, that court view began to change, and an esoteric and once-sedentary point of law is facing upheaval. 

In an article in the new July/August issue of Alternatives, and in the video above, John B. Pinney of Graydon in Cincinnati explains how seemingly settled law has erupted into six federal circuit court cases, and is about to be put before the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on a cert petition.

Will the nation’s top Court take up the matter?

John ties together the cases and sets out the prospects on whether the Court will decide to incorporate arbitral tribunals into the §1782 definition in his just-posted article, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (available in multiple formats at https://bit.ly/2ZwUt8N; see altnewsletter.com for full issues and archives).

He also discusses in the video and the article the practice implications—what arbitrators, arbitration users, and providers need to do now in the wake of the evolving caselaw.

* * *

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, on publisher CPR Institute’s website here, and on the Wiley Online Library at altnewsletter.com.