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]

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.

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.

* * *

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.  

* * *

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]

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]

CPR Takes to the Web As ADR Continues in the Face of the Coronavirus Crisis

By Anne Muenchinger, Federica Romanelli & Michael Hotz

CPR on Monday hosted an online event, ADR in the Time of COVID-19: How Neutrals & Advocates Can Use Zoom for Mediations & Arbitrations, a 90-minute training dedicated to helping neutrals and advocates use the Zoom Professional online meeting platform, and how to integrate online tools into alternative dispute resolution practices.

Chicago-based attorney Thomas Valenti, an arbitrator and mediator who heads his own firm, and is a member of CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals, conducted the session.  Held via the platform he was discussing, Valenti showed more than 200 participants the ins and outs of Zoom Professional and how to adapt it for ADR-centric tools such as preliminary hearings, screening arbitration expert witnesses, and private party-mediator caucuses during interparty negotiations.

Monday’s lunchtime session was a follow-up to a March 17 online CPR Institute Mediation Committee where committee members, including Valenti, compared online platforms and electronic mediation techniques.

Details of both sessions are below, as well as information about an American Bar Association online ADR program held last week.

* * *

At the March 30 program, Valenti led a discussion centered around security issues, a key concern for neutrals in using online tools.  Valenti explained the many Zoom features that control access to information, including “end-to-end encryption” of meetings; identification processes; password protection for meetings; waiting rooms that control meeting attendance; the ability to lock meeting rooms once all parties are present, and auditory signals when someone enters or leaves the room.

Valenti discussed essential resources for guidance in the process of moving to an online forum, including  the ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Protocol on Cybersecurity in International Arbitration, which provides a framework for information security measures for individual arbitration matters. He also noted Zoom’s own white paper and documents on the subject.

Valenti strongly advised using the Protocol’s Schedule A, which contains a “Baseline Security Measures” checklist and provides neutrals with the right questions about their online practice. The spirit of the Protocol, he said, is to offer a framework within which neutrals can make decisions and best adjust online tools to their individual practices and client needs.

Valenti noted the CPR Institute’s participation in the Protocol’s construction by its Working Group. CPR representatives included Senior Vice President Olivier P. André, along with Hagit Elul of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and Micaela R.H. McMurrough, Covington & Burling, both New York-based partners at their respective firms.

Several Zoom features were explained and demonstrated, including breakout rooms, which can be used for private meetings and caucuses; screen sharing and white boards, which allow for information display or form filling on the spot, and document annotation by all attendees.

A recording of the session will be available soon on the CPR Institute’s new website Resources coronavirus clearinghouse page, ADR in the Time of COVID-19.

Valenti warned that users must recognize the potential shortcomings of online ADR. The assessment of body language will be limited, and there are no guarantees that there is no one sitting off camera or that the meeting is not being recorded.

Meeting participant Dean Burrell, of Morristown, N.J.’s Burrell Dispute Resolution, suggested a tactic he uses to deal with potential issues: He said he asks the parties to scan the room every so often to confirm no one else is present.

Another concern often raised is whether the session is being recorded; Valenti pointed out, however, that this concern is similar to any other mediation or arbitration with the use of smartphones. Hosts should acknowledge that the process is not perfect, but that risks can be minimized.  He said hosts should ask participants if someone else is in the room and not to record the session.

But beyond the  COVID-19 crisis, online ADR practice provides a useful tool for reducing costs and improving efficiency.

For arbitrators, online tools such as Zoom can help them stand out among tech-averse peers, and market themselves as having the ability to continue to push matters forward.

For mediators, online tools should be an addition to an experienced mediator’s set of skills, and can easily be used to set up documents, type in agendas, and set goals during a session. Hosts can also pass control to another party, and use different colors to identify each participant.

Valenti’s demonstration featured a video with Giuseppe Leone, founder of Virtual Mediation Lab, and showed that online mediation is not a new phenomenon. But the COVID-19 crisis is providing the ADR world with an opportunity to move itself forward with technology—not just as a substitute, but as a way to improve its practices.

Valenti recommended that the session host prepare all necessary documents beforehand and have them available on the host computer before beginning the online session, ready for display and sharing. Additionally, mediators should be more conscious about time when conducting an online, as the experience initially will be different from one in a physical space.

Hosts should also be conscious of the level of skill and familiarity that parties and counsel have with these online tools.

Valenti suggested using the initial pre-hearing conference, as set out under CPR Institute Administered Arbitration Rule 9.3, and in the 2019 CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes as an opportunity to test each participant’s level of comfort.

So an easy way to introduce online tools is to switch from a phone call to a video conference for the initial prehearing.

* * *

The genesis of Monday’s CPR members and neutrals-only Zoom training was CPR’s March 17th Mediation Committee meeting.

The Mediation Committee meeting featured two speakers–Kathleen Scanlon, Chief Circuit Mediator for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, and James South, Managing Director, Senior Consultant and Mediator for the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) in London—who presented their perspectives on a variety of mediation issues, including a comparative look at mediation practices on either side of the Atlantic, before focusing on mediating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Committee then heard how CAMP (the Second Circuit’s mediation and settlement program), CEDR, CPR and the New York District office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are dealing with mediations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathleen Scanlon began by discussing the benefits of Sonexis (see sonexis.com) as a conferencing system.  She explained that it delegates pin numbers to each participant and allows the mediator to create private rooms for each party and join them as needed. Parties can then notify the mediator when they want to talk with the mediator.

She said there hasn’t been too much difference, anecdotally, between the success rates of mediating in person and with teleconference. Still, the video/audio approach leads to more accidental interruptions. It also decreases the ability to read body language, which can affect trust. The teleconference process also can be more tiring for the mediator to manage.

CEDR’s James South then stated that he uses Zoom.  Meeting participant Thomas Valenti agreed, also recommending the business version of Zoom to conduct more complicated mediations—which prompted the Monday, March 30 session he led, discussed above.

The Mediation Committee meeting participants, who like the March 30 session also participated by Zoom, agreed that it is critical that the conferencing technology used complies with privacy and confidentiality rules like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (best known as the GDPR). It also was recommended that the parties should consult the ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Cybersecurity protocol.

James South noted that many mediations had been going on normally during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, but that he expected that to change over time. He said he has found that parties have been flexible, and been willing to move to video conferencing. He noted that he is unsure if this will survive the crisis, or is only due to the current state of affairs.

South, however, was confident that any reduction in mediation will return to normal levels.

* * *

Committee members then had a lengthy discussion of the issues surrounding the health crisis.  CPR Institute Senior Vice President Helena Tavares Erickson commented that she had provided to members of CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals a list of services that they could use to mediate effectively during the crisis.

Erickson noted that CPR Dispute Resolution Services offers its neutrals the option of using a secure document exchange, which allows for online text chat in different chat rooms. (For CPR Institute Dispute Resolution filing details, see www.cpradr.org/dispute-resolution-services/file-a-case.)

Meeting participant David Reinman, who is supervisory ADR coordinator of the New York District’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office, reported that his unit has a program that is currently handling all mediation by video or phone. The EEOC also is allowing parties to reschedule if they insist on in-person mediation. Parties who need translators or other special accommodations may invoke applicable proceedings, too.

Tom Valenti asked about screening procedures when conducting in-person mediations. It was noted that many law firms are forcing people to sign waivers stating that they hadn’t been in at-risk places. Given current advisories and shutdowns, however, it’s unclear that such waivers are effective. If parties want to continue doing face-to-face mediation—which has ceased entirely in many shutdown locations for the duration of the emergency–best practice would be to state that they haven’t been in contact with anyone who is infected.

Meeting participants noted, however, such mandatory declarations on disclosing other parties’ infection status could potentially violate HIPAA rules.

Various other online platforms and training options were compared among the participants near the meeting’s conclusion.

* * *

Beyond CPR’s online training event and meeting, and the resources noted, including the new CPR Institute website Resources clearinghouse page, ADR in the Time of COVID-19, others in the legal world and the dispute resolution community have tackled the move online.

For example, the American Bar Association webcasted a panel of experts on continuing with mediations, arbitrations and similar ADR commitments while coping with coronavirus.

The 90-minute March 20 web panel, “ODR in the ERA of COVID-19: Experts Answer Your Questions,” featured panelists including Hamline-Mitchell School of Law Prof. David Larson; online dispute resolution pioneer Colin Rule, who is a Stanford Law School lecturer, and University of Missouri School of Law Prof. Amy Schmitz. It also was hosted on Zoom.

The panelists shared a presentation while providing useful links on a side chat and taking Q&A from the attendees on another window—an electronic version of social distancing that has been repeated, and is rapidly become an ADR standard operating procedure.

The panel provided a list of advice for neutrals wanting to add tech tools to their toolbox.  It focused on accessibility; preparing lists; ensuring a competent approach; accessing live assistance as needed; analyzing online providers (see, e.g., http://odr.info/provider-list/); taking stock of the role for non-verbal communication; assessing whether the disputants will communicate synchronously; confidentiality; considerations for designing an ODR system; ensuring fairness; and ethical considerations.

The ABA panel concluded on ODR resources, providing the following links:

  • Cyberweek 2019; the NCTDR hosts Cyberweek annually at its website.
  • com, a collaborative resource guide.
  • Amy J. Schmitz and Colin Rule, The New Handshake: Where We Are Now (June 27, 2017). International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution 2016 (3) 2; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2991821

* * *

Muenchinger is a CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern, and an LLM student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, focused on the March 30 session discussed in this article.  The section on the CPR Mediation Committee meeting was prepared by CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern Michael Hotz. The section on the ABA seminar was prepared by CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern Federica Romanelli. Alternatives’ editor Russ Bleemer assisted with the research and writing.

 

 

CPR COVID-19 Update

The COVID-19 virus has affected all aspects of our daily lives, and we at CPR continue to monitor developments that affect our staff, members, neutrals and those to whom we provide services. We are assessing the situation daily and monitoring all recommendations from the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local authorities. We encourage you to do the same.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

CPR has communicated with the appropriate parties about best practices and recommended safety guidelines, both with regards to our personal habits and CPR’s physical office space.

We do ask that our staff and any visitors exercise caution and good judgment and not come into our office when they are sick or experiencing symptoms such as runny or stuff nose, fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches, chills or fatigue. If there is any doubt, we advise erring on the side of caution and would be happy to assist via phone or other (e.g., videoconferencing) means.

CPR PROGRAMMING AND EVENTS

While some events scheduled for the near term are, out of an abundance of caution, in the process of being rescheduled, others have already been seamlessly transformed to online proceedings. For some time now, all CPR committee meetings already have offered a virtual component (i.e., with video or audio conferencing) so that programming will not change for the immediate future – and there are some great meetings scheduled, on timely topics.

For example, next week our Mediation Committee will be hosting a panel discussion on comparisons between domestic and international mediation. Our panelists have updated their presentation to include a discussion on how mediators are adapting to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and abroad. We are also going to hold our Employment Committee’s Post-Epic Systems panel discussion at the end of March via video conference as well. Given that CPR’s membership spans the world, our members are able to participate remotely – and robustly – in committee programming. 

BUSINESS AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION SERVICES CONTINUITY

CPR has planned and prepared for situations such as these. Our New York office remains open and operational. However, should the need arise, our staff is prepared to work securely and remotely.

In the event it becomes necessary for us to temporarily close our physical office, rest assured that CPR Dispute Resolution can and will operate virtually, offering our full suite of dispute prevention and resolution services without interruption.

“ALTERNATIVE ADR” – ONLINE AND OTHER RESOURCES

As more and more companies restrict travel and communities restrict travel and large gatherings, questions have also arisen as to alternatives to face-to-face arbitration hearings or mediations. We urge parties and neutrals to discuss these issues as they arise, and CPR has taken steps to help parties and neutrals address these challenges. Specifically, we have arranged for CPR’s neutrals to have access to a secure online platform for the management of mediations and single arbitrator cases.

We also encourage anyone utilizing video or online venues or processes to review The ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Protocol on Cybersecurity in International Arbitration (2020 Edition).

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns, or if there is an issue here we have not addressed. We are all part of the same dispute prevention and resolution community, and look forward continuing to support one another as we navigate this situation, together.  Please stay safe and healthy.

Ecuador’s Plea for Mediation in the Assange Standoff

By Ginsey Varghese

In early January, Ecuador Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa indicated interest in mediation by a “third country or personality” to resolve the asylum case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Assange has been living in Ecuador’s embassy in London since June 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden on a rape charge. Paulina Dedaj, “Assange asylum ‘not stable,’ Ecuadorian embassy says,” Fox News (Jan. 9) (available at http://fxn.ws/2DX3Vaq).

The Swedes are no longer pursuing the case, but the United States still may want Assange extradited in connection with the WikiLeaks publication of U.S. military information.

Today, a U.K. court denied Assange’s request to invalidate the arrest warrant for him, after his lawyers argued that there was no need for extradition since the original charges in Sweden had been dropped.  “Julian Assange arrest warrant still stands, court rules,” BBC News (Feb. 6)(available at http://bbc.in/2GT7obb). The request was denied.

The BBC earlier reported that Assange’s current arrangement is unsustainable. “A person cannot live in those conditions forever,” Espinosa said. “Julian Assange: Ecuador seeks mediator in ‘unsustainable standoff,’” BBC News (Jan. 9) (available at http://bbc.in/2DZYc3S).

Assange earned notoriety in 2010 when WikiLeaks released confidential materials about U.S. military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, which included helicopter video of civilians being killed in Iraq, diplomatic correspondence of underground negotiations and classified documents about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Liam Stack, Nick Cumming-Bruce & Madeleine Kruhly, “Julian Assange: A Legal History.”  N.Y. Times (Updated Jan. 26)(available at http://nyti.ms/2mZAywg).

There are rumors of a secret U.S. arrest and extradition warrant for his connection to exposing U.S. state secrets if he leaves the embassy. Maggy Ayala & Steven Erlanger, “Ecuador Gives Assange Citizenship Worsening Standoff with Britain.” N.Y. Times (Jan 11) (available at http://nyti.ms/2EzDfvk).

Assange fears prosecution by the United States, and British officials have not provided any assurances that he would not be extradited. Alexandra Valencia, “Ecuador says exploring mediation to solve Assange standoff,” Reuters (Jan. 9)(available at http://reut.rs/2DHNEpB).

CNN earlier reported that the British police maintain an arrest warrant for Assange because he jumped bail after the British Supreme Court denied his extradition appeal. Jason Hanna, “Swedish court refuses to revoke Julian Assange’s arrest warrant,” CNN (Nov. 20, 2014) (http://cnn.it/1r0v79Y). See also Ana Melgar, Jamie Grey, and Kara Fox, “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange granted Ecuadorian citizenship,” CNN (Jan 11) (http://cnn.it/2D3H4wT).

Assange described the situation since his arrest as a “terrible injustice.” Robert Booth, “Julian Assange’s stay in London’s embassy untenable, says Ecuador,” Guardian (Jan. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2CLUs4B).

When Ecuador initially granted asylum to Assange, he was viewed as a political hero by many for opposing “US imperialism”; but today, with his interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Assange’s supporter base has shifted to “hard-right nationalists,” according to the Guardian‘s James Ball, “The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride,” Guardian (Jan. 10)(available at http://bit.ly/2DguTtu).

Reuters earlier quoted Espinosa, who stated, “No solution can be reached without international cooperation and without cooperation from the United Kingdom.”

The Guardian noted that Assange’s lawyer appeared to welcome Ecuador’s mediation proposal, and emphasized that the U.K should “respect[] its human rights obligations and commitments to the United Nations.”

But UK government countered that Assange should leave the embassy and face justice.

The diplomatic standstill has only worsened with Ecuador’s grant of citizenship to Assange last month, a decision that Ecuador Foreign Minister Espinosa explained was made after careful review of Ecuador’s obligations under Ecuadorean law and international law, according to the New York Times.

Ecuador’s “mediation” pitch may be a route to resolution, but so far, the stalemate continues.

The author is a CPR Institute 2018 intern. She is a law student at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, Calif.