Roundup: Legislation with Mediation or Arbitration…Maybe for the future?

By Elena Gurevich

According to Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, and Govtrack.us, an organization that tracks legislation and votes, several bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate this year that touch upon arbitration or mediation.

Out of five bills introduced, only one deals with mediation as well as arbitration. Although (according to Govtrack) it is highly unlikely that these bills will be passed by the present Congress, they might get a shot in the future under a different Congress.

H.R. 156—Labor Relations First Contract Negotiations Act of 2017. The bill, introduced on Jan. 3 by Rep. Gene Green, D., Texas, has a prognosis of passage of 1%, according to Govtrack, whose projection estimates are supplied by Skopos Labs, a New York software company. The bill amends the National Labor Relations Act to address initial contract negotiation. Specifically, the bill requires mediation if an employer and a newly certified union have not reached a collective bargaining agreement within 60 days. “Either the employer or the union may request binding arbitration if the parties have not reached an agreement within 30 days of selecting a mediator.”

See https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/156.

H.R. 832—Arbitration Transparency Act of 2017, with a 3% chance of passage, requires that an arbitration proceeding between a consumer and a financial institution, in a dispute involving a consumer financial product or service, must be open to the public. It was introduced Feb. 2 by Rep. Michael Capuano, D., Mass.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/832?r=10

H.R. 1374—Arbitration Fairness Act of 2017 was introduced on March 7. The bill prohibits a predispute arbitration agreement from being valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson, D., Ga., has a 3% chance of passing, according to Govtrack.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1374?r=7

  1. 542—Safety Over Arbitration Act of 2017 was introduced on March 7, with a current prognosis of 9%. The Congress.gov summary says the bill “prohibits the use of arbitration whenever a contract between an individual and another party requires arbitration to resolve a claim or controversy alleging facts relevant to a hazard to public health or safety unless all parties to the controversy consent in writing after the controversy arises.” The sponsor is Sheldon Whitehouse, D., R.I.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/542?r=22

  1. 647—Mandatory Arbitration Transparency Act of 2017. The bill has only a 2% chance of passing in this Congress, according Govtrack and Skopos Labs. The bill amends U.S.C. Title 9 on arbitration. According to the Congress.gov summary, the bill “prohibits predispute arbitration agreements from containing a confidentiality clause regarding an employment, consumer, or civil rights dispute that could be interpreted to prohibit a party from: (1) making a communication in a manner such that the prohibition would violate a whistle-blower statute; or (2) reporting or making a communication about tortious conduct, unlawful conduct, or issues of public policy or public concern. But the prohibition shall not apply if a party can demonstrate a confidentiality interest that significantly outweighs the private and public interest in disclosure.” Richard Blumenthal, D., Conn., is the sponsor.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/647

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The author is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern.

A DOA Exception? California’s Law Revision Commission Looks to Reassess Mediation Confidentiality as Commenters Blast its Legislative Recommendation

By Russ Bleemer

The prospects for a new California mediation confidentiality law that would provide an exception allowing parties to introduce evidence in a post-ADR malpractice case faded this week in the face of a frank report by the state commission that proposed the change.

“The opposition to the [California Law Revision] Commission’s tentative recommendation can only be described as overwhelming,” concludes Barbara Gaal, chief deputy counsel to the California Law Revision Commission, in a 36-page report released Wednesday.  She adds, “It is not unanimous, but it is deep and widespread. California’s mediation confidentiality statute may differ from those in other jurisdictions, providing greater protection in some respects, but a broad range of stakeholder organizations and many individuals appear to be well-satisfied with that approach and offer many reasons for their position.”

The new Sept. 27 report provides 155 pages of comments on a proposal to amend the state’s evidence that the commission has studied since 2012.  (The commission’s analysis is at http://bit.ly/2xQBnON; the comments are collected at http://bit.ly/2x2Dx9Y.) The amendment would add a new Section 1120.5 to the California Evidence Code, titled “Alleged misconduct of lawyer when representing client in mediation context.”

Because of an absolutist approach by the state’s courts, concerns have been raised for years over malpractice cases.  The state courts have barred the introduction of materials made in preparation for and used at mediation sessions in most cases.

The approach has provided a boost to California’s strong mediation culture, but has left victims of attorney malpractice with tough—some say insurmountable–paths to proving their claims.

The many comments submitted on the tentative recommendation “include scattered words of praise or appreciation for the Commission, its staff, its process, and its work on this study,” Gaal writes, but “[i]n general, however, they do not have much positive to say about the Commission’s proposal.”

Gaal urges the members of the commission to go back to the drawing board—not necessarily re-do the commission’s work (“Relationship Between Mediation Confidentiality and Attorney Malpractice and Other Misconduct – Study K-402,” available at http://www.clrc.ca.gov/K402.html), but re-examine the reasons the study was undertaken, and whether the commission wants to proceed with a recommendation to the legislature.

She writes that the staff urges the commission members to “re-read” the tentative recommendation’s “key policy considerations at stake” in the study in assessing the criticisms.  (Direct access to the tentative recommendation is at http://bit.ly/2x2ePqr .)

The 15-page policy section emphasizes that protecting mediation confidentiality “rests on four key premises”: confidentiality promotes candor in mediation; candid discussions lead to successful mediation; successful mediation encourages future use of mediation to resolve disputes; and mediation use in resolving disputes is beneficial to society.

“The preparation of a Commission recommendation is not a popularity contest, but rather a quest to develop an analytically sound proposal that will serve the citizens of California well,” Gaal advices. “Nonetheless, the degree of opposition to the Commission’s proposal suggests that careful reexamination of the competing consideration is in order.”

If the commission elects to go forward with the tentative recommendation, Gaal notes that the commission’s staff will prepare a memo—presumably on the reasons for the proposal to be forwarded to the legislature—for the commission’s December meeting.

The commission’s efforts were examined extensively in Jeff Kichaven, A California Correction? Legislature Will Consider Allowing Attorney Malpractice Proof from Mediation,” 35 Alternatives 97 (July/August 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2sNUOm1), and “How California Intends to Recalibrate the Concept of Mediation Confidentiality,” 35 Alternatives 93 (June 2017)(available with a subscription or after login at www.cpradr.org at http://bit.ly/2sWyqr1).

Kichaven’s July/August Alternatives cover article, in which the Los Angeles mediator strongly backed the proposal, which will allow evidence from mediations pertaining to attorney malpractice to be introduced in litigation, was submitted as a comment.

The article also a comparatively rare show of support in the face of the avalanche of the “decidedly negative” reaction.  Among the reasons commenters opposed the proposal, according to the commission report:

  • It will undermine confidentiality;
  • It could harm mediation participants who are not parties to an attorney-client dispute
  • It will overburden the courts;
  • The proposed mediation confidentiality exception’s benefits are minimal compared to the downsides;
  • The exception “provides insufficient protection for mediator communications and will cause mediators to quit and mediator malpractice insurance rates to rise”;
  • It will threaten the stability of mediated settlements;
  • It would create the need to warn participants about the new proposed exception, “and that will create problems”;
  • It will hurt vulnerable groups;
  • It will affect attorneys disproportionately; and
  • It “is a trap for the unwary,” will yield unpredictable results, and unpredictable protection for mediation communications.”

“In light of the generally negative input on the tentative recommendation,” Chief Deputy Counsel Gaal writes, “the Commission should take a hard look at its options and consider how to proceed. While the Commission should not base its policy recommendations on political considerations, neither should it ignore practical reality. The goal of a Commission study is to achieve positive reform of the law. That requires the crafting of a balanced reform that has a realistic chance of enactment.” [Emphasis is in the original.]

The document lays out the Commission’s options: Proceed with the current proposal in the face of what likely will be strong legislative opposition; turn the tentative recommendation into an information report for the California Legislature without recommending or proposing legislation; limit the exception to the private attorney-client discussions in a mediation context, instead of allowing litigants to introduce communications from the proceedings itself, thereby shielding the mediator or its adversaries; develop an “informed consent approach” and circulate a revised tentative recommendation; or revisit all of the options raised in the study, including leaving the current law intact.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute. CPR Institute Fall 2017 Intern Angela Cipolla contributed to research.

 

How Patent Arbitration Fits in a Post-Grant World

When the Leahy–Smith America Invents Act took effect in September 2012, and introduced to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office post-grant trial proceedings, commentators said it could mean a drastic decline in the use of arbitration to decide patent disputes.

There was good reason for concern.  The proceedings were promised to be efficient and expeditious.  They provide third parties with an administrative opportunity—a trial process, to be sure, but an alternative to court litigation–to effectively and efficiently challenge validity in the USPTO of any patent claim.

The post-grant proceedings are an adversarial process before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, with a statutory one-year pendency from the date of initiation.

Post-grant proceedings provide what alternative processes frequently promise: They are faster and less expensive than traditional litigation.

But the proceedings–post-grant review and inter partes review—are limited to validity issues.

The market outcome has been that, instead of supplanting arbitration, the post-grant proceedings have proven to be a complementary process to ADR.

And, notes New York patent neutral Peter L. Michaelson in the cover story in the new March issue of Alternatives, patent arbitration, “where employed in appropriate situations and structured properly, will likely see increasing use.”

In his article, Michaelson notes that the issues in patent disputes, whatever the forum, often range well beyond challenges to the patent’s validity.  The USPTO’s post-grant proceedings are fundamentally different from arbitration and are not ADR substitutes, writes Michaelson, “and thus not likely to adversely affect the future use of arbitration to any significant extent.”

But how do post-grant proceedings and arbitration work together in defending a patent portfolio?  Obviously, if business considerations beyond validity are part of the claim, arbitration can come into play, rather than traditional litigation.

Using a generation-old conflict resolution tenet, author Michaelson says that patent arbitration requires proper structuring.  The invocation of arbitration to resolve a patent dispute involves “fitting the process to the fuss,” he writes.

“Once properly configured, an arbitral process can yield substantial cost and time efficiencies, along with other benefits unavailable through litigation.”

In his March Alternatives article, available later this week for free for CPR members after logging into CPR’s website here, and available by subscription here and at altnewsletter.com, Michaelson details those benefit.  He describes the steps needed to provide a patent arbitration forum that maximizes satisfying outcomes faster and at less cost than proceeding to court, and discusses the need for ADR when faced with more than a validity challenge.

The New Italian Mediation Law: Experimenting with a “Soft” Approach to Mandatory Mediation

By Giulio Zanolla, LL.M., Esq., CPR Speaks Contributor

GiulioMediation was first introduced as a prerequisite to litigation in the Italian legal system in 2011, when the government issued a decree to implement the EU Mediation Directive of 2008. This legislative measure sparked a mix of enthusiastic reactions and harsh criticisms that culminated with lawyer strikes against its implementation. In 2012, the mandatory provision of the mediation regulation was declared unconstitutional, but the Constitutional Court’s decision was based on the government’s lack of legislative legitimacy to impose the mandatory requirement, rather than on the illegitimacy of the mandatory requirement itself.

The heated debate on the mediation regulation continued inside and outside the rooms of policymakers and led the Italian Parliament to enact a law in 2013 re-introducing mandatory mediation for certain civil and commercial actions in a mitigated form. The new mediation law, which is not affected by the constitutionality issue of the previous regulation, aims to address the concerns brought by a sector of the legal community claiming that the prerequisite of participating in mediation prior to bringing a legal action unjustly burdens and restricts disputants’ rights to access to justice. Unlike the previous regulation, the new Italian mediation law mandates that parties in certain civil and commercial disputes attend only an initial information session with the mediator; it does not require parties to participate in an actual mediation process as a prerequisite to litigation. The parties remain free to opt out of the mediation before the actual process starts and without any consequence for refraining to continue in mediation.

Through the initial information session, the parties have an opportunity to learn about the mediation process and make an informed decision regarding whether to attempt an out-ofcourt resolution through mediation or to initiate litigation. The information session is free of charge, and parties who refuse to attend the session are subject to sanctions in the subsequent trial. Only if all the parties agree to proceed with mediation will the mediator formally commence the procedure and begin to facilitate discussions of the disputed issues. With the new Italian mediation law, the parties’ participation in the actual mediation process is fully voluntary. The parties’ only mandatory requirement is to educate themselves about the option of mediation through the initial information session.

Recent statistical data available from the Ministry of Justice regarding the first six months of 2014 demonstrates that more than 22 percent of all disputes for which the initial information meeting is mandatory and more than 50 percent of disputes mediated by deliberate initiative of the parties are resolved without recourse to court litigation. In a little over a year since enactment of the law, the benefits of the new law are tangible, not only for those parties who resolved their disputes without litigation, but also—and especially—for the overwhelmed Italian judicial system as a whole, and ultimately for all taxpayers.

Most important, each of the numerous information sessions and mediations that took place but did not result in settlement created a concrete opportunity for parties and attorneys to familiarize themselves with the mediation process and educate users about mediation, thus contributing to the development of the culture of mediation throughout the country.

If we believe that the principle of voluntariness is of fundamental value to the mediation process and if we agree that the need for user education is a critical element in the development of a culture of mediation, the Italian mediation law could represent a balanced solution to the question of how to promote the use of mediation through legislation. The next few years’ statistics will reveal whether the number of parties who choose to continue in mediation past the initial information session, and the concomitant overall settlement percentage, will grow thanks to an increased level of awareness and sophistication among mediation users.

Giulio Zanolla is an attorney, a mediator, an ADR instructor, and the author of the blog The Case for Mediation: An ADR Blog by Giulio Zanolla. This article was first published in the The Weinstein JAMS International Fellow Newsletter, Fall 2015. Mr. Zanolla can be reached at giulio@zanollamediation.com.

2016 Copyright of Giulio Zanolla, Esq. – All Rights Reserved

CFPB Decision Implicitly Recognizes Arbitration as Legitimate Alternative to Litigation

CFPB’s Decision Not to Bar Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Implicitly Recognizes Arbitration as Legitimate Alternative to Litigation

There has been much focus over the past years on mandatory arbitration clauses combined with class action waiver provisions that preclude parties from bringing claims on anything other than an individual basis. Earlier this month, in a move to protect consumers, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Arbitration Field Hearing announced the Bureau’s decision, following a study and report the CFPB published and issued to Congress earlier this year, to launch a rulemaking process to bar class action waivers in combination with consumer financial arbitration agreements,

Here’s what CFPB Director, Richard Cordray, had to say regarding the decision:

After carefully considering the findings of our landmark study, the Bureau has decided to launch a rulemaking process to protect consumers. The proposal under consideration would prohibit companies from blocking group lawsuits through the use of arbitration clauses in their contracts. This would apply generally to the consumer financial products and services that the Bureau oversees, including credit cards, checking and deposit accounts, certain auto loans, small-dollar or payday loans, private student loans, and some other products and services as well. …

 So what does this rulemaking process mean?

To start, the rules wouldn’t ban arbitration clauses altogether. Rather, they would require clauses to state that they don’t apply to cases filed as potential class-action lawsuits unless a judge denies class certification or a court dismisses the claims. Furthermore, the proposals would mandate that companies using arbitration clauses divulge records to the CFPB showing the claims filed by consumers and the awards issued — which may be made available to the public in an effort to ensure fairness and transparency of the arbitration process on behalf of the consumer. Should the proposal be adopted by the CFPB, new rules would apply to financial products overseen by the CFPB, including those cited by CFPB director, Cordray.

Many consumer groups are hailing the CFPB’s efforts as a victory for consumers. Still, the CFPB’s move is expected to face stiff opposition from the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the Minneapolis-based Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA International), a membership group of credit and collection industry firms as well as asset buyers, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates; and other business groups which, according to a recent New York Times article, maintain that “arbitration offers a more efficient but equally fair means for consumers to resolve complaints. These private proceedings, held outside court, provide the same opportunity for relief without the staggering legal bills, the groups say.”

According to CPR’s SVP of Product Development and Public Policy, Beth Trent, “While it’s difficult to tell the precise impact of the CFPB’s proposed rule, the CFPB’s decision not to bar mandatory arbitration clauses is quite telling. It implicitly recognizes that arbitration is a legitimate alternative to litigation, which is supported by the CFPB’s own data which shows that arbitration is a speedier process than class action litigation, that claim rates in class actions are low, and that average recovery per class member is low.”

“People generally prefer speedy resolution of their claims, and it’s not clear that individuals would necessarily choose to bring a class action,” Ms. Trent added. “That said, lawyers most often initiate class actions with only one, or a few named class representatives, and the vast majority of individuals have no choice regarding whether they are included in a proposed class. In fact, they may be entirely unaware that they are included in a class action at all. Ultimately, the impact of the proposed rule will be shaped, at least in part, by the business response to that rule. Most notably, whether businesses offer arbitration programs that meet standards of due process and consumer needs in a cost-effective manner.”

The next CFPB step is convening meetings of a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel, which will review the impact of the proposed regulation on small businesses.  The first such meeting is scheduled for Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, according to the CFPB Monitor, a blog published by the Philadelphia-based law firm Ballard Spahr.

Litigation Financiers: Explain Yourselves!

Litigation Financiers: Explain Yourselves!

By Russ Bleemer

Replies are due from litigation financing companies to a request by prominent U.S. senators on how the firms run their operations and earn their profits.

In a sweeping inquiry, the senators asked three financing firms about how they fund lawsuits and arbitrations, usually against big companies, in exchange for a share of the recovery.

Two of the firms are based in the United Kingdom, and a third in Australia.  All are affiliated with hedge funds.  The litigation financing firms, whose parents are publicly traded overseas, get most of their revenue from investing in U.S. litigation and arbitration cases.

The field has grown immensely in recent years, and U.S. regulation is a patchwork of court decisions, legal ethics rules, and state laws.

But this is the first time lawmakers in the nation’s capital have taken notice, and they are not happy with what they are seeing in the wake of the industry’s growth.

In a late August release, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R., Iowa, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R., Texas, issued three letters they had sent to the companies.  The letters were a deep dive into the companies’ operations, asking 12 expansive questions about the kinds of cases that the companies invest in, how much money the firms have advanced, and the names of the law firms they are backing.

Grassley and Cornyn—generally business-friendly conservatives—are clearly suspicious, and the questions may be precursors to regulating litigation financing.  In giving the firms until the middle of last month to produce the extensive replies the questions require, Grassley noted in a press release statement that:

Litigation speculation is expanding at an alarming rate. And yet, because the existence and terms of these agreements lack transparency, the impact they are having on our civil justice system is not fully known.  . . . It’s vitally important to our civil justice system that litigation decisions aren’t unduly influenced by third parties.

The senators’ concern is that the litigation financing firms are perpetuating courtroom fights and adding frivolous litigation to court dockets–even though at least one firm says it is backing fewer individual plaintiffs and leaning significantly toward financing business-to-business litigation conducted by big law firms.

The senators’ questions asked for the financing firms’ revenues for supporting arbitration matters, too, as well as whether the financing agreements include arbitration clauses.  The letters asked if the arbitration clauses cover disputes between the financing firms and the plaintiffs they back over whether the plaintiffs should settle their cases.

The Grassley/Cornyn inquiry picks up on long-running objections by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose tort-reform arm has blasted litigation financing since its U.S. emergence over the past decade.  But the letters are information requests, and not subpoenas; Grassley, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has not announced that he is considering hearing.

The senators asked for a reply by Sept. 18.  At this writing, neither Grassley nor Cornyn have released further information.  And only one of the three firms, Burford Capital, a U.K. firm incorporated in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, has issued a full public response. Noting that “[w]hat may be new about Burford is its introduction of professionalism and institutional specialization to the field,” the firm posted its lengthy Sept. 25 defense of litigation financing in response to the senators’ inquiries on its blog, here.

But for the litigation financing firms’ initial reactions, and more facts and figures as well the background that led to the Grassley/Cornyn letters, see the ADR Briefs feature, “Senators Want Explanations from Top Litigation Funding Firms,” in the October Alternatives (to be cited at 33 Alternatives 140 (October 2015)), which will be available on Oct. 6 HERE for free for CPR members and HERE for subscribers.  CPR membership information is available HERE, and Alternatives subscription information is available at www.altnewsletter.com.

Russ Bleemer is a CPR Consultant and the Editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives

Arbitration Fairness Act of 2015 (AFA): An Overly Simplistic Approach?

The Arbitration Fairness Act of 2015 (AFA), recently introduced by Senator Al Franken and Representative Hank Johnson, would amend the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. (FAA), to eliminate mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration clauses in employment, antitrust or civil rights matters—as well as all nearly all consumer contracts, for such things as cars, credit cards and cell phones. Allowing parties to agree to arbitration only after a dispute has arisen, the AFA would apply to “any dispute or claim that arises on or after” the date of AFA’s passing. The legislation would also give federal courts—instead of arbitrators—the authority to rule on an agreement’s validity and enforceability.

This is not the first legislative effort to narrow the use of pre-dispute arbitration agreements; somewhat similar bills were introduced in 2011 and then again in 2013, but neither made it out of committee. While some are applauding this step towards banning what they refer to as “forced” arbitration, others have expressed concerns that requiring parties to agree to arbitration only after a dispute has already arisen might take away the parties’ critical ability to utilize  arbitration preventatively, planning for it in order to avoid disputes in the first place. Others question the wisdom of transferring these responsibilities away from arbitrators and to an already beleaguered court system. Finally, while the AFA does not expressly prohibit businesses from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with other businesses, some question the  effect this might have on the enforceability of arbitration  in business contexts where there is potential consumer application.

Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) President & CEO Noah Hanft observed that, “Just as with litigation, there are circumstances where arbitration may be abused. But, if practiced properly and thoughtfully, as it should be, arbitration remains a  more effective, efficient and less costly way to resolve certain disputes—a result from which consumers can clearly benefit as well.”

Hanft concluded, “Care must be taken that any legislation aimed at protecting abuses in the use of arbitration not be  overly simplistic or condemn a practice that has brought real benefits in a multitude of circumstances around the world. Even advocates of tort reform that decry litigation abuses  don’t propose sweeping bans on certain types of litigation.”