New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part II)

loreejrII

By Philip J. Loree Jr.

Part I of this post discussed how the Second and Fifth Circuits, in  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), and 20/20 Comms. Inc. v. Lennox Crawford, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-10260 (5th Cir. July 22, 2019), suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability (a/k/a the “Clear and Unmistakable Rule”).

Under this Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule, courts consider the merits of an underlying arbitrability issue as part of their analysis of whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability issues.

But the Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception runs directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 524 (January 8, 2019), and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein. 139 S. Ct. at 527-28, 529-31.

This Part II analyzes and discusses how Met Life and 20/20 Comm. effectively made an end run around Schein and considers what might have motivated those Courts to rule as they did.

Making an End Run Around Schein?

When, prior to 20/20 Comm. we wrote about Met Life, we said it “an important decision because it means in future cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.” (See here. )

But after the Fifth Circuit decided 20/20 Comm. this July, in comments we made to Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, the Newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (“CPR”)—which were reproduced with our consent in Mr. Zhan Tze’s CPR Speaks blog article about 20/20 Comm. (here)—we expressed the belief that the Fifth Circuit was (whether intentionally or unintentionally) making an end run around Schein, effectively creating an exception to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule.

After analyzing 20/20 Comm. and comparing it to the Second Circuit’s Met Life decision, we concluded that the Second Circuit’s decision also ran counter to Schein.

Schein’s Abrogation of the “Wholly Groundless Exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule

In Schein the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the so-called “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule. Prior to Schein certain courts, including the Fifth Circuit, held that even when parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, courts could effectively circumvent the parties’ agreement and decide for itself arbitrability challenges that it determined were “wholly groundless.”

The rationale Schein used to jettison the “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule is incompatible with the rationales the Second and Fifth Circuit used to support their decisions in Met Life and 20/20 Comm.

Under FAA Section 2, the Schein Court explained, “arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms.” Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 529 (citation omitted). When those contracts delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator, “a court may not override the contract[,]” and has “no power to decide the arbitrability issue.” 139 S. Ct. at 529. That is so even where a Court “thinks that the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is wholly groundless.” 139 S. Ct. at 529.

Schein explained that its conclusion was supported not only by the FAA’s text, but also by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Citing and quoting cases decided under Section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act, the Court explained that courts may not “‘rule on the potential merits of the underlying’ claim that is assigned by contract to an arbitrator, ‘even if it appears to the court to be frivolous[,]’” and that “[a] court has “‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’” because the “‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’” 139 S. Ct. at 529 (quoting AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 649–650 (1986) and Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960)).

This “principle,” said the Schein Court, “applies with equal force to the threshold issue of arbitrability[]”—for “[j]ust as a court may not decide a merits question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator, a court may not decide an arbitrability question that the parties have delegated to an arbitrator.” 139 S. Ct. at 530.

Exception to Clear and Unmistakable Rule? Why the Second and Fifth Circuit Decisions Conflict with Schein

Both the Second Circuit and Fifth Circuit decided that the parties before them did not clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability because each Court believed that there was not even a barely colorable basis for a court or an arbitrator to find that the underlying dispute should be submitted to arbitration. In other words, both courts focused on contractual provisions governing the merits of the arbitrability dispute rather than confining their analysis to the terms of the contract dealing directly with whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

In Met Life the Court decided the merits of the underlying arbitrability issue before analyzing whether the provisions of the contract directly pertinent to the arbitration of arbitrability did or did not clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability to the arbitrators. The Court quite correctly found it implausible that the parties agreed to arbitrate a dispute that arose years after one of the parties had left the NASD and was not a member of FINRA.

But that was a conclusion about the merits of the arbitrability dispute, not about whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability disputes. The Clear and Unmistakable Rule turns solely on whether the parties clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability questions to the arbitrator, irrespective of what the merits of those arbitrability questions may be.

In 20/20 Comm. the Court’s focus was on the parties’ broad class arbitration waiver. Class arbitration waivers are ordinarily dispositive of the merits of whether the parties consented to class arbitration, but the class arbitration waiver in 20/20 Comm., like most or all others we’ve seen, says nothing about who decides whether or not the parties consented to class arbitration.

Had the Fifth Circuit not focused on the class arbitration waiver, and instead on the three provisions directly relating to arbitrability, then it could have easily found that the parties clearly and unmistakably delegated class arbitration consent issues to the arbitrator.

The so-called “exception language” in those provisions (see Part I, here) was quite beside the point. There is nothing “inconsistent” with an arbitrator, rather than a court, deciding the effect of the class arbitration waiver, no matter how clear it may be that the outcome will, or at least should, be an arbitral determination that the parties did not consent to class arbitration.

Exception to Clear and Unmistakable Rule?Second Circuit Attempted to Distinguish Schein, but Fifth Circuit did not

The Second Circuit articulated the reasons it believed that Schein did not foreclose its examination of the merits of the arbitrability issue before it, but the Fifth Circuit did not address Schein.

The Second Circuit said “[t]he point of the [Schein] opinion was that, where the parties have agreed to submit arbitrability to arbitration, courts may not nullify that agreement on the basis that the claim of arbitrability is groundless.” Met Life, slip op. at 24 (emphasis in original). The Court said it “reject[s] [A’s] claim for arbitration of arbitrability not because” it considers the “claim of arbitrability” to be “groundless[,]” but “because, upon consideration of all evidence of the intentions of the arbitration agreement, including the groundlessness of [A’s] claim of arbitrability, the agreement does not clearly and unambiguously provide for arbitration of the question of arbitrability.” Met Life, slip op. at 25. That “reasoning is based on the parties’ contract, and not based on any exception to what the parties have contracted for.” Met Life, slip op. at 25.

The Fifth Circuit might have made the same or a similar argument, but said nothing about whether it thought its decision was consistent with Schein.

While the Second Circuit’s reasoning was theoretically sound, it doesn’t hold up in practice. Apart from questions concerning the existence of the contract, the merits of most, if not all, arbitrability questions turn in large part on the language of the parties’ contract. That was certainly the case in both Met Life and 20/20 Comm.

Under the reasoning of those cases, however, the language directly relating to the question whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability must be viewed in conjunction with the language of the contract bearing on the merits of the arbitrability dispute. If the language pertinent to the merits of the arbitrability issue suggests that the parties did not agree to arbitrate the dispute (or did not consent to class arbitration), then under the Second and Fifth Circuits’ reasoning, that conclusion weakens (or eliminates) the inference that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

Met Life and 20/20 Comm. Contravene the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in Schein

The Met Life/20-20 Comm. analytical regime effectively revives—and potentially might even expand the scope of—the “wholly groundless exception” that the U.S. Supreme Court laid to rest in Schein. Remember that disputes about arbitrability of arbitrability can be analytically broken down into at least four separate questions: (a) what the dispute on the merits is; (b) does that dispute raise a question of arbitrability, which is ordinarily decided by the court; (c) if so, did the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability disputes (i.e, does the Clear and Unmistakable Rule apply); and (d) what is the outcome of the dispute on the merits that the proper decisionmaker should reach once he or she decides it?

The Clear and Unmistakable Rule is concerned only with question (c), above, that is, did the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability disputes? The “wholly groundless exception” to the Clear and Unmistakable Rule—and the analytical regime imposed by the Second and Fifth Circuits—focuses not only on  question (c), above, but simultaneously considers question (d), that is, what is the outcome on the dispute on the merits that the proper decisionmaker should reach?

Assuming the dispute on the merits is a question of arbitrability (as was the case in Schein, Met Life, and 20/20 Comm.), if the provisions of the parties’ agreement suggest that there is only one proper outcome that a decisionmaker should reach on the merits of the arbitrability dispute—the subject of question (d), above— then a Court following Met Life and 20/20 Comm. would be more chary about concluding the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability—the subject of question (c), above.

Schein forecloses any consideration of the merits of the arbitrability issue (question (d), above), limiting the scope of the Court’s analysis to whether the parties’ clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability (question (c), above).

Schein explains that, if the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to arbitrate arbitrability disputes, then courts should direct the parties to arbitrate the arbitrability issue. Just as it is with any other arbitrable issue, judicial review is postponed until the final award stage, and is limited to the grounds enumerated by Section 10 of the FAA, including manifest disregard of the agreement under Section 10(a)(4), and, in Circuits which recognize it (such as the Second—but not the Fifth—Circuit) manifest disregard of the law.

In Schein the proponent of the “wholly groundless exception” argued that the “back-end judicial review” available if an arbitrator “exceeds his or her powers” impliedly authorizes courts to determine that an arbitrability question is “wholly groundless” and obviates the need to submit the arbitrability question to arbitration. Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 530. But the Supreme Court said “[t]he dispositive answer to [the “wholly groundless exception” proponent’s] §10 argument is that Congress designed the Act in a specific way, and it is not our proper role to redesign the statute.”  Schein, 139 S. Ct. at 530.

The Schein Court further explained that acceptance of the “wholly groundless exception” proponent’s “argument would mean. . . that courts presumably also should decide frivolous merits questions that have been delegated to an arbitrator.” But, said the Supreme Court, “[we] have already rejected that argument: When the parties’ contract assigns a matter to arbitration, a court may not resolve the merits of the dispute even if the court thinks that a party’s claim on the merits is frivolous. So, too, with arbitrability.” 139 S. Ct. at 530 (citation omitted).

Under Schein the proper course for the Second and Fifth Circuits was to determine whether the parties clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability issues to the arbitrators without determining or analyzing the merits of those underlying arbitrability issues. If the answer was “yes,” then the Courts should have directed the arbitrators to decide those arbitrability questions.

If the arbitrators, after having decided those underlying arbitration issues, decided that the issues were arbitrable, then the arbitration opponents could challenge them as being in manifest disregard of the contract (and, in the Second Circuit, perhaps also in manifest disregard of the law).

But rather than let the arbitration and post-award review process run its course, the Second and Fifth Circuit took it upon themselves to decide arbitrability issues that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to submit to arbitration. Met Life and 20/20 Comm. cannot be meaningfully squared with Schein.

What Might have Motivated Met Life and 20/20 Comm. Courts to Rule the way they did?

While we respectfully believe that Met Life and 20/20 Comm. are inconsistent with Schein, it would be unfair not to acknowledge that the very able and experienced judges who decided those cases were faced with unusual circumstances that would presumably be of concern to many or most other fair-minded jurists. In Met Life a FINRA arbitration claim was made against an entity that had never been a member of FINRA, and had not been a member of the NASD, FINRA’s predecessor, for several years. The claim itself arose out of conduct that took place after the entity had left the NASD.

The Second Circuit concluded the dispute was not arbitrable because FINRA had no regulatory interest in the dispute, but apparently there were no FINRA rules, or terms in the parties’ agreement, which addressed directly the unusual arbitrability question the case presented. And prior Second Circuit precedent suggested that, under the Clear and Unmistakable Rule, the breadth of the parties’ arbitration agreement, together with a provision of the applicable arbitration rules, constituted clear and unmistakable evidence of an intent to arbitrate arbitrability.

The Second Circuit might have been legitimately concerned about whether a FINRA arbitrator would necessarily reach the same conclusion as the Court did, and if so, whether the award could be vacated if the arbitrator got it wrong. That would mean that the arbitration opponent might have been forced to arbitrate not only the underlying arbitrability issue, but also the entire dispute on the merits, before there was any opportunity for FAA Section 10 review.

If the award was ultimately vacated, the parties would be forced to incur a great deal of time and expense vindicating their rights. But if the award was not, and could not be, vacated, and the arbitration opponent lost on the merits, then the arbitration opponent would effectively have been forced to arbitrate a dispute that the Second Circuit strongly believed the parties never agreed to arbitrate.

“Hard cases,” the adage goes, “make bad law.”

The Fifth Circuit might have had similar reservations about the case before it, although the stakes were probably not as high as they were in Met Life. The contract’s incorporation of AAA employment arbitration rules, which brought into play the AAA Supplementary Rules for Class Arbitration, meant that the arbitrator would have been empowered to make a “Clause Construction Award,” which the parties are deemed to agree is a final award subject to judicial review under Section 10.

There was no reason to think that the briefing, argument, and decision of the Clause Construction issue, and the rendering of the Clause Construction Award, would take a great deal of time, given how narrow the issue was, and given the clear class arbitration waiver. And FAA Section 10 review would have been available once the Clause Construction Award was made.

Thus, had the Fifth Circuit compelled arbitration of the class arbitration consent issue, and had the arbitrator made a ruling in favor of class arbitration consent by ignoring the class arbitration waiver (or at least by not even arguably interpreting it), FAA Section 10 review would be available in relative short order, and certainly long before the parties were forced to engage in a class arbitration that could drag on for several years before Section 10 review could take place.

But the Fifth Circuit might nevertheless have been very concerned that a class arbitration opponent who had taken the time to include a broad class arbitration waiver in its contract, the enforceability of which is not really open to legitimate question in light of the many U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have closed state- and federal-law enforcement loopholes, should be forced to engage in the several months of arbitration and litigation necessary to vindicate its legitimate, bargained-for right to arbitrate on a bilateral basis only. Even apart from the extra costs imposed on the class arbitration opponent, compelling arbitration would have virtually guaranteed that within a relatively short period, the district court and, possibly also the Fifth Circuit, would again have to devote substantial time and effort into matters that were the subject of the consolidated appeal in 20/20 Comm.

Those concerns about economic inefficiency and judicial economy are unquestionably legitimate. But Schein, as we’ve seen, has already said that the courts do not, in the name of public policy or judicial economy, have the power to amend or alter the post-award-review-only procedures mandated by the FAA.

And the class arbitration opponent, a sophisticated business entity, could have drafted its contract more precisely, providing that notwithstanding anything to the contrary, disputes about class arbitration consent, including the application and interpretation of the class arbitration waiver, must be decided by courts, not arbitrators. In fact, other class arbitration opponents would be well advised to consider carefully whether they might find themselves in a situation where they are forced to arbitrate and litigate in the district court (and perhaps in an appellate court) for several months or more court, and if so, to take appropriate steps to mitigate this risk by more precisely drafting their contracts’ class arbitration waivers.

***

 

Philip J. Loree Jr. is a co-founder and partner at law firm, Loree and Loree. This post was originally published on the firm’s blog, Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Forum, and has been republished with permission here.

New Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception to the Old Clear and Unmistakable Rule? (Part I)

loreejrIIBy Philip J. Loree Jr.

Arbitration law is replete with presumptions and other rules that favor one outcome or another depending on whether one thing or another is or is not clear and unmistakable. Put differently, outcomes often turn on the presence or absence of contractual ambiguity.

There are three presumptions that relate specifically to questions arbitrability, that is, whether or not an arbitrator or a court gets to decide a particular issue or dispute:

  1. The Moses Cone Presumption of Arbitrability: Ambiguities in the scope of the arbitration agreement itself must be resolved in favor of arbitration. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). Rebutting this presumption requires clear and unmistakable evidence of an intent to exclude from arbitration disputes that are otherwise arguably within the scope of the agreement.
  2. The First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability:  Parties are presumed not to have agreed to arbitrate questions of arbitrability unless the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 942-46 (1995)
  3. The Howsam/John Wiley Presumption of Arbitrability of Procedural Matters: “‘[P]rocedural’ questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide.” Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (quoting John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557 (1964)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To rebut this presumption, the parties must clearly and unmistakably exclude the procedural issue in question from arbitration.

These presumptions usually turn solely on what the contract has to say about the arbitrability of a dispute, not on what the outcome an arbitrator or court would—or at least should—reach on the merits of the dispute.

Some U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Fifth Circuit, recognized an exception to the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability called the “wholly groundless exception.” Under that “wholly groundless exception,” courts could decide “wholly groundless” challenges to arbitrability even though the parties have clearly and unmistakably delegated arbitrability issues to the arbitrators. The apparent point of that exception was to avoid the additional time and expense associated with parties being required to arbitrate even wholly groundless arbitrability disputes, but the cost of the exception was a judicial override of the clear and unmistakable terms of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court in Schein v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. ___, slip op. at *1 (January 8, 2019) abrogated the “wholly groundless” exception. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8. “When,” explained the Court, “the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.” Schein, slip op. at 2, 8. The “wholly groundless” exception, said the Court, “is inconsistent with the statutory text and with precedent[,]” and “confuses the question of who decides arbitrability with the separate question of who prevails on arbitrability.” Schein,slip op. at 8.

But since Schein both the Second and Fifth Circuits have decided First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability cases by effectively conflating the question of who gets to decide an arbitrability issue with the separate question of who should prevail on the merits of that arbitrability issue. The Courts in both cases determined whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions by considering, as part of the clear and unmistakable calculus, the merits of the arbitrability question.

These two cases suggest a trend toward what might (tongue-in-cheek) be called a “Clear and Unmistakable Outcome Exception” to the First OptionsReverse Presumption of Arbitrability. But the problem with that trend is that it runs directly counter to the Supreme Court’s decision in Schein, and thus contravenes the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Schein.

In Part I of this post we discuss the Second Circuit and Fifth Circuit decisions. In Part II we analyze and discuss how— and perhaps why — those courts effectively made an end run around Schein.

Clear and Unmistakable Rule: The Second Circuit’s Met Life Decision

We first wrote about the Second Circuit decision, Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Bucsek, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-881, slip op. (2d Cir. Mar. 22, 2019), in an April 3, 2019 post. In Met Life the Second Circuit was faced with an unusual situation where party A sought to arbitrate against party B, a former member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)’s predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”), a dispute arising out of events that occurred years after party B severed its ties with the NASD.

The district court rejected A’s arguments, ruling that: (a) this particular arbitrability question was for the Court to decide; and (b) the dispute was not arbitrable because it arose years after B left the NASD, and was based on events that occurred subsequent to B’s departure. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

After the district court decision, but prior to the Second Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Schein, which—as we explained earlier—held that even so-called “wholly-groundless” arbitrability questions must be submitted to arbitration if the parties clearly and unmistakably delegate arbitrability questions to arbitration. Schein, slip op. at *2, 5, & 8.

The Second Circuit was faced a situation where a party sought to arbitrate a dispute which clearly was not arbitrable, but in circumstances under which prior precedent suggested that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability.

To give effect to the parties’ probable intent not to arbitrate before the NASD (or its successor, FINRA) arbitrability questions that arose after B left the NASD, the Second Circuit apparently believed it had no choice but to distinguish and qualify its prior precedent, and to attempt to do so without falling afoul of the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement in Schein.

That required the Second Circuit to modify, to at least some extent, the contractual interpretation analysis in which courts within the Second Circuit are supposed to engage to ascertain whether parties “clearly and unmistakably” agreed to arbitrate arbitrability in circumstance where they have not specifically agreed to arbitrate such issues.

Met Life modified that analysis to mean that in cases where parties have not expressly agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions, but have agreed to a very broad arbitration agreement, the question whether the parties’ have nevertheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability questions may turn, at least in part, on an analysis of the merits of the arbitrability question presented.

Effectively articulating a new interpretative rule necessitated by the unusual case before it, the Court said “what the arbitration agreement says about whether a category of dispute is arbitrable can have an important bearing on whether it was the intention of the agreement to confer authority over arbitrability on the arbitrators.” Slip op. at 13-14.

To that end, said the Court, “broad language expressing an intention to arbitrate all aspects of all disputes supports the inference of an intention to arbitrate arbitrability, and the clearer it is from the agreement that the parties intended to arbitrate the particular dispute presented, the more logical and likely the inference that they intended to arbitrate” arbitrability questions.  Slip op. at 12-13 (citations and quotations omitted).

The contrapositive, the court explained, was also true (at least conditionally): “the clearer it is that the terms of an arbitration agreement reject arbitration of the dispute, the less likely it is that the parties intended to be bound to arbitrate the question of arbitrability, unless they included clear language so providing . . . .” Slip op. at 13. But, added the Court, “vague provisions as to whether the dispute is arbitrable are unlikely to provide the needed clear and unmistakable inference of intent to arbitrate arbitrability.” Slip op. at 13.

What the Court appears to be saying is that where the parties have not expressly, clearly and unmistakably expressed their intent to arbitrate arbitrability questions, the strength of the inference of clear and unmistakable intent to arbitrate arbitrability is inversely proportional to how clear it is that the terms of the agreement reject arbitration of the dispute.

In other words, if the terms of the agreement strongly suggest that a court, rather than an arbitrator, should resolve the dispute on its merits, then the strength of the inference of clear and unmistakable intent to arbitrate the arbitrability of the dispute will be weaker. But, all else equal, if the terms of the agreement suggest that an arbitrator rather than a court should resolve the dispute on its merits, then the inference of clear and unmistakable intent to arbitrate arbitrability of the dispute will be stronger.

The Fifth Circuit’s 20/20 Comm. Decision

A few months after Met Life was decided, on July 22, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided 20/20 Comms. Inc. v. Lennox Crawford, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-10260 (5th Cir. July 22, 2019). Although 20/20 Comms did not cite Met Life, it engaged in what might be roughly described as a simplified version of the Second Circuit’s reasoning in that case.

Hew Zhan Tze, an International Institute for Conflict Resolution and Prevention (“CPR”) summer intern has published— under the very able tutelage of our friend Russ Bleemer, a New York attorney who is the editor of CPR’s Alternatives, an international ADR newsletter published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.—a well-written and insightful article about 20/20 Comm.in the CPR Speaks blog. (A shout-out also to CPR’s Tania Zamorsky, who is the blog master of CPR Speaks.)

Mr. Zhan Tze’s excellent article discusses the case and quotes some commentary I provided by email to Russ about the case, as both Russ and I were quite intrigued by the decision. You can read that article in the CPR Speaks Blog here.

Zhan Tze’s article thoroughly discusses the background of the case, its reasoning, and holding. (See here.) The case involved consent to class arbitration.

There were two questions before the Court: (a) whether class arbitration consent was a question of arbitrability for the Court; and (b) if so, whether the parties, under the First Options Reverse Presumption of Arbitrability, had clearly and unmistakably agreed to submit class arbitration consent questions to the arbitrator.

As to the first issue, the Court determined that consent to class arbitration was a question of arbitrability, thereby joining the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh circuits, which have likewise concluded that class arbitration consent presents a question of arbitrability. See Del Webb Cmtys., Inc. v. Carlson, 817 F.3d 867, 877 (4th Cir. 2016); Reed Elsevier, Inc. ex rel. LexisNexis Div. v. Crockett, 734 F.3d 594, 599 (6th Cir. 2013); Herrington v. Waterstone Mortg. Corp., 907 F.3d 502, 506-07 (7th Cir. 2018); Catamaran Corp. v. Towncrest Pharmacy, 864 F.3d 966, 972 (8th Cir. 2017); Eshagh v. Terminix Int’l Co., L.P., 588 F. App’x 703, 704 (9th Cir. 2014) (unpublished); JPay, Inc. v. Kobel, 904 F.3d 923, 935-36 (11th Cir. 2018).

As respects the second issue—whether the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate class-arbitration consent issues— the Court held that the parties did not clearly and unmistakably so agree.

The parties’ contract contained three provisions pertinent to arbitrability questions:

1.      “If Employer and Employee disagree over issues concerning the formation or meaning of this Agreement, the arbitrator will hear and resolve these arbitrability issues.”

2.      “The arbitrator selected by the parties will administer the arbitration according to the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes (or successor rules) of the American Arbitration Association (‘AAA’) except where such rules are inconsistent with this Agreement, in which case the terms of this Agreement will govern.” (emphasis added)

3.      “Except as provided below, Employee and Employer, on behalf of their affiliates, successors, heirs, and assigns, both agree that all disputes and claims between them . . . shall be determined exclusively by final and binding arbitration.” (emphasis added)

But the parties’ contract also contained a broad class arbitration waiver, which provided:

[T]he parties agree that this Agreement prohibits the arbitrator from consolidating the claims of others into one proceeding, to the maximum extent permitted by law. This means that an arbitrator will hear only individual claims and does not have the authority to fashion a proceeding as a class or collective action or to award relief to a group of employees in one proceeding, to the maximum extent permitted by law.

(Emphasis added.)

The Court said that the first three provisions, “[d]ivorced from other provisions of the arbitration (most notably, the class arbitration bar). . . could arguably be construed to authorize arbitrators to decide gateway issues of arbitrability, such as class arbitration.” Slip op. at 8. As respects the second of the three, the incorporation by reference of the National Rules for the Resolution of Employment Disputes (or successor rules) of the AAA, the Court noted that “Rule 3 of the AAA Supplementary Rules for Class Arbitration provides that the arbitrator is empowered to determine class arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8. And, according to the Court, “the third provision states in broad terms that ‘all disputes and claims between them’ shall be determined by the arbitrator, language arguably capacious enough under this court’s previous rulings to include disputes over class arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8.

But the Court did not decide whether those “provisions, standing alone, clearly and unmistakably” required arbitration of the class arbitration consent issue, because the Court held that the class arbitration waiver foreclosed such a finding. Slip op. at 8, 6-7.

The court said “that this class arbitration bar operates not only to bar class arbitrations to the maximum extent permitted by law, but also to foreclose any suggestion that the parties meant to disrupt the presumption that questions of class arbitration are decided by courts rather than arbitrators.” Slip op. at 6-7. “[I]t is[,]” observed the Court, “difficult for us to imagine why parties would categorically prohibit class arbitrations to the maximum extent permitted by law, only to then take the time and effort to vest the arbitrator with the authority to decide whether class arbitrations shall be available.” Slip op. at 7.  “Having closed the door to class arbitrations to the fullest extent possible,” queried the Court rhetorically, “why would the parties then re-open the door to the possibility of class arbitrations, by announcing specific procedures to govern how such determinations shall be made?” Slip op. at 7.

Comparing the first three provisions “with the class arbitration bar at issue in this case, we conclude that none of them state with the requisite clear and unmistakable language that arbitrators, rather than courts, shall decide questions of class arbitrability.” Slip op. at 8.

Two of the provisions, said the Court, “include express exception clauses. . . , which “expressly negate any effect these provisions might have in the event they conflict with any other provision of the arbitration agreement—as they plainly do here in light of the class arbitration bar.” Slip op. at 9.

Even apart from “the exception clauses,” none of the three provisions “speak with any specificity to the particular matter of class arbitration.” Slip op. at 9. “[B]]y contrast[,]” said the Court, [t]he class arbitration bar. . . specifically prohibits arbitrators from arbitrating disputes as a class action, and permits the arbitration of individual claims only.” Slip op. at 9 (citations and quotations omitted).

Those three provisions “[a]ccordingly[]. . . do not clearly and unmistakably overcome the legal presumption—reinforced as it is here by the class arbitration bar—that courts, not arbitrators, must decide the issue of class arbitration.” Slip op. at 9.

In our next post we’ll analyze and discuss how Met Life and 20/20 Comm. effectively make an end run around Schein and what might have motivated those courts to rule as they did.

***

 

Philip J. Loree Jr. is a co-founder and partner at law firm, Loree and Loree. This post was originally published on the firm’s blog, Loree Reinsurance and Arbitration Forum, and has been republished with permission here.

American Bar Association Adopts Resolution 105 to Promote Diversity in ADR

By Franco Gevaerd

On August 6, 2018, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) House of Delegates adopted Resolution 105 proposed by the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution. The resolution urges international and domestic ADR providers to “expand their rosters with minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities” and to “encourage the selection of diverse neutrals.” The resolution also urges ADR users to select and use diverse neutrals.

Resolution 105 is a by-product of the ABA Mission Goal III (“Goal III”) adopted in 2008 – which aims to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession – and of the ABA Resolution 113 adopted in 2016, which urges all providers and users of legal services to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys.

The Resolution 105 report contextualizes the problem of underrepresentation of diverse neutrals in ADR and identifies two main issues, namely i) the “roster issue” and ii) the “selection problem.”

The “roster issue” is the primary issue of underrepresentation of diverse neutrals on ADR provider rosters. The report shows data collected from ADR providers and other studies, such as the 2014 ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Snapshot Survey, which demonstrate that ADR is one of the least diverse fields in the legal profession.

The “selection problem” is the aggravating issue regarding the low percentage of selection of those diverse neutrals who are on the roster. In this regard, the report suggests that the combination of confidentiality and network-based culture during the selection process favors implicit bias and obscurity, which consequently leads to this low percentage.

Conna Weiner, one of CPR’s Distinguished Neutrals, was very involved in the group effort seeking passage of Resolution 105 in her role as co-chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Women in Dispute Resolution Committee over the past bar year. “Resolution 105 and the accompanying report are important steps forward in ensuring that corporate users and their outside counsel are aware of the serious diversity issues in ADR and add this concern to their attempts to enhance diversity in the profession as a whole,” Ms. Weiner noted. She suggested that inside counsel, for example, might consider urging their outside counsel to send them lists of diverse arbitrators and mediators for consideration in addition to requiring outside counsel to use diverse teams of lawyers for their matters.

The ABA will be rolling out Resolution 105 this Fall with materials and toolkits to assist stakeholders. The full resolution and report can be accessed here.

Over the past few years, ADR providers and other organizations have undertaken initiatives to increase diversity in dispute resolution. ArbitralWomen, for example, is a strong advocate for the increased representation of women in international arbitration. Its initiatives include a mentorship program and moot funding. Another example is the Pledge on Equal Representation of Women in International Arbitration, which has now more than 2,900 signatories and aims to increase the number of women appointed as arbitrators on an equal opportunity basis. Many other organizations are continuously working to improve diversity in ADR, such as the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Diversity Committee, the Committee on Diversity of the New York State Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section and the ADR Inclusion Network.

Since the establishment of its National Task Force on Diversity in ADR in 2006, CPR has also undertaken many initiatives to increase diversity on its Panel of Distinguished Neutrals and in ADR generally. Those initiatives include the following:

  • CPR’s Diversity Commitment – CPR’s Commitment encourages law firms and corporations to include qualified diverse neutrals on any list of mediators or arbitrators they propose.
  • Diversity Statement in nomination letters – CPR’s Dispute Resolution Services (“DRS”) recently added a Diversity Statement to the nomination letters sent to parties. The language of the diversity statement reinforces CPR’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in ADR, reminds ADR users of the benefits of diversity for the quality of decision-making, and encourages them to remain cognizant of the role that implicit bias can play in the selection process.
  • Young Lawyer Rule” – CPR recently incorporated to its non-administered arbitration rules (Domestic and International versions) a “Young Lawyer Rule”. The rule aims to increase the number of “stand-up” opportunities for young attorneys to examine witnesses and present arguments at arbitral hearings.
  • CPR Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity in ADR – Created in 2007, this award recognizes a person or organization having significantly contributed to diversity in the alternative dispute resolution field. The winners of the 2018 Award were international arbitrator and CPR Distinguished Neutral Lucy Greenwood and ICC’s Mirèze Philippe, co-founder of ArbitralWomen, for their long-standing commitment to diversity and focus on data and transparency in addressing diversity in ADR.

As for diversity on its Panel of Distinguished Neutrals, 27% of CPR’s roster in fiscal year 2018 was composed of diverse neutrals, of which 17% were women and 10% were male minorities. Regarding appointments, 31% of all arbitrators selected in 2018 were diverse, of which 27% were women. In the 2018 fiscal year, the selection of women as neutrals increased by 8% in comparison to fiscal year 2017.

Although there has been generally some progress on ADR provider rosters in terms of diversity, the numbers are still far from satisfactory and only show improvement in terms of gender diversity. The representation of other diverse groups has not significantly improved over the past few years, signaling that there is a need for increased efforts and initiatives focusing on greater inclusion of these groups.

One example is the underrepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community in ADR. Olivier André (CPR), together with William Crosby (Interpublic Group), Linda Kagan (The Kagan Law Group) and Jeffrey T. Zaino (American Arbitration Association) recently addressed this issue on a panel focused on “Developing a Career in ADR” at the LGBT Bar 30th Annual Conference, held in New York in August 2018.

All speakers on the panel concurred that more initiatives needed to address the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the field. Messrs. André and Zaino explained that their respective organizations are committed to increasing LGBTQ+ diversity on their panels and are actively looking for qualified applicants for their rosters.

Furthermore, Mr. André pointed out the importance of self-identification by applicants to the CPR Panel of Distinguished Neutrals. He explained that CPR always strives to nominate arbitrator and mediator candidates who are both qualified for the dispute and diverse.  Therefore, it is important for CPR Neutrals to provide information about themselves so that the institution can include as many diverse candidates as possible on the lists sent to the parties.

The underrepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community is also reflected in the legal profession as a whole. One of the most recent initiatives undertaken by the ABA to address this issue was to launch a survey in partnership with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.  The survey aims to examine the opportunities and challenges facing legal professionals in the 21st century focusing on diversity and inclusion for lawyers with disabilities and/or who identify as LGBTQ+. The survey is open to all legal professionals and can be accessed here.

In conclusion, increased diversity on the ADR provider rosters not only offers the parties more options to select neutrals better suited for their cases, but also increases the quality of decision-making and reinforces the integrity of arbitration as a legitimate dispute resolution process. With Resolution 105, the ADR community has taken another important step to increase diversity in the field.

 

The author is a CPR Institute Legal Intern. He holds a LL.B. from Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (Brazil) and a LL.M. in International Commercial Law and Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine Law/Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.

Subpoenas to Arbitrators Quashed for Lack of Clear Evidence of Impropriety

Kantor Photo (8-2012)By Mark Kantor

Last week, a Magistrate Judge in the US District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina quashed document subpoenas served on three arbitrators seeking evidence of alleged non-disclosures of relationships with counsel in connection with a FINRA securities arbitration award.  In In the Matter of Arbitration Between Shepherd, et al., v. LPL Financial LLC, No. 5:17-CV-150-D (Order, Nov. 1, 2017), Magistrate Judge Robert Jones decided that the failure by one arbitrator, Lynne T. Albert, to disclose in the current arbitration two previous arbitrations where counsel for the arbitration defendants had represented parties before her, did not constitute “clear evidence of impropriety” justifying post-award discovery from the arbitrator.  Moreover, Magistrate Judge Jones additionally rejected petitioner Shepherd’s effort to seek discovery by means of document subpoenas addressed to the two other arbitrators, Richard J. Igou and Richard S. Zaifert, which petitioner Shepherd sought to justify not on grounds of “impropriety” but rather because “the alleged impropriety by Albert makes it necessary to “double-check” the other two panelists for additional nondisclosures.”  This decision is yet another in the string of Federal court rulings rejecting aggressive efforts by disappointed parties to extend the “evident partiality” standard under the US Federal Arbitration Act for vacatur of awards due to arbitrator misconduct, as well as reiterating a high hurdle that must be met before the court will permit discovery from an arbitrator.

The Magistrate Judge first concluded that the proper standard for permitting post-award discovery from an arbitrator was “clear evidence of impropriety,” rather than the lesser general standard from Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) that the information sought was “relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case” (footnotes omitted).

the weight of persuasive case law demands a heightened showing of “clear evidence of impropriety” to obtain discovery from a non-party arbitrator. See Lucent Techs. Inc. v. Tatung Co., 379 F.3d 24, 32 (2d Cir. 2004) (concluding discovery into potential arbitrator bias was not appropriate where the party “has not presented the ‘clear evidence of impropriety’ we have held necessary before granting post-award discovery into potential arbitrator bias.”) (citing Andros v. Marc Rich & Co., A.G., 579 F.2d 691, 702 (2d Cir. 1978)); Van Pelt v. UBS Fin. Servs., No. 3:05-CV-477, 2006 WL 1698861, at * 2 (W.D.N.C. June 14, 2006) (applying the clear evidence of impropriety standard and denying discovery of an arbitrator’s employment records to determine whether he failed to disclose a material fact); see also TransAtlantic Lines LLC v. Am. Steamship Owners Mut. Prat. & Indem. Ass’n, Inc., 253 F. Supp. 3d 725 (S.D.N.Y. 2017)(“In order to take discovery from the ADR panel itself, a litigant must present ‘clear evidence of impropriety,’ such as bias or corruption.”) (citation omitted).

Arguing in the alternative, Shepherd also asserted that arbitrator Albert’s alleged non-disclosures constituted the requisite “clear evidence.”  Magistrate Judge Jones was unmoved.

Plaintiffs argue they have presented clear evidence of impropriety based on Albert’s two nondisclosures. …  The Second Circuit’s decision in the Andros case is instructive here. The Andros court determined that an arbitrator’s undisclosed professional relationship with one of the parties was insufficient to establish clear evidence of impropriety and did not justify discovery into the issue. …  The arbitrator in Andros knew the president of one of the companies involved in the arbitration, as both men previously served on 19 arbitration panels together. …  Despite claims by the opposing side that the president and arbitrator were “close personal friends,” the lower court found the relationship was professional in nature because the interactions were limited to arbitration panels and other social functions related to arbitrations. ….  Moreover, the arbitrator had no financial stake or other interest in the outcome of the arbitration. … Based on these facts, the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision and found no “clear evidence of impropriety” was presented to support an evidentiary hearing, to compel discovery, or to vacate the ruling.

The Judge considered the instant dispute to be similar to the 2nd Circuit Andros case.  The contact between Albert and the counsel in the other two arbitrations was, he wrote, “strictly professional.”  Further, the FINRA arbitration award was unanimous, and thus any “interactions” between Albert and the counsel had no impact on the result.  And, in any event, Albert eventually disclosed the “interactions” six months before petitioners chose to allege that the conduct constituted impropriety.

Similarly here, the undisclosed relationship is strictly professional-a lawyer appearing before an arbitrator-and the circumstances surrounding Albert’s nondisclosures do not give the impression of clear impropriety: Plaintiffs won the Underlying Arbitration with a unanimous award from all three panelists, including Albert…; and instead of exhibiting behavior consistent with wrongdoing, such as hiding her interactions with Defense Counsel, Albert disclosed this relationship in the June and July 2016 Arbitrations almost six months before Plaintiffs first alleged any impropriety by the Arbitrators in the Underlying Arbitration….

At bottom, “[t]o allow discovery of an arbitrator under these circumstances would “encourage the losing party to every arbitration to conduct a background investigation of each of the arbitrators in an effort to uncover evidence of a former relationship” and “increase the cost and undermine the finality of arbitration, contrary to the purpose of the United States Arbitration Act of making arbitration a swift, inexpensive, and effective substitute for judicial dispute resolution.””  Accordingly, Judge Jones quashed the subpoena addressed to arbitrator Albert.

The Judge then dealt shortly with Shepherd’s further subpoenas seeking documents from the other two arbitrators to “double-check” for possible non-disclosures (“Such reasoning is in direct conflict with a policy favoring the finality of arbitration and does not establish the requisite clear evidence of impropriety”).

With respect to Igou and Zaifert, Plaintiffs present no evidence of impropriety, but rather argue that the alleged impropriety by Albert makes it necessary to “double-check” the other two panelists for additional nondisclosures. …. Such reasoning is in direct conflict with a policy favoring the finality of arbitration and does not establish the requisite clear evidence of impropriety to justify the discovery sought from Igou and Zaifert.

Mark Kantor is a CPR Distinguished Neutral and a regular contributor to CPR Speaks. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, Mark was a partner in the Corporate and Project Finance Groups of the Firm. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). Additionally, Mr. Kantor is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management.

Changing the Rules: FINRA Eases Arbitration Withdrawal Requirements, While NY Courts Want Mediation Certification

By Angela Cipolla

There have been significant recent updates on rules regarding alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the regulatory world and in courts. Below is a summary of a recently proposed amendment for FINRA arbitration rules, which is now open for comment, and the recently finalized ADR certification for courts in the New York Commercial Division.

FINRA Regulatory Notice 17-33

FINRA’s Oct. 18 Regulatory Notice 17-33 addresses the issue of unpaid customer arbitration awards. The goal of the proposed amendment to FINRA’s Code of Arbitration Procedure for Customer Disputes is to expand a customer’s options to withdraw an arbitration claim in two situations: (1) when a firm becomes inactive during a pending arbitration, or (2) where an “associated person” becomes inactive either before a claim is filed or during a pending arbitration. Both situations have not yet been addressed in existing FINRA rules.

The proposed amendment seeks to fill the gap of FINRA’s current rule, Rule 12202, “Claims Against Inactive Members.” Rule 12202 protects customers by allowing them an opportunity to “evaluate the likelihood of collecting on an award and make an informed decision whether to proceed in arbitration” against members that have been declared inactive prior to the commencement of the arbitration.

The proposed amendment addresses the issue of when a member firm becomes inactive during the course of an arbitration.  It seeks to give customers an opportunity to evaluate the decision to arbitrate, regardless of whether an existing pre-dispute arbitration agreement was signed.

Under the proposed change, FINRA would notify customers “if a member or an associated person becomes inactive during a pending arbitration,” giving the customer “60 days to withdraw the claim(s) with or without prejudice.”

The proposed amendment also seeks to add definitions of “inactive member” and “inactive associated person” under FINRA Rule 12100, “Definitions.” The proposal states that “inactive member” would be defined as “a member whose membership is terminated, suspended, cancelled or revoked; that has been expelled from FINRA; or that is otherwise defunct.”

“Inactive associated person” would be defined as a person “associated with a member whose registration is revoked or suspended, or whose registration has been terminated for a minimum of 365 days.”

FINRA also seeks to amend Rule 12309 on “Amending Pleadings,” which limits a party’s ability to amend its pleadings once a panel is appointed to the case. The proposed amendment would allow customers to amend a pleading, and add a new party within sixty (60) days of receiving notice from FINRA that a firm or associated person has become inactive.

This proposal is motivated by FINRA’s belief that a customer should have the right to change a litigation strategy after learning that a firm or associated person has become inactive and may pose a collection problem in the event of an award.

Regarding issues of postponement, FINRA proposes to amend Rule 12601 to allow a customer, upon notice from FINRA of a firm or associated person’s status change, to postpone the hearing date if such notice was within sixty (60) days of the scheduled hearing.

In this situation, FINRA also proposes to waive the usual postponement fee and/or additional fees per arbitrator if a customer chooses to exercise the right to postpone. To honor the arbitrators’ time, FINRA would amend Rule 12214 and would take it upon itself to pay the arbitrators’ fee if a customer postpones within ten (10) days before a scheduled hearing due to the inactive status of the firm or associated person against whom the customer has filed for relief.

FINRA has proposed to amend FINRA Rule 12801(a) to allow claimants to “request a default proceeding against a terminated associated person who fails to file an answer within the time provided in the Code regardless of the number of days since termination.”  The change would allow, for example, a customer to start a default proceeding against an associated person who left a firm, but remains active at another firm and failed to answer a claim.

Finally, FINRA’s proposed rules amendment includes a revision to Rule 12900, “Fees Due When a Claim is Filed,” which would allow for a customer to receive a full refund of the filing fee if FINRA provided notice of a status change of a firm or associated member to inactive, and the case is withdrawn within 60 days of the notification.

FINRA is receiving comments on the proposed amendments until Dec. 18; submissions can be emailed to pubcom@finra.org or mailed to FINRA’s Office of the Corporate Secretary.

The full copy of the regulatory notice can be found at http://bit.ly/2yOHQbx.

* * *

New York Commercial Division Rule: Amendment to Rules 10 and 11 of Section 202.70(g)

On Oct. 11, New York Courts Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks signed an order that amended Rules 10 and 11 of Section 202.60(g) of the “Rules of Practice for the Commercial Division.” (22 NYCRR 202.70).

The rule changes represent an effort on behalf of the New York state courts’ Commercial Division to emphasize the use of alternative dispute resolution procedures among litigating parties.

Rule 10, “Submission of Information,” will now include an amendment, “Certification Relating to Alternative Dispute Resolution.”  The certification, a form for which was annexed to Marks’ order, will require each party to submit to the court a certifying statement which states that counsel and the party discussed the availability of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms—including those “provided by the Commercial Division and/or private ADR providers.”

The statement also must specify whether the party is “presently willing to pursue mediation at some point during the litigation.”

Additionally, the change for Rule 11 on discovery will now require that preliminary conference orders include, where appropriate, “a specific date by which a mediator shall be identified by the parties for assistance with resolution of the action.” This requirement will take effect in cases that the parties certify their willingness to pursue mediation, pursuant to the amended Rule 10.

These amendments have been adopted by the Unified Court System’s Administrative Board and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The original proposal was explained in this April 10 memorandum: http://bit.ly/2gEmZ2n. Judge Marks’ order, with the certification form, is available at http://bit.ly/2zQhxld.

* * *

The author is a Fall 2017 CPR Institute Intern.

CPR, LCLD & FINRA Program Aims for Actual Selection, Not Just Training, of Diverse Neutrals

CPR’s Diversity Task Force, in collaboration with Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), have been hard at work on a program that aims not only to train diverse candidates to become mediators and arbitrators, but provides meaningful opportunities to position participants to ultimately become selected as neutrals—the only thing that will ultimately have an impact on diversity in ADR.

As Noah Hanft, CPR’s President & CEO, has stated, “Diverse neutrals need experience to show quality, build their reputations and earn their selections—but, in order to gain that all important experience and develop their skills, they first need to get selected. The riddle is circular but not impossible to solve, and those who prevent, or at least fail to support, the latter cannot in good conscious unequivocally demand the former. We can, and must, do better. This next generation of talented individuals is poised to make a real difference, if we will only recognize our roles and do our part.”

The program, which launched last year in a pilot phase, provides participants with early skills development and unique access to professional development opportunities in dispute resolution through: (a) formal training in mediation and arbitration skills and practical observational experience; (b) mentoring by skilled neutrals; and (c) networking opportunities within CPR’s commercial dispute resolution community via attendance at these organization’s events at no cost or at a discount. Last year’s program produced six neutrals, and this year we have five participating—a wonderfully diverse and talented group hailing from New Jersey, Chicago, Houston, Miami and Atlanta.

joehanna.jpgAccording to Joseph M Hanna (pictured left), a Partner at Goldberg Segalla and a participant in last year’s program, “Even if you’re not engaged in arbitration or mediation, you will use the techniques and the ‘soft processes’ that you pick up during this training and from your mentors every day—whether you are practicing law, litigating cases, working with colleagues, mentoring young associates or even dealing with your family.”

“I found the program to be quite valuable on a number of levels,” explained Brenda DiLuigi (pictured right), Counsel at Linklaters LLP. brenda“The program provided access to very high-quality ADR training, mentoring by seasoned professionals, and networking opportunities in the ADR community generally. From my perspective (in particular, as counsel to clients facing the significant challenges associated with doing business in a heightened regulatory environment), the FINRA arbitration training program was extremely valuable, and I feel fortunate to have the ability to serve as a neutral in that capacity. I also enjoyed being part of a cohort of program Fellows who are beginning their careers in ADR.”

As a first step in this year’s program, participants were invited to complete the FINRA application to become an arbitrator so that they could become eligible to join FINRA’s roster of neutrals. After indicating their individual areas of interest, participants were assigned to, and have started to meet with their program mentors.

The program’s first official event will be CPR’s Corporate Leadership Award Dinner (including VIP reception) honoring David McAtee II of AT&T. Thereafter, program participants are invited to attend all CPR events that take place during the program, at no cost.

Once applications are approved, participants will be required to take FINRA’s first two training components online at their convenience. FINRA will then hold an in-person training for this group at the CPR offices in early April, following CPR’s annual meeting in Atlanta, GA taking place March 8-10, 2017. There will be no cost associated with any aspect of FINRA’s training and application process.

KristyKristy Offitt (pictured left), an Employment litigator at Ogletree Deakins and a member of this year’s program, signed up after receiving an email from LCLD. She has already been assigned two mentors and has started meeting with them. In addition to feeling that the negotiation and other skills learned in the program will be transferable, generally, to the work she is currently doing, Kristy explained, “I would love to do more mediation and arbitration later in my career, so I saw this as a great opportunity to start building a foundation toward that goal. It’s great to get this mediation experience.”

And do last year’s participants have any parting advice for the current class? As program alum Joseph Hanna aptly summarized, “Take full advantage of your mentors; they are there to help you. Take every opportunity you have to ask questions, meet with them, spend time watching them work. Nobody does it better than the mentors in this program.”

SEC Office of Investor Advocate Praises Securities Arbitration Clinics

By Jill Gross

Congress created the Office of the Investor Advocate of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010 to, among other things, “(A) assist retail investors in resolving significant problems such investors may have with the Commission or with self-regulatory organizations (SROs); (B) identify areas in which investors would benefit from changes in the regulations of the Commission or the rules of SROs…” Exchange Act §  4g(4). In turn, the Investor Advocate appointed an Ombudsman to “act as a liaison between the Commission and any retail investor in resolving problems that retail investors may have with the Commission
or with SROs.” Exchange Act § 4(g)(8)(A). Both the Investor Advocate and the Ombudsman are required to submit reports to Congress on their activities. This week, the Office of the Investor Advocate submitted its Report on Objectives for fiscal year 2018, which included the Ombudsman’s Report.

In her Report, the Ombudsman addresses several items of interest to the dispute resolution community. First, the Report (p. 23) describes how her office is monitoring whether recommendations from the FINRA Dispute Resolution Task Force Report have been implemented in ways that help retail investors. She expresses concerns about elements of customer arbitrations at FINRA, offering another voice to the ongoing efforts to improve the fairness of securities arbitration.

Second, in recommending that the FINRA Investor Education Foundation support ongoing operations of law school securities clinics, the Ombudsman details (p. 24) the value that these clinics offer retail investors:

The Ombudsman is concerned about the challenges faced by investors—especially pro se investors who face sophisticated opposing counsel representing broker-dealer firms in a forum that has become increasingly complex—when the life savings of the investor are at stake and there is little ground for appeal. Investor rights clinics fill a critical void by supplying information and advocacy services to vulnerable retail investors in need. Competent representation of retail investors in FINRA’s dispute resolution forum is a critically important step in helping vulnerable retail investors protect their rights. These clinics and the investors they serve merit the Foundation’s support.

Third, the Ombudsman describes (p. 24) her Office’s new outreach program to the clinics, including visits with students at Pace Law’s Investor Rights Clinic and the University of Miami School of Law Investor Rights Clinic.  The Report praises the investor education work of the students, and emphasizes the importance of providing investors with representation in arbitration. The SEC’s spotlight on these law school securities clinics celebrates the tremendous work that law students do in representing investors in their disputes with their brokerage firms!

Jill I. Gross is a nationally known expert in the field of securities dispute resolution and a professor at Pace Law School. Her complete bio can be found HEREThis post was originally published in Indisputably and is reprinted with permission.  

CASE SUMMARY: Pershing LLC v. Kieback et al – Rare US Federal Court Ruling Assessing When Tribunal’s Rejection of Discovery Request May Constitute Improper Refusal to Hear Evidence Justifying Vacatur

Kantor Photo (8-2012)By Mark Kantor

Last week, the US District Court for the District of Louisiana issued a ruling in Pershing LLC v. Kieback et al (Judge Lance M. Africk, Civ. Act. No. 14-2549, May 22, 2017, available at https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5882751863819676163&hl=en&as_sdt=20006) confirming the arbitration award by a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration panel, notwithstanding efforts to vacate the award on grounds that the arbitral panel’s failure to require production of certain documents in discovery, or to even review those documents in camera before denying a motion to compel production, constituted “misconduct … in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy” under the US Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), “evident partiality” on the part of the arbitrators, and “manifest disregard of the law.”

This decision is one of the rare US Federal court rulings assessing when a tribunal’s rejection of a discovery request may constitute an improper refusal to hear evidence justifying vacatur.  As you will see, the Louisiana Federal District  Court set the standard high.

The dispute arose out of R. Allen Stanford and Stanford Financial Group’s fraudulent Ponzi scheme (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Stanford) resulting in Stanford being ordered by law enforcement agencies to disgorge $6.7 billion  and pay a $5.9 billion fine.

A number of retired individuals living in Louisiana (the “Louisiana Retirees”) who had invested in Stanford certificates of deposit brought FINRA arbitrations for an aggregate of about $80 million in damages against Pershing LLC (“Pershing”), the clearing broker for the Stanford Group, alleging due diligence and non-disclosure theories on the basis of which the clearing broker might be held liable for a portion of the damages caused by the fraud (footnotes and many citations omitted from quotations).

They claim that Pershing, as Stanford Group Company’s clearing broker, failed to exercise due diligence in its business relationship with Stanford Group Company and failed to disclose adverse financial information which would have resulted in the Ponzi scheme being uncovered sooner than it was.

Pershing naturally presented defenses to those claims.

The Retirees’ claims were all consolidated into a single arbitration hearing, a process that (by the way) may be worth exploring by readers interested in the relationship between consolidation in arbitration and class arbitration.

During the arbitration, the Louisiana Retirees sought discovery, including document production.  As to certain of the documents covered by a discovery demand, Pershing asserted two privileges; the attorney-client privilege and a US financial services regulatory privilege known as the “Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”) privilege” established by US Federal regulation to protect financial institutions who are required to report suspicious financial activities to Federal enforcement officials.  The arbitration panel upheld those assertions of privilege.

The arbitration panel held that Pershing was not required to produce to the Louisiana Retirees certain categories of documents which Pershing claimed were privileged. The documents consist inter alia of emails which Pershing claimed were protected under the attorney-client privilege and “Incident Reports” which Pershing says it uses to begin the process of internally investigating potential suspicious activity. Pershing claims the second category of documents are protected by the SAR privilege.

After extensive hearings, the arbitral panel ruled in favor of Pershing on the merits.

After a two week hearing at which the panel heard over 1,600 pages of testimony from fifteen witnesses and considered over 900 separate exhibits, the panel ruled in Pershing’s favor.

Pershing then sought confirmation of the FINRA award in the District Court.  The Louisiana Retirees sought vacatur.  The District Court was therefore faced with the need to balance two oft-argued principles in confirmation/vacatur proceedings; “an arbitration panel’s decision cannot be overturned simply because it was incorrect. …. But under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), an arbitration panel’s refusal to hear evidence material and pertinent to the controversy can result in vacatur of the arbitration award when the refusal deprived a party of a fundamentally fair hearing.

The Louisiana Retirees primarily argued that the arbitration was “fundamentally unfair” due to their inability to obtain and present the documents withheld by Pershing from document production.

The Louisiana Retirees first argue that the panel’s decision should be vacated pursuant to section 10(a)(3) of the FAA because the panel denied the Louisiana Retirees access to key documents, and the withholding of the documents was prejudicial to the Louisiana Retirees to the extent it rendered the arbitration proceeding fundamentally unfair. Their position is essentially that the Louisiana Retirees were unable to prove their case and were unable to refute false testimony offered by Pershing witnesses during the arbitration proceeding because they did not have certain documents which they have now had an opportunity to review.

In particular, the Retirees pointed to the decision by the arbitral panel not to review the documents in camera before upholding the privilege claims and to their substantive privilege rulings.

The prejudice claimed by the Louisiana Retirees really stems from two separate decisions of the arbitration panel: (1) the decision not to review the documents in camera before deciding whether Pershing should produce them; and (2) the decision on the merits of the claimed privileges.

In an earlier decision in the judicial confirmation/vacatur proceedings, Judge Africk of the District Court had previously allowed limited discovery by the Louisiana Retirees.  When faced with the same assertions of privilege by Pershing, the Court itself reviewed the documents in camera (unlike the arbitral panel) to determine whether they were covered by the SAR privilege under federal law.  In its consequent ruling on privilege (available at https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17082729013022954526&hl=en&as_sdt=20006), the District Court upheld most of Pershing’s privilege assertions but concluded that some of the documents (or parts thereof) were not privileged and should have been disclosed.

After closely reviewing the documents produced for in camera review by Pershing, the Court finds that the Incident Reports at Tabs 1-67 bear no arguable relationship to the claims or defenses in this case and are not discoverable for that reason. On the other hand, the Court finds that the Incident Reports at Tabs 68-74 should be produced, as they are relevant to the claims and/or defenses of the Defendants in this case and are not privileged. Additionally, the redacted version of the Summary Reports that correlate to Tabs 68-74 should be produced, as should the redacted versions of Tabs 1-14 of the Summary Reports produced in Pershing’s third production on March 14, 2017.

Judge Africk ordered those documents turned over to the Louisiana Retirees as part of the judicial vacatur proceedings.  The Retirees then relied upon the fact that the arbitral tribunal had neither reviewed those documents in camera nor required them to be produced in document production as their basis for arguing fundamental prejudice.  As the Court noted in its subsequent decision last week, “Now the question is simply whether, considering the produced documents in conjunction with the record of the arbitration proceeding, the Louisiana Retirees have satisfied one of the recognized grounds for vacating an arbitration award.”

The Louisiana Retirees assert three bases for vacatur in this lawsuit. According to their motion, they contend “(1.) that the arbitration proceeding was fundamentally unfair because severe prejudice occurred to the Louisiana Retirees when Pershing did not disclose to the Louisiana Retirees [certain documents which were not produced by Pershing until this Court ordered them produced in this lawsuit]; (2.) the obvious partiality and bias of the arbitrators because of the apparent `assumed veracity’ of Pershing when the Panel allowed Pershing to serve as the judge and jury on defining the scope of the documents withheld under attorney client privilege and the SARs/AML privilege; and (3.) that the Panel committed manifest error reviewing the evidence that was actually presented to the arbitration hearing based upon the review standard of the Second Circuit because of the application of New York Law.”

Judge Africk addressed the Retirees’ “fundamentally unfair” presentation first.  He rejected the Retirees’ arguments.  The Judge began by repeating the commonly-accepted “exceedingly narrow” standard for vacatur of an arbitration award in FAA jurisprudence.

“In light of the strong federal policy favoring arbitration, judicial review of an arbitration award is extraordinarily narrow.” …. “Under this review, an award may not be set aside for a mere mistake of fact or law.” …. “Instead, Section 10 of the FAA provides the only grounds upon which a reviewing court may vacate an arbitrative award.”

Looking at the argument that the panel’s failure to review the documents in camera before ruling on the privilege justified vacatur, the District Court ruling noted that the FINRA arbitration rules do not require in camera review.  Moreover, commented the Court, the overall discovery process was not fundamentally unfair (“A FINRA arbitration panel has great latitude to determine the procedures governing their proceedings and to restrict or control evidentiary proceedings.”).

With respect to the first decision—not to review the documents in camera—the Court observes that nothing in the FINRA arbitration rules requires in camera review prior to ruling on a discovery motion. To the extent the Louisiana Retirees claim that the manner in which the panel resolved discovery issues rendered the proceeding fundamentally unfair, the Court rejects that argument. Even if this Court would have proceeded differently, this Court cannot conclude that the entire arbitration proceeding was tainted because of it. See Bain Cotton Co. v. Chesnutt Cotton Co., 531 F. App’x 500, 501 (5th Cir. 2013) (“Regardless whether the district court or this court—or both—might disagree with the arbitrators’ handling of Bain’s discovery requests, that handling does not rise to the level required for vacating under any of the FAA’s narrow and exclusive grounds.”).

“A FINRA arbitration panel has great latitude to determine the procedures governing their proceedings and to restrict or control evidentiary proceedings.” …. Indeed, even in federal court the decision whether to conduct an in camera inspection is wholly within the discretion of the district court. …. The record reveals that discovery was extensively litigated before the panel, which decided six motions to compel, received multiple rounds of briefing from the parties, and held a telephonic hearing to address the SAR privilege and the request for an in camera review. …. Ultimately, the Louisiana Retirees received over 121,000 documents from Pershing totaling over 635,000 pages. …. The discovery process was not fundamentally unfair. See Prestige Ford v. Ford Dealer Computer Servs., Inc., 324 F.3d 391, 395 (5th Cir. 2003) (abrogated on other grounds) (“In the case at hand, hearings were held and each disputed item was given consideration by the panel; thus, more than adequate opportunity was afforded to the parties and the minimum standards of fundamental fairness were met.”).

Having disposed of the Retirees’ complaint based on the failure of the panel to review the documents in camera before ruling, the Court then turned to the second assertion of fundamental unfairness – the panel’s merits decision that the attorney-client privilege and the SAR privilege shielded all of the documents withheld by Pershing.  Here too, Judge Africk was not persuaded that the tribunal’s decision deprived the Retirees of a fair hearing. The District Court considered that the documents not disclosed during the arbitration were cumulative of documents that were produced (“The documents produced to the Louisiana Retirees in this litigation are cumulative of the documents produced to the Louisiana Retirees in the arbitration proceeding. …  There is no reasonable basis to suggest that if the new documents had been produced during the arbitration proceeding, the result would have been different.”).

With respect to the second decision complained of by the Louisiana Retirees— the panel’s decision that the attorney-client privilege and the SAR privilege shielded all of the documents withheld by Pershing—the Court also concludes that the decision did not render the arbitration proceeding fundamentally unfair. …. Even if this Court disagrees with the arbitration panel regarding the appropriate scope of those privileges, the Court does not find that the Louisiana Retirees were deprived of a fair hearing as a result of the decision.

The documents produced to the Louisiana Retirees in this litigation are cumulative of the documents produced to the Louisiana Retirees in the arbitration proceeding. A review of the record shows that Pershing produced a vast amount of material during the arbitration proceeding which evidenced that high-level Pershing employees were aware as early as 2006, to one degree or another, of potential “red flags” regarding Stanford Group Company. …. The Louisiana Retirees marshaled this evidence in support of their position that Pershing knew or should have known that there were serious questions about Stanford Group Company’s legitimacy during the period that the Ponzi scheme was in operation, and that Pershing should have done more sooner to raise the alarm regarding Stanford Group Company. The arbitration panel rejected the Louisiana Retirees’ arguments. There is no reasonable basis to suggest that if the new documents had been produced during the arbitration proceeding, the result would have been different.

Because the Louisiana Retirees were able to introduce comprehensive evidence supporting their theory of the case, the deprivation of additional arguably relevant evidence did not deprive the Louisiana Retirees of a fair hearing.

The Judge in any event also assessed whether the evidence in the withheld documents about Pershing’s knowledge regarding Stanford’s suspicious behavior was a primary focus of the arbitration.  Judge Africk ruled it was not.  Moreover, the additional evidence would not have shown a direct conflict with testimony of Pershing witnesses.

To the extent the Louisiana Retirees argue that the newly produced documents directly contradict the testimony of Pershing witnesses in the arbitration, the Court finds the Louisiana Retirees’ position to be a mischaracterization of the record. Pershing witnesses acknowledged that there were concerns raised regarding Stanford Group Company as early as 2006. The primary focus of the arbitration proceeding was not whether Pershing had notice of suspicious behavior by Stanford Group Company, but rather whether Pershing acted reasonably to address their concerns and—more importantly—even if Pershing acted unreasonably, whether Pershing violated any legal duty owed to the Louisiana Retirees. (Pershing argued during the arbitration that Pershing could have no liability for fraud committed by Stanford Group Company even if Pershing should have discovered that fraud or done more to prevent it). All of these issues were exhaustively litigated.

Importantly, the Court also pointed out that, if there were ambiguities in the record, any “doubts or uncertainties must be resolved in favor of upholding the arbitration award.”  Applying this legal standard, the Court rejected the Retirees’ vacatur argument.

The Louisiana Retirees also packaged the same underlying situation as an argument that, by not reviewing the withheld documents in camera, the arbitrators evidenced partiality on the part of the arbitrators. The Retirees’ “evident partiality” attack actually involved three separate issues; (1) the in camera issue, (2) the fact that the then-CEO of Pershing had been a member of the FINRA Board of Governors, and (3) the fact that Pershing had presented a defense in the arbitration (the so-called “FINRA defense”) that regulatory examination and enforcement failures (i.e., alleged misconduct by FINRA and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in failing to promptly identify the Stanford Ponzi scheme) meant that FINRA and the SEC should be held equally responsible for the failure to discover the Ponzi scheme earlier.

The Louisiana Retirees next argue that the panel’s decision should be vacated pursuant to section 10(a)(2) of the FAA because there was evident partiality or corruption by the arbitrators. They say the bias was made evident in three ways. First, the Louisiana Retirees claim that the panel’s failure to conduct the in camera review proves the panel was biased in favor of Pershing. Second, the Louisiana Retirees argue the panel was biased because the CEO of Pershing during the relevant time period, Richard Brueckner, was a former member of the FINRA Board of Governors. Third, the Louisiana Retirees contend that the panel was inclined to rule in favor of Pershing because Pershing asserted a so-called “FINRA defense,” in which Pershing supposedly argued to the panel that regulator misconduct or negligence served as a defense to Pershing, i.e. that if Pershing was liable to the Louisiana Retirees then FINRA and the SEC must be deemed equally culpable for failing to discover the Ponzi scheme sooner.

Judge Africk did not accept any of these arguments by the Retirees.  With respect to the claim that the the arbitrators showed bias by declining in camera review, the Judge referred back to his conclusion that the tribunal’s conduct did not produce an unfair hearing.

The Court has already addressed the Louisiana Retirees’ argument that the panel should have reviewed Pershing’s documents in camera. The FINRA rules do not require such an in camera review, and placed in the context of the lengthy discovery proceedings as a whole the panel’s decision not to review the documents does not suggest bias.

The Court then disposed of the other two assertions of bias (“that they strenuously objected to Mr. Brueckner [the former Pershing CEO who had been on the FINRA Board] not testifying in person in the order desired by the Louisiana Retirees during the arbitration proceeding, and that they objected to Pershing advancing the FINRA defense”).  With respect to the issue of the former CEO not be compelled to testify, Judge Africk declined to consider that the former CEO’s position on the FINRA Board produced any partiality on the part of the arbitrators appointed by FINRA.

As for Mr. Brueckner’s relationship with FINRA, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently rejected an identical argument by a losing party to an arbitration, and the Court finds its reasoning persuasive and applicable here. See Freedom Inv’rs Corp. v. Hadath, 2012 WL 383944, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2012) (“Blumenschein’s service on FINRA’s Board of Governors is insufficient to meet the objective test for assessing bias. Pinter has not made any showing that an individual member of the FINRA Board of Governors, or indeed the Board of Governors as a whole, has any influence over the selection of FINRA [Dispute Resolution] arbitrators, their compensation, or their assignment to panels. At the very most, he has raised the specter of an appearance of bias, insufficient grounds for disturbing an arbitration award.”).

The last bias claim put forward by the Louisiana Retirees, based on the “FINRA defense,” fared no better (“Even if Pershing had notified the regulators of any concerns it had regarding Stanford Group Company, it would not have made a difference in terms of shutting down the Ponzi scheme because the regulators and law enforcement agencies already knew far more about Stanford Group Company than anything Pershing could have reported.”).

Finally, with respect to the alleged bias created by the FINRA defense, the Court finds the Louisiana Retirees’ characterization of the defense somewhat misleading. This defense—one of many advanced by Pershing—was essentially a causation argument: Even if Pershing had notified the regulators of any concerns it had regarding Stanford Group Company, it would not have made a difference in terms of shutting down the Ponzi scheme because the regulators and law enforcement agencies already knew far more about Stanford Group Company than anything Pershing could have reported. However the defense is characterized, the Court is not at all convinced that Pershing’s assertion of a particular legal theory demonstrates that the arbitration panel was biased.

Notably, the District Court independently ruled that these “evident partiality” arguments had been waived by the Louisiana Retirees.  Once again, a positive response by counsel to the formula question put by the arbitral panel at the end of the hearings (did they receive “a full and fair opportunity to present their case”) played an important role.

At the beginning of the arbitration hearing, counsel for the Louisiana Retirees stated that they accepted the panel. At the end of the arbitration hearing, counsel for the Louisiana Retirees agreed that they had enjoyed “a full and fair opportunity” to present their case. …. Counsel for the Louisiana Retirees even thanked the panel for its time. … (“We appreciate y’all’s efforts.”). At that point, the Louisiana Retirees already knew of all the panel’s decisions described above, yet they failed to object. It was only once the arbitration panel ruled against them that the bias argument emerged. The waiver rule is designed to prevent just such a circumstance from occurring.

The Louisiana Retirees also made a “manifest error” argument, arguing that, by operation of choice of law principles, the judge-made New York law “manifest error” ground for vacatur was applicable in the Louisiana District Court.  The District Court rejected the choice of law argument, holding instead that the position in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit against any “manifest error” vacatur ground was binding.  Moreover, in a brief footnote, Judge Africk also held that “Regardless, this Court finds no circumstances evidencing manifest disregard of the law by the arbitration panel.”

The principal import of this ruling lies in the willingness of the District Court to conclude, in the face of its own prior ruling that some of the withheld documents should have been produced, that vacatur was still not appropriate.  But, to reach that conclusion, the Court found it necessary to rely in part on its own conclusion that the information in those documents was cumulative of information already in the arbitration record so that no fundamental unfairness had occurred.  The decision therefore has something for everyone in future disputes on each side of this issue.  Of course, it is not unlikely the Louisiana Retirees will appeal Judge Africk’s decision to the for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  So, there may very well be more to come later this year.

 

Mark Kantor is a CPR Distinguished Neutral. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, Mark was a partner in the Corporate and Project Finance Groups of the Firm. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). Additionally, Mr. Kantor is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management.

This material was first published on OGEMID, the Oil Gas Energy Mining Infrastructure and Investment Disputes discussion group sponsored by the on-line journal Transnational Dispute Management (TDM, at https://www.transnational-dispute-management.com/), and is republished with consent.