Is there such a thing as an arbitration joke? Here is a test. Two plaintiffs walk into a court, claiming that each was wrongfully terminated by a bank (UBS). The bank moves to compel arbitration by plaintiff one; and it moves to dismiss the judicial claim of plaintiff two because that plaintiff had already brought his claim in an arbitration that he commenced. The Court finds that both plaintiffs are bound by arbitration agreements with UBS and that their claims are within the scope of the arbitration clauses. The punchline: “the court denies UBS’s motion to dismiss [plaintiff two’s] claims and to compel arbitration of [plaintiff one’s] claims.” See Zoller v. UBS Secs. LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44170 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2018) (emphasis added).
An ex parte proceeding in a U.S. court to “recognize,” “enforce,” or “confirm” an arbitration award against a foreign sovereign is improper. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a lengthy and instructive decision to that effect in Mobil Cerro Negro, Ltd. v. Bolivarian Republic of Venez., 863 F.3d 96 (2d. Cir. 2017). Its lesson is that in the United States, the only way to enforce (or recognize or confirm) an arbitral award issued against a sovereign entity by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (“ICSID”) (and probably otherwise as well) is in compliance with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”).
Arbitration is a creature of contract. So is the law concerning contracts with an arbitration clause the same as the law concerning any other contract? Almost. One must always bear in mind the “separability” or “independence” of the arbitration agreement — the autonomy principle.
The drive in the Second Circuit to clarify the rules regarding confirmation and enforcement of various types of arbitration awards continues. The latest addition is the decision in BSH Hausgerate GmbH v. Kamhi, 17 Civ. 5776, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34597 (S.D.N.Y Mar. 2, 2018) (Sweet, J.). Federal district courts have occasionally decided that an arbitration award is ambiguous or incomplete or indefinite, and therefore should be remanded to the arbitrator for clarification rather than confirmed by the court. Judge Sweet seeks to bring clarity to the law concerning the judicial treatment of international arbitral awards in particular, holding that “ambiguity” is not a cognizable basis for refusing to enforce (or “confirm”) such an award.
Published in Law 360 (February 15, 2018)
In a series of articles over the past several months, we asked whether “class arbitration” — meaning the utilization of the Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 class action protocol in an arbitration proceeding — is ultimately viable in U.S. jurisprudence. We suggested that it arguably is not, considering the fundamental nature of arbitration. And we noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had not addressed core issues that will ultimately determine the viability of a class arbitration award, nor had the various Courts of Appeal grappled with those issues. But the courts in the Second Circuit have begun to do so.
Typically, the issue of whether a party is bound by an arbitration agreement is raised in a judicial motion to compel under Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 4). The issue also may be raised in a judicial application to stay an arbitration, as to which the Section 4 procedure applies as well. Occasionally, however, the issue is decided by an arbitrator in the first instance. When the matter eventually reaches a court — e.g., in the context of a post-arbitration motion to confirm or to vacate an award (FAA §§ 9, 10) — and the arbitrator’s decision regarding party arbitrability is to be reviewed, that facet of the judicial proceeding is likely to resemble one for an application under FAA § 4. That is, the judicial review will be de novo, the Section 4 procedure will likely be adopted, and the court will not be restricted to the record before the arbitrator — additional evidence will be permitted.
Litigators in the U.S. often take for granted the ease with which they can obtain discovery from non-parties in our federal and state courts. One might assume that the “presumption in favor of arbitrability” embodied in the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. (“FAA”), would have been implemented with, among other things, a statutory grant of subpoena power to arbitrators that is virtually coextensive with that of a federal district court. No so, however. And depending on the place of arbitration, a party’s ability to compel document production from a non-party, much less to depose that witness, prior to a hearing, may be very limited indeed. Problems and issues abound.
What makes an on-line arbitration agreement binding against a website user? In Meyer v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 15497 (2d Cir. Aug. 17, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a second decision on this issue, providing additional elucidation following its 2016 decision in Nicosia v. Amazon, Inc. 834 F.3d 220 (2d Cir. Aug. 24, 2016).The Nicosia and Meyer cases each involved an on-line agreement with a user who claimed not to have read the company’s terms and conditions, including an arbitration clause. In Meyer, Uber’s agreement to arbitrate was held to be enforceable against the user; in Nicosia, Amazon’s was not—at least on the record before the Court of Appeals.
When is “silence” in an arbitration clause concerning class arbitration not “Stolt-Nielsen silence”? And what is the difference between a “claim” and a “procedure”? The Ninth Circuit seemingly took hair-splitting to a new level in conceiving the former question, and apparently suffered some uncertainty regarding the latter, when it issued its memorandum decision in Varela v. Lamps Plus, Inc., No. 16-56085 (Aug. 3, 2017).
Do you ever have days when you are not your most eloquent self, the words come out in a jumble, or they are just not precisely what you intended? So do trial judges. But appeals courts seem to understand.
Thus, in Davis v. Fenton, Nos. 16-2121, 16-2165 (7th Cir. May 26, 2017), the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided, among other things, that when a suit is “administratively dismissed without prejudice” by a District Court “subject to full reinstatement upon the completion of [a] required arbitration,” that just means that it was “stayed pending arbitration.” Consequently, an appellant got no traction with an argument that he had correctly commenced a proceeding in state court to challenge the eventual arbitral award, and the federal District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction when it subsequently confirmed the award in question. Wait, did that come out right?