While I was busy blogging out listicles and “think pieces” last month, my stack of unread arbitration cases grew exponentially. August was apparently a very busy month for publishing arbitration opinions. Maybe most surprisingly, the federal appellate courts vacated three arbitration awards in recent weeks. So I will start there, and end with two headline-worthy awards that got confirmed.
First, in Bankers Life & Cas. Ins. Co. v. CBRE, Inc., __ F3d __, 2016 WL 4056400 (7th Cir. July 29, 2016), the Seventh Circuit vacated an arbitration award after finding the panel of arbitrators “exceeded its authority.” The panel had concluded that a real estate broker did not violate its listing agreement with a client when the broker provided an inaccurate cost-benefit analysis to the client. The panel said that because the cost-benefit analysis had a disclaimer on it, the broker was not responsible. The district court had confirmed the award. Writing for the Seventh Circuit, Judge Posner found that because the panel was only authorized to interpret the contract, not the cost-benefit analysis, “[t]he panel’s reliance on the disclaimer in the CBAs was … unjustified.” One bit of helpful context here is that the court found the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act applied. I don’t think this result would fly under the FAA or Sutter .
Second, in Star Ins. Co. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 2016 WL 4394563 (6th Cir. Aug. 18, 2016), the Sixth Circuit vacated an arbitration award pursuant to the arbitration act in Michigan. Although the district court had confirmed the award, the appellate court reversed due to one arbitrator’s ex parte communications with the party who selected that arbitrator. That communication violated the parties’ agreement to arbitrate as set forth in the scheduling orders.
Third, although not exactly a vacatur, in Linde Health Care Staffing, Inc. v. Claiborne County Hospital, __ So.3d __, 2016 WL 4245435 (Miss. Aug. 11, 2016), the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to recognize a Missouri judgment based on an arbitration award. It found the losing party was not a party to the arbitration agreement. Intriguingly, the winning party claimed that the three months for vacating the award had already passed, so the judgment could not be set aside. The court refused to apply the FAA, however, asking “How can the Hospital be bound by the FAA’s procedural rules if it never entered a contract with an arbitration clause? The simple answer is it cannot.”
On the other hand, two very interesting arbitration cases were confirmed.
In one, a famous football player had the arbitration award against him un-vacated. The district court around the corner from my office had found Adrian Peterson was not fairly on notice of the potential penalty against him. The Eighth Circuit reversed, concluding:
As applied to Peterson’s case, therefore, the arbitrator thought the terms of the Agreement, the law of the shop, and the Personal Conduct Policy gave the Commissioner discretion to impose a six-game suspension and fine if he concluded that shorter suspensions in prior cases had been inadequate. The arbitrator’s decision on this point was grounded in a construction and application of the terms of the Agreement and a specific arbitral precedent. It is therefore not subject to second-guessing by the courts.
Nat’l Football League Players Assoc. v. Nat’l Football League, __ F.3d__, 2016 WL 4136958 (8th Cir. Aug 4, 2016).
Another fun case confirming an arbitration award involved a significant award for a Mexican subsidiary of KBR and quite the international legal dispute. Corporacion Mexicana de Mantenimiento Integral v. Pemex-Exploracion y Produccion, __F.3d__, 2016 WL 4087215 (2d Cir. Aug. 2, 2016). The losing party in that arbitration happened to be an oil and gas company “acting on behalf of the Mexican government.” Three years into the arbitration proceeding, the Mexican Congress vested exclusive jurisdiction for disputes over public contracts in its Tax & Administrative Court. And nearly five years into the arbitration proceeding, the Mexican Congress “ended arbitration” for the claims. After KBR’s subsidiary won big, it confirmed the award in SDNY. But a court in Mexico ordered that the award be annulled. The Second Circuit was having none of that. It found the district court was right to confirm the award “notwithstanding invalidation of the award in the Mexican courts,” due to four “powerful considerations” including waiver of sovereign immunity, the “repugnancy of retroactive legislation that disrupts contractual expectation,” the need for legal claims to have a forum, and the “prohibition against government expropriation without compensation.”
What can we take away from these decisions? Maybe that losing parties in arbitration have a better chance of vacating an award under state arbitration acts, that the 8th Circuit is not sympathetic to wealthy football players, and the Second Circuit will not allow a foreign government to legislate its way out of an arbitration award.