Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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In 1998, Bay and Oxbow entered into a limestone supply contract, agreeing to resolve any disputes according to specified “Dispute Resolution Procedures.” Oxbow began to provide lower quality limestone that posed a danger to Bay’s equipment. Bay agreed to pay—under protest—a price in excess of that permitted by the contract for adequate limestone. Negotiations and mediation failed. Bay filed a demand for arbitration. An arbitration panel unanimously held that Oxbow had breached the contract and awarded nearly $5 million in damages, costs, and interest. The panel did not award attorneys’ fees, concluding that the Dispute Procedures expressly deny it the jurisdiction to do so. The district court confirmed the award, agreeing that the contract did not permit the prevailing party to recover its attorneys’ fees.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Procedure authorizing the allocation of costs states,“(but excluding attorneys’ fees which shall be borne by each party individually). The provision immediately following that grants the prevailing party a right to attorneys’ fees and another provision refers to attorneys’ fees. Those provisions can either be read together to permit the recovery of attorneys’ fees in court but not before an arbitration panel, or they are hopelessly contradictory and unenforceable. Bay presents a reasonable construction of the terms to harmonize them. View "Bay Shore Power Co. v. Oxbow Energy Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Noe hired attorney Dorit to evaluate the medical records of Noe’s deceased mother for a potential medical malpractice suit. Noe agreed to pay Dorit a $10,000 non-refundable retainer fee, intended to cover Dorit’s time spent evaluating the claim, plus “the costs of additional medical records and/or expert medical review if indicated.” The agreement stated, “Should there arise any disagreement as to the amount of attorney fees and/or costs, Client agrees to enter into binding arbitration of such issue or dispute before the Bar Association of San Francisco.” Ultimately, Dorit said he did not think a malpractice claim was viable. Noe later asked Dorit to return some or all of the retainer fee. Dorit refused. Noe filed a request for arbitration. An arbitrator awarded Noe nothing and allocated him the entire filing fee. Because neither party requested a trial de novo, the award became binding under the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act MFAA). Months later, Dorit sued Noe for malicious prosecution based on the initiation of arbitration. Noe filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute. The court of appeal reversed the denial of his motion. A malicious prosecution claim cannot be based on an MFAA arbitration. View "Dorit v. Noe" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the law firm's motion to compel arbitration between the firm and its client. The court held that the law firm's offer to pay plaintiff's share of the arbitration costs cured any substantive unconscionability that the agreement may have contained; the offer also cured any issue regarding substantive unconscionability where the arbitration provision in effect allowed only the firm to obtain redress of claims; plaintiff has not demonstrated that she lacked meaningful choice, and thus the circumstances giving rise to the lawsuit did not render the retainer agreement procedurally unconscionable; and the language in the agreement adequately disclosed the consequences of the arbitration provision, and the agreement was not unenforceable because the firm violated their ethical duties under DC Circuit precedent. View "Plummer v. McSweeney" on Justia Law

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Hamilton had been employed by the EEOC for 20 years, with no disciplinary problems, until one day in 2016, when, while engaged in mediation, he suddenly began using racial epithets, engaging in physical violence, and refusing to follow orders. The EEOC removed him from federal service. The union filed a grievance, which led to arbitration. During a hearing, the EEOC called 11 witnesses; the union called Hamilton. Although the arbitrator found that certain aspects of the EEOC’s case had not been proved, he credited the testimony of EEOC witnesses to conclude that Hamilton “had a major physical and/or mental breakdown.” Because Hamilton denied taking any of the actions he was charged with, the arbitrator concluded that Hamilton “did not remember.” The arbitrator found that the EEOC had not shown that Hamilton’s behavior had any negative effect on its reputation and had failed to consider that Hamilton’s behavior “was caused by his obvious medical condition,” and set aside Hamilton’s removal, awarding back pay. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for arbitration costs and attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of attorneys’ fees; 5 U.S.C. 7701(g) provides that an adjudicator may require an agency to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees if the employee is the prevailing party and the adjudicator determines that payment by the agency “is warranted in the interest of justice.” On remand, the arbitrator must reconsider the issue and include a statement of reasons. View "AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law

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After Brown Sims, a Houston law firm, successfully obtained a favorable result for its client, AJR, the client colluded with the opposing party, CNA and its attorneys, to consummate a settlement just between themselves. After settlement, the district court dismissed the case as moot.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over Brown Sims's claims against CNA. The court also held that Brown Sims met all of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24's criterion for intervention as of right and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. Furthermore, the district court erred in denying the Rule 60(b)(5) and (b)(6) motions. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further consideration. View "Adam Joseph Resources v. CNA Metals Limited" on Justia Law

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In an action arising out of a fee dispute between a law firm and two clients, the action was removed to federal court and then the unpaid-fees claims proceeded to arbitration. The district court granted the firm relief from the stay and issued an order dividing the counterclaims into two categories: those the clients could raise in arbitration and those they could not.Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Eighth Circuit held that the clients' counterclaims were within the scope of what the parties agreed to arbitrate and the counterclaims seeking something else -- like money from the firm -- were not. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment, with one exception. The court held that the district court should not have decided that the clients terminated the relationship, because the arbitrator should decide the issue. View "Meierhenry Sargent LLP v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that (1) an attorney does not have standing to petition to compel arbitration of his clients' claims; (2) a signatory to an arbitration agreement can compel a nonsignatory parent company of a signatory subsidiary on an agency theory where (a) the parent controlled the subsidiary to such an extent that the subsidiary was a mere agent or instrumentality of the parent and (b) the claims against the parent arose out of the agency relationship; (3) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by substituting the attorney's clients as the real parties in interest in the arbitration; and (4) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by denying attorneys' fees to a party that prevailed in the arbitration. Therefore, the court agreed with the reasoning in Safari Associates v. Superior Court (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 1400, and declined to follow DiMarco v. Chaney (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1809 .Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with directions for the trial court to enter new orders on the petition to compel arbitration and the cross-petitions to vacate and to correct the award. The court also reversed the trial court's order denying attorneys' fees in the postarbitration proceedings. View "Cohen v. TNP 2008 Participating Notes Program, LLC" on Justia Law

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Ramos, an experienced litigator and patent practitioner with a doctorate in biophysics, was hired as a Winston law firm “Income Partner.” After allegedly being denied recognition for her work, excluded from opportunities for career advancement, evaluated based on the success of her male colleagues, and denied compensation and bonuses to which she was entitled, Ramos sued, asserting discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and anti-fair-pay practices. Winston moved to compel arbitration under the partnership agreement Ramos signed after joining the firm. Ramos argued she was an “employee,” not a partner, so that precedent (Armendariz) applied and that the arbitration provision failed to meet Armendariz's minimum requirements arbitration of unwaivable statutory claims. The trial court found that Ramos was “in a partnership relationship” for purposes of the motion, severed provisions related to venue and cost-sharing, and granted Winston’s motion. The court of appeal reversed. Under the Armendariz analysis, the agreement is unconscionable and the taint of illegality cannot be removed by severing the unlawful provisions without altering the nature of the parties’ agreement. Provisions requiring Ramos to pay half the costs of arbitration, pay her own attorney fees, restricting the ability of the arbitrators to “override” or “substitute its judgment” for that of the partnership, and the confidentiality clause, are unconscionable and significantly inhibit Ramos’s ability to pursue her unwaivable statutory claims. View "Ramos v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After attempting to persuade the Tribe to pay him for services provided under construction and rental agreements, Findleton requested that the Tribe mediate and arbitrate pursuant to clauses in the agreements. The Tribe failed to respond. Findleton filed a petition in March 2012, in the Mendocino County Superior Court to compel mediation and arbitration. The court held the Tribe had not waived its sovereign immunity. The Tribe sought attorney fees it had incurred in defending against Findleton’s petition, which the superior court granted. The court of appeal remanded, finding the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity, reversing the award of fees. On remand, Findleton again filed a petition to compel mediation and arbitration and sought contractual attorney fees he had incurred in the prior appellate proceedings. The Tribe did not oppose the fee motion on the merits but requested that the court defer ruling until the Tribe filed a demurrer challenging the court’s jurisdiction. The superior court rejected that request and granted Findleton’s motion, awarding costs ($4,591.79) and attorney fees ($28,148.75). The court of appeal affirmed. The Tribe has not demonstrated that tribal remedy exhaustion was required here nor would requiring exhaustion at this late date serve any purpose other than further delay of a case that is already six years old. View "Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a law firm and the party it previously represented, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal insofar as it reversed the superior court’s judgment entered on an arbitration award but reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment insofar as it ordered disgorgement of all fees collected, holding that the law firm's conduct rendered the parties' arbitration agreement unenforceable but that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of services it rendered to the opposing party.A law firm agreed to represent a manufacturing company in a federal qui tam action. The law firm was later disqualified, and the parties disagreed as to the manufacturer’s outstanding law firm bills. The dispute was sent to arbitration in accordance with the arbitration clause in the parties’ engagement agreement, and the arbitrators ruled in favor of the law firm. The superior court confirmed the award. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding (1) the law firm committed an ethical violation that rendered the parties’ agreement, including the arbitration clause, unenforceable in its entirety; and (2) the law firm was disentitled from receiving any compensation for the work it performed for the manufacturer. The Supreme Court agreed that the law firm’s conduct rendered the parties’ agreement unenforceable but concluded that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of the services it rendered to the manufacturer. View "Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v. J-M Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law