Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Plaintiff-appellant Dana Fedor appealed a district court’s order compelling her to arbitrate employment-related claims she brought against her former employer, UnitedHealthcare, Inc. (UHC), and United Healthcare Services, Inc. Fedor argued the district court impermissibly compelled arbitration before first finding that she and UHC had indeed formed the arbitration agreement underlying the district court’s decision. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that the issue of whether an arbitration agreement was formed in the first instance had to be determined by the court, even where there has been a failure to specifically challenge provisions within the agreement delegating certain decisions to an arbitrator. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Fedor v. United Healthcare" on Justia Law

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The parties to this appeal were a Bolivian company, Compania de Inversiones Mercantiles S.A. (“CIMSA”), and Mexican companies known as Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, S.A.B. de C.V. and GCC Latinoamerica, S.A. de C.V. (collectively “GCC”). Plaintiff-appellant CIMSA brought a district court action pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act to confirm a foreign arbitral award issued in Bolivia against Defendant-appellee GCC. The underlying dispute stemmed from an agreement under which CIMSA and GCC arranged to give each other a right of first refusal if either party decided to sell its shares in a Bolivian cement company known as Sociedad Boliviana de Cemento, S.A. (“SOBOCE”). GCC sold its SOBOCE shares to a third party after taking the position that CIMSA failed to properly exercise its right of first refusal. In 2011, CIMSA initiated an arbitration proceeding in Bolivia. The arbitration tribunal determined that GCC violated the contract and the parties’ expectations. GCC then initiated Bolivian and Mexican court actions to challenge the arbitration tribunal’s decisions. A Bolivian trial judge rejected GCC’s challenge to the arbitration tribunal’s decision on the merits. A Bolivian appellate court reversed and remanded. During the pendency of the remand proceedings, Bolivia’s highest court reversed the appellate court and affirmed the original trial judge. But as a result of the simultaneous remand proceedings, the high court also issued arguably contradictory orders suggesting the second trial judge’s ruling on the merits remained in effect. GCC filed a separate Bolivian court action challenging the arbitration tribunal’s damages award. That case made its way to Bolivia’s highest court too, which reversed an intermediate appellate court’s nullification of the award and remanded for further proceedings. Invoking the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, CIMSA filed a confirmation action in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. After encountering difficulties with conventional service of process in Mexico under the Hague Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents, CIMSA sought and received permission from the district court to serve GCC through its American counsel pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3). The district court then rejected GCC’s challenges to personal jurisdiction, holding (among other things) that: (1) it was appropriate to aggregate GCC’s contacts with the United States; (2) CIMSA’s injury arose out of GCC’s contacts; (3) exercising jurisdiction was consistent with fair play and substantial justice; and (4) alternative service was proper. The district court rejected GCC's defenses to CIMSA's claim under the New York Convention. Before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court affirmed the district court: the district court properly determined that CIMSA’s injury arose out of or related to GCC’s nationwide contacts. "The district court correctly decided that exercising personal jurisdiction over GCC comported with fair play and substantial justice because CIMSA established minimum contacts and GCC did not make a compelling case to the contrary." The Court also affirmed the district court's confirmation of the arbitration tribunal's decisions. View "Compania De Inversiones v. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua" on Justia Law

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A married couple, Beverly Bien and David Wellman, invested money with Mid Atlantic Capital Corporation (“Mid Atlantic”). Their investments performed poorly. Stung by the losses, Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman initiated arbitration proceedings against Mid Atlantic. The arbitration panel awarded damages, fees and costs to the couple. The panel also ordered Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman to reassign their ownership interests in their investments to Mid Atlantic. Mid Atlantic moved the federal district court to modify the arbitration award to correct “an evident material miscalculation of figures.” The district court denied the motion because the alleged error that Mid Atlantic sought to remedy did not appear on the face of the arbitration award. In the amended final judgment, in addition to ordering Mid Atlantic to pay Ms. Bien and Mr. Wellman certain damages, the court ordered that prejudgment interest would accrue on the damages portion of the award and that postjudgment interest would accrue at the federal rate specified in 28 U.S.C. 1961. Both parties appealed the district court’s order. Mid Atlantic specifically challenged the court’s denial of its motion to modify the arbitration award; the couple cross-appealed to challenge the court’s rulings with respect to prejudgment interest and the reassignment of distributions they received since the arbitration award due to their ownership interests in the investments. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Mid Atlantic Capital v. Bien" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Luzetta Murphy-Sims appealed after a jury ruled in favor of Defendant-Appellee Owners Insurance Company (Owners) on her complaint against Owners' insured stemming from a car accident. The insured was at fault; Murphy-Sims maintained that she suffered extensive injuries, and consequently incurred significant medical costs, as a result of the accident. In February 2014, she sent Owners a letter demanding settlement claiming $41,000 in medical expenses. Owners timely replied with a request for more information. When Murphy-Sims failed to reply, Owners sent two additional follow-up requests. Finally, in June 2014, Murphy-Sims provided Owners with some of the requested information. It did not offer a settlement payment in response. In July 2014, Murphy-Sims sued the insured. The parties agreed roughly three weeks later to enter into a Nunn agreement, which bound the matter over to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Murphy-Sims approximately $1.3 million and judgment was entered against the insured. Pursuant to the agreement, Murphy-Sims did not execute on the judgment. In March 2016, Murphy-Sims, standing in the insured's shoes as permitted under the Nunn agreement, filed the underlying lawsuit against Owners in state district court, claiming Owners breached its contract with Switzer and had done so in bad faith. Owners removed the suit to federal court and the case proceeded to trial. The jury ultimately found that Owners did not breach its contract with the insured, thereby declining to award $1.3 million in damages to Murphy-Sims. The jury did not reach the bad faith claim having been instructed that it need not be reached in the absence of a breach of contract. After review of Murphy-Sims arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the district curt committed no reversible error, and affirmed its judgment. View "Murphy-Sims v. Owners Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Wakaya Perfection, LLC and its principals sued Youngevity International Corp. and its principals in Utah state court. The Youngevity parties responded by bringing their own suit against the Wakaya parties in a California federal district court, then removing the Utah case to federal court. These steps resulted in concurrent federal cases sharing at least some claims and issues. The California litigation progressed; and in November 2017, the federal district court in Utah ordered dismissal. The issues presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether: (1) the federal district court should have abstained from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976) test; and (2) and arbitrator would have needed to decide the arbitrability of Wakaya's claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed on both grounds: the federal trial court applied the wrong abstention test and erroneously ruled that an arbitrator should have decided whether Wakaya's claims were arbitrable. View "Wakaya Perfection, LLC v. Youngevity International" on Justia Law

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Au pairs and former au pairs filed a class action lawsuit against AuPairCare, Inc. (“APC”) and other au pair sponsoring companies alleging violations of antitrust laws, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), federal and state minimum wage laws, and other state laws. Eventually, the au pairs amended their complaint and added two former au pairs, Juliane Harning and Laura Mejia Jimenez, who were sponsored by APC. In response, APC filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the district court denied. The district court found the arbitration provision between the parties both procedurally and substantively unconscionable and declined to enforce it. Because the arbitration provision contained only one substantively unconscionable clause, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion by refusing to sever the offending clause and otherwise enforce the agreement to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Beltran v. Interexchange, Inc." on Justia Law

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Matthew Ray, a former DISH Network L.L.C. employee who signed an arbitration agreement when he was employed, filed an action in the federal district court alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), Colorado’s Wage Claim Act, Colorado’s Minimum Wage Act, and a common law claim for breach of contract. Dish moved to dismiss, demanding that Ray arbitrate his claims pursuant to the Agreement. Ray dismissed the lawsuit and filed with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), asserting the same four claims. In addition, and the focus of this case, Ray attempted to pursue his claims as a class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and a collective action under 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The arbitrator determined that the Arbitration Agreement between the two parties permitted classwide arbitration, and then stayed the arbitration to permit DISH to contest the issue in court. DISH filed a Petition to Vacate Clause Construction Arbitration Award, which the district court denied. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the arbitrator in this case did not manifestly disregard Colorado law when he concluded that he was authorized to conduct class arbitration by the broad language of the Agreement in combination with the requirement that arbitration be conducted pursuant to the AAA’s Employment Dispute Rules. Accordingly, the district court correctly denied DISH’s petition to vacate the arbitration award. View "Dish Network v. Ray" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (the “Nation”) entered into a Tribal-State gaming compact; Part 12 of which contained a dispute-resolution procedure that called for arbitration of disagreements “arising under” the Compact’s provisions. The terms of the Compact indicated either party could, “[n]otwithstanding any provision of law,” “bring an action against the other in a federal district court for the de novo review of any arbitration award.” In Hall Street Associates, LLC. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, (2008), the Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) precluded parties to an arbitration agreement from contracting for de novo review of the legal determinations in an arbitration award. At issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was how to treat the Compact’s de novo review provision given the Supreme Court’s decision in Hall Street Associates. The Nation argued the appropriate course was to excise from the Compact the de novo review provision, leaving intact the parties’ binding obligation to engage in arbitration, subject only to limited judicial review under 9 U.S.C. sections 9 and 10. Oklahoma argued the de novo review provision was integral to the parties’ agreement to arbitrate disputes arising under the Compact and, therefore, the Tenth Circuit should sever the entire arbitration provision from the Compact. The Tenth Circuit found the language of the Compact demonstrated that the de novo review provision was a material aspect of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate disputes arising thereunder. Because Hall Street Associates clearly indicated the Compact’s de novo review provision was legally invalid, and because the obligation to arbitrate was contingent on the availability of de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the obligation to arbitrate set out in Compact Part 12 was unenforceable. Thus, the matter was remanded to the district court to enter an order vacating the arbitration award. View "Citizen Potawatomi Nation v. State of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal concerned a contract dispute about the provision of food services at the Fort Riley Army base in Kansas. The Department of the Army (Army) contracts with outside vendors for food preparation and related supporting services for its cafeteria dining facilities at Fort Riley. Since 2006, the State of Kansas, through the Kansas Department for Children and Families (Kansas), successfully bid under the RSA on those food preparation and related services contracts at Fort Riley. Kansas’s most recent contract awarded under the RSA was scheduled to expire in February 2016. As that date approached, the Army determined that its next dining contract at Fort Riley would be for supporting services only. The Army therefore decided that it need not solicit bids under the RSA and it approached another vendor directly, as permitted by the JWOD. Kansas took exception to the Army’s decision because it eliminated Kansas’s ability to bid on the contract. So Kansas initiated arbitration proceedings under the RSA’s dispute resolution provisions. And upon learning that the Army intended to contract with the other vendor despite the commencement of arbitration proceedings, Kansas sued in federal court, seeking to preliminarily enjoin the Army from executing the JWOD contract pending arbitration. The root of the dispute was the intersection of two federal statutes that both address the procurement of food services at federal facilities: (1) the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Act of 1936 (RSA), and (2) the Javits Wagner O’Day Act (JWOD). The parties disagreed as to which of these statutes governed the award of the Fort Riley food services contract. And due to events that have occurred since this action was filed, the parties also disputed whether this appeal was rendered moot. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the issue raised by this appeal fell within an exception to the mootness doctrine for matters capable of repetition yet evading review. Because an arbitration panel has since issued its decision thereby dissolving the injunction at issue in this appeal, the Court declined to address whether the district court correctly granted the injunction. View "Kansas Department for Children v. SourceAmerica" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority under section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and whether he manifestly disregarded the law in awarding certain costs and fees to the prevailing party. Under its restrictive standard of review, the Court concluded the arbitrator did not exceed his authority or manifestly disregard the law. View "THI of New Mexico at Vida Enca v. Lovato" on Justia Law