Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries
Paweltzki v. Paweltzki
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Defendants' 2013 motion to enforce a purported settlement agreement and to compel arbitration and dismissing Defendants' claim for unjust enrichment after a trial, holding that the circuit court did not err.Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants, his brothers, to dissolve their family partnership and asserting claims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Defendants asserted multiple counterclaims based on Plaintiff's alleged misappropriation of partnership assets. This appeal concerned only the circuit court's denial of Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement and to compel arbitration and the dismissal of Defendants' claim for unjust enrichment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in denying Defendants' motion to enforce the purported settlement agreement and to compel arbitration; and (2) did not err in denying Defendants relief on their claim for unjust enrichment. View "Paweltzki v. Paweltzki" on Justia Law
Verizon Pennsylvania LLC v. Communications Workers of America
The Arbitration Board, in its Merits Award, held that Verizon violated a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with its Union by contracting with common carriers to deliver FiOS TV set-top boxes to “existing customers” for self-installation, work that used to be performed exclusively by Union Service Technicians. Months later, the Board, in creating a “remedy,” expanded the scope of the violation to include deliveries to both existing and new customers and also the accompanying self-installations.The Third Circuit affirmed the district court in vacating the Remedy Award to the extent that it awards damages for work that falls beyond the outer bounds of the Merits Award--the delivery of boxes to existing customers. The deference given to arbitration awards is almost unparalleled, but not absolute. An arbitrator’s powers are limited by the parties’ agreement, which is made against a background of default legal rules. Under these default rules, an arbitrator who has decided an issue is prohibited from revising that decision without the consent of the parties. He can decide other issues submitted by the parties, correct clerical errors, and clarify his initial decision— but nothing more. The Board improperly awarded punitive damages, which are not permitted under the CBA. View "Verizon Pennsylvania LLC v. Communications Workers of America" on Justia Law
Harper v. Amazon.com Services, Inc.
Harper runs deliveries under the “Amazon Flex” program, which supplements Amazon’s traditional delivery services. Interested drivers use an app to sign up to drive packages from Amazon warehouses, affiliated grocers, and participating restaurants to home shoppers. Harper signed up, clicking on a brightly colored button stating, “I AGREE AND ACCEPT” following the Terms of Service. The Terms included an arbitration provision with an “opt-out” process and specified that Washington law applies. Harper filed a putative class action on behalf of similarly situated New Jersey Amazon Flex drivers, alleging that Amazon misclassified them as independent contractors when they really are employees. Amazon moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act. Harper cited the exemption for a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1, noting that the drivers make some deliveries across state lines. Amazon argued that the claim is also arbitrable under state law. The district court ordered discovery to determine whether Harper falls within the FAA exception, declining to reach Amazon’s alternative state law argument.The Third Circuit vacated. Federal courts sitting in diversity must decide state law claims, including state arbitrability, even where the FAA may apply. That is a threshold inquiry, ensuring prompt review of state law claims, particularly before turning to discovery to sort through a comparatively complex federal question. View "Harper v. Amazon.com Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Singh v. Singh
Respondent Simran Singh (Mother) and Petitioner Gunjit Singh (Father) separated in January of 2012. They entered into a settlement agreement which resolved all issues arising from their marriage, including custody and visitation matters involving their two children, then aged eleven and two. Pursuant to that agreement, Mother received primary custody, and the parties consented to submit any future disputes regarding child support or visitation to a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator, specifically providing that his or her decision would "be binding and non-appealable." The family court approved the agreement and granted the parties a divorce in February of 2013. Approximately nine months later, Father filed an action in family court seeking modification of custody, visitation, and child support, alleging Mother had violated a provision of the agreement when she failed to return to South Carolina with the children after embarking on a cross-country tour as a motivational speaker. From January through August of 2014, four family court judges issued decisions— one dismissing Father’s complaint due to the parties' decision to arbitrate; a second issuing a consent order to arbitrate; and two approving amended agreements to arbitrate. The arbitrator issued a "partial" arbitration award finding a substantial and material change of circumstance affecting the welfare and custody of the minor children, and awarding Father temporary custody. A thirty-two-page final arbitration award was issued the next month, awarding custody to Father. A fifth family court judge issued an order in January 2015 confirming both the partial and final arbitration awards. Thereafter, Mother filed five separate Rule 60(b)(4), SCRCP, motions to vacate all the orders approving the parties' agreements to arbitrate. The court of appeals issued its unanimous decision in December of 2019, holding that the parties could not divest the family court of jurisdiction to determine issues relating to custody, visitation, and child support. One month prior, another panel of the court of appeals issued a decision in Kosciusko v. Parham, 836 S.E.2d 362 (Ct. App. 2019), holding the family court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to approve the binding arbitration of children's issues. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari, and affirmed as modified, the appellate court's order. View "Singh v. Singh" on Justia Law
AtriCure, Inc. v. Meng
AtriCure, an Ohio company, that develops medical devices to treat atrial fibrillation, contracted with Dr. Meng’s company, ZenoMed, to serve as AtriCure’s exclusive Chinese distributor. AtriCure later believed that another of Meng's Chinese companies (Med-Zenith) was attempting to market a dangerous knockoff medical device. AtriCure and ZenoMed had a “Distribution Agreement” that included confidentiality and noncompete clauses and an arbitration clause designating a Chinese entity as the forum. AtriCure let the Distribution Agreement expire and demanded that ZenoMed pay for or return its inventory. Receiving no response, AtriCure filed a federal complaint in Ohio against Meng and Med-Zenith for improperly manufacturing and selling counterfeit products. ZenoMed, Meng, and Med-Zenith sought to stay the lawsuit against them under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a) While Meng and Med-Zenith were not parties to the Distribution Agreement, they argued equitable estoppel and agency theories. The court denied their motion.The Sixth Circuit remanded. Although Supreme Court has promoted a “healthy regard” for the Federal Arbitration Act’s “federal policy favoring arbitration," the Act’s text compels states only to treat arbitration contracts the same way that they treat “any contract.” Ohio law permits the defendants to enforce an arbitration clause even though they did not sign the contract. The defendants' “equitable estoppel” theories failed but the district court failed to ask the right question under Ohio law when rejecting their agency theory. View "AtriCure, Inc. v. Meng" on Justia Law
Tantaros v. Fox News Network, LLC
Plaintiff filed suit in the New York Supreme Court pursuant to New York Civil Practice Law and Rule 7515 (C.P.L.R. 7515), challenging arbitration of her sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims against Fox News and certain senior executives. C.P.L.R. 7515 prohibits mandatory arbitration clauses covering employment discrimination claims, "[e]xcept where inconsistent with federal law." After removal to federal court, the district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court on the basis that the action necessarily raises an issue of federal law: whether her claim is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion, concluding that plaintiff's suit arises under federal law. The court applied the Grable-Gunn analysis and concluded that because section 7515 requires a threshold showing that the plaintiff's claim complies with the FAA, it necessarily raises a substantial federal issue that may be resolved in federal court without threatening the federal-state balance. View "Tantaros v. Fox News Network, LLC" on Justia Law
Independent Laboratory Employees’ Union, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co.
The Union represents about 165 employees at the Clinton research facility, staffed by EMRE. In 2015, a bargaining unit member retired. After advertising internally failed to fill the open position, EMRE used independent contractors to staff the position. The Union filed a grievance regarding the propriety of EMRE contracting out bargaining unit positions and attempting to permanently fill bargaining unit positions with contractors. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows the Company to “let independent contracts” as long as: during any period of time when an independent contractor is performing work of a type customarily performed by employees and employees qualified to perform such work together with all of the equipment necessary in the performance of such work are available in the Company facilities, the Company may not because of lack of work demote or lay off any employee(s) qualified to perform the contracted work."Arbitrator Klein found that the CBA “expressly limits contracting to a ‘period of time” and that EMRE pursued a plan to replace employees with contractors as they left EMRE. She concluded that EMRE’s actions undermined the composition and breadth of the bargaining unit. The Third Circuit affirmed the arbitration award preventing EMRE from permanently contracting out bargaining unit positions at the Clinton facility. Rejecting an argument that the arbitrator improperly considered extrinsic evidence contrary to the CBA, the court noted that the standard of review for upholding arbitration awards is highly deferential. The award “withstands the minimal level of scrutiny.” View "Independent Laboratory Employees' Union, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co." on Justia Law
Beijing Shougang Mining Investment Co., Ltd. v. Mongolia
Petitioners appeal the district court's order denying their petition to set aside an arbitral award issued by an ad hoc arbitral tribunal constituted under a bilateral investment treaty between Mongolia and the People's Republic of China, and granting Mongolia's cross-petition to confirm the award. Petitioners also challenge the district court's rejection of their petition to compel arbitration on the merits.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, rejecting the appeal and holding that petitioners were not entitled to de novo review of the arbitrability of their investment claims. While the bilateral investment treaty in this case does not contain a clear statement empowering arbitrators to decide issues of arbitrability, the court held that the parties nonetheless clearly and unmistakably agreed to submit questions of arbitrability to the arbitral tribunal in the course of the dispute between them. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court properly declined to determine independently the arbitrability of petitioners' investment claims; in reaching their decision on arbitrability, the arbitrators did not exceed their powers; and the court agreed with the district court's decision to confirm the award. View "Beijing Shougang Mining Investment Co., Ltd. v. Mongolia" on Justia Law
Continental Casualty Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds of London
Continental’s primary insurance companies covered risks such as mass tort and pollution liability and purchased reinsurance policies from Underwriters. For over 40 years, the parties agreed on the methodology for calculating reinsurance obligations. In 2010, Continental outsourced its claims handling to Resolute, which made higher demands for payment from Underwriters under a new methodology. Underwriters objected and sought arbitration. A panel conducted a hearing and found Continental’s new methodology contrary to the parties’ established course of dealings. Concerned that the Final Award was not clear about Underwriters’ future reinsurance liability obligations, Continental asked the Panel to clarify whether the statement “Petitioners have paid the full amount due” related only to past bills or if it was meant to cover past and future billings. The Panel denied Continental’s motion for clarification but added that Underwriters had "fully and finally discharged its past, present and future obligations" for the accounts. Continental argued the award amounted to a sanction and that the Panel lacked the authority to issue sanctions or penalties.Continental then sought confirmation of the Final Award but vacatur of the subsequent Order, citing the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 9–10. The district court confirmed everything. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the FAA’s narrow set of reasons that may support a court’s confirmation, vacatur, or modification of an award. View "Continental Casualty Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds of London" on Justia Law
Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc.
Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law