COURT LACKS JURISDICTION TO HEAR MOTION TO VACATE ARBITRATION DECISION THAT DENIED WITHDRAWAL OF ARBITRABLE CLAIM

A federal district court has dismissed a motion to vacate an arbitration decision denying a party’s request to unilaterally withdraw a claim that was subject to a pending arbitration. Finding the arbitration decision was not final, and did not fall within any exception to the finality requirement, the court held it lacked jurisdiction to consider the motion to vacate it. The court also rejected application of the collateral order doctrine which, if applicable, would justify the court’s jurisdiction to hear the motion. That doctrine is reserved for only a few substantial interests, such as defenses of presidential immunity and double jeopardy. No such substantial interest was shown by the argument that consideration of the order could avoid unnecessary legal expenses. Bailey Shipping Ltd. v. American Bureau of Shipping, et al., Case No. 12-CV-5959 (USDC S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2014).

This post written by Renee Schimkat.

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COURT DENIES PETITION TO APPOINT ARBITRATION UMPIRE IN RETROCESSION DISPUTE

Odyssey Reinsurance Co. petitioned the court to appoint an umpire to serve in arbitration with its retrocessionaries, certain Lloyd’s underwriters and Reliastar Reinsurance Group, over a disputed reinsurance claim. Odyssey argued that arbitration had been unduly delayed due to what it contended were poorly qualified candidates proposed by the retrocessionaires. The court held that Odyssey’s arguments were insufficient to obtain relief from the court at that time, and that in its view, there had “not been a breakdown in the process that justifies court intervention.” The court directed the parties “to proceed to the next stage of arbitrator selection” as described in the agreements between them. Odyssey Reinsurance Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London Syndicate 53, et al., Case No. 1:13-cv-09014 (USDC S.D.N.Y. June 30, 2014) (Opinion & Order and Judgment).

This post written by Michael Wolgin.

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FIFTH CIRCUIT HOLDS ORDER REMANDING CASE BACK TO ARBITRATORS FOR CLARIFICATION IS NON-FINAL AND NON-APPEALABLE

The appeal arose from a lawsuit to clarify an arbitration award concerning an alleged breach of a corporate merger agreement containing a binding arbitration clause. The federal district court found the arbitration panel had exceeded its authority under that arbitration clause by failing to provide sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding a damages claim. The district court therefore remanded the case back to the panel for consideration of that issue and clarification of the award. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that because the district court neither confirmed nor vacated the award, the order was not final, a point on which the dissent strongly disagreed, and it therefore did not have appellate jurisdiction over the order. The court further reasoned that it was necessary to decline jurisdiction to avoid generating piecemeal appeals and in light of the court’s deferential standard of review of arbitration awards. Murchison Capital Partners, L.P., et al. v. Nuance Communications, Inc., No. 13-10852 (5th Cir. July 25, 2014).

This post written by Renee Schimkat.

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NEW YORK COURT REJECTS BID TO COMPEL ARBITRATION OF REINSURANCE DISPUTE

A New York federal district court denied Transatlantic Reinsurance Company’s petition to compel National Indemnity Company (“NICO”) to submit to arbitration. While the court’s order does not provide the basis for its ruling and only refers to the reasons set forth on the record, the issues were extensively analyzed in the parties’ briefing. The core issue was whether NICO, which was not a signatory to the reinsurance agreements between Transatlantic and AIG, should be compelled to arbitrate under those agreements’ arbitration provisions. Transatlantic argued that NICO was bound by the reinsurance agreements because it substituted itself for AIG by virtue of the Loss Portfolio Transfer wherein AIG to transferred NICO its asbestos-related liabilities which Transatlantic reinsured. According to Transatlantic, the principles of “direct benefits estoppel” required NICO to arbitrate under the reinsurance agreements in light of the benefits enjoyed by NICO as a result of those agreements.

The court rejected these arguments, evidently agreeing with NICO, which had challenged Transatlantic’s characterization of the Loss Portfolio Transfer and the reinsurance agreements. NICO argued it never agreed to arbitrate. Further, NICO maintained it was a third-party administrator acting on AIG’s behalf and did not substitute for AIG under the Loss Portfolio Transfer or any other agreement. NICO claimed it also did not receive any direct benefits under the reinsurance agreements, so the “direct benefits estoppel” theory was inapplicable. Finally, NICO pointed out that it was not a necessary party to the arbitration because Transatlantic could obtain complete relief without NICO being a party. Transatlantic Reinsurance Co. v. National Indemnity Co., Case No. 14 Civ. 2109 (ER) (USDC S.D.N.Y. July 22, 2014).

This post written by Leonor Lagomasino.

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ELEVENTH CIRCUIT REVERSES COVERAGE RULING UNDER REINSURANCE AGREEMENT

Public Risk Management of Florida, an intergovernmental risk management association that functions as a primary insurer for certain government entities in Florida, ceded some of its risk to One Beacon under a reinsurance policy. Public Risk’s insured, the City of Wintergarden, made a claim for defense and indemnity for an underlying lawsuit against it by a contractor who performed public works, but was claimed it was underpaid as a result of delays arising from the City’s failure to provide accurate plans and maps. Public Risk defended under a reservation of rights. It also tendered the claim to One Beacon, which disagreed there was a duty to defend. Ultimately, Public Risk was not required to indemnify its insured, but sustained over $286,941.07 in loss for legal fees above the $200,000 retention, which it believed were owed by One Beacon pursuant to the reinsurance agreement. Public Risk sued One Beacon, but the district court found no duty to defend and dismissed the claim. Public Risk appealed, and the Eleventh Circuit reversed the coverage ruling, finding that the underlying claims did not sound entirely in intentional tort, and therefore there was a duty to defend. Public Risk Management of Florida v. One Beacon Insurance Co., No. 13-15254 (11th Cir. June 24, 2014).

This post written by John Pitblado.

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CEDENT WINS BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM AGAINST R&Q REINSURANCE

A Wisconsin federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, Employers Insurance Company of Wausau, and against its reinsurer, R&Q Reinsurance Company, on Employers’ claim that R&Q breached its agreement by failing to pay Employers for those claims paid Employers to its insureds. R&Q unsuccessfully maintained that Employers could not combine its indemnity payments and defense expenses and that it should have calculated the defense expenses using the ratio terms provided on the certificate of insurance. The Court disagreed, finding that the reinsurance agreement did not distinguish between indemnity and defense expenses, which were covered under the agreement, such that Employers was not required to calculate the defense expenses differently from the way it calculated the indemnity payments. The court also rejected R&Q’s argument that Employers had failed to produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that its payments exceeded the retention amount. The court found that R&Q’s argument was precluded by R&Q’s failure to present contrary evidence on summary judgment where a party must do more than speculate that other evidence supporting its case may exist. The court did, however, find a factual issue existed as to the calculation of prejudgment interest and denied Employer’s motion for summary judgment accordingly. Employers Insurance Company of Wausau v. R&Q Reinsurance Company, Case No. 13-cv-709-bbc (USDC W.D. Wis. July 28, 2014).

This post written by Leonor Lagomasino.

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COURT GRANTS SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN $40M REINSURANCE COMMISSION DISPUTE

Greenlight Reinsurance brought suit against Appalachian Underwriters (“AUI”), Appalachian Reinsurance (“App Re”) and Insurance Services Group (“ISG”) alleging it had been shortchanged more than $40,000,000 pursuant to three types of agreements it entered into with the respective defendants (1) a reinsurance agreement between Greenlight and AIU, where AIU acted as managing general agent, and was obliged to refund ceded premium beyond contractually defined amounts based on loss ratios; (2) a similar retrocession agreement with App Re; and (3) a guarantee agreement with ISG. Greenlight claimed that, based on loss ratio thresholds, it was owed a return of premium under the reinsurance and retrocession agreements, and that ISG had guaranteed those payments.

The court analyzed the agreements, and, based on the minimum loss ratios, and the undisputed calculations of ceded premium, held that AUI owed Greenlight $16,986,516 under the reinsurance agreement, and App Re owed Greenlight $24,456,213 under the retrocession agreement. The court held, however, that Greenlight failed to demonstrate that the guarantee from ISG was a guarantee of payment. Rather, the court found that it was a parental guarantee, which required ISG, as a parent corporation, to ensure that its subsidiaries, AIU and App Re, remained solvent, but did not require it to make direct payments on their behalf. The court thus granted summary judgment on Greenlight’s claims against AUI and App Re, but denied summary judgment as to ISG. Greenlight Reinsurance, Ltd. V. Appalachian Underwriters, Inc., Case No. 12-CV-8544 (JPO) (USDC S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2014).

This post written by John Pitblado.

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CALIFORNIA APPELLATE COURT UPHOLDS DELEGATION CLAUSE IN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT

The issue before the California Appellate Court was whether the trial court erred in enforcing a delegation clause in an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), and granting the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration.

Plaintiff/Petitioner brought a wage and hour action against her former employer. The defendant former employer moved to compel arbitration, pursuant to a clause contained in its employee handbook. The delegation clause provided, “The arbitrator has exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the interpretation, applicability, or enforceability of this binding arbitration agreement.” Plaintiff opposed arbitration asserting that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. Defendant, in turn, asserted that arbitration agreement contained a delegation clause providing that issues relating to the enforceability of the arbitration agreement were themselves delegated to the arbitrator for resolution. The dispute then turned to whether the delegation clause itself was unconscionable.

The appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision. The appellate court concluded a portion of the rationale underlying Murphy v. Check ‘N Go of California, Inc. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 138 (Murphy); Bruni v. Didion (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1272 (Bruni); and Ontiveros v. DHL Express (USA), Inc. (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 494 (Ontiveros) was no longer viable under California law. Murphy, Bruni, and Ontiveros relied on three factors to conclude that the delegation clauses at issue were substantively unconscionable: (1) they were outside the reasonable expectations of the parties; (2) they were not bilateral; and (3) they provided for decisionmaking by arbitrators who would be biased by their financial self-interest. The appellate court found that the first two factors did not apply to the delegation clause at issue and that the third factor was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). Malone v. Superior Court, B253891 (Cal. Ct. App. June 17, 2014).

This post written by Kelly A. Cruz-Brown.

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NEW YORK FEDERAL COURT RULES IT CANNOT COMPEL ARBITRATION IN GEORGIA

A New York federal court recently was presented with a motion to compel arbitration in Georgia. The district court first concluded that the arbitration provision was enforceable and then proceeded to the question of whether it had the authority to compel arbitration in a district other than its own. The court described what it deemed an “internal conflict” within the Federal Arbitration Act because the Act provides both that (1) courts must enforce an arbitration agreement in accordance with its terms, and (2) arbitration must take place “within the district in which the petition for an order directing such arbitration is filed.” The court also noted an unresolved split in the Second Circuit on how a New York district court should proceed when a suit pending before it involves an arbitration agreement that specifies that arbitration should take place outside the court’s district. Ultimately, the court ruled that it had no authority to compel arbitration outside its district, but nevertheless wished to enforce the valid forum selection clause contained in the agreement. Accordingly, the district court elected to stay the action, pending arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant in Georgia. This approach left the parties free to pursue their contractual rights and remedies in the appropriate venue without running afoul of the FAA. Klein v. ATP Flight School, No. 14-CV-1522 (USDC E.D. N.Y. July 3, 2014).

This post written by Catherine Acree.

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NINTH CIRCUIT FINDS REVISIONS TO ARBITRATION POLICY IN EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK EFFECTIVE AND ENFORCEABLE

The Ninth Circuit recently reversed a district court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration of an employee’s claims that were brought as a putative class action against her employer, Nordstrom. The basis for the motion to compel was an arbitration provision contained in Nordstrom’s employee handbook. The arbitration provision had been modified to preclude employees from bringing class action lawsuits after the employee received the handbook.

The employee argued that she did not have reasonable notice of the change based on a provision in the employee handbook that required Nordstrom to provide employees with 30 days written notice of any substantive changes to the arbitration provision. The handbook provided that the notice provision was included to “allow employees time to consider the changes and decide whether or not to continue employment subject to the changes.” To comply with the notice provision, Nordstrom sent letters to employees in June 2011 informing them of the change in the arbitration policy. Nordstrom did not seek to enforce the new arbitration provision during the 30-day notice period, but the letter was silent in that regard and stated that the revised arbitration provision was the “current version.” Applying California law, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Nordstrom had satisfied the minimal requirements for providing employees with reasonable notice of a change to its employee handbook by sending the letter to the employees informing them of the modification, and by not seeking to enforce the arbitration provision during the 30-day notice period. The Ninth Circuit also held that Nordstrom was not bound to inform the employee that her continued employment after receiving the letter constituted acceptance of new terms of employment. Davis v. Nordstrom, Inc., No. 12-17403 (9th Cir. June 23, 2014).

This post written by Catherine Acree.

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