A pro se litigant sought to vacate an adverse summary judgment in arbitration that rejected her wrongfully termination claim. At the outset of the arbitration proceeding, the parties agreed on the selection of the proposed arbitrator, even though his curriculum vitae showed that he had previously served as the managing shareholder of an office of the law firm representing the employer adverse to the pro se litigant. This fact was further mentioned by the law firm in an email to the pro se litigant, and again by the arbitrator himself in another email to the parties.
After the arbitrator entered judgment for the employer, the pro se litigant sought to vacate the award, alleging that the arbitrator had failed to disclose his friendship with one of the lawyers representing the employer. The pro se litigant based her argument in part on the discovery of a photograph of the arbitrator and opposing counsel “standing arm in arm in celebration of [the arbitrator’s] 50th birthday” and further that this “undisclosed relationship and their friendship demonstrates bias.”
The Eleventh Circuit found these arguments insufficient to demonstrate the requisite bias. The court noted that the arbitrator’s prior employment by the law firm had been disclosed and stated that “it follows necessarily from this disclosure that he likely has friendships with many of [the firm’s] employees.” Further, to the extent the alleged friendship “should have been separately disclosed, we have explained that standing alone, the fact that an arbitrator had previous contacts with counsel for one of the parties does not suggest evident partiality.” To demonstrate bias, the pro se litigant had to produce some additional basis, such as “financial incentives” or “concurrent representations” involving opposing counsel that “might give a reasonable impression of partiality.” The evidence that was presented offered “mere speculation of unfair bias … which is too remote, uncertain and speculative to create a reasonable impression of partiality.”
Perez v. Cigna Health & Life Insurance Co., No. 20-12730 (11th Cir. July 13, 2021).