Sears Roebuck and Co. (Sears) entered a 40-year lease with Century III Mall, PA., LLC (“Century III Mall”), whereby Sears agreed to maintain an anchor store at the Century III Mall. In the event that Sears elected to discontinue operations, the lease provided Century III Mall with an option to acquire the Sears “Building and Improvements,” the valuation to be determined by a formula specified in the lease. The lease also contained an arbitration clause prohibiting the arbitrators from, among other things, changing any terms set forth in the lease. Sears later terminated the lease and Century III Mall exercised its right to acquire the Building and Improvements. Unable to agree on a valuation, Sears commenced arbitration and an arbitration panel awarded Sears nearly $4 million.
Century III Mall filed a petition in a federal district court in Pennsylvania seeking to vacate the award, claiming the panel exceeded its authority by “rewriting” the terms of lease and, in turn, inflating the property value. The district court disagreed and dismissed the action, as well as confirmed the award. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting, as an initial matter, that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction under 9 U.S.C. §§ 9 and 10 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and that appellate jurisdiction was proper under 9 U.S.C. § 16(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Substantively, the Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the panel reasonably interpreted the lease and rationally applied its terms. Thus, citing the “highly deferential standard of review” applicable to arbitration decisions, the Court declined to disturb the district court’s decision not to vacate the award.