The Sixth Circuit has affirmed an order confirming an arbitration award regarding indemnification obligations for environmental cleanup owed by William Farley toward the Eaton Corporation arising out of the 1986 sale of an industrial property. Farley argued that the remediation in question was not covered by the relevant indemnification provision and that the arbitrator improperly ignored that provision’s unambiguous language. Applying the extreme deference given to arbitrator’s decisions, the Sixth Circuit disagreed.
Eaton purchased the property from Condec Corporation in 1986, and Condec agreed to indemnify Eaton for expenses “resulting from non-compliance prior to August 8, 1986 by [Condec], with any applicable laws, regulations, orders, or other requirements of any governmental authorities existing on or before August 8, 1986.” While a state environmental regulator had issued a Letter of Deficiency in 1982 and a Notice of Violation in 1984, both related to the environmental contamination that later needed to be remediated, and Condec was not ordered to clean it up until after the sale. After Condec’s successor entity went bankrupt, Farley assumed Condec’s indemnification obligations under a new agreement with materially identical terms.
After numerous indemnification payments were made to Eaton, Farley filed a claim against it contesting the validity of some of these payments, and Eaton counterclaimed for additional remediation costs. Farley argued that Eaton’s remediation costs were not covered by the indemnification provisions in the operative agreements, because Eaton was not ordered to clean up the site until after August 8, 1986. The arbitrator disagreed, finding that the intent of the agreement was to indemnify Eaton for the cleanup of contamination existing prior to the 1986 sale, and the arbitrator awarded Eaton over $175,000 in damages and over $1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Challenging this award, Farley argued that the arbitrator had disregarded the explicit language of the indemnification provision and read an intent into that provision that was not supported by its language. The Sixth Circuit, noting that it could not overturn the decision of the arbitrator “[s]o long as the arbitrator is arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority,” even if the court were “convinced that he committed serious errors,” found that Farley’s arguments were insufficient, and it upheld the arbitrator’s decision.