More on Arbitration

Apparently I am not the only one with concerns about the arbitration process, which I discussed in a recent post. As this article notes, both the Eleventh Circuit and the Georgia state courts are displaying an overt hostility towards parties who challenge arbitration decisions in court, after the arbitration has concluded. What is unclear from the article, however, is whether the courts are displaying a justified anger against parties who bring meritless challenges to arbitration rulings into court, or are instead displaying a simple prejudice against such challenges. If the former, it is hard to quarrel with the attitude being displayed by the courts, but if it is the latter, it is unwarranted.

The Federal Arbitration Act, which as a general rule will govern arbitration contracts that impact interstate commerce in some manner and which controls most litigation over arbitration decisions in federal courts, provides express grounds on which an arbitration ruling can be challenged and overturned in court. Many states have similar arbitration acts that apply similar rules to arbitrations governed by state law. Judges often display a sort of knee jerk belief that arbitration is semi-sacred and is not to be tampered with, at least not lightly. These arbitration acts, however, require the courts to intervene when the standards for doing so under those acts are met, and in my experience, they are met more often than courts seem to be willing to recognize. For instance, many arbitration clauses impose express rules on the arbitration, and an arbitrator who decides in a manner inconsistent with such rules is, in reality, operating outside of his or her authority. An arbitration decision reached under such circumstances should be set aside. The Federal Arbitration Act and many state arbitration acts require courts to fairly entertain such arguments, and to set aside an arbitration if appropriate to do so. A judicial hostility towards challenges to arbitrations is certainly not consistent with this, but for that matter neither is the benign prejudice against overturning such decisions that judges sometimes appear to manifest.

For an example of a court properly understanding its role in overseeing arbitrations, see this post.