Wednesday, January 9, 2019

SCOTUS: Arbitrability is for Arbitrator not Court

This week, in what happened to be Justice Kavanaugh's first opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court, an arbitration ruling in a case centered on whether courts can prevent arbitrators from deciding if an issue can be arbitrated at all. Many parties prefer to arbitrate claims because the process is sometimes cheaper and faster than traditional litigation in court which also carries a greater risk of large damages awards by juries. This case arose in a contract dispute between a dental equipment distributor and a manufacturer. Their contract provided that disputes arising from the agreement would be resolved in arbitration, except in instances where one party sought an injunction. The Supreme Court found unanimously in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., that under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), a lower court must enforce an arbitration agreement that requires the arbitrator to decide whether a dispute should be decided in arbitration, regardless of the court’s view of the merits of the request for arbitration. When a contract allows arbitrators to decide whether a dispute can be resolved through arbitration, “a court may not override the contract." The holding states the “wholly groundless” exception to arbitrability is inconsistent with the FAA and Court precedent. Under the Act, arbitration is a matter of contract, and courts must enforce arbitration contracts according to their terms. The Supreme Court has long held that the FAA allows the parties to a contract to decide whether an arbitration agreement will extend to those gateway questions, explaining that courts must compel arbitration of the gateway questions whenever the agreement includes “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties delegated the decision of those questions to the arbitrator. See stories here-- and and opinion here--

Sunday, December 30, 2018

D.C. Needs a Mediator!

With a government shutdown of undetermined length facing our nation, Washington, D.C. needs a mediator. As a former congressional staffer on Capitol Hill, I've seen this play many times. The parties and the president have drawn their proverbial lines in the sand and have taken intractable positions. Communication is all but ended and no one is facilitating a discussion (at least that the public can see). If our government is to resume operation, an effective mediator is necessary. As the late negotiation guru Roger Fisher observed, when interests are directly opposed, parties should use objective criteria to resolve their differences. Differences here have sparked a battle of wills, destroying any beneficial relationships between those governing. This is not only inefficient, but unlikely to produce agreement. Decisions based on reasonable standards make it easier for the parties to agree-- not to mention helping to preserve decorum and perhaps reminding public officials they serve the American people, which is what they were elected to do. The key may be to develop objective criteria that is both legitimate and practical. Widely accepted findings, professional standards, or legal precedent are possible sources of objective criteria. Testing for objectivity can be as straightforward as asking both sides to be bound by those standards. Rather than agreeing in substance, the parties may create criteria for resolving this crisis. A mediator could resist the typical pressures of politics and facilitate stubborn leaders refusing to be reasonable, shifting the discussion from substantive to procedural criteria in the search for a mutual, self-determined solution. With a different Congress in 2019, things are sure to become even more complicated. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

ADR Section Meeting Next Month in Orlando

The Florida Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Section mid-year meeting occurs January 17, 2019 in Orlando. Our Executive Council will be meeting in-person and all section members are invited to attend, as always. If members of the section have something specific to put on that agenda, please contact Stefanie Svisco, our Florida Bar Program Administrator in Tallahassee. At that time, our section also will be joining with The Florida Bar to produce a training program for mediating and arbitrating attorney grievances. Neutrals are always needed for this process so if you have a desire to get involved, come live to the training or find it online after the meeting and get involved in helping The Florida Bar address these situations. Another project underway next year is a request from the Florida Supreme Court’s Rules & Policy Committee for input from our section members on Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee (MEAC) opinions as well as the Ethical Rules for Certified and Court-Appointed Mediators. This is your opportunity to let the Rules & Policy Committee know which MEAC opinions should be reviewed and potentially revised. The rules form the foundation for MEAC opinions and analysis. Are there areas where the rules should be amended or clarified? The process of amending or making new rules in Florida requires advocates contact the relevant rules committee with suggestions for rule changes based on outcomes and decisions that the participants believe highlight areas of confusion or unintended consequences. Please take this opportunity to let us know. We will capture the comments on our website and submit them to the ADR Rules & Policy Committee as they begin the process of considering upcoming rule changes. We will begin accepting your submissions on the rules starting on February 1, 2019 with a cut-off of March 31, 2019. You will receive a separate email with the details for the submission after January 1, 2019. See more here--

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

ADR Rules & Policy Proposal

The Supreme Court of Florida's Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy recently submitted to the Florida Supreme Court an amended petition proposing amendments of the Rules for Qualified and Court-Appointed Parenting Coordinators. The Committee proposes amending rule 15.210 and adding new rules 15.220 through 15.370 to codify in the rules new procedures for parenting coordinators. The Court invited all interested persons to comment on the proposed amendments via the Committee Chair, former Upchurch Watson White & Max Mediation Group Mediator, Honorable Michael S. Orfinger, Volusia County Courthouse Annex in Daytona Beach or, and on support staff to the Committee, Juan R. Collins, Dispute Resolution Center, Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee or, as well as a separate request for oral argument if the person filing the comment wishes to participate in oral argument, which may be scheduled in this case. The Committee Chair has yet to file responses to any comments filed with the Court. The Supreme Court Committee on ADR Rules and Policy was created in 2003 as a successor joint committee of previously separate rules and policy committees. The committee provides the Supreme Court with recommendations relating to: all aspects of ADR policy and rules, legislation, model ADR practices, mediator certification and renewal requirements including continuing mediator education, and mediation training program standards and requirements. See more here-- and

Friday, November 30, 2018

TRO issued in Jay-Z AAA Arbitration

An injunction was issued this week by a New York judge in favor of Jay-Z on the grounds that the lack of African-American arbitrators provided by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) impeded his right to equal opportunity under the law. Judge Saliann Scarpulla issued a temporary restraining order, pushing arbitration back to next month at the earliest. The dispute involves Iconix, which acquired Rocawear in 2007, and sued the rapper last year for allegedly breaching their 2007 contract by using the Roc Nation logo on a new line of baseball caps. A countersuit argues that the contract applied only to Rocawear and not Roc Nation, at which point both parties entered AAA arbitration. Jay-Z claims AAA found only three potential African-American arbitrators, out of the hundreds it uses, for his case, and one already represented Iconix in related litigation. To begin the process, the AAA typically provides parties with a list of potential arbitrators from which they must eliminate names until they arrive at one. Reportedly, Jay-Z maintains that white arbitrators exhibit “unconscious bias” towards black defendants, and that the AAA’s lack of racial diversity consequently “deprives litigants of colour of a meaningful opportunity to have their claims heard by a panel of arbitrators reflecting their backgrounds and life experience.” His lawyers claim arbitration procedures in place by the AAA “deprive black litigants...of the equal protection of the laws, equal access to public accommodations, and mislead consumers into believing that they will receive a fair and impartial adjudication.” Although the ruling may not stop the proceeding altogether, it could set an important precedent for addressing diversity in neutral selection. See full news stories here-- and

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tomorrow in Orlando: Closing the Gap

Join me tomorrow at the Orange County Bar Association as I moderate a seasoned panel on strategies to bridge gaps causing impasses. I will present panel members with complex fact patterns and describe the specific situations in which the negotiations have stalled and then ask what techniques they would utilize to move the negotiations forward. This will be an engaging program and will feature some of our firm's best mediators. The attendee list is an impressive one as well, with many veteran trial lawyers and even a few mediators, as well as a United States Magistrate Judge from the Middle District of Florida. This program is eligible for 1.5 hours of CLE credit from The Florida Bar. We also plan to meet afterwards in Downtown's North Quarter for an ADR Committee reception at Reyes, just across the street on Orange Avenue. Please come in the event you cannot make the afternoon seminar!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Special Master Orders Briefs in Water Wars

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court-appointed Special Master of the so-called Water Wars, Honorable Paul J. Kelly, Jr., set a January 31, 2019 deadline for initial briefs and a February 28, 2019 deadline for reply briefs. Judge Kelly denied Florida’s request for additional evidence-gathering in the case before he will make further findings regarding Florida's claim it suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia. He found additional discovery would only lengthen the proceedings, delay the outcome and increase litigation costs, citing a voluminous record in the case from unlimited discovery and lengthy prior trial. Florida still seeks the cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Future proceedings will weigh Georgia’s claims that any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state’s agriculture industry in southwestern Georgia. This blog has followed the Water Wars for years in other entries. Florida ultimately seeks to limit Georgia’s water consumption from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, including Lake Lanier, to 1992 levels and to get reparations for alleged economic and environmental harm to Apalachicola's oyster fisheries from drought. See more here-- and here--