Friday, November 22, 2013

State's Confirdential Arbitration Program Violates First Amendment

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ended Delaware’s confidential arbitration arbitration program, upholding a trial court decision that it violated the First Amendment. The program, established in 2009, was limited to business disputes of $1 million or more involving Delaware companies. Delaware is well known as a friendly state of incorporation for public companies and its Chancery Court specializes in business disputes. The state Legislature wanted cost effective means of resolving these disputes in light of growing private confidential arbitration with streamlined proceedings, like AAA and JAMS. Interestingly, the disputes were arbitrated by Delaware’s own judges, knowledgeable in adjudicating corporate law matters. Deliberations and resolution were confidential. Delaware charged $6,000 a day with a $12,000 filing fee, generating revenue for the state. Those outside of Delaware contended the rules moved important business disputes into private, perhaps to the detriment of shareholders and other stakeholders in the corporation. However, reportedly, this experiment also had strong proponents. They argued that judges regularly participate in mediation. Moreover, parties could agree to arbitrate their disputes without these judges. Delaware's need to compete, they argued, made arbitration a natural extension of its corporate law expertise. The Delaware Coalition for Open Government sued in federal court, claiming that the arbitration statute was unconstitutional. A lower court struck down the statute in 2012 holding that these arbitration cases were essentially confidential civil trials since the judges, place and proceedings were the same. The appellate court applied an experience and logic test, finding that these proceedings had traditionally been open to the public, and should remain open, even if called arbitration. The lone dissenter in a 2-1 decision stated that the Court of Chancery "may not be able to compete with the new arbitration systems being set up in other states and countries.” Apparently, less than a dozen cases were actually decided under the program. See stories here-- and