Tuesday, February 25, 2014

No Waiver of Judicial Review of Fee Arbitration

In a recent decision out of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a panel ruled that parties cannot contractually eliminate judicial review of arbitral awards under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The underlying dispute concerned attorneys' fees in connection with the settlement of a class action lawsuit. Counsel could not agree on how to divide the legal fees and submitted the dispute to arbitration. Following the issuance of an award that allocated the fees among them, the lawyer that received the most money petitioned a federal district court to confirm the award under the FAA. An attorney who received the second highest amount moved to vacate the award. After the district court granted the petition to confirm and denied the motion to vacate, the decision was appealed. The appellee argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction due to an arbitration clause that provided made it both binding and non-appealable. The Ninth Circuit rejected that argument and held that federal court review of arbitration cannot be waived or eliminated by contract. The court found the arbitration language was ambiguous, as it could be understood to preclude review of the merits or interpreted to divest courts of any right to review awards. The court noted that permitting parties to opt out of judicial review of arbitral awards under the FAA would frustrate a minimum level of due process for parties ensured by Congress. See article here- http://bit.ly/Mrw3pv and decision here-- http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/12/17/11-17718.pdf

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Iranian Settlement Negotiations

Talks began today in Vienna regarding final settlement on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Though the parties have indicated a deal may prove difficult, the Iranian negotiators were reported to have stated that if all sides enter the talks with the political will, positive results may be reached in time. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, however, who has final say in nuclear matters, was pessimistic about the prospects of a long-term deal. U.S. government officials similarly downplayed expectations in what was described as a complicated, difficult and lengthy process. This meeting is the first since the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany struck an interim accord with Iran last fall to scale back nuclear work in return for some sanctions relief. The issues for the permanent agreement include the level of Iran's ongoing enrichment of uranium, underground enrichment facilities and reactors, and inspection of military complexes where the IAEA suspects activities related to weapons development occurred. A final deal would define the permissible scope of an Iranian nuclear program and resolve concerns that Tehran is seeking the capability to build an atomic bomb. Iran, of course, denies having any such goal and wants the complete removal economic sanctions. See stories here-- http://reut.rs/1mr7muc and http://bbc.in/1gQ2vgj

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Syrian Mediation

This week, a second round in the fragile peace talks resumed in Geneva between Syria’s government and opposition representatives. United Nations mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, has reportedly maintained a cautious style, structuring meetings with opposition delegates of armed groups fighting in Syria, and later with the Assad government. Interestingly, the UN mediator presented both sides with a memorandum ahead of the mediation, proposing four main principles for dialogue: ending the violence and fighting terrorism; forming a transitional governing body; defining the relationship between the government and security services; and starting some form of national reconciliation. This time, Mr. Brahimi has apparently avoided bringing the warring parties together face to face, to avoid some rancorous exchanges that occurred during prior direct meetings. Rather, it is said he desires to keep the best chance of progress on confidence-building measures previously proposed, including cease-fires and prisoner exchanges. Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies have been evacuating civilians trapped for two years in the Old City of Homs and delivering food and medicines to those remaining during an extended cease-fire there. Additionally, the international effort to destroy Syrian chemical weapons has stalled with recent deadlines missed. Later this week, Mr. Brahimi meets Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, hopefully having made more progress. See story here-- http://nyti.ms/1fe1xaa

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Google Settles EU Antitrust Case

A settlement with European antitrust authorities on a competition case regarding Google’s alleged abuse of search and advertising practices has been announced. Google can now avoid hefty fines as well as any finding of wrongdoing. Google, which has some ninety percent of the European market, was accused of favoring its own products and services in search results. Reportedly, the deal is a culmination of four years of negotiations between Google and the European Union (EU). The settlement remains tentative, as comment from Google’s rivals is sought before making the antitrust decision legally binding later this year. Per the settlement, Google will give greater prominence to competitors for the next five years, including displaying results from three competitors every time Google shows its own results for searches related to products, restaurants and hotels. The settlement also makes it easier for advertisers to move their business to Yahoo or Microsoft. The EU agreement goes further than last year's agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission, which forced only minor concessions. European competitors are now considering whether to appeal to the European Court of Justice on the antitrust agreement. Significantly, the settlement does not require the company to change the algorithm that producing search results, nor does it include expanded web services like cloud data, mapping, email, and e-commerce, that apparently gave the company the dominant position in European internet use. See full story here-- http://nyti.ms/MsYl3k