Sunday, October 30, 2016

Water Wars Start On Halloween

Attorneys for the states of Florida and Georgia are to begin arguments on Halloween in the decades-long Water Wars between them. A Special Master whose ruling could influence an eventual U.S. Supreme Court decision to turn down Georgia’s water spigot will begin a trial tomorrow in his home state of Maine. Florida 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. The dispute focuses on the river basin which drains almost 20,000 square miles in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers meet at the Georgia-Florida border to form the Apalachicola, which flows into the bay and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., the octogenarian Supreme Court appointee, previously advised the states to settle out of court rather than live with a costly decision he stressed neither will like. The states initially tried to mediate the case and chose a mediator whose name was strangely kept secret by Master Lancaster’s order. Status reports filed by the attorneys had indicated meetings between the mystery mediator and high level state officials were continuing before trial, but the parties seem to have reached an impasse. The parties reportedly participated in multiple mediation caucuses to no avail. Except to hear progress reports, Master Lancaster wanted no part of the mediation process, but now will have to try the case himself. In its brief, Florida still seeks a cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Experts will argue the remedy is reasonable water use reduction mechanisms that would mitigate otherwise substantial future harm. After both sides present their evidence and arguments, Master Lancaster will his recommended ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices then review his findings and any rebuttals by the states before issuing a final decision likely sometime next year. See news item here-- and docket here--

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

America's Cup Arbitration

This month, America's Cup officials released the 2017 regatta schedule for Bermuda while continuing to remain silent about an arbitration panel decision that reportedly went against organizers and could cost them several million dollars. Team New Zealand is in line to receive a seven figure pay-out after winning a bitter dispute over a breach of contract with the America's Cup Events Authority (ACEA) that reportedly reneged on an agreement awarding Auckland hosting rights of the America's Cup qualifier. After delays of more than a year, an arbitration panel finally assembled last summer to hear the case. It is believed the panel, the make-up of which is still unknown, ruled in Team New Zealand's favor. With blanket confidentiality clauses in place around arbitration, the decision was not publicly released. Since the dispute was lodged, teams have been working on a new timetable which prevents them from launching their boats until the end of this year, making it impossible to reinstate the regatta in Auckland. The competitors voted that all and any detail surrounding any arbitration remain confidential. The decision prohibits teams and individuals from discussing or even confirming the existence of a dispute before the arbitration panel. Doing so could draw sanctions including censure and a fine of up to $1 million. In past America's Cups, quasi-judicial proceedings were conducted with a high degree of transparency as to issues, when they were being heard, and the outcome. Unlike today, previous America's Cup Arbitration Panels even adopted the practice of going a step further and allowed a couple of members of the media to observe the proceedings and report back to a general pool. The defender, Oracle Team USA, will compete in the America's Cup match next summer. The qualifiers will eliminate one of the five challengers. The remaining four will then go into a playoff to determine which team will face two-time defending champion USA. See more here-- and and

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pushback By Nursing Homes On CMS Arbitration Ban

This week, the nursing home industry, consisting of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and others, filed suit against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), alleging CMS exceeded its authority and claiming the agency has no authority to regulate the use of arbitration. CMS recently promulgated a rule that prohibits Medicare participating skilled nursing facilities (SNF) from entering into arbitration agreements with residents at their facilities upon admission, no matter how fair or beneficial those agreements may be to residents. The complaint states that the new arbitration ban violates the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and exceeds the statutory authority of CMS and HHS under the Medicare and Medicaid Acts, neither of which vests the agencies with the power to regulate alternative dispute resolution procedures. The complaint argues, even if the rule is allowed by law, it is arbitrary and capricious because it would deprive nursing homes and their residents of the benefits of arbitration and result in the siphoning of resources toward litigation costs and away from resident care. The new rule does not prevent residents of a SNF from choosing to enter into arbitration-- it just means the SNF can no longer force the dispute out of the courtroom. However, the complaint contends that parties almost never agree to arbitration in a particular case after a dispute has arisen. See complaint here-- American Health Care Association, et al. v. Sylvia Burwell and Andrew Slavitt Case No. 3:16-cv-00233 and press release--

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mediation Week Professionalism Webinar 10/17

Since I began mediating in 2001, the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has experienced tremendous growth. The recognition that not all cases are well-suited for an adversarial process and that multiple paths exist to achieve justice is increasingly shared by attorneys, judges, and the public. A decade into my ADR practice, in 2011, the American Bar Association (ABA) began recognizing the third week of October as “Mediation Week,” building on the efforts of many other national, state, and local organizations, including the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR). For this year's ABA Mediation Week, Upchurch Watson White & Max will present its complimentary monthly UWWM Webinar focusing on how to make language and civility work in negotiation. My esteemed colleague, Howard Marsee, with whom I first worked back in 1994, will discuss "The Language of Professionalism in Negotiation " at noon Monday, October 17, 2016. The 75-minute program presented in conjunction with the University of Florida Levin College of Law Institute for Dispute Resolution has a dual purpose to share some of the communication skills that mediators observe in really good negotiators and to explore how language can contribute to professionalism in the context of negotiations. I will help to guide the discussion as moderator. The content of this Florida Bar approved continuing legal education (CLE) is designed for trial lawyers who represent clients in mediation and for professional mediators. See more information and registration link here--