Friday, June 30, 2017

Summary Judgment in Arbitration

Arbitration has become formal of late and has been criticized by scholars as costly, time-consuming and subject to hardball advocacy. See Stipanowich, Arbitration: The “New Litigation” University of Illinois Law Review Vol. 2010, No. 1. This trend is not surprising given that career litigators, having been trained in the techniques of discovery and motion practice, are hesitant stepping outside their comfort zone. See JAMS Dispositive Motions in Arbitration, Kleinberg, Summer 2015. This includes the increasing filing of Motions for Summary Judgment, mostly following rule changes in 2013 by AAA allowing them. Winning a dispositive motion in any forum is difficult. For example, statistical analyses of federal courts in three large districts showed that summary judgments are granted less than 10% of the time. See Id. While arbitrators have the authority to consider motions for summary disposition, arbitrators must take great care in exercising this power. Avoiding increasing the costs of the proceedings and/or delaying its conclusion must be paramount. How sound is the motion and what is its likelihood of success? Are there issues of fact that would preclude ruling in favor of the motion? Will the motion, if granted, really reduce costs and expedite the arbitration, or will it lead to just the opposite result? In many cases, striking a few claims or defenses of several asserted would not serve to abbreviate the proceedings. Consideration of a motion not likely to succeed will waste time and money. The cost and dilatory impact of court-style motion practice, where the making of dispositive motions is the norm, is precisely what arbitration should avoid. See Reflections on the Use of Dispositive Motions in Arbitration By Edna Sussman and Solomon Ebere, NYSBA New York Dispute Resolution Lawyer, Spring 2011, Vol. 4, No. 1. Such motions can only be considered if facts upon which the dispositive motion is made are not in dispute. Granting dispositive motions could be viewed as depriving parties of a fair proceeding. Arbitrators must also ensure that they have carefully considered any discovery requests by the opposing party. If a party is denied requested discovery that is material to the motion and could alter the result, there would likely be a finding that the party was denied its right to a fundamentally fair proceeding. See Id. As an arbitrator, I am not against streamlining a case-- just be careful in considering the potential challenges to final awards that defeat the purpose of an efficient process with finality.