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Posts Tagged ‘arbitration’

FINRA to Pick Up the Check on Unpaid Arbitration Awards?

Posted on: March 8th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

As recently reported, unpaid FINRA arbitration awards is a growing problem.  As FINRA has acknowledged, roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 went unpaid.  If lawmakers have their way, FINRA itself may ultimately be stuck with the check, and be required to pay such awards.

On March 6, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, introduced legislation that would require FINRA to compensate investors for unpaid arbitration awards.  The Compensation for Cheated Investors Act would direct FINRA to establish a “relief fund” pool that could be used to provide investors with the full value of unpaid arbitration awards against brokerage firms or brokers regulated by FINRA.  The fund would derive “first from penalties paid by brokers and then from sources determined by FINRA.”  In the event FINRA fails to take steps to establish such a fund, the bill proposed by Sen. Warren would nevertheless require FINRA to compensate investors from its general budget.  The bill also provides that FINRA may require investors to subrogate their claims against brokers, and that FINRA may pursue additional remedies against the brokers.

Also of note, FINRA would not be permitted to limit the amount that an investor may receive from the relief fund, nor would FINRA be allowed to prohibit any investor from submitting a claim to the fund.  FINRA would also be required to annually disclose, among other things, the total number of arbitration awards issued in favor of investors against brokerage firms or brokers under its watch, the number and amount of unpaid awards, and the names of the brokerage firms/brokers at issue.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

Using Summary Judgment during the Arbitration Process

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018

By: Erin E. Lamb

Many attorneys assume that once a case is in private arbitration, dispositive motions are against the rules and are no longer a useful tool to resolve cases. How could an arbitrator have the power to consider a dispositive motion? After all, arbitration is sold to all parties as a process that all parties must willingly opt into — in the interest of limiting the complexities of arbitration, not adding to them, as dispositive motions do. Most attorneys participating in arbitration therefore would never think of pursuing dispositive motions, even when faced with res judicata or statute of limitations issues.

This is an incorrect and unduly limiting view of the arbitration process. None other than the Supreme Court of the United States, has upheld the power of an arbitrator to adopt procedures necessary to give effect to the parties’ arbitration agreement. Stolt-Neilsen v. AnimalFeeds International, 559 U.S. 663 (2010).  It’s up to the arbitrator to determine procedural questions by looking at the arbitration agreement. In turn, most arbitration agreements invoke an arbitration providers’ rules. Most rules, including the most recent American Arbitration Association rules (last updated in 2009), indirectly give arbitrators expansive powers and wide latitude in the procedures used to give effect to the arbitration agreement.

The 2009 American Arbitration Association rules, still in effect ten years later, state that arbitrators are required to “take such steps as they may deem necessary or desirable to avoid delay and to achieve just, speedy, and cost-effective resolution of large, complex, commercial cases.” In fact, in AAA commercial cases, the rules directly address dispositive motions: “The arbitrator may allow the filing of and make rulings upon a dispositive motion only if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” The use of “only” makes the rule seem limiting; in reality, it directly gives arbitrators the ability to hear and rule on said motions. Multiple federal courts have affirmed arbitration awards where the arbitrator ruled on a motion for summary judgment or on summary disposition. Some arbitration provider’s rules even specifically allow for it – the JAMS rules specifically allow for the filing of dispositive motions even under objection from the other side.

Simply put, unless your arbitration agreement specifically, plainly, and expressly prohibits dispositive motions, an arbitrator is empowered to grant any relief necessary to reach a final determination of the matter, including dispositive motions. Only in the face of a specific written agreement would an arbitrator be acting outside the contractually delegated authority of the arbitration agreement. This is an important thing to consider for all attorneys in arbitration cases – and at the time of the agreement to arbitrate, not after.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Erin Lamb at [email protected].

Unpaid FINRA Awards May Result in Tighter Membership Rules Governing Brokers and Member Firms

Posted on: February 16th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

On February 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) released a discussion paper: FINRA Perspectives on Customer Recovery, which openly addressed the reality that roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 were unpaid.  According to the paper, of the total of 2,457 arbitration cases in 2016, 1,747 were settled, 212 were withdrawn, 389 were closed by award, and 109 were closed “by other means.”  In releasing the paper, FINRA stated that it “hopes to encourage a continued dialogue about addressing the challenges of customer recovery across the industry.”  FINRA also indicated in the paper that it plans to organize discussions with other regulators and policy makers, “to further address the issue of customer recovery, identify additional data or analysis that may help inform effective decision-making in this area, and consider potential courses of action.”

On the same day, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 18-06, addressing its Membership Application Program (“MAP”).  The Notice does not alter FINRA’s current MAP protocols, but it clearly indicates FINRA’s intent to tighten rules governing membership including, among other things, the transfer of a registered persons from one broker-dealer to another when they have unpaid arbitration claims.  “FINRA is proposing to amend the MAP rules to allow FINRA to take a stronger approach to addressing the issue of pending arbitration claims, as well as arbitration awards and settlement agreements related to arbitration that have not been paid in full in accordance with their terms.”

In their current form, MAP rules permit consideration of a pending arbitration against an associated person as a factor in assessing whether the applicant meets the standards for admission.  However, “a pending arbitration does not create a presumption of denial.”  The amendments proposed by FINRA would give its Department of Member Regulation “rule-based authority to preemptively deny an NMA [new member application] if the applicant or its associated persons are subject to pending arbitration claims.”  This presumption would not apply to continuing membership applications. Further, the proposed amendments would allow the applicant to overcome this presumption if he demonstrated his “ability to satisfy the pending arbitration claims.”

In addition, the proposal would disallow certain business expansions where one or more of the associated persons involved have a “covered pending arbitration claim.”  Such claims are defined as “those whose amount (either individually or in the aggregate) exceed the member’s excess net capital.”

Finally, the amendments proposed by FINRA would disallow “any direct or indirect acquisitions or transfers of a member’s assets or any asset, business or line of operation where the transferring member or one or more of its associated persons has a covered pending arbitration claim, unpaid arbitration award or unpaid settlement related to an arbitration” under certain conditions.

The Notice seeks comment on the proposed amendments.  Comments are due by April 9, 2018.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

Waivers In Arbitration Agreements (Again)

Posted on: June 25th, 2013

By: Marty Heller

 

As initially reported here, the Supreme Court heard arguments in February regarding the enforcement of a class action waiver in arbitration agreements.  The plaintiffs in this case argued that the class action waiver should be struck, in part, because of the extraordinary cost associated with attempting to bring an individual antitrust action against American Express.  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act mandates that arbitration agreements shall be “rigorously enforced” based upon the language in the agreement, and this mandate is not affected by the fact that it may expensive to bring an individual claim.  In sum, the Supreme Court again has upheld the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.  This continues to be the case, regardless of the fact that it may not be economically feasible to bring a claim as an individual as opposed to a class.  In the world of wage and hour claims, this is a big win for employers, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s view that class action waivers are enforceable in most situations, which should apply equally to FLSA collective actions.  A copy of the opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, is available here.

Supreme Court to Rule on Significant Class Action Waiver Case

Posted on: November 20th, 2012

By: Marty Heller

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in an important case with significant implications for the FLSA.  As you may recall, two years ago in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court enforced arbitration agreements that included class action waivers.  Employers hailed this decision, particularly because it allowed employers to avoid FLSA collective actions through the use of arbitration agreements in which employees waive their right to file a collective action.

This month, by granting certiorari in the American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant case, the Supreme Court will revisit this issue.  The Court will decide whether a plaintiff may avoid enforcement of an arbitration agreement by showing that his or her federal claims cannot be vindicated without the use of a class action case.

This case will allow the Court to review the Second Circuit’s decision in In re American Express Merchants’ Litigation, where the court refused to enforce an arbitration agreement because the plaintiff showed that it was “economically irrational” to bring their federal claims without the use of a class action.

We will keep an eye on this case and keep you informed when the Court rules on this issue.  Justice Sotomayor will not be involved in the Court’s review of this issue because she sat on the Second Circuit panel during the first appeal of this case.