Can I oppose confirmation of an arbitration award?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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In some cases following an arbitrator’s ruling, a court of law will be asked to confirm the award as an official judgment of the court, making the arbitrator’s ruling legally enforceable. If the losing party in the arbitration wishes to oppose it, this confirmation process acts as a sort of appeal for the arbitrator’s decision. However, the rules and procedure differ from the traditional appeals process, and the likelihood of the arbitration award actually being reversed or vacated is extremely low. An arbitration confirmation is a very limited hearing and is likely to be very speedy.
Still, though, a party is free to oppose the confirmation of an arbitration award during this court hearing. A court might vacate (or decline to confirm) the arbitrator’s ruling based generally on one of four narrow grounds: (1) there was a serious conflict of interest on the part of the supposedly neutral arbitrator; (2) the award was not “final” – that is, the decision was not rendered in the finalized manner agreed upon by the parties; (3) the award touched on a subject of the dispute that was outside the scope of the arbitration agreement; or, (4) the award provided an amount or type of relief that the arbitrator was expressly barred from awarding.
Note that the party opposing the confirmation may not have to prove an express conflict of interest – it may be enough to show that the arbitrator, for instance, failed to disclose a potential conflict at the start of the proceedings. Failure to disclose a potential conflict—no matter how seemingly small or insignificant—goes to the appearance of honesty on the part of the neutral third-party arbitrator, and courts are likely to take a serious look at such omissions.
All in all, however, outside of these limited grounds for a court to refuse confirmation of an arbitrator’s decision, arbitration rulings are seldom vacated based on the losing party’s opposition. This is mostly due to the nature of the arbitration process itself—it is a faster and generally binding, non-appealable alternative to slow and costly litigation. When the parties have agreed to enter arbitration, they usually agree before the hearing that the arbitrator’s ruling will be binding, regardless of the result. Courts, in turn, are very likely to give wide leeway to the arbitrator because of the important role arbitration plays in the dispute resolution process. Therefore, absent a severe unfairness in the arbitration process, such as a conflict of interest as described above, courts will generally confirm an arbitrator’s ruling, making it legally enforceable should the losing party refuse to comply. Because successfully opposing an arbitration ruling is very difficult, consulting an experienced arbitration attorney before the confirmation hearing is strongly recommended.