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Second District Holds that Federal Choice of Law Provision in Arbitration Agreement Requires Application of Vacatur Provisions of FAA

In Arbitration on August 9, 2010 at 11:57 am
CALABASAS, CA - JULY 18:  The Countrywide Fina...
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In a 3-0 opinion, the Second District held that while California state courts do not apply the FAA vactur provisions, because of the choice of law provision in the arbitration agreement, the trial judge was required to utilize the vacatur provisions of the FAA in passing on the amended petition to vacate the partial arbitration awards.

In Countrywide Financial Corp. v. Bundy, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2010 WL 3064481 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. August 06, 2010), Defendants, Thomas Bundy, Misty Sanchez, Kevin Prevost and David Godina, appealed from an order vacating partial arbitration awards against plaintiffs, Countrywide Financial Corporation and Full Spectrum Lending, Inc.

The underlying case involved two arbitrations that were ultimately consolidated. The Bundy-Sanchez-Prevost arbitration demand sought classwide arbitration of claims for unpaid wages including incentive compensation, waiting penalties, costs and attorney fees pursuant to Labor Code section 200 et seq., Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq., and common law principles.  The Godina arbitration demand alleged many of the same matters in terms of plaintiffs’ operations.

The arbitrator issued partial arbitration awards in favor of defendant.  Judge Elizabeth A. White vacated the partial arbitration awards on the ground the arbitrator committed a number of legal errors.  The Second District concluded that because of the unambiguous choice of law language in the agreements to arbitrate, “we must apply the vacatur provisions applicable before a United States District Court in a case subject to the Federal Arbitration Act. (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.)”  Applying the vacatur provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding “no grounds permitted the partial awards to be vacated.”

The Court expressed doubt regarding whether the “manifest disregard of the law standard” survives Hall Street Associates L.L.C., but it chose to evaluate the interim awards under both title 9 United States Code section 10(a)(4) and the manifest disregard of the law test.  ; the course chosen by the Supreme Court in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., supra, 559 U.S. at page —- [130 S.Ct. at page 1768].”  The Court described the manifest disregard standard as follows:

The first element is the arbitrator must know the governing rule of law and refuse to apply it or ignore it. The second element is that the law ignored by the arbitrator is well-defined, explicit, and clearly applicable to the case.

Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner wrote the opinion.  Hon. Sandy R. Kriegler and Hon. Richard M. Mosk concurred.

Defendants and appellants were represented by Caryl L. Boies, Sigrid S. McCawley and Lauren E. Fleischer of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

Plaintiffs and Respondents were represented by Andrew M. Paley, Gregg A. Fisch and Jennifer Sloane Abramowitz of Seyfarth Shaw.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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