Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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Plaintiff, a citizen and resident of Vietnam, initiated arbitration proceedings in Singapore against Defendant, then a citizen and resident of North Carolina regarding a dispute related to a sale of property in the Philippines. Plaintiff obtained a $1.55 million award against Defendant, and then brought this case asking the court to enforce the award. The district court rejected Defendant's jurisdictional challenges and granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to Plaintiff. In so holding, the court rejected Defendant's claim that the district court lacked subject matter and personal jurisdiction, and that the court erred in finding no disputed issues of material fact. View "Rachan Reddy v. Rashid Buttar" on Justia Law

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Warfield, a securities broker, contended before an arbitration panel that his former employer, ICON, wrongfully terminated him without just cause. Warfield’s employment fell within the ambit of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), so arbitrators resolved the dispute under FINRA Rule 13200(a). Warfield argued the mere fact that disputes over his employment relationship had to be resolved by arbitration implied that he could only be fired for cause. The panel awarded him $1,186,975.The district court refused to enforce the award (9 U.S.C. 9), holding that the arbitrators manifestly disregarded the law because North Carolina is an “at-will” employment state that does not recognize a cause of action for wrongful termination without just cause. The Fourth Circuit reversed. ICON has not made the “exceedingly difficult showing” necessary to demonstrate that the arbitrators acted with manifest disregard of the law. ICON never cited any North Carolina case rejecting the specific proposition that the arbitrability of an employment relationship implies for-cause protections. Even if ICON had the better argument before the arbitrators, there was still an argument and the issue is “subject to reasonable debate,” View "Warfield v. ICON Advisers, Inc" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Lyons opened a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) with PNC’s predecessor, signing an agreement with no arbitration provision. In 2010, Lyons opened deposit accounts at PNC and signed a document that stated he was bound by the terms of PNC’s Account Agreement, including a provision authorizing PNC to set off funds from the account to pay any indebtedness owed by the account holder to PNC. PNC could amend the Account Agreement. In 2013, PNC added an arbitration clause to the Account Agreement. Customers had 45 days to opt out. Lyons opened another deposit account with PNC in 2014 and agreed to be bound by the 2014 Account Agreement, including the arbitration clause. Lyons again did not opt out. Lyons’s HELOC ended in February 2015. PNC began applying setoffs from Lyons’s 2010 and 2014 Accounts.Lyons sued under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). PNC moved to compel arbitration. The court found that the Dodd-Frank Act amendments to TILA barred arbitration of Lyons’s claims related to the 2014 Account but did not apply retroactively to bar arbitration of his claims related to the 2010 account. The Fourth Circuit reversed in part. The Dodd-Frank Act 15 U.S.C. 1639c(e) precludes pre-dispute agreements requiring the arbitration of claims related to residential mortgage loans; the relevant arbitration agreement was not formed until after the amendment's effective date. PNC may not compel arbitration of Lyons’s claims as to either account. View "Lyons v. PNC Bank" on Justia Law

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STA, an association of businesses involved with the transport of cargo at the Port of Baltimore, and the Longshoremen’s union (ILA) entered into trust agreements to create funds that provide employee benefits in accordance with the Labor Management Relations Act. The agreements provide an equal number of trustees representing the labor union and trustees representing the employers. Not all companies that do business at the Port are STA members. The Union Trustees sought to expand the definition of “Employer” in the trust agreements to include non-STA employers engaged in the same businesses as STA-affiliated employers at the Port, to include “any employer who signs a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] with the ILA or its [local affiliates] that requires contributions to the Trust.” Expanding the definition would increase the number of contributors to the trusts. The Management Trustees opposed the amendment, creating a deadlock, and refused the Union Trustees’ request to arbitrate. The Union Trustees sued to compel arbitration under 29 U.S.C. 186(c)(5)(B).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Although courts incorporate a “presumption of arbitrability” in employer-union arbitration disputes when an arbitration agreement exists, here the trust agreements provide a “positive assurance” that arbitration may not be compelled. View "Krueger v. Angelos" on Justia Law

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The Union represents employees at Constellium’s plant. In 2013, after Constellium attempted to change retirees’ health benefits, the Union sued. In 2017, the Fourth Circuit held, in "Barton," that, because the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stated that retiree health benefits would endure only for the CBA's term, they did not vest. Constellium and the Union subsequently negotiated another CBA, effective through September 2022, which outlines retiree healthcare benefits. Constellium sent a letter to its Medicare-eligible retirees, announcing changes to their healthcare coverage.The Union initiated a grievance, citing the CBA’s guarantee of retiree health benefits for the CBA’s term. Constellium claimed that the change did not violate the CBA and that Barton permitted the change with respect to retirees who retired under previous CBAs. Constellium unsuccessfully sought a declaratory judgment that it prevailed on preclusion grounds; the district court reasoned that whether Barton precluded arbitration was a question for the arbitrator.An arbitrator ruled in favor of the Union, reasoning that “the question of whether retiree health benefits were vested or durational”—which was “central” in Barton—was "a red herring” because the Union’s new claims did not depend on whether the benefits were vested or durational, but focused on the terms of the 2017 CBA, under which Constellium was obligated to maintain the same health benefits for the relevant retirees throughout the CBA's full term. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Constellium’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award. View "Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union" on Justia Law

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The federally-recognized Native American Tribe (in California) started an online lending business, allegedly operated by non-tribal companies owned by non-tribal Defendants on non-tribal land. The Plaintiffs are Virginia consumers who received online loans from tribal lenders while living in Virginia. Although Virginia usury law generally prohibits interest rates over 12%, the interest rates on Plaintiffs’ loans ranged from 544% to 920%. The Plaintiffs each electronically signed a “loan agreement,” “governed by applicable tribal law,” and containing an “Arbitration Provision.” The borrowers defaulted and brought a putative class action against tribal officials and two non-members affiliated with the tribal lenders.The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and motions to dismiss on the ground of tribal sovereign immunity except for a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The choice-of-law clauses of this arbitration provision, which mandate exclusive application of tribal law during any arbitration, operate as prospective waivers that would require the arbitrator to determine whether the arbitration provision impermissibly waives federal substantive rights without recourse to federal substantive law. The arbitration provisions are unenforceable as violating public policy. Substantive state law applies to off-reservation conduct, and although the Tribe itself cannot be sued for its commercial activities, its members and officers can be. Citing Virginia’s interest in prohibiting usurious lending, the court refused to enforce the choice-of-law provision. RICO does not give private plaintiffs a right to injunctive relief. View "Hengle v. Treppa" on Justia Law

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BOA appealed the district court's dismissal of its complaint seeking to vacate an arbitration award in favor of defendant, an oncologist and former BOA employee. In this case, the employment agreement between BOA and defendant purported to waive both judicial and appellate review of the arbitrator's decision.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the Tenth Circuit that an appellate waiver in an arbitration agreement under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) is valid and enforceable. Because the employment agreement contains a severability clause, and because unenforceable provisions in arbitration clauses are severable if they do not go to the essence of the contract, the court need not invalidate the appeal waiver. Accordingly, the court dismissed BOA's appeal. View "Beckley Oncology Associates, Inc. v. Abumasmah" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the Rowlands first met with Morris (SMF), for financial planning advice. In 2015, Morris sold them two annuity contracts; in 2016, Morris sold them universal life insurance. In 2017, the Rowlands hired Morris to manage their investment accounts and completed SMF’s Asset Management Agreement (AMA) and new account forms from TD Ameritrade, which were bundled into a single, 54-page pdf. The Rowlands signed the forms using the online platform, “DocuSign.” The AMA included an arbitration section. Right above the signature block, the contract included this disclaimer, bolded and in all capital letters: “This Agreement contains a pre-dispute arbitration clause.”The Rowlands filed suit, alleging contract and fraud claims. The parties submitted different versions of the AMA to the court for its decision on SMF’s motion to compel arbitration. The district court found that the parties had not formed an agreement to arbitrate. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Under the Federal Arbitration Act, courts determine whether a contract has been formed. Here, there was no meeting of the minds. The versions of the AMA signed by the Rowlands and by SMF’s agent contained materially different terms. View "Rowland v. Sandy Morris Financial LLC" on Justia Law

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Investors filed a claim with FINRA's arbitration division seeking to recover substantial losses from Broker, alleging nine causes of action. Broker counterclaimed, seeking payment of the debt and attorneys' fees. The arbitration panel found in favor of Investors and dismissed Broker's counterclaim. The arbitrators then issued a modified award on remand. The district court subsequently granted Broker's motion to vacate the modified award in favor of the Investors and remanded Broker's counterclaim to a new panel of arbitrators. Investors timely appealed.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in vacating the modified award where the arbitrators' imposition of liability against Broker is not in manifest disregard to the law. The court explained that imposing liability based on a contractual obligation to comply with the FINRA rules is, at the very least, an arguable interpretation of the parties' contracts. In this case, Broker executed trades of iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (VXX) on Investors' portfolio margin accounts, in clear violation of FINRA Rule 4210. Rule 4210 prohibits trades of certain high-risk securities through portfolio margin accounts, including trades of VXX. The court also held that the arbitration panel did not manifestly disregard the law by imposing damages in the amount of Investors' accounts on August 19, 2015. In light of Connecticut law, the court reasoned that the award placed Investors in the position they would have been if the contracts had been properly performed after August 19. Finally, the arbitration panel did not manifestly disregard the law by awarding Investors attorneys' fees. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to confirm the modified arbitration award. View "Interactive Brokers LLC v. Saroop" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying DIRECTV's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Plaintiff alleged that defendants called her cell phone to advertise DIRECTV products and services even though her telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.Because plaintiff signed an acknowledgement expressly agreeing to the arbitration provision of the Wireless Customer Agreement with AT&T, which provision applies to her as an authorized user, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that she did not form an agreement to arbitrate. The court held that plaintiff formed an agreement to arbitrate with DIRECTV where the ordinary meaning of "affiliates" and the contractual context convinced the court that the term includes affiliates acquired after the agreement was signed. Furthermore, in light of the expansive text of the arbitration agreement, the categories of claims it specifically includes, and the parties' instruction to interpret its provisions broadly, the court must conclude that plaintiff's TCPA claims fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mey v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law