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

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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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

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After a group of borrowers filed suit against two online lenders, the Haynes Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to arbitrate, holding that the borrowers sufficiently challenged the validity of the delegation clauses and the district court was correct to consider the enforceability of the arbitration agreements.The court also held that the choice-of-law clauses amount to a prospective waiver such that the arbitration agreements, including the delegation clauses, are unenforceable. Therefore, the court explained that the district court had the authority to decide whether the arbitration agreements were valid, correctly decided they were not, and did not err in denying the motion to compel arbitration. View "Gibbs v. Haynes Investments, LLC" on Justia Law

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After a group of borrowers filed suit against two online lenders, the Sequoia Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to arbitrate, holding that the borrowers sufficiently challenged the validity of the delegation clauses and the district court was correct to consider the enforceability of the arbitration agreements.Furthermore, because the effect of the choice-of-law provisions is to stymie the vindication of the federal statutory claims that the borrowers seek to enforce, they amount to a prospective waiver and render the delegation provisions unenforceable. The court therefore held that the entire arbitration agreement is unenforceable. The court explained that the district court had the authority to decide whether the arbitration agreements were valid, correctly decided they were not, and did not err in denying the motion to compel arbitration. View "Gibbs v. Sequoia Capital Operations, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Arbitration Act expresses a strong policy in favor of arbitration. Based on that, the Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit have consistently held that contractual provisions capable of being reasonably read to call for arbitration should be construed in favor of arbitration.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of PwC's motion to compel arbitration of plaintiff's Title VII claims. Following precedent, the court construed the arbitration provision in the employment agreement between the parties to require arbitration of plaintiff's Title VII claims, and the arbitration provision was neither procedurally nor substantively unconscionable. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to compel arbitration. View "Ashford v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP" on Justia Law

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Seeking evidence to use in a United Kingdom arbitration, Servotronics filed an application in the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1782 to obtain testimony from three Boeing employees residing in South Carolina. On appeal, Servotronics contends that the district court erred in ruling that the UK arbitral panel was not a "foreign tribunal" for purposes of section 1782 and thus it lacked authority to grant Servotronics' application to obtain testimony for use in the UK arbitration.The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the arbitral panel in the United Kingdom is a foreign tribunal for purposes of section 1782. The court explained that the current version of the statute, as amended in 1964, manifests Congress' policy to increase international cooperation by providing U.S. assistance in resolving disputes before not only foreign courts but before all foreign and international tribunals. The court wrote that such a policy was intended to contribute to the orderly resolution of disputes both in the United States and abroad, elevating the importance of the rule of law and encouraging a spirit of comity between foreign countries and the United States. Furthermore, Boeing's argument to the contrary represents too narrow an understanding of arbitration, whether it is conducted in the United Kingdom or the United States. View "Servotronics, Inc. v. The Boeing Co." on Justia Law

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On remand from the district court, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to debtor in an action arising from the nonpayment of a promissory note. The court held that the district court did not give proper weight to the evidence before it; the evidence construed most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, the Foundation, was that debtor waited until after the entry of final judgment to assert an arbitration defense; and neither debtor nor the district court has pointed to a single case in which a party waited until after the entry of final judgment to raise the right to arbitration without defaulting that right. Rather, the court held that, in such circumstances, courts have typically found default of the right to arbitrate, even in cases involving domestic judgments. In this case, given the dueling deposition testimony, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether debtor asserted his right to arbitrate during proceedings in the Iraqi trial court. View "Iraq Middle Market Development Foundation v. Mohammad Harmoosh" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of appellants' motion to compel arbitration. The complaint alleged claims that were predicated on a massive insurance contract steering and kickback fraud conspiracy that spanned the period from 2001 to 2016.The court held that the district court failed to resolve -- in the proper manner -- factual disputes regarding whether Berkeley Schools agreed to arbitrate the claims alleged in the complaint. Accordingly, 9 U.S.C. 4 requires that those disputes must be resolved in trial proceedings and thus the court remanded. View "Berkeley County School District v. HUB International Limited" on Justia Law