In First State Insurance Company v. National Cas. Co., 2015 WL 1263147, No. 14-1644 (1st Cir. March 20, 2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit (the “Court of Appeals”) affirmed the lower court’s refusal to vacate an arbitration award involving contract interpretation and addressed the operation and effect of an “honorable engagement provision” in an arbitration clause.
In this case, the Appellant/Reinsurer sought to vacate a contract interpretation award involving eight reinsurance and retrocessional agreements because the arbitrators exceeded their scope of powers by re-writing the terms of the parties’ agreements. Specifically, the Appellant/Reinsurer asserted that the payment protocol set forth in the arbitration award was not based on the parties’ agreements and obligated Appellant/Reinsurer to pay billings that may not fall within the terms and conditions of the agreements. The Appellant/Reinsurer further asserted that the payment protocol would foreclose or impair its broad access rights under certain inspection and audit provisions of the agreements by conditioning those rights on the transmittal of an appropriate time-of-payment reservation of rights.
Regarding the payment protocol, the Court of Appeals determined that the payment protocol in the award tracked the plain language of the relevant portions of the parties’ reinsurance agreements. Concerning the challenge to the reservation of rights procedure, the Court of Appeals noted that the arbitration clauses for the reinsurance agreements contained an honorable engagement provision, which directed the arbitrators to consider each agreement as an “honorable engagement rather than merely a legal obligation” and further stated that the arbitrators “are relieved or all judicial formalities and may abstain from following the strict rules of law.” The Court of Appeals held that the honorable engagement provisions empowered arbitrators to grant forms of relief, including equitable remedies not explicitly mentioned in the underlying agreement. The Court of Appeal viewed the honorable engagement provisions as enhancing the prospects for a successful arbitration because they provided the arbitrators with the flexibility to custom-tailor remedies to fit particular circumstances.