A federal court has granted plaintiff’s petition to confirm a $2.1 million arbitration award issued by American Arbitration Association arbitrators in a contract dispute. In opposing plaintiff’s petition, defendant moved to vacate the award on two grounds: (i) the arbitrators’ alleged improper refusal to grant a continuance to allow defendant to obtain new counsel; and (ii) the alleged partiality of one of the arbitrators due to a personal relationship with one of plaintiff’s attorneys. The court denied defendant’s motion to vacate in its entirety.
First, the court held that arbitrators acted within their discretion when they refused to grant a continuance and defendant failed to show there was sufficient cause for a postponement. Specifically, the court noted that the hearing at issue had already been postponed at the request of defendant’s former counsel and that defendant advised the arbitration panel one day prior to the hearing about its counsel’s withdrawal, without offering any reason for such withdrawal.
Second, the court held that defendant failed to show “evident partiality” by an arbitrator. Specifically, although defendant alleged to have overheard conversations between one of the arbitrators and one of plaintiff’s attorneys about “numerous shared social experiences,” including joint vacations and golf, the court ruled that a reasonable person would not have to conclude from such casual conversations overheard that the arbitrator was partial to plaintiff. Moreover, the court noted that the lawyer for plaintiff filed an affidavit stating that he had no personal, social or professional relationship, or any ex parte communications, with the arbitrator. The court also noted that the fact that the arbitration panel’s decision was unanimous goes against the finding of partiality.
Accordingly, the court granted plaintiff’s petition to confirm the arbitration award. (Martik Brothers, Inc. v. Kiebler Slippery Rock, LLC, 2009 WL 1065893 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 20, 2009))