Collective defendants, Nationwide, appealed from a Massachusetts superior court judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of collective plaintiffs, Liberty Mutual. The underlying dispute involved a 1972 reinsurance treaty wherein Nationwide, the reinsurer, indemnified Liberty Mutual, the cedant, for a portion of the losses paid on Liberty Mutual’s general liability and worker’s compensation policies. At issue was a provision in the treaty granting Nationwide a right of access to Liberty Mutual’s documents concerning the covered policies. The dispute arose when Liberty Mutual refused to produce documents it claimed were protected by attorney-client and work product privileges. At arbitration, the panel dismissed Nationwide’s argument that it was entitled to any and all documents relating to the covered policies, reasoning that the right of access provision excluded privileged documents. Liberty Mutual thereafter submitted an application to the superior court to confirm the award and Nationwide submitted a cross-application to vacate the access to records portion of the judgment.
Despite a de novo review, the court’s discretion was limited as it was bound by the arbitrators’ findings and legal conclusions, even if they appeared erroneous, inconsistent, or unsupported by the record. Through this lens, the court of appeals upheld the arbitrators’ decision, dismissing Nationwide’s argument that the arbitrators exceeded their powers in interpreting the access to records provision in the reinsurance treaty. The appellate court reasoned that where the parties do not dispute the scope of the arbitrators’ powers and where the claimed error is in the interpretation of the terms of the parties’ underlying contract and not in the agreement to arbitrate in the first place, it must apply a severely limited review of arbitration awards. Liberty Mutual v. Nationwide, No. 14-1129 (Mass. App. Ct. June 5, 2015).