The dispute at issue in this case involved claims of fraud in the sale of condominium units asserted by unit purchasers against the condominium developer. Arbitration under the AAA was underway between the parties, when it was discovered that the arbitrator had failed to disclose that he had become involved in business ventures to finance litigation for investment purposes. The developer requested that the AAA disqualify the arbitrator and stay the arbitration, but the AAA denied the request. The developer then convinced the district court to intervene in the pending arbitration and disqualify the arbitrator.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit determined that the court committed “clear error,” holding that: (1) “the financial relationship in this case is contingent, attenuated, and merely potential” and did not satisfy “evident partiality”; and (2) “the district court’s equitable concern that delays and expenses would result if an arbitration award were vacated is manifestly inadequate to justify a mid-arbitration intervention, regardless of the size and early stage of the arbitration.” The Ninth Circuit entered a writ of mandamus, and directed the district court to vacate its ruling, finding that the lower court’s “interference in ongoing arbitration proceedings raises the specter” of confusion in the court system, and creates “new and important problems” and an issue of law of first impression. In re Sussex, No. 14-70158 (9th Cir. Jan. 27, 2015).