Arbitration agreements

What are the formal requirements for an enforceable arbitration agreement?

According to FAA section 2, an agreement will be valid, irrevocable and enforceable, except upon such grounds as exist at law or equity for the revocation of any contract, if there is a written provision or contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy arising thereafter, or a transaction or refusal to perform the whole or part thereof of such contract, or an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such contract, transaction or refusal. Generally, courts will apply the ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts to determine the validity of an agreement. An agreement to arbitrate is considered a separate contractual undertaking; the validity of an arbitration clause does not depend on the validity of the underlying contract.

Arbitral procedure

Does the domestic law contain substantive requirements for the procedure to be followed?

The domestic statutory law provides almost no requirements regarding the procedure to be followed. The arbitrators once appointed typically control the procedure, conducting the hearings, administering oaths and making awards. The FAA grants an arbitrator or arbitrators the power to summon the attendance of witnesses. The courts defer to the arbitrator on procedural matters.

If the parties have contractually adopted an administering arbitral association’s rules, those rules will bind the arbitrator or panel’s actions. The AAA provides different rules of procedure depending on the type of case (commercial, construction, labour, international, etc). Any procedural rules in the arbitration agreement will overrule the institutional rules.


When and in what form must the award be delivered?

Under the FAA, there are no formal requirements regarding the delivery and form of the award. The rules of the administering arbitral association may require, or the parties may stipulate, that the award be in writing and signed by the majority of arbitrators. The timing of the award may also be governed by the administering arbitral association or the arbitration agreement.


On what grounds can an award be appealed to the court?

An award can be appealed to the courts on limited grounds. The FAA lists the following grounds for vacating an award:

  • where the award was procured by corruption, fraud or undue means;
  • where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or any one of them;
  • where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehaviour by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or
  • where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

Once an action on the award is brought to the courts, the normal rules governing the appeal of a court decision or an order will attach.


What procedures exist for enforcement of foreign and domestic awards?

Foreign and domestic awards are enforced through the courts. Domestic awards may be enforced under FAA section 9. The party seeking enforcement need not commence a civil action, but rather can make an application to the appropriate federal district for an order confirming the award within one year after the award is issued. The party seeking confirmation must also serve the adverse party with notice of the application.

There are two methods under which foreign commercial arbitral awards may be recognised and enforced. First, as part of the FAA, the United States has adopted the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (9 USC section 201). A party seeking to enforce an award must establish a prima facie case for enforcement under the New York Convention, and provide an original or certified copy of both the award and arbitral agreement to the appropriate judicial forum. Enforcement may be challenged on five grounds:

  • absence of a valid arbitration agreement;
  • lack of fair opportunity to be heard;
  • the award exceeds the scope of the submission to arbitration;
  • improper composition of the arbitral tribunal or improper arbitral procedure; and
  • the award has not yet become binding or stayed.

The party opposing enforcement has the burden to prove the invalidity of the award.

Alternatively, the United States has also adopted the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. Foreign commercial arbitral awards will be recognised and enforced on the basis of reciprocity; if the foreign state has ratified or acceded to the Inter-American Convention, such award will be recognised and enforced (9 USC section 304). If both the requirements for the application of the New York Convention and the Inter-American Convention are met, unless expressly agreed otherwise, the Inter-American convention will apply if the majority of parties to the arbitration are citizens of a state or states that have ratified or acceded to the Inter-American Convention or are a member state of the Organization of Americans. In all other cases, the New York Convention will apply (9 USC section 305).