The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion holding that it was improper for a District Court to pass initial review of an arbitration award onto an appellate court rather than reviewing the award itself when presented with motions to confirm and to vacate. The parties, following a lengthy discovery process, had submitted to binding arbitration with appeal rights. After the arbitrator issued an award, and plaintiff moved the federal district court to confirm, defendant Wells Fargo informed the district court of an arithmetical error in the arbitrator’s calculations. Wells Fargo indicated that it did not intend to appeal the arbitrator’s judgment, but moved to modify or vacate the award. The district court refused to review the award, stating that such objections should be taken up on appeal. Wells Fargo subsequently filed the instant appeal.
Finding that it was proper to review the procedural error sua sponte, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court. The appeal court saw no reason justifying the district court’s circumvention of the Congressionally-established structure of the federal courts and the Federal Arbitration Act’s process for the review of arbitration awards. The Supreme Court’s Hall Street Associates opinion prevents parties from contracting for a standard of review different than that contained in the FAA, and similarly, parties should not be able to contract for a different review process. The district court was thus directed to rule on the motion to modify or vacate. Johnson v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., Case No. 05-321 (9th Cir. Feb. 15, 2011).