Landau v. Eisenberg, No. 17-3963 (2d Cir. May 1, 2019) [click for opinion]

In June 2005, two groups from the Bobov Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, agreed to arbitrate certain disputes before a rabbinical tribunal. After a nine-year arbitration, a five-member tribunal held that Petitioners owned and were entitled to use the trademark "BOBOV," and could publish and distribute books and merchandise under that name.

Petitioners sought to confirm the award in the district court pursuant to section 9 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the "FAA"), 9 U.S.C. § 9. Section 9 provides that a party to an arbitration may petition the federal court for confirmation of an award in the district where the award was made. Of the 613 respondents served, only one filed an opposition, raising subject matter jurisdiction, venue, and merits-based arguments. The district court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the petition, rejected Respondent's other arguments, and confirmed the award.

On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the district court properly determined the jurisdiction issue. Because the FAA "bestows no federal jurisdiction," a party's dispute requires an "independent jurisdictional basis" for access to a federal forum. Accordingly, district courts should "look through" the petition—assuming the absence of the arbitration agreement—to determine whether the court would have jurisdiction under title 28 without it.

The Second Circuit has similarly applied the look-through approach to petitions under section 10 of the FAA to vacate and modify arbitration awards. Here, the Second Circuit found that the justifications for applying the look-through approach to FAA section 10 petitions "apply with equal force to § 9, which contains substantially identical language." The district court thus properly confirmed the arbitration award under section 9 because the underlying controversy involved questions of federal trademark law, "over which district court unquestionably possess subject matter jurisdiction."

The Second Circuit also held that, given the extremely deferential standard of review, the district court did not err in confirming the award. The rabbinical tribunal had assessed the parties' evidence and arguments over a nine-year period, and the district court had found no indication that the award was procured "through fraud or dishonesty, or that any other basis for overturning the award exists." The Second Circuit therefore affirmed the district court's confirmation of the award.