A decision of a Mississippi federal district court illustrates the weighty burden that a party must carry in order to vacate an arbitration award. The dispute was over an executive terminated from a company and whether his termination was with or without cause. The arbitrator found that it was done without cause and awarded the executive nearly $600,000. The terminating company moved to vacate based on seven arguments, including that the arbitrator shifted the burden from the employee to the company, that the arbitrator awarded a lump-sum damage award not contemplated by the agreement, that the arbitrator erred in awarding pre- and post-judgment interest, and that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by awarding benefits in excess of the amounts sought in the filings. The terminated employee cross-moved for sanctions.
The court suggested that, although the terminating company may have had a point in its argument, the arbitrator miscalculated the damages, “the arbitration provision did not limit the arbitrator’s authority with respect to damages, other than to forbid him from awarding punitive damages.” It may have been that the arbitrator misconstrued the contract or the law, but the terminating company did not meet its burden of showing an unambiguous and undisputed mistake of fact. The court also analyzed whether sanctions were warranted, finding no evidence of bad faith. However, the court cautioned, “the bases for vacating an arbitration award are narrowly prescribed and motions to vacate should therefore be employed sparingly.” U-Save Auto Rental of America, Inc. v. Barton, Case No. 3:15-cv-00348 (USDC S.D. Miss. Feb. 12, 2016).