The Ninth Circuit, as a matter of first impression, ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) is subject to equitable tolling. Plaintiff Move, Inc. (“Move”) moved to vacate an arbitration panel’s adverse decision, claiming it was prejudiced by the chairperson’s fraudulent misrepresentation that he was a licensed attorney (when he was not), and that such criteria was required for the chairperson’s service on the panel. Move did not discover the chairperson’s misrepresentation until four years after the arbitral award, and thus outside the FAA’s three month timeline for an aggrieved party to petition to vacate an arbitration decision. The court analyzed the FAA’s text, purpose, and structure, concluding that they did not preclude the application of equitable tolling with respect to vacatur of the award or bar Move’s application based on timeliness.
The court then determined that the arbitrator’s misrepresentation constituted sufficient grounds to vacate the panel’s decision. Move had made clear throughout the arbitrator selection process how important it was that the chairperson of the arbitration panel be an experienced, licensed attorney. Even though it was impossible to determine whether the imposter’s presence influenced other panel member’s decisions, or the outcome itself, the prejudice came from his inclusion on the panel as chairperson, when his misrepresentation should have disqualified him from the list of eligible arbitrator candidates.
Move, Inc. v. CitiGroup Global Markets, Inc., No. 14-56650 (9th Cir. Nov. 4, 2016).