Understanding the Role of an Arbitrator's Award

The arbitrator's final decision on the case is called an “award”. This is like the decision of a judge or jury in a court case. Once the arbitrator decides that all of the parties' evidence and arguments have been presented, the hearings will be closed. Once the award is signed by a majority of the arbitrators, FINRA will send copies of the signed award to each party or representative of the party. FINRA makes all arbitration awards available to the public free of charge by publishing them on Arbitration Awards Online.

Winning an arbitration award may not immediately end the dispute, especially when it comes to collecting payment from the losing party. What can be done to enforce the arbitrator's decision? The authors offer a step-by-step approach to giving the prize a binding effect and also address motions to annul, modify, or correct. The prize is determination on substance (that is, what is decided in the case). The decision is called an “award”, although all claims can be dismissed and, therefore, neither party pays money or the award is not monetary in nature. The award is almost always, though not necessarily, given to the parties in writing (rather than orally) and is generally as final and binding as a court judgment.

Therefore, the award is vitally important; it resolves the dispute. What types of final prizes are available? The different types of awards can be considered from a spectrum of increasingly detailed documents: a standard award requires the least amount of explanations, and the findings of fact and conclusions of law are the most. The parties can contract to receive from the court one of these three types or any other specific type of award that can be imagined. Silence will result in a standard prize. If the parties to a contract that includes an arbitration clause want a more detailed final arbitration award, they must clearly indicate in the contract the degree of specificity required. Why is choosing the type of award important? The type of award can affect the parties in several important ways and, therefore, the type of award is important.

Arguably, the more detailed the award, the more likely it is that the court has carefully considered the evidence, arguments and the law and issued an objectively “correct” award. More detailed awards also allow parties to better understand the award and can give them “arguments” if they decide to challenge an adverse award in a subsequent court action. On the other hand, more detailed awards tend to take longer and cost parties more money. They also run the risk of courts challenging the award, undesired, based both on the substantive analysis reflected in the award and on the form of the award itself. Each of these possible impacts is grouped into three factors that favor more detailed awards and three compensatory factors against more detailed awards, as explained in more detail below.

Another factor that favors more detailed awards may be less important, but it is worth mentioning. More detailed awards allow parties to better understand the award. Having a better understanding of the award increases the faith and confidence of the parties in the arbitration process. It's one thing for a party to learn that they've lost a case; perhaps it's better for that party to understand why they lost. There is a third factor, even less important, that favors granting more detailed prizes.

Some parties may request a reasoned award or an award that contains specific findings of fact and conclusions of law as “cover” against an award that is pronounced against them. The losing party could use the substantive details of a larger award in a subsequent judicial proceeding in which an attempt is made to annul the award. Therefore, by agreeing to have court issue a more detailed award, parties may be laying groundwork for subsequent judicial challenge to award. However, parties should understand that courts will generally confirm and enforce arbitration award because reasons for annulling arbitration award are very limited. In absence of “manifest disregard” law, courts will not increase their otherwise deferential review arbitral awards, even if court improperly applied law or arrived at what court considers be incorrect or even unfair result. A practical disadvantage requesting detailed award is that court must spend more time drafting award.

Request that court issue reasoned award or worse that it be established fact and law can significantly increase costs for parties and delay issuance final award. Process writing detailed awards can take long time especially large complex cases such intellectual property cases where author has experience. For example when faced with request for finding fact conclusions law court will normally ask each party individually submit their proposed findings fact conclusions law for court consider. Court then use these allegations as guide facilitate deliberations drafting findings fact conclusions law. If allegations filed after conclusion evidentiary hearing court will not officially close hearing until allegations received. That process will delay final award because deadline issuing award generally set date when hearing officially closed. In short more details increase costs take longer write There also risk with more detailed award losing party may later challenge award court More details give party more “arguments” request that court substantially overturn because considers grossly unfair While reasoned or contain specific findings fact conclusions law...

Nicole Fratercangelo
Nicole Fratercangelo

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