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Court Denies Motion to Vacate FINRA Arbitration Award Without A Hearing : Labor & Employment

Court Denies Motion to Vacate FINRA Arbitration Award Without A Hearing

Farhang Oshidary v. Grace Purpura–Andriola, Trustee FBO Grace Purpura–Andriola Living Trust and Olga Michel Basil.  2012 WL 2135375 (N.D. Calif.  Jun 12, 2012)

In a recent case before the Northern District of California, Farhang Oshidary (“Oshidary”), a securities broker, filed a petition to vacate a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Arbitration Award issued on February 10, 2012 in favor of Grace Purpura–Andriola, Trustee FBO Grace Purpura–Andriola Revocable Living Trust (“Andriola”) and Olga Michel Basil ( “Basil”).  Andriola and Basil filed an opposition to the motion, and a request for entry of judgment on the FINRA award pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 9.   The court denied the motion to vacate without a hearing, and confirmed the FINRA award.

The underlying dispute in this case arose from Oshidary’s investment advice to Andriola, Basil, and others while Oshidary was a broker at the Menlo Park, California office of Smith Barney, now Citigroup Global Markets, Inc (“Citigroup”).  Andriola and several other claimants filed suit against Oshidary and Citigroup in California Superior Court, which ordered the case to FINRA Arbitration. After multiple hearing sessions, the FINRA arbitration panel dismissed all claims against Citigroup and dismissed all claims against Oshidary, except for claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought by Andriola, Basil and three other parties.  On February 10, 2012, the panel issued its Arbitration Award. It found that Oshidary was liable for breach of fiduciary duty to Andriola for $ 250,000 plus seven-percent interest from April 1, 2001.  Oshidary was also found liable for breach of fiduciary duty to Basil for $ 120,000 plus seven-percent interest from January 1, 2005.

Two of the four separate theories under which Oshidary proposed to vacate the FINRA award were rejected by the court for failure to satisfy the burden of proof.  Under one of the remaining theories, Oshidary argued that, in violation of California Civil Procedure Code § 1281.9, the Chairman of the FINRA arbitration panel failed to disclose information that might preclude him from being impartial. Under his final theory, Oshidary argued that the FINRA arbitration panel manifestly disregarded the law by acting without jurisdiction over Andriola’s claims, which were barred by the “six year rule” regarding arbitration eligibility.

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), provides four narrowly delineated circumstances in which a federal district court can vacate an arbitration award:

(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud or undue means;

(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them;

(3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or

(4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

Courts may not reverse an arbitration award even in the face of an erroneous interpretation of the law.  However, the court may vacate an award where the arbitrators’ decision is in manifest disregard of the law. Johnson v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 635 F.3d 401, 414–15 (9th Cir.2011).  “Manifest disregard of the law” has been interpreted to mean “something beyond and different from a mere error in the law or failure on the part of the arbitrators to understand and apply the law.” Collins v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 505 F.3d 874, 879 (9th Cir.2007) (quotation omitted).

California Civil Procedure Code § 1281.9, subdivision (a), imposes on arbitrators a duty to “disclose all matters that could cause a person aware of the facts to reasonably entertain a doubt that the proposed neutral arbitrator would be able to be impartial.”  In decisions interpreting this statute, courts have highlighted the importance of the link between the subject matter of the arbitration and the matter subject to disclosure. In the instant case, the alleged conflict occurred over two decades ago, and was completely unrelated to the subject of the arbitration. Therefore, the court denied vacatur on these grounds.

FINRA Rule 12206(a) provides that “[n]o claim shall be eligible for submission to arbitration under the Code where six years have elapsed from the occurrence or event giving rise to the claim. The panel will resolve any questions regarding the eligibility of a claim under this rule.”  Eligibility under Rule 12206 is a question for the arbitrators and not for the court.  The FINRA arbitration panel was free to interpret Rule 12206 as it saw fit, in particular with respect to the triggering date, i.e. the “occurrence or event giving rise to the claim.” FINRA Rule 12206.  That the investments at issue were loans supported the Panel’s decision to not choose the purchase date as the triggering event because, unlike other investments, the investor likely will not know whether repayment will occur until the agreed-upon return date.

Because the court denied Oshidary’s vacatur of the award on each of the four separate grounds, the court found that confirmation of the FINRA arbitration award was appropriate.  Judgment would be entered by separate order, once respondents confirmed that they withdrew their parallel request to the state court.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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