In brief: arbitration formalities in USA
UNCITRAL Model Law
Is the arbitration law based on the UNCITRAL Model Law?
Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in 1925 to validate agreements to arbitrate and to provide mechanisms for their enforcement. The Supreme Court has held that the FAA applies in both federal question and diversity jurisdiction matters, and in some cases pre-empts state statutes precluding arbitration. The FAA is not based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, and differs from it in several ways, including the basis for setting aside an award, the power to modify or correct an award, the procedure for the appointment of arbitrators and the arbitral tribunal’s power to rule on its own jurisdiction.
What are the formal requirements for an enforceable arbitration agreement?
According to FAA section 2, an agreement will be valid, irrevocable and enforceable, except upon such grounds as exist at law or equity for the revocation of any contract, if there is a written provision or contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy arising thereafter, or a transaction or refusal to perform the whole or part thereof of such contract, or an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such contract, transaction or refusal. Generally, courts will apply the ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts to determine the validity of an agreement. An agreement to arbitrate is considered a separate contractual undertaking; the validity of an arbitration clause does not depend on the validity of the underlying contract.
Choice of arbitrator
If the arbitration agreement and any relevant rules are silent on the matter, how many arbitrators will be appointed and how will they be appointed? Are there restrictions on the right to challenge the appointment of an arbitrator?
Typically, parties will specify the procedure for the appointment of arbitrators, or adopt procedural rules of an administering arbitral institution such as the American Arbitration Association (AAA), JAMS or the International Chamber of Commerce International Court of Arbitration, which provide default rules for the appointment of arbitrators. In the absence of a contractual provision regarding the procedure for the appointment of arbitrators or the adoption of the procedure of an administering arbitral association, the appointment of arbitrators shall be made upon application to the court. The court may designate and appoint any arbitrator or arbitrators as the case may require. If the contract is silent about the number of arbitrators, the court shall appoint a single arbitrator for the action (FAA section 5).
What are the options when choosing an arbitrator or arbitrators?
The available arbitrator options will depend on the chosen arbitral association or court. Generally, each arbitral association or court maintains a roster of available mediators and arbitrators. Eligibility for those rosters is based on each association or court’s own criteria and evaluation. For example, the JAMS roster mainly comprises retired judges and other professional neutrals. The AAA roster tends to include arbitrators with more varied industry experience. Usually, the arbitral association or court can provide arbitrators with sufficient knowledge or experience to address the complexity of the issues presented.
Does the domestic law contain substantive requirements for the procedure to be followed?
The domestic statutory law provides almost no requirements regarding the procedure to be followed. The arbitrators once appointed typically control the procedure, conducting the hearings, administering oaths and making awards. The FAA grants an arbitrator or arbitrators the power to summon the attendance of witnesses. The courts defer to the arbitrator on procedural matters.
If the parties have contractually adopted an administering arbitral association’s rules, those rules will bind the arbitrator or panel’s actions. The AAA provides different rules of procedure depending on the type of case (commercial, construction, labour, international, etc). Any procedural rules in the arbitration agreement will overrule the institutional rules.
On what grounds can the court intervene during an arbitration?
Federal courts have jurisdiction to hear arbitration-related issues for matters with federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction. Judicial intervention is commonly sought when the arbitration demand is made (to compel or stay a proceeding) or after the award (to enforce, modify or vacate). However, during an arbitration, parties may turn to the courts to enforce a subpoena issued by the arbitrator. If a person summoned to testify refuses or fails to appear, the parties may petition the district court in which the arbitrator (or a majority of the arbitrators) sits to compel attendance or punish said persons for contempt (FAA section 7).
Do arbitrators have powers to grant interim relief?
The FAA does not provide for provisional remedies, but the majority view is that arbitrators can and should grant preliminary injunctive relief to preserve the status quo pending arbitration. Likewise, administering arbitral associations often give arbitrators the power to grant interim relief.
When and in what form must the award be delivered?
Under the FAA, there are no formal requirements regarding the delivery and form of the award. The rules of the administering arbitral association may require, or the parties may stipulate, that the award be in writing and signed by the majority of arbitrators. The timing of the award may also be governed by the administering arbitral association or the arbitration agreement.