Enforcing Arbitration Awards

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CONFIRMING ARBITRATION AWARDS: TAKING THE MYSTERY OUT OF A SUMMARY PROCEEDING

Authors Susan Wiens and Roger Haydock.  This Article updates an earlier article: Daniel D. Derner & Roger S. Haydock, Confirming an Arbitration Award, 23 WM. MITCHELL L. REV. 879 (1997).

Overview

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Arbitration has grown in popularity over recent decades.  Aided by numerous federal and state judicial decisions and statutes favoring the enforcement of arbitration agreements, more parties are discovering that binding arbitration is an efficient, costeffective, and flexible alternative to litigation. For many businesses and individuals, arbitration has become the preferred way to resolve all types of disputes.

Because an arbitration award becomes enforceable as a civil judgment through the process of confirmation, all possible legal remedies remain available and equally effective. Additionally, when parties seek confirmation, they do not relinquish the efficiency they gained through arbitration because the confirmation process is as simple and straightforward as arbitration itself and, of course, much simpler than litigation.

The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the arbitration statutes of all fifty states and the District of Columbia provide for the confirmation of arbitration awards, yet many practitioners and courts remain unfamiliar with the process. This Article explains the confirmation process by addressing three basic questions:
(1) Where can an award be confirmed?
(2) When can an award be confirmed?
(3) How can an award be confirmed?

First published in the WILLIAM MITCHELL LAW REVIEW

An additional predicate question is: who confirms an award? The answer to that question is not a disputed issue. The party to an arbitration award may seek to enforce it. Typically, this is the winning party, but it could be any party to the arbitration that seeks the benefit of the award.

The reality is that confirmation is not necessary in the vast majority of cases. Losing parties commonly abide by the arbitration award and pay what they owe or otherwise comply with the decision. Having been an active participant in a fair and effective process, parties to arbitrations tend to comply willingly with the results. And having enjoyed the benefits of avoiding the courtroom, parties are likely to want to keep it that way. But for those cases in which the court’s enforcement authority is needed, the confirmation process is available. And the good news is that it is a straightforward process, just like arbitration itself.

Although confirmation requires judicial involvement, it is intended to be a summary proceeding. The FAA expresses a presumption that courts shall confirm arbitration awards.  The court plays the administrative role of converting the award into a judgment, and “a party simply has to follow applicable procedures in the court which has proper jurisdiction, and the confirmed award becomes an enforceable judgment.” Even where one party objects to confirmation, the court plays a very limited supervisory role and is not authorized to review all aspects of the arbitration or to second-guess the arbitrator.  

This Article is intended to assist practitioners in enforcing valid and binding arbitration awards by converting them into state or federal court judgments. The Appendix to this Article provides
forms for possible documents most commonly required for confirmation and a table summarizing the confirmation procedures currently in place in federal court, all fifty states, and the District of Columbia.  

These rules are, of course, subject to change, and the forms are only suggested documents. This Article provides an overview and is not intended to replace a practitioner’s selection and drafting of proper documents and the careful reading of the laws specific to his or her proceedings. In addition, practitioners should review any applicable local rules, since these rules may govern some aspects of the confirmation process.