Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Modification of Judgment After the Confirmation of An Arbitration Award

In AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (08-14600), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order and rejected the claim that "the district court violated the mandate in Baker I and went beyond the exclusive grounds for modifying an arbitration award under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1–16." [Baker I is AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC v. Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 508 F.3d 995 (11th Cir. 2007)] .

The dispute in both Baker I and this decision related to a claim that a portion of the arbitration award had been satisfied prior to the entry of the award. On remand from Baker I, the district court confirmed the arbitration award but amended the judgment to indicate a portion had been satisfied.
The law of the case doctrine and the mandate rule ban courts from revisiting matters decided expressly or by necessary implication in an earlier appeal of the same case...But neither principle applies “when the issue in question was outside the scope of the prior appeal.”...In Baker I, we spoke in pertinent part about the power of courts to correct an “evident material mistake” in an arbitration award.
On remand, the district court entered a judgment entirely confirming the award. Then the district court granted American relief from the district court’s judgment (not the award) to reflect the earlier payment to the taxing authority. Baker argues that this latter decision violated the law of the case and the mandate from the earlier appeal. But as we have pointed out, we discussed in Baker I only modification of the award; we decided nothing expressly or by necessary implication about the district court’s power to grant American relief from a district court judgment or to consider evidence of the payment to the taxing authority. Baker I, therefore, has no decisive role to play here. The district court did not violate the law of the case doctrine or the mandate rule on remand.
The FAA severely limits judicial vacatur and modification of an arbitration award. As the Supreme Court recently confirmed, sections 10 and 11 of the FAA offer the exclusive grounds for expedited vacatur or modification of an award under the statute...We do not see, though, how those FAA sections control in the circumstances of this appeal: the district court neither vacated nor modified the arbitration award. Instead, the district court entered a judgment confirming the award and about two months after that granted American some relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5). 3 Sections 10 and 11 say nothing about court judgments and do not control this appeal.
We instead turn our attention to section 13 of the FAA. That provision says that a judgment confirming an arbitration award, once entered, has the same force and effect as a judgment in a standard civil action and is subject to all the provisions of law relating to those judgments...Under Rule 60(b), a court may relieve a party from a judgment if “the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5). This authority encompasses the power to declare a judgment satisfied “when damages are paid before trial or a tortfeasor or obligor has paid the judgment debt.”


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