Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Arbitration — Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) May Be Invoked in District Court to Correct Certain Errors in Arbitration Awards

From AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC v. Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 18639 (11th Cir. Aug. 18, 2009):

Several years ago American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (American) arbitrated a tax dispute with AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC and A.B. Olathe II LP (collectively, Baker), from whom American leased space in shopping centers. The arbitration panel concluded that American owed Baker under the terms of their lease agreements almost a million dollars to cover a portion of the taxes on those properties. But after the panel issued the award, American learned that it had already paid some of the taxes directly to the taxing authority. Then, in the district court, American, claiming a mistake in the award, sought modification of it to reflect the tax actually already paid. The district court accepted American's argument and revised the award, but this Court reversed on appeal in AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC v. Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 508 F.3d 995 (11th Cir. 2007) (Baker I).

On remand, the district court, per Baker I, entered a judgment confirming entirely the arbitration award. But the case did not stop there: the district court later granted American some relief — under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5) — from the judgment to account for the taxes American had paid to the taxing authority. Baker appeals this latter decision. Baker says 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. Seeing no error, we affirm the district court order. ***

[S]ection 13 of the FAA ... 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. 9 U.S.C. § 13; see also Parsons & Whittemore Ala. Mach. & Servs. Corp. v. Yeargin Constr. Co., 744 F.2d 1482, 1484 (11th Cir. 1984). The provisions of law include Rule 60(b). See, e.g., Fid. Fed. Bank, FSB v. Durga Ma Corp., 387 F.3d 1021, 1023-24 (9th Cir. 2004) (stating that "judgment confirming an arbitration award is treated similarly to any other federal judgment" and concluding that district court did not abuse its discretion when it corrected judgment confirming arbitration award under Rule 60(b)); Baltia Air Lines, Inc. v. Transaction Mgmt., Inc., 98 F.3d 640, 642, 321 U.S. App. D.C. 191 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (stating that "Rule 60(b) is an appropriate vehicle by which to challenge a judgment confirming an arbitration award"); Clarendon Nat'l Ins. Co. v. TIG Reinsurance Co., 183 F.R.D. 112, 117 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (section 13 of FAA provides that judgments confirming arbitration awards are subject to Rule 60(b)).

[Footnote] 4 Fed. R. Civ. P. 81(a)(6)(B) says that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply in actions related to arbitration "to the extent applicable" and except as otherwise provided for in the FAA. We accept that this language may mean that courts cannot use Rule 60(b) to modify or vacate an arbitration award or, perhaps, to grant relief from a judgment confirming an award for reasons covered in sections 10 or 11 of the FAA. This appeal is different, however; it is about partial payment of a judgment debt.

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." Gibbs v. Maxwell House, A Div. of Gen. Foods Corp., 738 F.2d 1153, 1155 (11th Cir. 1984).

Two old cases involving Rule 60(b) seem particularly pertinent here. In Ferrell v. Trailmobile, Inc., 223 F.2d 697 (5th Cir. 1955), a defendant allegedly failed to pay one of eighteen installments on a truck trailer.... Although the defendant claimed that he had made the payment, the district court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff.... The defendant later secured copies of documents that conclusively proved that he made the disputed payment; so, he moved the district court for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b).... The district court denied the request.... This Court reversed on appeal and said "[i]f, in fact, practically conclusive evidence shows that the [defendant] had actually paid all eighteen installments for the purchase of the trailer, it is obvious that the judgment should be set aside to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice." ... We remanded the case for a hearing on the Rule 60(b) motion.***

This Court later reached a similar result in Johnson Waste Materials v. Marshall, 611 F.2d 593 (5th Cir. 1980). In Marshall, the government sued several defendants for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19.... At trial, the government introduced employee-testimony on the number of hours worked and the wages paid; the defendants offered no documentary evidence to rebut the testimony and were found liable.... More than a year later, the defendants moved to set aside or reform the judgment under Rule 60(b) after locating cancelled payroll checks and other evidence that established that the plaintiffs were due less than awarded to them at trial.... The district court concluded, however, that the evidence was neither newly discovered nor secured through due diligence and denied the defendants any relief....

We reversed on appeal.... We said that the defendants, to receive relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5), were not obligated to produce newly discovered evidence or to demonstrate due diligence in securing that evidence.... Instead, we said that the defendants needed only to produce conclusive evidence that they partially satisfied the judgment.... To rule otherwise, we stressed, would effectively grant the plaintiffs a windfall***.

We begin with Ferrell and Marshall. We accept that those decisions do not fit perfectly here: they involved judgments entered after civil trials and not after arbitration. But section 13 of the FAA provides that a judgment which has confirmed an award is to be treated no better or worse than any other civil judgment: "The judgment so entered shall have the same force and effect, in all respects, as, and be subject to all the provisions of law relating to, a judgment in an action; and it may be enforced as if it had been rendered in an action in the court in which it is entered." 9 U.S.C. § 13. So, the district court did not err by extending our precedents dealing with judgments in civil actions to the case before it.

***American submitted conclusive evidence to the district court that American paid the taxes on the Kansas property directly to the taxing authority and thereby had satisfied some of the judgment against American. Baker, although given every opportunity to do so, never contradicted the evidence of payment or denied that the tax payment satisfied the obligation Baker would have otherwise had to pay to the taxing authority. Baker directly benefitted concretely from American's payment to the taxing authority. In the light of the facts as well as the precedents, we cannot say that the district court abused its discretion by granting American some relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5).

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