914 F.2d 6 (1st Cir. 1990), 90-1354, Advest, Inc. v. McCarthy

Docket Nº:90-1354.
Citation:914 F.2d 6
Party Name:ADVEST, INC., Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Patrick McCARTHY, Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:September 07, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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914 F.2d 6 (1st Cir. 1990)

ADVEST, INC., Plaintiff, Appellant,


Patrick McCARTHY, Defendant, Appellee.

No. 90-1354.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 7, 1990

Heard Aug. 3, 1990.

James L. Ackerman, with whom Katherine E. Perrelli, and Day, Berry & Howard, Boston, Mass., were on brief for plaintiff, appellant.

Leonard F. Zandrow, Jr., with whom Richard L. Neumeier, Vincent M. Amoroso, B. Deidre Brennan, and Parker, Coulter, Daley & White, Boston, Mass., were on brief for defendant, appellee.

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Before SELYA and CYR, Circuit Judges, and RE [*], Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Patrick McCarthy's stock went up when an arbitral decision came down against Advest, Inc., a brokerage house. Advest moved in federal district court to vacate the award, but the court refused because the motion "does no more than allege an erroneous result, which does not support an inference of any of the circumstances authorizing the vacation of an award contained in 9 U.S.C. Sec. 10." 1 Advest appeals, arguing that since the arbitration award was in "manifest disregard of the law" and without "rational basis in fact or law," vacation was appropriate. But the bases for review of arbitration awards outside of 9 U.S.C. Sec. 10 are very limited, no matter how colorfully a given petitioner may package and label its motion to vacate--and those bases are inapplicable in the case at hand. We therefore affirm the judgment below.

The Essential Facts

Stripped to essentials, the facts in this case are straightforward. McCarthy opened a margin account with Advest's predecessor in interest and purchased securities over a period of time. 2 In May 1984, he owned shares in three companies: Avco, Amdahl, and Recognition Equipment. At that time, Advest sent him at least one mailgram requesting that he post additional funds to meet his margin requirements. Upon inquiry, he was told that the request was due to a computer error and could be ignored. In January 1985, McCarthy tendered his Avco shares to an acquiring company, using the proceeds in April to purchase 12,500 additional shares of Amdahl.

At that juncture, the customer-broker relationship began to sour. By virtue of McCarthy's latest transaction, his position in Amdahl amounted to 16,000 shares and comprised more than 60 percent of the value of his account. Due to this increased concentration, Advest's margin requirement jumped from 30 percent to 45 percent. It launched a series of mailgrams demanding that McCarthy deposit incremental funds to meet the increased margin. When McCarthy failed to do so, Advest unilaterally liquidated portions of his holdings, selling all the Recognition Equipment stock (4000 shares) in June 1985 and 3400 shares of Amdahl in the fall of that year.

McCarthy maintained his account with Advest through March 1987 when he switched brokers. In January 1988, he filed an arbitration claim with the National Association of Securities Dealers. McCarthy's complaint was that Advest's serial requests for further funds were misleading in that they stated Advest was "required by federal regulation" to secure additional margin for a concentrated account when, in

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fact, the applicable regulations merely allowed Advest to do so. See generally 12 C.F.R. Secs. 220.1-220.130. McCarthy claimed that, had he known the truth, he would simply have shifted his margin account to a more accommodating broker; instead, his reliance on Advest's misrepresentation caused part of his holdings to be liquidated, contrary to his best interests.

The three member arbitration panel found for McCarthy, awarded him $22,500, and ordered Advest to "restore the 6800 shares of Amdahl stock to [McCarthy] adjusting for any and all splits and dividens [sic] through the date of [the] award." In the district court, Advest challenged this award on two fronts, (1) that the arbitrators could not rationally have found the mailgrams to be misleading and the ensuing sell-offs improper, and (2) even if Advest was liable, the measure of damages was bizarre. In oral argument before us, however, appellant conceded that the arbitration panel could conceivably have found that the mailgrams were misleading, thereby effectively undermining its first assignment of error. 3 Accordingly, we limit our discussion to whether the district court erred in not vacating the award because the decreed remedy had no rational basis and was in manifest disregard of the law.

Standard of Review

The bases for review of arbitration awards are enumerated in 9 U.S.C. Sec. 10, supra note 1. The statute does not allow courts to roam unbridled in their oversight of arbitral awards, but carefully limits judicial intervention to instances where the arbitration has been tainted in certain specific ways. In fine, section 10 authorizes vacatur of an award in cases of specified misconduct or misbehavior on the arbitrators' part, actions in excess of arbitral powers, or failures to consummate the award. 4 See Carte Blanche (Singapore) Pte., Ltd. v. Carte Blanche Int'l Ltd., 888 F.2d 260, 264-65 (2d Cir.1989). The statute contains no express ground upon which an award can be overturned because it rests on garden-variety factual or legal bevues. To the precise contrary, courts "do not sit to hear claims of factual or legal error by an arbitrator as an appellate court does in reviewing decisions of lower courts." United Paperworkers Int'l Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38, 108 S.Ct. 364, 371, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987). Even where such error is painfully clear, "courts are not authorized to reconsider the merits of arbitration awards...." S.D. Warren Co. v. United Paperworkers' Int'l. Union, Local 1069, 845 F.2d 3, 7 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 992, 109 S.Ct. 555, 102 L.Ed.2d 582 (1988).

Courts do, however, retain a very limited power to review arbitration awards outside of section 10. "The considerable deference due an arbitrator's decision 'does not grant carte blanche approval to any decision that the arbitrator might make....' " Challenger Caribbean Corp. v. Union General de Trabajadores, 903 F.2d 857, 861 (1st Cir.1990) (quoting International Bhd. of Firemen Local 261 v. Great N. Paper Co., 765 F.2d 295, 296 (1st Cir.1985)). Nevertheless, non-reviewability remains the general rule--and exceptions are few and far between. See Bettencourt v. Boston Edison Co., 560 F.2d 1045, 1049 (1st Cir.1977). In the main, a successful challenge to an arbitration award, apart from section 10, depends upon the challenger's ability to show that the award is "(1) unfounded in reason and fact; (2) based on reasoning so palpably faulty that no judge, or group of judges, ever could conceivably have made such a ruling; or (3) mistakenly based on a

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crucial assumption that is concededly a non-fact." Local 1445, United Food and Commercial Workers v. Stop & Shop Cos., 776 F.2d 19, 21 (1st Cir.1985); Bettencourt, 560 F.2d at 1050. Put differently, "as long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority," a court's conviction that the arbitrator made a serious mistake or committed grievous error will not furnish a satisfactory basis for undoing the decision. See Misco, 484 U.S. at 38, 108 S.Ct. at 371; see also Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. Local 27, United Paperworkers Int'l Union, 864 F.2d 940, 944 (1st Cir.1988).

This standard of judicial review has taken on various hues and colorations in its formulations in this, and other, circuits. See, e.g., Raiford v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 903 F.2d 1410, 1412 (11th Cir.1990) (arbitration award may be set aside if "arbitrary and capricious"); Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Bobker, 808 F.2d 930, 933 (2d Cir.1986) (arbitration award may be set aside if made in "[m]anifest disregard of the law"); 5 French v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 784 F.2d 902, 906 (9th Cir.1986) (arbitration award may be set aside if "completely irrational"); Stop & Shop, supra pp. 8-9; see also United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597, 80 S.Ct. 1358, 1361, 4 L.Ed.2d 1424 (1960) (holding arbitration award to be impregnable "so long as it draws its essence" from the underlying agreement). Although the differences in phraseology have caused a modicum of confusion, we deem them insignificant. We regard the standard of review undergirding these various formulations as identical, no matter how pleochroic their shadings and what "terms of art have been employed to ensure that the arbitrator's decision relies on his interpretation of the contract as contrasted with his own beliefs of fairness and justice." Jenkins v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 847 F.2d 631, 634 (10th Cir.1988). However nattily wrapped, the packages are fungible.

Our purpose here is not to wave a magic wand and...

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