Gms Group, LLC v. Benderson, Docket No. 02-7129.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtOakes
Citation326 F.3d 75
PartiesTHE GMS GROUP, LLC and Joseph Costa, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Nathan BENDERSON, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket NumberDocket No. 02-7129.
Decision Date07 April 2003

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326 F.3d 75
THE GMS GROUP, LLC and Joseph Costa, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Nathan BENDERSON, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 02-7129.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Argued November 8, 2002.
Decided: April 7, 2003.

Lionel G. Hest, New York, N.Y. (Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, of counsel), for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

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Krista Gottlieb, Buffalo, N.Y. (Mattar & D'Agostino, LLP, of counsel), for Defendant-Appellee.

Before WALKER, Chief Judge, OAKES and MINER, Circuit Judges.

OAKES, Senior Circuit Judge.


The GMS Group, LLC, a securities broker-dealer, and its employee, Joseph Costa (hereinafter collectively "GMS"), appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, John T. Curtin, Judge, confirming the arbitration award of a panel of National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD") arbitrators, made without written opinion, in favor of Nathan Benderson, a customer of GMS and Costa. GMS argues that the district court applied an improper standard of review to the award. It also argues that, regardless of the standard used, the district court's conclusion that the award was justified is not supported by the record. It contends that the NASD arbitrators manifestly disregarded both the relevant law and evidence when making their determination. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

This case stems from a series of purchases made by GMS, on behalf of Benderson, of puts on the S&P 100 stock index — also known as OEX options — which enable buyers like Benderson to exercise the right to sell the equivalent of the group of securities listed on the S&P 100 at a predetermined price until a specified date.1 The first options purchase took place in December 1996, and the last options expiration was in May 1997. Over this time period, Benderson lost roughly $1.5 million trading in OEX options. Benderson initiated arbitration proceedings against GMS and Costa in 1998, alleging common law fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Following an eleven-day proceeding before a panel of NASD arbitrators, the panel awarded Benderson $150,000 on his claims, but did not issue a written opinion. GMS moved to have the award set aside by the district court. In a written opinion, the district court declined to vacate the award and thereafter entered a judgment confirming it. The court's decision is reported as GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 191 F.Supp.2d 318 (W.D.N.Y.2001). GMS now appeals to this court.

DISCUSSION

GMS argues that the district court applied an inappropriate standard of review to the arbitration award in this case. Specifically, it challenges the district court's formulation of the long-standing "manifest disregard of the law" standard applied by courts when a party seeks to vacate an award. In its argument, GMS relies in part on the fact that a federal statute is potentially at issue in this case. It points to the principle that an individual's substantive rights, especially federal statutory rights, ought not be compromised when participating in arbitration, see, e.g., Shearson/Am. Express Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 232, 107 S.Ct. 2332, 96 L.Ed.2d 185 (1987) ("[T]he streamlined procedures of arbitration do not entail any consequential restriction on substantive rights."); Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 628, 105 S.Ct. 3346, 87 L.Ed.2d 444 (1985) ("By agreeing to arbitrate a statutory claim, a party does not forgo the substantive

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rights afforded by the statute ...."), and argues that a district court's standard of review must be designed to safeguard this principle. We deal with this argument as an initial matter, before reaching GMS's challenge to the award itself.

When a party challenges the district court's review of an arbitral award under the manifest disregard standard, we review the district court's application of the standard de novo. Greenberg v. Bear, Stearns & Co., 220 F.3d 22, 28 (2d Cir. 2000). Here, although the court ultimately concluded that justification for the award could "easily be found" in the record before the arbitrators, it noted that it need only determine whether there was "any justification" in the record. GMS Group, 191 F.Supp.2d at 326. Furthermore, it stated that, "at a minimum" there was a "barely colorable justification" (quoting this court's decision in Willemijn Houdstermaatschappij, BV v. Standard Microsys. Corp., 103 F.3d 9, 13 (2d Cir.1997)), and thus GMS had failed to demonstrate that the arbitrators acted in manifest disregard of the law. 191 F.Supp. at 325. GMS contends that this "barely colorable justification" or, alternately, "any justification" formulation is inadequate to insure that a party's federal statutory rights have been protected in an arbitration proceeding, and that it is at odds with a later formulation of the manifest disregard standard by this court in Halligan v. Piper Jaffray, Inc., 148 F.3d 197, 203-04 (2d Cir.1998).2

At the outset, we note that Benderson advanced numerous theories of recovery against GMS in his action, only some of which implicated the Securities Exchange Act, and that the panel did not issue a written opinion when making its award. Thus, it is far from clear that the award implicates federal statutory rights. Nevertheless, because the arbitrators' award in this case may implicate a federal statutory claim, for purposes of this discussion, we will assume it does. We also note GMS is not challenging the manifest disregard standard itself as inadequate, but, rather, the district court's explication of that standard. Indeed, as discussed in more detail below, manifest disregard of the law continues to be the governing standard, and our decisions have done nothing to alter that.

Over time we have stated many, varied formulations of the manifest disregard standard in an attempt to give it better definition. See Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Bobker, 808 F.2d 930, 933 (2d Cir.1986) (noting "bounds of [manifest disregard] have never been defined"); Siegel v. Titan Indus. Corp., 779 F.2d 891, 892 (2d Cir.1985) (per curiam) ("Precisely what the `manifest disregard' test requires is not yet clear."). We have recently provided an extensive and comprehensive recapitulation of our case law in this area, Westerbeke Corp. v. Daihatsu Motor Co., 304 F.3d 200, 208-10, 212-14 & n. 8, 217-18 (2d Cir.2002), and, thus, we will not repeat it here. Briefly, however, and as a general matter, it is well established that, under the manifest disregard standard, it requires "more than a mistake of law or a clear error in fact finding" to disturb an award. Goldman v. Architectural Iron Co., 306 F.3d 1214, 1216 (2d Cir.2002). Nor is the failure of the arbitrators to understand the law, or to apply it appropriately, sufficient. See

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Standard Microsys., 103 F.3d at 12. "Manifest disregard can be established only where a governing legal principle is well defined, explicit, and clearly applicable to the case, and where the arbitrator ignored it after it was brought to the arbitrator's attention in a way that assures that the arbitrator knew its controlling nature." Goldman, 306 F.3d at 1216 (internal quotation omitted).

Insofar as delineating at baseline what will withstand manifest disregard review, especially where there is no written opinion, we have stated "`[i]f a ground for the arbitrator's decision can be inferred from the facts of the case, the award should be confirmed.'" Fahnestock & Co. v. Waltman, 935 F.2d 512, 516 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Sobel v. Hertz, Warner & Co., 469 F.2d 1211, 1216 (2d Cir.1972)) (emphasis added); see also Standard Microsys., 103 F.3d at 13; Siegel, 779 F.2d at 894. In other words, if "any justification" can be gleaned from the record, as the district court noted, the award must be confirmed. We have also stated "we will confirm the award if we are able to discern any colorable justification for the arbitrator's judgment, even if that reasoning would be based on an error of fact or law." Westerbeke, 304 F.3d at 212 n. 8; see Standard Microsys., 103 F.3d at 13 ("If there is even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached, the court must confirm the arbitration award.") (internal quotation omitted). Thus, the district court's formulation is at least consistent with these statements.

GMS argues, however, that our decision in Halligan established a greater level of scrutiny under the manifest disregard standard for federal statutory claims, a course of action GMS contends we hinted at in our decision in DiRussa v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 121 F.3d 818 (2d Cir.1997). Halligan and DiRussa both involved arbitration of claims of employment discrimination brought under federal anti-discrimination provisions. Halligan, 148 F.3d at 198; DiRussa, 121 F.3d at 820.

In DiRussa, an employee argued that the deferential manifest disregard standard should not apply to arbitral awards on federal statutory claims at all, based on grounds similar to the ones asserted here by GMS. DiRussa, 121 F.3d at 821. Because the employee had failed to preserve this specific argument for appeal, we did not reach the question. Id. at 822. The employee also made a somewhat related argument, however, in the context of urging this court to vacate the portion of the arbitration award at issue as against public policy simply because it was an erroneous application of federal statutory law. Id. at 825. In response, we first expressed "doubt that the Supreme Court intended to invite this type of plenary review...

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57 practice notes
  • Birmingham News Co. v. Horn
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 11, 2004
    ...324 F.3d 42 (1st Cir.2003). Second Circuit — Halligan v. Piper Jaffray, Inc., 148 F.3d 197 (2d Cir.1998); GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75 (2d Cir.2003); Duferco Int'l Steel Trading v. T. Klaveness Shipping A/S, 333 F.3d 383 (2d Cir.2003); Hoeft v. MVL Group, Inc., 343 F.3d 57 (2d T......
  • Trombetta v. Raymond James Financial
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2006
    ...In doing so, the court utilized a "manifest disregard for the law" standard of review and cited as authority GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75 (2d Cir.2003), for the proposition that the "manifest disregard for the law" standard was appropriate for reviewing arbitration awards Page 5......
  • Enron Corp. v. Enron Corp., MDL 1446
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • August 2, 2016
    ...a course of conduct or deceptive act constituting fraud under § 10(b) and Rule 10b-5. See, e.g., GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75, 82 (2d Cir. 2003); Hoxworth v. Blinder, Robinson & Co., 903 F.2d 186, 200 (3d Cir. 1990). SEC statutes and rules impose duties on those subject to them,......
  • Enron Corp. v. Ubs Painewebber, Inc., MDL 1446
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 28, 2017
    ...Statement at 42–45; id. "Attachment 2," UBS Compliance Sales Practice Policy Manual at pp. 215–21.73 See GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75, 81–82 (2d Cir. 2003) (Although there is no right of action for simply violating NASD rules, violation of NASD Rules 2860(19) and 2310, which gov......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
57 cases
  • Birmingham News Co. v. Horn
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 11, 2004
    ...324 F.3d 42 (1st Cir.2003). Second Circuit — Halligan v. Piper Jaffray, Inc., 148 F.3d 197 (2d Cir.1998); GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75 (2d Cir.2003); Duferco Int'l Steel Trading v. T. Klaveness Shipping A/S, 333 F.3d 383 (2d Cir.2003); Hoeft v. MVL Group, Inc., 343 F.3d 57 (2d T......
  • Trombetta v. Raymond James Financial
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2006
    ...In doing so, the court utilized a "manifest disregard for the law" standard of review and cited as authority GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75 (2d Cir.2003), for the proposition that the "manifest disregard for the law" standard was appropriate for reviewing arbitration awards Page 5......
  • Enron Corp. v. Enron Corp., MDL 1446
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • August 2, 2016
    ...a course of conduct or deceptive act constituting fraud under § 10(b) and Rule 10b-5. See, e.g., GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75, 82 (2d Cir. 2003); Hoxworth v. Blinder, Robinson & Co., 903 F.2d 186, 200 (3d Cir. 1990). SEC statutes and rules impose duties on those subject to them,......
  • Enron Corp. v. Ubs Painewebber, Inc., MDL 1446
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 28, 2017
    ...Statement at 42–45; id. "Attachment 2," UBS Compliance Sales Practice Policy Manual at pp. 215–21.73 See GMS Group, LLC v. Benderson, 326 F.3d 75, 81–82 (2d Cir. 2003) (Although there is no right of action for simply violating NASD rules, violation of NASD Rules 2860(19) and 2310, which gov......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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