May 26, 2020 Articles

“Partial Final Award”—Oxymoron or Confirmable?

A series of cases from 2019 illustrates the different approaches federal courts have taken.

By Sheila J. Carpenter

Like court cases, arbitration proceedings can be bifurcated in any number of ways, most commonly separating liability and damages or deciding certain key liability issues first. The general rule is that arbitration awards must be final, i.e., they must dispose of all the issues submitted to arbitration, before courts can consider confirming or vacating them. When an arbitration panel issues a partial award that is “final” as to liability or some other important preliminary issue, can it be confirmed in federal court? More important, can it be vacated? The Federal Arbitration Act provides a much shorter time (three months) to vacate an award than to confirm it (one year), so a mistake in timing a motion to vacate could be fatal. A series of cases from 2019 illustrates the different approaches federal courts have taken to these issues.

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