New York Court Discusses Qualifying and Disqualifying Conditions for Umpires
A New York Supreme Court recently explained the conditions that qualify and disqualify a proposed umpire. National Union Fire Insurance and Enstar could not agree on an umpire for their asbestos-claim-related arbitration. Each felt the umpires proposed by the other’s arbitrator should be disqualified. They invoked a procedure allowing the court to select the umpire.
The court explained that umpires must be “impartial such that his/her decision will be based upon the merits of the dispute rather than the personal influence or identity of the disputants.” Applying that general standard, the court struck one proposed umpire (Chaplin) on the ground that he had previously testified for Enstar in another arbitration on an issue material to the present arbitration and was therefore “not entirely neutral as to this arbitration.” The court noted, however, that prior service as an expert is not always an automatic disqualification. The court then struck another proposed umpire (Maneval) because he had voted against Chaplin’s interpretation in a prior arbitration. The court explained that his service as an umpire in the instant arbitration could therefore create “an appearance of possible bias.” Another proposed umpire (Stern) was previously adverse to National Union’s arbitrator and, while not necessarily a problem, there was no reason to put that arbitrator in such an “untenable position” when there were other qualified candidates. Those candidates did not include an arbitrator (Gurevitz) who had previously worked for National Union’s counsel, which warranted disqualification, and another arbitrator (White) who was not a lawyer and who was therefore not ideal given the legal nature of the issues in the forthcoming arbitration. The court determined that another arbitrator (Bickford) with substantial industry experience was best suited to serve in this dispute.
Enstar EU Ltd. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, No 654089/2018 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 19, 2019).