“Partial Final” Does Not Mean Final
Don’t try to confirm an arbitration award when there is still arbitration work to be done. Relying on Seventh Circuit precedent, the Northern District of Illinois concluded that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm an arbitration award because the arbitrators’ work was incomplete and the arbitration hearing wasn’t finished.
FCE Benefit Administrators Inc., a third-party benefits administrator, agreed to administer health insurance policies underwritten by Standard Security Life Insurance Co. of New York and Madison National Life Insurance Co. The life insurers terminated the agreement, alleging that FCE had breached it, essentially by doing a bad job. They initiated arbitration and FCE counterclaimed, claiming the insurers wrongfully terminated the agreement.
Before the arbitration, FCE sought a continuance for discovery and to amend its counterclaim. The panel denied the request for a continuance, but granted the request to amend. In addition, the panel explained that FCE’s counterclaims would be presented at a second phase of the arbitration at which FCE would also be required to produce certain documents.
The parties proceeded to arbitration and the panel issued a “Partial Final Award” in favor of the insurers, concluding that the insurers were within their rights to terminate the agreement. The panel awarded the insurers nearly $5.4 million and determined that “[a]ll other claims for relief by the parties [were] denied.” The insurers sought to confirm the award.
The district court dismissed the insurers’ claim for confirmation for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. It explained that courts lack jurisdiction to confirm an award when the arbitrators’ work was unfinished. Although the award in this case had resolved the insurers’ claim and denied all other claims, it was “undisputed that the Panel still ha[d] left to adjudicate, at a minimum, FCE’s counterclaim against” the insurers. All parties had contemplated a “Phase II.”
Standard Sec. Life Ins. Co. of New York v. FCE Benefit Adm’rs, Inc., No. 19 CV 64 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 13, 2019).