Confirming an arbitration award means to enter judgment on it so that it can be enforced, if necessary, through judicial judgment enforcement remedies. The Federal Arbitration Act (a/k/a the “FAA”), and most or all state arbitration statutes, authorize courts to confirm awards in summary proceedings. Once an award has been reduced to judgment, it generally can be enforced to the same extent as any other judgment. See, e.g., 9 U.S.C. § 13 (2013) (Under Federal Arbitration Act, judgment on award “shall have the same force and effect, in all respects, as, and be subject to all the provisions of law relating to, a judgment in an action; and it may be enforced as if it had been rendered in an action in the court in which it is entered”); Fla. Stat. § 682.15(1)( “The judgment may be recorded, docketed, and enforced as any other judgment in a civil action.”); N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7514(a) (“A judgment shall be entered upon the confirmation of an award.”).
Apart from its potential preclusive effect in subsequent litigation, an arbitration award stands on the same footing as any other privately prepared legal document, such as a contract. It may be intended by the arbitrators and at least one of the parties to have legal effect, but it is up to a court to say what legal effect, if any, it has, and, if necessary, to implement that legal effect through coercive enforcement.
A court judgment, by contrast, is an official decree that not only can be coercively enforced through summary proceedings in the same or other courts (including courts in other states and federal judicial districts), but is also, to some extent, self-enforcing. A judgment, for example, can ordinarily be filed as a lien on real property, and applicable state or federal law may, for example, authorize attorneys to avail their clients of certain judgment-enforcement-related remedies without prior judicial authorization.
Let’s take a brief look at the FAA’s requirements for confirming an arbitration award that apply when there is no action related to the arbitration already pending, and there are no issues concerning federal subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, sufficiency or service of process, venue (i.e., whether suit should have been brought in another federal judicial district) or the applicability of the Federal Arbitration Act.
Federal Arbitration Act Requirements for Confirming an Arbitration Award
Like many other issues arising under the Federal Arbitration Act, whether a court should confirm an award depends on what the parties agreed. Section 9 of the Federal Arbitration Act, which governs confirmation of awards, says—with bracketed lettering added, and in pertinent part: “[A] If the parties in their agreement have [B] agreed that a judgment of the court shall be entered upon [C] the award made pursuant to the arbitration, and [D] shall specify the court, then [E] at any time within one year after the award is made any party to the arbitration may apply to the court so specified for an order confirming the award, and [F] thereupon the court must grant such an order unless [G] the award is vacated, modified, or corrected as prescribed in sections 10 and 11 of this title.” 9 U.S.C. § 9. Items [A] through [D] above each concern party consent as evidenced by the parties’ arbitration agreement.
The key substantive requirements for obtaining confirmation are thus:
- The existence of a written pre- or post-dispute arbitration agreement falling under Section 2 of the FAA ([A], above; 9 U.S.C. § 2);
- Consent to confirmation in a particular court, or at least in any court of competent jurisdiction ([B] and [D], above); and
- A final arbitration award resulting from the parties’ submission of a dispute or disputes to arbitration pursuant to the arbitration agreement ([A] and [C], above). (As respects what constitutes a final award, see L. Reins. & Arb. Law Forum post here.)
The key procedural requirements specific to confirmation are:
- The party seeking confirmation must apply for it “within one year after the award is made. . .” ([E], above); and
- The “court must grant” confirmation “unless the award is vacated, modified or corrected” under Section 10 or 11 of the FAA ([F] and [G], above).
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