By George H. Friedman, SAA Editor-in-Chief
Two new Awards have been posted in FINRA’s Arbitration Awards Online that show hearings conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both also reflect new language underscoring both the forum’s new “Dispute Resolution Services” name and its role as administrator, not adjudicator.
We reported in SAA 2020-15 (Apr. 22) on Dominick & Dickerman LLC v. Wunderlich Securities, Inc., FINRA ID #17-01930 (New York, NY, Apr. 6, 2020), the first FINRA Award in a case including a hearing by videoconference due to the Coronavirus. Recall that the unanimous Award said: “Pursuant to an agreement between counsels, all the hearings, except March 12, were held at the offices of Claimants’ counsel in New York City. On the consent of counsel for both sides and the arbitrators, the March 12 hearing was held virtually via Zoom with counsel for Claimants, counsel for Respondents and the arbitrators all being at different locations due to concern with the Coronavirus crisis.” We later reported in SAA 2020-17 (May 6) that Wunderlich was challenging the $11.4 million Award in the Southern District of New York, based in part on the Arbitrators being “inattentive” during the Zoom hearing.
Two New Awards…
We’ve identified two new Awards referencing virtual hearings. Mehrotra v. Barclays Capital Inc., FINRA ID# 19-00077 (New York, NY, May 12, 2020), states in an explained decision: “On the consent of counsel for both sides and the arbitrators, the April 21, 2020 hearing was held virtually via Zoom with counsel for Claimant, counsel for Respondent and the arbitrators all being at different locations.” Angelina J. Cuccaro Family Trust v. Raymond James & Associates, Inc., FINRA ID# 17-02304 (Hartford, CT, May 12, 2020), uses similar language: “On the consent of counsel for Respondent and the Arbitrators, the May 5, 2020 hearing was held virtually via Zoom due to the COVID-19 crisis” (ed: the Claimants had settled with RJA, but the case proceeded ex parte between RJA and a non-appearing third-party defendant).
… And a New Award Template Disclaimer
We reported in #15 that what we all knew as the “FINRA Office of Dispute Resolution,” would become “FINRA Dispute Resolution Services” on May 4. We also said in #15 that, according to FINRA Executive Vice President and Director of Dispute Resolution Rick Berry, the new DRS moniker will hopefully reflect better to the outside world that his group administers, rather than resolves, disputes -- an obvious distinction to those in arbitration practice, but one that can be confusing to others, including investors and even the general media. Mr. Berry also told the Alert that we could expect to see a change in the FINRA Award template directed towards reinforcing the concept that party-selected neutrals, not FINRA, are the architects and authors of the Award decision. That change is now evident, as both Awards discussed above bear the DRS name and lead with this notice right after the caption: “Awards are rendered by independent arbitrators who are chosen by the parties to issue final, binding decisions. FINRA makes available an arbitration forum -- pursuant to rules approved by the SEC -- but has no part in deciding the award.”
(ed: *As we’ve said before, how many times have we seen headlines, announcing “fines” by FINRA, when a large Award by independent arbitrators was the real subject? **The court case is Wunderlich Securities Inc. v. Dominick & Dickerman LLC, No. 1:20-cv-03507 (S.D.N.Y. May 5, 2020). Email us at Help@SACArbitration.com for a copy of the MTV.) (SAC Ref. No. 2020-19-02)
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