Although arbitration awards are meant to be final, some judicial review remains a vital part of the arbitration process. Yet the question still facing courts today is this: What is the proper scope of judicial review of arbitration awards? This article examines the unresolved tension between, on the one hand, the limited grounds for review in the Federal Arbitration Act, and on the other, common law grounds for review and expanded judicial review provisions negotiated by the parties themselves. The author concludes that it is undesirable to make arbitration more complicated and expensive by altering the statutory grounds of review.
Arbitration is a contractual form of dispute resolution. It involves submitting the parties’ dispute to one or more impartial decision makers for a final decision that is binding on the parties. Most often the parties agree to put an arbitration clause in their transaction documents (known as a future disputes clause); less often they agree to arbitrate a dispute after the dispute arises by entering into a submission agreement. The parties typically provide in their arbitration or submission agreement the range of issues to be decided by the arbitrator, the scope of relief the arbitrator can award, and many of the procedural aspects of the process itself. The role of the judiciary in the arbitration process is limited. Yet it cannot be said that there is a body of reliable, uniform precedents to guide parties when an appeal is appropriate on statutory or common law grounds.