Court Finds That Arbitration Award That Interpreted Contract “Termination” To Include Contract “Expiration” Was Not A “Manifest Disregard Of The Law”

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Former franchisees filed a petition to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of their former franchisor which enforced a 2-year non-compete provision in the parties’ franchise agreement when the agreement expired. The arbitrator had determined that the non-compete provision applied, notwithstanding that the provision contemplated applying upon the agreement’s “termination,” and did not refer to the agreement’s “expiration.” The franchisees argued that the arbitrator committed a “manifest disregard of the law,” and that the award “failed to draw its essence” from the parties’ agreement. The court determined that “both readings [were] plausible,” and therefore the award “derived from the essence of the Franchise Agreement.” The court continued, “Where the arbitrator did not act with ‘manifest disregard of the law” there was “no basis to vacate the award.” The court further upheld the arbitrator’s decision to enforce the 2-year non-compete provision from the date the franchisees started to comply with the agreement’s post-expiration terms, rather than from the (earlier) date that the agreement expired. That decision, the court explained, also “comported with the law and thus did not exhibit ‘manifest disregard of the law.’” The court therefore denied the petition to vacate the award, and granted the petition to confirm the award. Frye v. Wild Bird Centers of America, Inc., Case No. 8:16-cv-03216 (USDC D. Md. Feb. 14, 2017).

 


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