A federal court has rejected the attempt of the losing party in an arbitration to engage in discovery regarding the potential bias of the arbitrator, finding that it had no jurisdiction over the matter because it did not involve a question of federal law and that it was not appropriate to allow discovery on this issue based solely on speculation.
The arbitration arose out of a dispute over allegedly defective work performed by a building contractor, BCI Construction, Inc., resulting in an award of approximately $586,000 in damages and attorney’s fees to 797 Broadway Group, LLC. BCI filed an action to vacate the award in federal court on the basis that the arbitrator was biased and moved to compel the arbitrator’s deposition.

The district court began with the question of it jurisdiction over the matter, repeating the well-established rule that the Federal Arbitration Act does not create an independent basis for jurisdiction in federal court. BCI argued that it was premature to consider the jurisdictional question because the court had “not had the opportunity look through the pleadings and conduct an analysis of the underlying dispute to determine if jurisdiction is appropriate.” The court disagreed, finding that there was no apparent federal question in the underlying dispute and that it would not allow BCI to depose the arbitrator “in hopes that an underlying federal question will present itself.” Having found no basis for federal jurisdiction, the court dismissed the matter. The court also awarded 797 Broadway’s motion for costs and an attorney’s fees, finding that BCI had failed to “articulate[] a colorable reason why the parties’ underlying dispute presented a federal question.” BCI Construction, Inc. v. 797 Broadway Group, LLC, Case No. 1:16-cv-1077 (FJS) (N.D.N.Y. March 15, 2017)