Second Circuit Adopts Standard for Determining Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Over Motions to Confirm Arbitration Awards Under FAA Section 9

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held as a matter of first impression that a district court properly looked to the substance of an underlying dispute in determining whether it had subject-matter jurisdiction over a motion to confirm an arbitration award pursuant to Section 9 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The parties are members of the Bobov Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. The petitioners claimed to own trademark rights in the word “Bobov” and commenced arbitration to prevent the respondents from using the mark in connection with a new Hasidic community. The parties agreed to arbitrate before a rabbinical tribunal, which issued an award in the petitioners’ favor. The petitioners sought confirmation of the award in federal district court under Section 9 of the FAA. After concluding that it had subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter, the district court confirmed the award, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

Although the Second Circuit had not previously addressed whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over motions to confirm under Section 9, it had addressed the issue in the context of a petition to vacate under Section 10. In that case, the court adopted the “look-through” approach used by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether a district court had subject-matter jurisdiction over a petition to compel arbitration under Section 4 of the FAA. The Supreme Court instructed district courts to “look through” the petition to the substance of the underlying controversy to assess whether it implicated federal law. The Second Circuit in the current case found no reason not to apply the same standard to a motion to confirm under Section 9. Applying that standard here, it held that because the underlying controversy raised questions of federal trademark law, the district court “unquestionably” had subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter. The court then concluded that the district court properly confirmed the arbitration award, particularly given the extreme deference that courts must afford such awards.

Landau v. Eisenberg, 922 F.3d 495 (2d Cir. 2019)