compensatory damages in the amount of $427,556.10 for losses accrued on the account and/or, $1,276.049.90 for losses accrued since ETNs trades using a portfolio margin, and/or $1,660,282.70 for the highest intermediate value of the account.
compensatory damages in the amount of $220,172.09 from Claimants Rohit and Preya Saroop, compensatory damages in the amount of $166,087.53 owed by Claimant Dr. Sofis, interest, costs, and attorneys' fees.
Interactive seeks to vacate the arbitrators' decision, while the Claimants have filed a motion to confirm it. Faced with an inscrutable award, the Court can do neither in good faith, and instead will remand the matter to the arbitrators for clarification.
[N]evertheless, even after giving the arbitrators every benefit of the doubt possible, the Court cannot concoct a scenario where the amount of compensatory damages awarded in this case make sense. And, because of the perplexing amount of damages awarded, the Court is also unable to determine which of the nine claims filed by Claimants was the source of liability. In such circumstances, without further explanation from the arbitrators, it is impossible to know whether the arbitrators manifestly disregarded the law or simply made a mistake. O. R. Sec., Inc. v. Prof' l Planning Assocs., Inc., 857 F.2d 742, 747 (11th Cir. 1988). The Court will therefore remand this award to the arbitrators for clarification.Where the arbitrators do not give an explanation for their award, meaningful judicial review is "all but impossible." Dawahare v. Spencer, 210 F. 3d 666, Here, the Claimants presented nine is "all but impossible." 669 (6th Cir. 2000). Here, the Claimants presented nine claims. The arbitrators specifically explained that "[a]ny and all claims for relief not specifically addressed herein, including punitive damages, are denied." AWARD, ¶9. But, one cannot discern from the Arbitrators Report or the Award which claims for relief were, as the arbitrator put it, "specifically addressed." Moreover, it is impossible to determine how the damages awarded are related to any claim that was before the arbitrators. And, the Court cannot simply rubber stamp a damages award that it cannot explain. And, although the Court can hypothesize how Interactive was found liable in this case, the amount of damages awarded-the value of the Claimants' accounts on August 19, 2015-remains baffling.
[T]here is nothing in the record to which a percentage fee award can be tethered, much less the percentages that appear in the award. meaningful review on that issue is not possible."Judges . . . are not wallflowers or potted plants." Tagatz v. Marquette Univ., 861 F.2d 1040, 1045 (7th Cir. 1988). And this Court will not act as a rubber stamp. Because the Court cannot even theorize how calculating damages in the way done by the arbitrators would be proper, the Court will remand this arbitral decision back to the arbitrators for clarification as to the predicate for liability and the value of the damages awarded. Although the arbitrators need not give a full opinion, a brief explanation for the basis of the amount of damages awarded is necessary before any semblance of judicial review can be accomplished. The same is true as to the attorney's fee awards. The Court will defer ruling on the other aspects of the award until that explanation is received. Until that time, engaging in any additional evaluation of this award would amount to little more than a "judicial snipe-hunt." Federated Dep' t Stores, Inc. v. J.V.B. Indus., Inc., 894 F.2d 862, 871 (6th Cir. 1990) (J. Martin, concurring) . The Court declines to further pursue that endeavor.
In further explaining the nature and mechanics of their Award, the arbitrators offered this in pertinent part:The Claimants are awarded the value of their accounts on August 19, 2015 ($520,450.40 to the Saroops and $500,529.48 to Sofis). Respondent's Counterclaim was dismissed based on Respondent's violation of FINRA Rule 4210 as further explained in FINRA Regulatory Notice 08-09. The securities placed in the portfolio margin account were not eligible for that account based on these rules and regulations. Respondent's position that the Panel should not enforce a FINRA rule amounts to saying that FINRA should provide an opportunity for investors to commit financial suicide by investing in securities that are ineligible for inclusion in a portfolio margin account. To ignore a FINRA rule by the Panel would defeat the purpose of FINRA.
1. Respondent is liable for and shall pay to Claimants Rohit and Preya Saroop compensatory damages in the amount of $520,450.40 plus interest at the rate of 8% per annum from 30 days of the date of the award until payment.2. Respondent is liable for and shall pay to Claimants Rohit and Preya Saroop attorneys' fees representing 40% of the compensatory damages and 30% of the net claimed by Respondent for a total of $274,006.16. The Panel granted attorneys' fees pursuant to the parties' agreement.3. Respondent is liable for and shall pay to Claimant George Sofis compensatory damages in the amount of $500,529.48 plus interest at the rate of 8% per annum from 30 days of the date of the award until payment.4. Respondent is liable for and shall pay to Claimant George Sofis attorneys' fees representing 40% of the compensatory damages and 30% of the net claimed by Respondent for a total of $249,858.49. The Panel granted attorneys' fees pursuant to the parties' agreement.5. There was no evidence of profits or losses in securities ineligible for portfolio management accounts from the time that the parties signed the portfolio management agreements and the parties' accounts' net asset values, all cash on August 19, 2015. Therefore, the panel could not consider what happened prior to the investment of cash on August 19, 2015 in the portfolio management accounts.The damages set forth above stem from the amounts, all cash, on August 19, 2015, which were subsequently invested in securities that were ineligible for investment in portfolio margin accounts. Values were determined from Claimants' Exhibits 70 and 71 and Respondent's Exhibits R-48 and R115.Counsel fees were based on an agreement between the attorneys for both parties. There was a dispute as to whether the agreement was cancelled. The Panel found for the Claimants. The amounts were based on a written fee agreement between the counsel and each party. Percentages and fees were obtained from Claimants' Exhibits 53 and 63 and Respondent's Exhibit R-49. . . .
To ignore a FINRA rule by the Panel would defeat the purpose of FINRA.
5. There was no evidence of profits or losses in securities ineligible for portfolio management accounts from the time that the parties signed the portfolio management agreements and the parties' accounts' net asset values, all cash on August 19, 2015. Therefore, the panel could not consider what happened prior to the investment of cash on August 19, 2015 in the portfolio management accounts.
both sides agree that by the time the market opened on August 24, the value of the Claimants' accounts had decreased by 80 percent. This precipitous drop caused the Claimants' accounts to fall into so-called "margin deficiency"- the equity remaining in the accounts had fallen below the minimum maintenance requirements. This margin deficiency, in turn, triggered Interactive's "auto-liquidation" procedures, which, in a period of about thirty minutes, wiped out the remaining balance in the Claimants' accounts (and left them with a still-large margin deficiency). The Claimants responded by bringing an arbitration claim against Interactive.
[T]he modified decision only added a few sentences to the first arbitration decision. As far as explanations go, it was not very helpful. . .
In sum, the Court finds that the law applicable in this case is clearly defined -- there is no private right of action for the violation of FINRA rules. The Remand Opinion put the arbitrators on notice that they were to tie their damages award to a cause of action. Rather than explaining which of the stated causes of action they relied on, they added more language about FINRA rule violations. In so doing, the arbitrators made it quite clear that liability was based solely on Interactive's violation of FINRA Rule 4210. Further, the arbitrators knew of the law, understood it, knew it to be applicable, and continued to disregard it. All of the elements for vacatur for manifest disregard of the law have been met. See Dancel, 792 F.3d at 402; Long John Silver's, 514 F.3d at 349. Accordingly, the PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO VACATE MODIFIED ARBITRATION AWARD (EOF No. 79) will be granted.
Because the Court has determined that it was manifest disregard of the law for the arbitrators to award damages to the Claimants based solely on the violation of FINRA Rule 4210, it was likewise improper to dismiss the counterclaim on this same ground. If FINRA Rule 4210 cannot support a finding of liability standing alone, neither can it provide a sort of affirmative defense that the arbitrators can use to reject Interactive's counterclaims.But, given the difficulty that the arbitrators in this case had in following the Court's previous order (ECF No. 50) and their rather flagrant disregard of settled law in ruling against Interactive, the Court cannot in good conscience remit Interactive to the same panel of arbitrators for reconsideration of its counterclaims. See, e.g., Montes v. Shearson Lehman Bros., Inc., 128 F.3d 1456, 1464 (11th Cir. 1997) (remanding to new panel of arbitrators where original panel was found to manifestly disregard the law). Accordingly, the Court reinstates Interactive's counterclaims and remands to a FINRA arbitration panel with specific instructions that the counterclaims be considered by a different FINRA arbitration panel.
[T]he district court held another hearing and again criticized the arbitration process. The court explained that it was "just astounded at the jackleg operation that I see here. I don't know why anybody would agree to have these people [the arbitrators] do anything." By written order, the court granted the Broker's motion to vacate the award in favor of the Investors and remanded the Broker's counterclaim to a new panel of arbitrators. The court reasoned that the arbitrators had based the Broker's liability to the Investors on FINRA Rule 4210, which was "a manifest disregard of the law because the law is clear that there is no private right of action to enforce FINRA rules."
SIDE BAR: Although I consider myself a wordsmith, I ha no idea what the hell "jackleg" means, so, I looked it up. Merriam Webster says it is "characterized by unscrupulousness, dishonesty, or lack of professional standards." Whoa, Judge Payne, so tell me, how did your really feel about the FINRA Arbitration process?
On June 18, 2012, and October 15, 2012, Rohit Saroop, Preya Saroop, and George Sofis (together, "Investors") opened accounts with Interactive Brokers ("Broker"), an online broker-dealer that provides an internet platform for investors to buy and sell securities. The Broker drafted the governing contracts, which the Investors signed. Each contract includes a mandatory arbitration provision and a choice-of-law provision specifying Connecticut law. The contracts also provide that "[a]ll transactions are subject to rules and policies of relevant markets and clearinghouses, and applicable laws and regulations."The Investors hired a third-party investment manager to trade securities on their accounts. The manager, who now appears to be judgment proof, invested in an exchange-traded note, iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ("VXX"), which is tied to the market's "fear index," meaning the price fluctuates with the stability of the market. Using the Investors' accounts, the manager sold naked call options for VXX, thereby selling the right to buy VXX at a predetermined price until the date that the option expired. If the market remained stable, the price of VXX would remain stable, the options would not be exercised, and the Investors would make money. However, if the market became volatile, the price of VXX would increase, the options would be exercised, and the Investors would lose money.The manager executed the trades through the Investors' portfolio margin accounts with the Broker. In general, portfolio margin accounts have enhanced risk. For example, when buying securities on margin, an investor can borrow money from his broker to purchase the securities. While this enables the investor to purchase larger amounts than possible without the money loaned by the broker, it also increases the risk of loss. If the price of the security falls, the investor owes the broker for those losses. Because of the significant risks, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") prohibits trades of certain high-risk securities through portfolio margin accounts, including trades of VXX. See FINRA Rule 4210(g).From the time the Investors opened their accounts with the Broker, the Investors made significant profit from a variety of investment decisions, including by sale of their call options for VXX. On August 19, 2015, the Investors' accounts were 100% in cash with no open investment positions. The Saroops had $520,450.40 in their joint account and Sofis had $500,529.48 in his account. After August 19, the investment manager began once again trading VXX call options. The Broker executed these trades through the Investors' accounts.On August 24, 2015, the Dow Jones Industrial Average underwent what was then the largest one-day drop in its history. Given the Broker's execution of the manager's investment strategy, the value of the Investors' accounts fell by 80%. Because the value of the accounts fell below requirements for the amount needed to maintain a portfolio margin account, the Broker began auto-liquidating the accounts, pursuant to the parties' contracts. Through this process, the Broker sold the entire value of the accounts but could not recoup the full loss. Ultimately, the Investors owed $384,400 to the Broker.
In sum, the district court erred in vacating the modified award. The prolonged proceedings in this case - two arbitration awards, two district court orders, and two federal appeals - illustrate the need to avoid a "cumbersome and time-consuming judicial review process" that would "bring arbitration theory to grief." Hall St., 552 U.S. at 588 (quoting Kyocera, 341 F.3d at 988); see also Stolt-Nielsen, 559 U.S. at 685 (naming "lower costs, greater efficiency and speed" as "benefits of private dispute resolution"). Without appropriate deference to arbitrators, the costs of vindicating rights drastically increase, threatening to foreclose yet another avenue of relief for ordinary consumers who routinely enter contracts with mandatory arbitration provisions. The modified award must be confirmed.For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to confirm the modified arbitration award.
On remand, the arbitration panel did clarify how it had arrived at its damages figure, thereby revealing that it had ignored the law of damages. Explaining that it "could not consider what happened prior to the investment of cash on August 19, 2015 in the portfolio management accounts" because there was "no evidence of profits or losses" prior to that date, the panel forwent entirely any attempt to quantify the harm attributable to Interactive Brokers' wrongdoing. Instead of requesting evidence sufficient to make a damages determination or taking some other corrective action, the panel merely selected a date and decreed that the investors' damages equaled the value of their accounts on that date. As the district court had foreshadowed, the panel essentially confirmed that it had "manifestly disregarded the law of damages because it was easier than calculating the proper figure." This is not a mere misinterpretation of applicable law; it is an outright refusal to apply any law in the first instance. In short, the arbitration panel abdicated its role as fact-finder and disregarded the basic legal principles governing damages, resulting in an impermissible and extralegal award.
Thus, even under the majority's breach of contract theory, the award does not reflect an acceptable calculation of damages. Indeed, the arbitration panel specifically explained that, due to insufficient evidence, it did not consider profits and losses in the portfolio margin accounts between the accounts' creation and August 19. As such, it would have been impossible for the panel to arrive at a damages figure that would have restored the status quo. For instance, if the allegedly improper VXX trades executed prior to August 19 had caused the investors' accounts to gain in value, then the arbitration panel's failure to consider those trades in calculating damages would have resulted in an improperly inflated award.At bottom, neither breach of contract nor any other theory of liability would have permitted compensatory damages to be tied to the value of the investors' accounts on a single, specific date, with no consideration of what came before or after. Conceding that it could not calculate the proper damages figure for lack of evidence, the arbitration panel opted for the easier course - an award by simple fiat. That course, however, was unmoored to any legal principle governing damages and was therefore in manifest disregard of the law.