PROPER SERVICE OF A MOTION TO VACATE AN ARBITRATION AWARD

Craig v. Southwest Securities, Inc.
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-16-01378-CV (December 18, 2017)
Justices Lang-Miers, Brown (Opinion linked here), and Boatright
When an arbitration is conducted pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, that Act applies to the substantive rules of decision, but Texas law—specifically, the Texas Arbitration Act—governs procedure. Failure to observe and comply with this division of authority can be fatal to a challenge to an arbitration award.

Craig’s claims against Southwest Securities and one of its brokers were denied in an arbitration governed by the FAA. That Act requires a party who challenges an arbitration award governed by the FAA to serve “notice” of the motion to vacate or other proceeding within three months after the award is filed or delivered. Craig filed a motion to vacate the adverse arbitration decision in a state district court well within the three-month window. But he purported to serve notice of the motion only by emailing it to his opponents’ counsel, as one might do when serving a motion under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 21a. Several weeks later, outside the three-month window, he filed a supplemental motion. This time he requested citations and served his opponents with process. The district court dismissed Craig’s motion for failure to provide the required notice within the three-month window established by the FAA, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.

The appeals court explained that, while the FAA established the three-month substantive deadline or limitations period for challenging an arbitration award, the method for serving notice of that challenge was procedural and therefore governed by the TAA. The Texas Act— specifically, § 171.094 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code—“requires service of process to initiate a court proceeding to vacate an arbitration award,” process and service “in the form and includ[ing] the substance required for process and service on a defendant in a civil action in a district court.” Because Craig did not request citation or service of process until he filed his supplemental motion, well beyond the three-month deadline, his motion to vacate the arbitration award was dismissed. His earlier purported email service of the original motion was not effective to commence the proceeding or provide the required notice under the Texas statute.

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