NO FORMAL PLEADING REQUIRED FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES IN ARBITRATION

Ninety Nine Physician Services, PLLC v. Brian Murray
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-19-01216-CV (February 22, 2021)
Justices Schenck (Opinion), Osborne, and Partida-Kipness (Concurring)
In Ninety Nine Physician Services, the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court and enforced an arbitrator’s award of attorneys’ fees even though there was no pleading in the arbitration seeking such an award.

The parties’ arbitration agreement provided that all disputes would be governed by the AAA’s Commercial Rules, but it was silent about any award of attorneys’ fees. The AAA rules permit an arbitrator to award fees in three circumstances: (1) if all parties request fees, (2) if fees are authorized by law, or (3) if fees are authorized by the agreement.

Appellant did not assert a claim that supported an award of attorneys’ fees as a matter of law. Nor did it formally plead for fees. But both Appellant and Appellees filed post-hearing submissions, including expert affidavits, seeking an award of fees. The panel majority agreed that this post-hearing briefing was sufficient for the arbitrator to conclude that all parties had requested their fees, despite the absence of any formal pleading on the issue. The AAA rules therefore authorized the arbitrator to award them.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Partida-Kipness would have concluded that awarding attorney’s fees in the absence of a pleading for such an award violated Texas’s fair notice requirements. Nevertheless, she concluded that the arbitrator’s award was a mistake of law, which would not constitute grounds to vacate the award.

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