Submitted: November 13, 2018
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - St. Joseph
GRUENDER, KELLY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
Russell appeals the district court's vacatur of the
arbitration award he received against his insurer, Great
American Insurance Company, for wrongfully denying his claim
for damage to his 2013 corn crop. Because the arbitrators
rendered a sufficiently mutual, final, and definite award,
vacatur was improper. We accordingly vacate the district
court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.
submitted claims to Great American for damage to his 2013
corn and soybean crops in Atchison, Holt, and Nodaway
counties in Missouri. Russell's crop insurance policy is
governed by federal regulations; 7 C.F.R. §§ 457.8
and 457.113 (2013) form the policy's essential terms.
After Great American denied his claims, Russell invoked the
arbitration provision in § 457.8 ¶ 20. Although the
regulations impose certain limitations on the powers of
arbitrators assessing federally-reinsured crop insurance
claims like Russell's, arbitral awards are still governed
by the Federal Arbitration Act. See, e.g.,
J.O.C. Farms, L.L.C. v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co.,
737 Fed.Appx. 652, 655 (4th Cir. 2018) (per curiam);
Davis v. Producers Agric. Ins. Co., 762 F.3d 1276,
1283-85 (11th Cir. 2014).
an evidentiary hearing, the three-arbitrator panel awarded
Russell $1, 433, 008 for damage to his corn crop in the three
counties but denied his soybean claim. The panel found that
Great American's denial of Russell's corn claim-based
on (1) Great American's inability to substantiate an
insurable cause of loss and (2) Russell's failure to
provide adequate records to establish production "by
unit"-was erroneous. After reviewing the evidence, the
panel concluded that Russell's accounts of insurable crop
damage were independently verified but that Great American
had failed to conduct a timely on-site inspection until after
harvest was completed. The arbitrators credited testimony of
witnesses that the crops in question experienced significant
damage from drought, rootworm, and heavy winds. As to the
second ground for denial, the panel noted that Great American
had "collaps[ed] all acres farmed by Russell into a
single unit pursuant to policy provisions." The panel
accepted the analysis of Russell's damages expert, who
calculated the total damage to the corn crop as $1, 433, 008.
Great American did not challenge this calculation or offer a
25, 2016, Great American moved to vacate or modify the award.
The panel denied the motion as untimely because the award
issued on February 23, 2016, and the arbitration
association's rules require that any motion to correct
computational errors be filed within 20 days of the award.
Great American then appealed the award under 9 U.S.C. §
10(a)(4), which permits a district court to vacate an
arbitration award if "the arbitrators exceeded their
powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final,
and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not
American argued that the arbitrators "imperfectly
executed" their powers because they failed to comply
with the regulations governing the arbitration proceeding.
The applicable regulations required the panel to provide
"a written statement describing the issues in dispute,
the factual findings, the determinations and the amount and
basis for any award and breakdown by claim for any
award." 7 C.F.R. § 457.8 ¶ 20(a)(2).
"Failure of the arbitrator to provide such written
statement will result in the nullification of all
determinations of the arbitrator." Id. Great
American posited that the panel (1) did not break down the
award by county, which was required by the "breakdown by
claim" language; (2) did not explain how the award
amount was calculated; and (3) made impermissible
interpretations of applicable regulations.
district court agreed that the panel had failed to properly
break down the award "by claim," nullifying the
entire award. The court based its decision on § 457.113
¶ 11(a), which states in part that the insurer
"will determine [the insured's] loss on a unit
basis," and on § 457.8 ¶ 1, which defines an
enterprise unit as "[a]ll insurable acreage of the same
insured crop . . . in the county in which you have a share on
the date coverage begins for the crop year." Relying on
this language, the district court concluded that the
arbitration panel was required to break down the award into
separate awards for each of the three counties to provide the
required "breakdown by claim." It vacated the award
and did not address Great American's argument that the
panel made improper interpretations of the regulations.
Because the district court's order deals entirely with
questions of law, we review it de novo. MidAmerican
Energy Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local 499,
345 F.3d 616, 619 (8th Cir. 2003).
Federal Arbitration Act "is a congressional declaration
of a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration
agreements." Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v.
Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983).
Accordingly, a court's review of an arbitration award is
"very limited." Gas Aggregation Servs., Inc. v.
Howard Avista Energy, LLC, 319 F.3d 1060, 1064 (8th Cir.
2003). "[A]s long as the arbitrator is even arguably
construing or applying the contract and acting within the
scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he
committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his
decision." United Paperworkers Int'l Union v.
Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987).
not convinced that the arbitration panel's failure to
break down the award by county means that it "so
imperfectly executed" its powers such that it rendered
no "mutual, final, and definite award." 9 U.S.C.
§ 10(a)(4). The award needed only to "describ[e]
the issues in dispute, the factual findings, the
determinations and the amount and basis for any award and
breakdown by claim for any award." 7 C.F.R. § 457.8
¶ 20(a)(2). "Claim for indemnity" is defined
as "[a] claim made on [the insurer's] form that
contains the information necessary to pay the
indemnity." Id. ¶ 1. Russell submitted a
single claim covering both his corn and soybean crops, and