Posts tagged with "#ConnecticutLaw"

Complying with the FBAR

If you have a foreign financial account, the federal Bank Secrecy Act may require you to report the foreign bank and financial account (“FBAR”) yearly to the I.R.S. by filing Form TD F-90-22.1.  The purpose of the FBAR is to help the U.S. government investigate persons who may be using foreign financial accounts for illegal purposes, including counter-terrorism, and to identify unreported income maintained in a foreign financial account.

What constitutes a ‘foreign financial account’?

A financial account includes a savings or checking account, securities or brokerage account, futures or options account, an insurance or annuity policy with a cash value, shares in a mutual fund or similar pooled fund, and other accounts maintained with a financial institution.  A financial account is “foreign” if the institution is physically located outside of the United States.  FBAR is not required for an account maintained with a branch, agency, or other office located in the U.S., even if the financial institution is foreign.  An account is not deemed foreign merely because it may contain holdings or assets of foreign entities, as long as the owner maintains the account with a financial institution located in the United States.

Who qualifies as a ‘U.S. person’?

A “U.S. person” must file an FBAR if (i) the U.S. person had a financial interest in or signature authority over at least one financial account located outside of the United States, and (ii) the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the calendar year to be reported.

For this purpose, a “U.S. person” means a U.S. citizen or a U.S. resident, as well as a corporation, partnership, limited liability company, and trust and estate formed under the laws of the United States or a state thereunder.

Generally, a U.S. person has a “financial interest” in a foreign financial account if she is the record owner or has legal title in the account, whether or not she is the beneficial owner.

Moreover, a U.S. person has a financial interest in a foreign account held by a nominee, if the beneficial owner of the foreign account is a U.S. person.  Also, a U.S. person has a financial interest in a foreign account where a corporation, partnership, or a trust is the record owner or has legal title in the foreign account, if a U.S. person owns more than 50% of the (i) total value of shares or voting stock of a corporation, (ii) partnership’s profits or capital, or (iii) the trust’s assets or income, as applicable.

A person has a “signature authority” if she has the authority to control the disposition of money, funds or other assets held in a financial account by direct communication (whether in writing or otherwise) to the person with whom the financial account is maintained.

Filing an FBAR

Exceptions to the FBAR reporting are found in the FBAR instructions, including participants in retirement plans that hold foreign financial accounts.

On the FBAR form, taxpayers must report their interest in the foreign financial account and identify the foreign country where the account is maintained.

The FBAR is not filed with the tax return and must be received by the IRS on or before June 30 of the following calendar year being reported.  A request for extension for filing the FBAR is not allowed.

Consequences of a Failure to File

A civil penalty not in excess of $10,000 per violation could apply to a failure to file an FBAR.  No penalty will be imposed if there is a reasonable cause for the failure and the balance in the account is properly reported.  Willful failure to file an FBAR may trigger a civil monetary penalty equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the balance in the account at the time of the violation as well as criminal penalties.  Willfulness is generally determined by a voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty.

In the past few years, the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice criminally indicted several taxpayers and advisors for activities associated with U.S. persons holding undeclared interests in foreign financial accounts, and many others are targets or subjects of ongoing federal criminal investigations.  In February 2009, UBS, under threat of criminal prosecution from the U.S. Department of Justice, turned over “secret” bank account information related to 280 of their U.S. clients and subsequently agreed to turn over information on many thousand more.

Credit Suisse reportedly started issuing letters to their US clients stating that a request for information on U.S. account holders has been received and that Credit Suisse has been ordered to turn over the information to the Swiss Federal Taxing Administration, which will then turn them over to the IRS, unless the US clients can demonstrate the turnover of information would violate Swiss law, including the U.S.-Swiss Tax Treaty.

IRS Voluntary Disclosure Programs

Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts can become compliant with the U.S. tax laws by directly participating in the IRS voluntary disclosure program or by merely filing an amended or delinquent returns and FBARs for prior years.  The IRS had issued voluntary disclosure programs in 2009 and 2011 for undeclared interests in foreign financial account.  Under the 2011 program, eligible taxpayer must contact the IRS Criminal Investigation to request participation in the program, must file all original and amended income tax return as applicable, and pay any taxes owed (including interest and penalties).  Under the IRS long-standing voluntary disclosure practice, taxpayers who voluntarily disclosed their foreign bank accounts under the voluntary program are able to avoid potential criminal prosecution.

On January 9, 2012, the IRS reopened the offshore voluntary disclosure program “to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes.”  The IRS announced that it received over 33,000 voluntary disclosures and collected more than $4.4 billion so far from the two previous voluntary disclosure programs.  Under the 2012 program, a single penalty of 27.5% of the highest aggregate balance in foreign bank accounts during the eight full tax years prior to the disclosure will apply, up from 25% in 2011.  Some taxpayers will be eligible for 5 or 12.5% penalties, same as 2011.

In addition, participants must file an original and amended tax return, pay back taxes and interest for up to eight years, and pay any applicable accuracy-related and/or delinquency penalties as applicable.  Unlike the 2011 program, there is no set deadline for people to apply, and the terms of the program (e.g., penalties may be increased for all or some taxpayers) could change at any time going forward.


Generally under the voluntary disclosure program, taxpayers can reasonably calculate the total cost of resolving all offshore tax issues and avoid potential criminal prosecution.  Taxpayers who do not make voluntary disclosure risk detection by the IRS, substantial penalties (including the civil fraud penalty and foreign information return penalties), and possible criminal prosecution.

If you have any questions regarding FBAR reports or compliance, please do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a consultation today.

How to Survive an IRS Audit

Taxpayers in general have about a 1% chance of receiving an IRS audit each year.  You beat the odds and your tax return has been selected for an audit.  What does this mean and what do you do?

What is an IRS tax audit?

An IRS tax audit means that the IRS is examining your tax return carefully for the accuracy with intent to verify the correctness.  Your return may have been selected (i) based on the IRS’s computer program that scores returns based on certain red flags the IRS has identified (e.g., Schedule C filers, cash basis businesses, excessive deductions), (ii) based on information received from third-party documentation, such as Forms 1099 and W-2 that do not match the information reported on your return, or (iii) to address questionable treatment of an item and to study the behavior of similar taxpayers in that market segment in handling the tax issue.

It is helpful to understand the statute of limitation under which the IRS audit is conducted.  In most cases, the IRS has 3 years from the date the tax return is filed to assess any additional tax.  Typically, this means the IRS will issue an audit notice 12 to 18 months after the tax return is filed and have 1 to 2 years to complete the audit.  If the audit is not completed within the 3 year period and the IRS does not timely assess additional tax liability, the taxpayer is generally not liable for the additional tax.

However, if the taxpayer (is found to have) underreported income on the tax return by 25% or more, then the IRS has 6 years to audit and assess tax deficiency from the date the return is filed.  In the case of fraud, the IRS has unlimited time period to audit the tax return.

The Audit Process

The audit may be conducted by mail, in taxpayer’s place of business or preferably at its representative’s office (to minimize the IRS’s access to documents and information), or in the IRS offices.  The IRS will typically request information and documents to review, and may ask to interview the taxpayer.  The law requires you to retain records used to prepare your tax return, and generally you should keep them for three years from the date the tax return was filed.

During the audit process, taxpayers have certain rights:  (i) the right to professional and courteous treatment by the IRS employees, (ii) right to privacy and confidentiality about tax matters, (iii) right to know why the IRS is asking for information, how the IRS will use it and what will happen if the requested information is not provided, (iv) a right to representation by oneself or an authorized representative, and (v) right to appeal.

The audit may conclude with: (i) no change to the return because all of the items under review were substantiated, (ii) taxpayer agreeing with the IRS’s proposed changes to the tax liability, or (iii) taxpayer disagreeing with the IRS’s proposed changes.

Protesting IRS Proposed Changes

If you agree with the IRS proposed changes, you can sign the examination report, and if money is owed, several payment options may be available.

If you disagree with the IRS findings based on the tax law, a conference with a manager may be requested for further review of the issue.  In the case that an agreement cannot be reached with the examiner’s supervisor, the examiner will forward your case for processing and you will receive a letter (known as a 30-day letter) notifying you of your right to appeal the proposed changes within 30 days.

A formal written protest within 30-days is usually required to appeal the case to the IRS Appeals division.  The IRS Appeals division is separate and independent of the IRS Examination division which conducts the audit, and is designed to settle most disputes without going to court.  If is important to respond timely to the 30-day letter if you want to appeal your case.

If you do not respond to the 30-day letter (or if you do not reach an agreement with the IRS Appeals Officer), the IRS will send you a letter (known as a 90-day letter), notifying you of your right to file a petition with the United States Tax Court within 90 days.  Alternatively, you may take your case to the United States Court of Federal Claims or the United States District Courts.

Taking your Case to Court

Generally, the Tax Court hears your case before any tax has been assessed and paid.  If you do not file your Tax Court petition on time, the proposed tax will be assessed, a bill will be sent to you and you have to pay your taxes or collection can proceed.

The District Court and the Court of Federal Claims hear tax cases only after you have paid the tax and filed a claim for a credit or refund with the IRS on Form 1040X.  Generally, you must file a claim for a credit or refund within 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

If the IRS rejects your claim, you can file suit for a credit or refund in the District Court or in the Court of Federal Claims within 2 years from the date IRS rejects your claim.  You can also file suit for credit or refund if the IRS has not delivered a decision within 6 months since you filed a claim.

The IRS Appeals Office will normally consider any case petitioned to the United State Tax Court for settlement before the Tax Court hears the case.  You may be able to recover reasonable litigation or administrative expenses to defend your position with the IRS if you are the prevailing party, exhaust all administrative remedies within the IRS, your net worth is below certain limit and other requirements are met.

Potential Penalties

If you owe any additional taxes, you must pay interest on the additional tax, and interest is generally calculated from the due date of your return to the date of your payment.  Interest, however, may be suspended or abated under certain specific circumstances.

If you owe any additional taxes, various civil tax penalty provisions could apply, including the 20% accuracy related penalty on the total understatement of tax, failure to file penalty, failure to pay penalty, and civil fraud penalties equal to 75% of any federal tax due to fraud, plus interest on penalties.  Worst case, possible criminal charges (misdemeanors and felonies) could arise in applicable cases.

When faced with an IRS (or a state) audit, the goal is to limit the scope of the auditor’s review and limit your financial impact, and settle any disputes as early as possible during the examination or appeals process.  The first thing you should do is consult a tax counsel who can assist you, especially if you have complex or sensitive issues, since settlements of disputes often involve legal analysis of the tax law and an in-depth understanding of the tax procedure.  You should consult a tax counsel if you have potentially sensitive tax issues that might involve criminal tax matters.

If you have any questions regarding IRS audits, or tax law in general, please do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a consultation today.

ESI or “Electronically Stored Information” – The Hidden Litigation Tripwire

When examining the impacts of ESI technology, we must understand that we live in a digital world.  So prevalent is “data” that we forget that we are surrounded by visual portrayals of streams of zeroes and ones.  We have computers at work as well as at home, and laptops, PDA’s, and “Blackberrys” to keep us connected to e-mail, voice mail, and text messages while we vacation or commute (and blur the distinction between the two).  It has been said that technology is a wonderful slave and a terrible master.

Technology may also present the least understood and a most dangerous trap for the unwary litigant—one that can lose a case before it is even begun.  The solution is a timely and thoughtful “litigation hold” letter, and this article will explain when one has to be sent, and what it should say.

Adoption and Aftermath of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Over the years, the Federal and State Rules governing pretrial discovery have generally kept pace with societal changes so that discovery vehicles such as Requests for Production could be tailored to fit the myriad and unique circumstances that surround any case, and perform as designed.  Technological advances, however, have pulled far ahead of the rules, and Courts have been scrambling to catch up.  Thus began the evolution of discovery of “electronically stored information”, or “ESI.”

Court interpretation of the discovery rules has given lawyers and litigants guidance on how to uncover ESI, but they also impose draconian penalties for conduct that heretofore might have been countenanced by a well meaning and lenient jurist.  The purpose of this article is to warn business owners and their counsel of the unseen pitfalls of ESI, and ensure by means of a “litigation hold” letter that devastating sanctions are avoided.  Simply stated, a “litigation hold” letter commands a party (or client) to locate, segregate, and preserve documents and data that may be relevant to pending or threatened litigation.

Relevant Court Cases: Zubulake IV and Pension Committee

In 2003 and 2004, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, decided two in the series of the Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC cases and introduced a brave new world of ESI discovery.  In 2010, Judge Scheindlin decided Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Bank of America Securities, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1839 and dispelled any doubt about the duty to preserve and produce ESI, and the penalties to be imposed for its breach.

One teaching of Pension Committee is that the rules articulated in Zubulake are now “well established” and lawyers and litigants ignore them at their peril.  Judge Scheindlin leaves no room for interpretation or debate:

“Possibly after October, 2003, when Zubulake IV was issued, and definitely after July, 2004, when the final relevant Zubulake opinion was issued, the failure to issue a written litigation hold constitutes gross negligence because that failure is likely to result in the destruction of relevant information.” 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS at * 10.

The corollary teaching of Pension Committee is that if a party is currently in litigation or reasonably anticipates litigation, then such party in conjunction with its counsel must issue a timely and written litigation hold and supervise and oversee that hold diligently and in good faith, or face sanctions to include termination of the underlying case to its extreme prejudice.

Consequences of Misconduct with Respect to ESI

A party to litigation or a party that reasonably anticipates litigation (more on that amorphous concept later) has a duty to preserve, collect, review and/or produce relevant evidence.  In failing to discharge that duty with respect to ESI, the party’s conduct may amount to negligence, gross negligence (a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use), or willful and bad faith misconduct (an intentional act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow).  In each instance, available sanctions ratchet up accordingly.

With regard to the duty to preserve, post-Zubulake, the failure to issue a timely, written litigation hold will likely rise to the level of gross negligence.  With respect to the duty to collect, the failure to collect paper or electronic records from “key players” (another “fuzzy” concept that may even include former employees) constitutes gross negligence or willfulness, in contradistinction to failing to collect records from all employees, which may be viewed as mere negligence and carry a lesser penalty.  As noted by Judge Scheindlin, “[e]ach case will turn on its own facts and the varieties of efforts and failures is [sic] infinite.”  Id. At * 12-13.

So what is a business owner/HR executive/general counsel to do?

The first step is to understand when the ESI duty to preserve, collect, etc. attaches.  Where a party sues or is sued, that particular point in time is clearly defined.  But when must a party “reasonably anticipate” litigation?  If one or two employees get a mere whiff of threatened litigation, that does not impose an “all hands on deck” company-wide duty to preserve.

If those same employees, however, document their concerns with an identifiable plaintiff and targeted defendant, then the duty to preserve would arise well in advance of the actual filing of the lawsuit.  Often, it is middle-management that first sees litigation storm clouds on the horizon, and they need to be conditioned to alert senior management and outside counsel to threatened litigation.

Once the alarm is sounded, the litigation hold letter must be carefully drafted and quickly disseminated.  Each situation is different, and this is not an area where a generic, “one size fits all” form letter can be sent.  Management and counsel should collaborate on ensuring company-wide compliance and the letter should emanate from the company’s upper echelons (e.g., CEO, COO, and CIO).  Implementation and supervision of the litigation hold cannot be delegated away and senior management must remain involved and responsible throughout the process.

In the words of Judge Scheindlin, “[i]n short, it is not sufficient to notify all employees of a litigation hold and expect that the party will then retain and produce all relevant information.  Counsel must take affirmative steps to monitor compliance so that all sources of discoverable information are identified and searched.”  Zubulake V, 229 F.R.D. at 432.


The litigation hold letter is both a sword and a shield.  It is a recognized and ubiquitous “terrain feature” on any litigation landscape and litigants and lawyers are now on notice that they are expected to be familiar with the evolving law and conform fully to its requirements.  Every case is different, however, and must be analyzed and evaluated on its own peculiar facts and circumstances.

If you have any questions relating to litigation hold letters, or ESI in general, please contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a  consultation today.

Can My Spouse Take Everything in the Divorce?

The short answer is simple: no. Contrary to what you may hear, or what you may think, your spouse cannot take everything you own in a divorce. As a whole, our society throws around phrases like “she took him to the cleaners,” or “she bled him dry,” but those statements are far from the truth. In reality, Connecticut courts follow equitable distribution laws when dividing marital property upon divorce. The statute states:

“At the time of entering a decree annulling or dissolving a marriage or for legal separation pursuant to a complaint under section 46b-45, the Superior Court may assign to either the husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other.” CONN. GEN. STAT § 46b-81(a)

Property Classification

But no court awards all of one spouse’s property to another because the court must follow certain factors and considerations when deciding who gets what. Before such factors are even considered, the couple’s property is first classified to determine which property is even eligible for division. Such classification involves the court determining whether the asset was earned prior to or subsequent to the date of marriage to determine whether the asset is marital property. To simplify, usually property owned before marriage is not subject to division but anything acquired during the marriage is.

Once the property is classified, then the court will apply a bunch of equitable factors to determine who gets what property. For instance, in Connecticut, equitable distribution of property “should take into consideration the plaintiff’s contributions to the marriage, including homemaking activities and primary care taking responsibilities. . . and that a determination of each spouses’ contribution includes non-monetary as well as monetary contributions.” O’Neill v. O’Neill, 13 Conn. App. 311.

Factors to Consider in Property Division

Such factors are also considered alongside the length of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. C.G.S.A. 46b-81 (c).

These steps the court must take before dividing property upon divorce ensures no one gets “hosed” or “cleaned out” upon divorce. While one spouse may end up feeling one of those ways, the actual distribution is never the ultimate reason why.

Our firm in Westport serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge.

If you or someone you know is preparing for a divorce, or needs representation for divorce, feel free to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy. Feel free to call 203-221-3100 or email to schedule a consultation today.

Protecting Your Interests in a High-Asset Divorce

Whether or not you consider yourself a high earner or a high worth individual, if you have considerable assets at stake and divorce is knocking at the door, we are here to help. At Maya Murphy, we deal with divorces every day, whether they include athletes, businesses, famous individuals, those with large amounts of wealth or just the average person. Our divorce practice has been established for over a decade and is built on experience gained in both New York and Connecticut tribunals.

We can help you take proactive steps to position yourself for a fair allocation. Not every high-asset divorce is destined for trial. We will explore mediation to resolve or narrow the issues and out-of-court negotiations for everything from IRA, 401(k) and pension savings and alimony to child custody and child support. However, if needed, the high asset divorce attorneys of Maya Murphy are proven litigators who are ready and able to bring a case to trial.

Factors in Settling a High Asset Divorce

When it comes to high asset divorce, there are many more factors that must be considered when reaching an appropriate settlement. Here at Maya Murphy, we are familiar with every nuance of high net worth divorces, including:

  • Valuation of a business or professional license
  • Valuation and sale/refinancing of the marital home
  • Other real estate (vacation homes, rental property)
  • Valuation and division of investment property
  • Variable or seasonal income, as from pro athletes
  • Verification of income from all sources
  • Stock options and deferred compensation
  • The marital portion of IRA, 401(k) and pension savings
  • Validity (enforceability) of prenuptial agreements
  • Other issues of separate property versus marital property
  • Distribution of joint liabilities
  • Discovering hidden assets.
High-Asset Divorce Considerations

We realize there are additional considerations in a high-asset divorce beyond the division of assets such as privacy of the individuals, goodwill of a business, or unwanted media attention. We can cater our representation to your needs and your busy schedule. At the onset of representation, we will listen to your goals and come up with a plan to best achieve them. You will be kept informed each step of the way and involved in this process as little or as much as you would like.

Our firm in Westport serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge.

If you are considering divorce, or divorce proceedings have already begun, feel free to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. today to discuss your options. Call us at 203-221-3100 or email us at to schedule your free consultation today!

How Long Will My Supervised Visits with My Children Last in Connecticut?

If there was a reason for your agreement to have supervised visits with your children, then you must comply with the agreement until the situation has changed.  Once your prior situation has changed, and you feel you should be entitled to unsupervised visits with your children, you may file a motion to modify visitation.

However, it is important to keep in mind that although you feel confident that your previous situation has changed, the deciding factor is how the court views your progress.  Reports from the children’s guardian ad litem as well as your doctors (etc.), may be the deciding factor in modifying the custody agreement.  If you are not represented by counsel, it would best to consult an experienced family law attorney who can assist you in requesting a change in visitation and educate you on the best steps to take in the future.

Our firm in Westport serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge.

If you have any further questions regarding family law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at

FINRA Announces Voluntary Large Case Pilot Program to Provide Greater Flexibility in Case Administration

On July 2, 2012, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) launched a voluntary large case pilot program in all regions for cases involving damages claims of at least $10 million.  This pilot program formalizes the previous ad hoc flexibility that parties had to deviate from administrative procedures under the Arbitration Code.   The large case pilot program is intended to improve the efficiency of processing these cases by permitting parties to agree in advance to changes in FINRA procedures for arbitrator qualifications and selection, motion practice, discovery, official record of proceedings, hearing facilities, or explained decisions.

FINRA will identify cases that are candidates for the pilot program after the parties have submitted their initial pleadings.  Cases that have already been filed may request to participate in the pilot program provided that all parties agree to participation and are represented by counsel.

Pilot Program Process

Counsel for parties agreeing to participate in the large case pilot program will be encouraged to meet and confer regarding their preferences for the administration of the case.  FINRA will hold an early administrative conference to assist parties with developing a detailed plan for case administration and will provide the parties with forms to memorialize their agreements.

Under the large case pilot program, the parties may request FINRA arbitrators with specific experience or qualifications, or agree to use arbitrators who are not on the FINRA roster.  FINRA staff will reach out to these arbitrators and attempt to secure their participation on the parties’ panels.  The parties can also agree to use interrogatories, depositions, requests for admissions, or any other discovery method.

Additionally, the parties may mutually request a discovery arbitrator whose sole role on the case is to decide discovery issues. The parties can use a FINRA arbitrator in this role or can suggest a non-FINRA arbitrator for the role.  Finally, under the large case pilot program, parties may agree to conduct the hearings at an alternative hearing facility to satisfy their requirements for larger conference rooms, separate breakout rooms, or enhanced technology.

FINRA will assess an additional administrative fee for each separately represented party participating in the large case pilot program.  Additional costs resulting from the parties’ agreements will be discussed and agreed upon during the administrative conference.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues generally, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at

California Court Modifies FINRA Arbitration Award to Provide for a Setoff

UBS Financial Services, Inc. and Piper Jaffray & Co. v. Mark C. Riley, 2012 WL 1831720 (S.D. Calif. May 18, 2012)

In a case before the Southern District of California involving a setoff in a FINRA arbitration award, UBS Financial Services, et al, (“UBS”) petitioned to confirm, or in the alternative modify, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) Arbitration Award issued September 2, 2011.  Mark Riley (“Riley”), a former USB employee, filed a reply.  The court granted UBS’s alternative motion to modify the award and awarded UBS pre and post judgment interest.  All other motions were denied.

Case Background

The underlying dispute in this case arose when Riley failed to satisfy his indebtedness on two promissory notes after he terminated his employment with UBS, which had acquired his previous employer, Piper Jaffray.  The two loans were received during Riley’s course of employment with Piper Jaffray and UBS.  Because submission to FINRA arbitration was included in Riley’s employment agreement with UBS, the firm initiated a FINRA arbitration claim against Riley to recover the outstanding balances, as well as interest and attorneys’ fees.   Riley filed a counterclaim against UBS and Piper Jaffray, alleging claims related to his employment with the firms.

FINRA appointed a panel of three arbitrators to hear the matter.  The panel issued an arbitration award in favor of UBS for $377,024.83, including principal, interest and attorneys’ fees.  The panel also held UBS and Piper Jaffray jointly and severally liable to Riley in the amount of $127,024.83.  One week after the award, UBS filed a motion with the arbitration panel requesting clarification of the award to provide for Riley’s award to be offset against the UBS award.

Debate about Setoff

The Director of Arbitration rejected the motion because it did not comply with the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure for Industry Disputes Rule 13905, which provides that parties may not submit documents to arbitrators in cases that have been closed except under limited circumstances.  Therefore, UBS petitioned the federal district court to confirm, or alternatively modify, the award with a setoff of the amount awarded to Riley against the larger amount awarded to UBS, and to enter a single judgment in favor of UBS in the net amount of $250,000, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1–16, governs the role of federal courts in reviewing arbitration decisions and provides very limited grounds on which a federal court may correct, modify or vacate such decision.  “Under the statute, confirmation [by federal court] is required even in the face of erroneous findings of fact and misinterpretations of law.” Kyocera Corp. v. Prudential–Bache T Serv’s, Inc., 341 F.3d 987, 997 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)

Riley argued the award should be confirmed without setoff on three separate grounds: (1) the court does not have the authority to provide a setoff; (2) UBS and Piper Jaffray are jointly and severally liable so to allow an offset against the money awarded to UBS would deprive him of the ability to recover from Piper Jaffray; and (3) his counsel’s attorneys’ fee lien on his award takes priority over UBS’s right to a setoff.   He opposed modification of the award for the same reasons.

Section 11 of the FAA

The court denied UBS’s motion to confirm the arbitration award with a setoff because it was unable to find any authority in the Ninth Circuit to permit a setoff in the confirmation of an arbitration award.  However, section 11 of the FAA permits a federal court to modify or correct an award “as to effect the intent thereof and promote justice between the parties” under the following circumstances:

(a) Where there was an evident material miscalculation of figures or an evident material mistake in the description of any person, thing, or property referred to in the award.

(b) Where the arbitrators have awarded upon a matter not submitted to them, unless it is a matter not affecting the merits of the decision upon the matter submitted.

(c) Where the award is imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy.

Decision for Setoff

The court determined that allowing for a setoff in the instant case was consistent with the requirements of section 11(c).  The court was not required to reconsider the merits of the arbitration decision, and the modification did not affect the amount of damages awarded to either party.  Setoff only modified the form of the award to avoid the potentially unjust consequences of UBS paying Riley a substantial sum of money in a situation where there was a high likelihood that Riley would not pay UBS in return.  Finally, allowing Riley to pay just his net obligation would avoid “the absurdity of making A pay B when B owes A.” Studley v. Boylston Nat’l Bank of Boston, 229 U.S. 523, 528 (1913).

The court ordered the FINRA arbitration award be modified to a single judgment of $250,000 in favor of UBS.  It also awarded UBS prejudgment interest at the state interest rate of nine percent per annum on the sum of $250,000.00 from the date of the arbitration award until the judgment was entered in federal court, and post-judgment interest at the federal interest rate as provided for in 28 U.S.C. § 1961 from the entry of the judgment until the judgment award is paid in full.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA, employment or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at