The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) arbitration system remains operative, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted other segments of the nation’s legal system, and claim deadlines still apply.
Charlie Delacruz, NGFA senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary, and Mary Hitchcock, NGFA director of arbitration/mediation services, provided an update during a webinar April 2 sponsored by the association and Grain Journal magazine.
“We're fortunate that NGFA arbitration already operates on a remote basis,” Delacruz said. “We continue, even today, in this week, to process new claims. Arbitrators are deliberating cases and issuing decisions.”
Current concerns and potential claims related to force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent contract fulfillment), etc., remain subject to NGFA arbitration.
“Application of force majeure depends on the specific facts and circumstances and the force majeure clause in the contract in each case,” Delacruz said. “NGFA has handled these types of disputes in the past, and provided the usual other conditions are met, NGFA arbitration is available to resolve these disputes now.”
In cases involving NGFA trade rules, Delacruz noted parties are always free to alter application of the rules in their agreements outside the trade routes, though NGFA cannot compel this.
Arbitration deadlines, such as one year to file a claim or to appeal a committee decision, still apply, he said.
“NGFA and the parties have no discretion under the current circumstances,” Delacruz said.
There are other deadlines such as those for filing arguments, over which NGFA and the parties have some discretion, he noted.
Parties also are dealing with deadlines that continue to apply, despite courthouses being closed.
The one exception, Delacruz said, is optional remote proceedings that involve oral in-person hearings or mini-trials, which are available to the parties upon request. These involve travel and a meeting of the parties, attorneys, witnesses, NGFA staff, and the arbitrator.
“Like all in-person meetings these days, however, there is no telling when those will resume again.” Delacruz said. “We are attempting to help the parties given the current conditions.”
Another way NGFA is helping is supplemental email communication to keep all parties “in the loop” as they move through arbitration proceedings and adjust to shifting schedules due to COVID-19 responses.
Hitchcock said copies of material can be provided by email, in addition to the hard copies sent by regular mail. Email also is being used as a courtesy to remind all parties of deadlines that are triggered by the mailings.
“If you are waiting on a hard copy from us, please be extra patient. We are checking the mail as much as possible,” she said. “While there are certain things that we still need in hard copies, per the rules, we can accept the complaint form by an email with a PDF attachment, or it can be faxed as well.” NGFA maintains a web page of COVID-19 resources at ngfa.org/covid-19.