December 22, 2010

Vacating a Section 3020-a arbitration award

Vacating a Section 3020-a arbitration award
Westhampton Beach UFSD v Ziparo, 275 AD2d 411

It is not unusual for a party to decide to challenge the determination of the hearing officer or panel following a Section 3020-a disciplinary action. Essentially a Section 3020-a decision is treated as an arbitration award and thus the provisions of Article 75 of the Civil Practice Act and Rules [CPLR] control any attempt to vacate such an award.

As the Westhampton Beach decision by the Appellate Division, Second Department, demonstrates, the grounds for vacating an award under Article 75 are very limited.

The district filed certain disciplinary charges against David Ziparo. The Section 3020-a hearing officer found him guilty of the charges. The penalty imposed: suspension without pay for one year. In addition, the hearing officer conditioned Ziparo’s return to teaching upon his obtaining a certification of psychiatric fitness.

Westhampton appealed a State Supreme Court’s confirmation of the hearing officer’s determination. The Appellate Division dismissed the appeal, ruling that Westhampton did not demonstrate any basis for vacating the award under CPLR 7511 and the hearing officer’s determination has a rational basis and is supported by the record.

On what basis could a court vacate a determination by a Section 3020-a hearing officer or panel? Section 7511(b)(1) of the CPLR allows a court to vacate or modify an award only if it finds:

1. Corruption, fraud or misconduct in procuring the award; or

2. Partiality of an arbitrator appointed as a neutral, except where the award was by confession;

3. An arbitrator, or agency or person making the award exceeded his power or so imperfectly executed it that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made; or

4. The failure to follow the procedure set out in Article 75, unless the party applying to vacate the award continued with the arbitration with notice of defect and without objection.

In addition, courts have held that an arbitration award may be vacated if it is inconsistent with a strong public policy.

Another important consideration when deciding whether to challenge a Section 3020-a disciplinary determination: the statute of limitations. Section 3020-a(5) provides that such a challenge must be filed within ten days of the receipt of the decision -- a very short period in which to perfect the appeal.

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