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March 07, 2011

Even if a CBA's arbitration clause is broadly worded, a matter may be excluded from arbitration if the CBA's language clearly shows such an intent

Even if a CBA's arbitration clause is broadly worded, a matter may be excluded from arbitration if the CBA's language clearly shows such an intent
Matter of Massena Cent. School Dist. v Massena Confederated School Employees' Assn., NYSUT, AFL-CIO, 2011 NY Slip Op 01550, Appellate Division, Third Department

A school district employee, Eric Fetterly, was absent from his employment for 11 months after suffering a work-related injury.

When Fetterly returned to work, the School District told him that it had paid health insurance premiums on his behalf during his absence in error and asked for reimbursement. Ultimately the matter was submitted arbitration where the threshold issue was whether the health insurance dispute was arbitrable under the collective bargaining agreement.

When arbitrator ruled that the matter was, indeed, subject to arbitration, the School District appealed seeking a court order vacating the arbitrator’s determination. Supreme Court granted the District’s petition on the ground that it exceeded a specific, enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power and the Employees’ Association appealed.

The Appellate Division said that “The threshold question of arbitrability is ordinarily a judicial determination, unless the agreement "'clearly and unmistakably'" provides otherwise,” citing Shearson v Sacharow, 91 NY2d 39.

The arbitration provision at issue, said the court, is limited and its “restrictive language cannot be read to manifest a clear and unmistakable intent to permit the arbitrator to enlarge the scope of arbitration in the guise of interpretation.” As the CBA explicitly forbids the arbitrator from "supplement[ing], enlarg[ing], diminish[ing], or alter[ing] the scope of [its] meaning," the Appellate Division said that “in order to determine whether the arbitrator exceeded his power in interpreting the exclusionary language, this Court must exercise its threshold responsibility to determine independently whether the dispute is arbitrable.”

Finding that the collective bargaining agreement provided that “not all grievances are arbitrable, prohibits the arbitrator from addressing issues outside his or her authority or enlarging the scope of the CBA, and specifically excludes "the subject of health insurance" from arbitration, the Appellate Division concluded that “it is evident that the parties did not intend to arbitrate this dispute” and affirmed Supreme Court’s ruling vacating the arbitrator’s determination.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_01550.htm
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