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February 6, 2014

Grounds for vacating the arbitrator’s award


Grounds for vacating the arbitrator’s award
Sheriff Officers Assn., Inc. v Nassau County, 2014 NY Slip Op 00108, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Sheriff Officers Association, Inc., on behalf of one of its members, [Member], filed a grievance with the County on the ground that the County violated the terms of the parties' collective bargaining agreement when it "unilaterally sent Member to an Independent Medical Examiner" and asked him to opine as to whether Member’s medical condition prevented Member from returning to full-time restricted duty.

The County denied the grievance and the Association demanded that the matter be submitted to arbitration.

The arbitrator determined that the County properly directed that Member be examined by the independent medical examiner since Member had, in effect and by her conduct, disputed certain portions of a police surgeon's report relating to her ability to work full time. The arbitrator further determined that the County properly asked the independent medical examiner to opine as to whether Member was capable of working full-time restricted duty, since this issue comprised the parties' dispute.

The arbitrator concluded that the County had not violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and upheld the County's denial of the Association's grievance.

The Association then filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR article 75 seeking to vacate the arbitrator's determination on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in concluding that the County had not violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Although Supreme Court had concluded that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority, granting the Association's petition and vacated the arbitrator's determination the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision, explaining that "[J]udicial review of arbitration awards is extremely limited" whereby "the court shall not consider whether the claim with respect to which arbitration is sought is tenable, or otherwise pass upon the merits of the dispute." Accordingly, said the court, "An arbitration award must be upheld when the arbitrator offer[s] even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached"

Further, the Appellate Division noted that the Court of Appeals has recognized "three narrow grounds that may form the basis for vacating an arbitrator's award: [1] that it violates public policy; [2] that it is irrational, or [3] that it clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power" 

The Appellate Division said that "as relevant here, an arbitrator exceeds his or her power if the award 'g[ives] a completely irrational construction to the provisions in dispute and, in effect, ma[kes] a new contract for the parties.'"

The Appellate Division found that in this instance the arbitrator had not exceed his power in concluding that the County had not violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement,said the court, the arbitrator was permitted to resolve a grievance, which is defined as "any dispute . . . with respect to the meaning, interpretation or application of a provision of [the] Agreement." Thus the arbitrator had the authority to determine whether the County's actions violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and his determination of that issue did not exceed a specifically enumerated limitation on his power.

As to the Association’s argument that the arbitrator misinterpreted the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the court said that such an argument constituted a challenge to the merits of the arbitrator's determination.

In that regard, finding that the arbitrator's determination was not "completely irrational" the Appellate Division held that the Association’s challenge to the merits of the arbitrator's determination did not provide a ground for vacating that determination.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_00108.htm
.

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