November 20, 2018

Vacating arbitration awards


Vacating arbitration awards
West Babylon UFSD v West Babylon Teachers Assoc., 237 A.D.2d 615

Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules sets out the limited grounds available to a party who wishes to challenge an arbitrator's award. The West Babylon case demonstrates the fact that courts apply the limitations set out in Article 75 quite literally and rarely find overturning or modifying an arbitration award justified.

An arbitrator said that the Taylor Law Agreement negotiated by the West Babylon Union Free School District and the West Babylon Teachers Association required the District give teachers notice of the disciplinary charges filed against them.

Finding that no notice of disciplinary charges had been given to a teacher, Martha Kolodkin, that the District had earlier "demoted," the arbitrator ruled that the District had violated the agreement because it had it demoted Kolodkin "without just cause." The arbitrator's award directed the District reinstate Kolodkin to her former position without back pay.

The arbitrator apparently decided that Kolodkin's demotion constituted disciplinary action within the meaning of the collective bargaining agreement. The District attempted to vacate the award on the grounds that in making the award the arbitrator had exceed his authority by interpreting the agreement. A Supreme Court judge confirmed the award and dismissed the District's petition to set it aside.

The Appellate Division upheld the lower Court's ruling in favor of the Association. In so doing, the Court said that it is well settled that an arbitration award will not be set aside unless it is against public policy, totally irrational or in excess of the arbitrator's powers.

As to the specific objection to the award raised by the District, in this instance the Appellate Division decided that interpreting the collective bargaining agreement between the parties was consistent with the arbitrator's authority.

 In addition, courts do not have jurisdiction to review interlocutory arbitration decisions -- a decision made in the course of an arbitration but which does not constitute a final decision of the whole controversy.

A court's vacating an interlocutory decision by an arbitrator was the subject of an appeal in Local 100, Transport Workers Union v NYS Transit Authority.

In the course of an arbitration between parties, Local 100 said it would not participate at the scheduled hearing unless it received "certain discovery" materials. When the arbitrator directed that Local 100 adhere to the arbitration dates that had already been scheduled, the Local filed an Article 75 action to vacated the arbitrator's order directing it to adhere to the hearing date schedule.

Although the Supreme Court ruled that the arbitrator had no jurisdiction over scheduling matters, the Appellate Division disagreed, reversing that ruling. The Appellate Division said that courts lacked the statutory authority to vacate [an] interlocutory procedural ruling.

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