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April 04, 2023

Challenging an arbitration award based on allegations that award failed to meet the standards of finality and definiteness

Arguing that an arbitration should be vacated because it failed to meet the standards of finality and definiteness required by CPLR Article 75, the Niagara Falls Captains and Lieutenants Association, [Association] appealed Supreme Court's order denying its petition seeking to vacate an arbitration award. The Appellate Division rejected the Association's contention and affirmed the order.

Noting that it is well settled that "judicial review of arbitration awards is extremely limited", the Appellate Division, citing Barone v Haskins, 193 AD3d 1388, observed that "a court may vacate an arbitrator's award where it finds that the rights of a party were prejudiced when 'an arbitrator . . . exceeded his [or her] power or so imperfectly executed it that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made'".

The court, considering the Association's argument that the arbitrator's award failed to meet the standards of finality and definiteness, opined "An award is indefinite or nonfinal within the meaning of the statute 'only if it leaves the parties unable to determine their rights and obligations, if it does not resolve the controversy submitted or if it creates a new controversy'", citing Yoonessi v Givens, 78 AD3d 1622 and other decisions.

The Appellate Division said that contrary to the Association's contention, it concluded that the award sufficiently defined the parties' rights and obligations with respect to the controversy at issue* as the arbitrator's "award did not leave any matter submitted by the parties open for future contention, and thus, it was definite and final." 

In the words of the court, "The matter submitted by the parties concerned six specific alleged violations of the [collective bargaining agreement] CBA or past practice, and the award finally and definitely resolved that matter, determining that respondent did not violate either the CBA or past practice when it filled the vacancies as soon as was reasonably possible."

The Association had argued that the determination that past practice required positions to be filled as soon as reasonably possible will create new [sic] controversies between the parties in the future inasmuch "as there is no definition of what is reasonable." Rejecting this argument, the court said the award completely "dispose[d] of the controversy submitted", which was limited to three specific grievances involving six specific actions taken by the City of Niagara Falls. 

The award, said the Appellate Division, "fully resolved that controversy, denying the grievances and determining that the vacancies were filled in accordance with the past practice of filling vacancies as soon as reasonably possible." As there was nothing "open for future contention" with respect to those three grievances, the court concluded that the award "did not create any new controversy with respect to those specific grievances."

* The Association had contended that the City of Niagara Falls "violated the parties' collective bargaining agreement or past practice when it failed to immediately fill six specific vacancies."

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision posted on the Internet.

 

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