A court’s power to vacate an arbitration award is limited

A court’s power to vacate an arbitration award is limited
Professional, Clerical, Tech., Employees Assn. (Board of Educ. for Buffalo City Sch. Dist.), 2013 NY Slip Op 00612, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The issue before the arbitrator was whether the Board of Education’s selection process used in its filling two vacancies of a newly created title, Assistant Management Analyst, violated the collective bargaining agreement between the parties. The arbitrator concluded that it had not.

Essentially the arbitrator rejected the Association’s argument that the collective bargaining agreement provided that seniority "trumps" a supervisor's discretion in selecting the individual to fill the vacancies in question.

Supreme Court granted the Professional, Clerical, Tech., Employees Assn.’s application to vacate an arbitration award.

The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted the Board of Education’s the cross petition seeking to confirm the arbitration award, explaining that Supreme Court erred in vacating the award as the award was not irrational and the arbitrator did not exceed a specific limitation on her authority.*  

Noting that “It is well established that "an arbitrator's rulings, unlike a trial court's, are largely unreviewable," citing Matter of Falzone, 15 NY3d 530, the Appellate Division said that "a court may vacate an arbitration award only if it violates a strong public policy, is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power."

As the Court of Appeals held in New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Assn. v State of New York, 94 NY2d 321, 326), "Courts are bound by an arbitrator's factual findings, interpretation of the contract and judgment concerning remedies. A court cannot examine the merits of an arbitration award and substitute its judgment for that of the arbitrator simply because it believes its interpretation would be the better one. Indeed, even in circumstances where an arbitrator makes errors of law or fact, courts will not assume the role of overseers to conform the award to their sense of justice."

* The Appellate Division also held that Supreme Court erred in determining that the arbitrator impermissibly modified the collective bargaining agreement.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: