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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The “continuing jurisdiction” of the arbitrator once a final determination is made is not automatic

New York State Dept. of Corr. Servs. (New York State Corr. Officers & Police Benevolent Assn., Inc.), 2012 NY Slip Op 07242, Appellate Division, Third Department

Upon the conclusion of a disciplinary arbitration the arbitrator found the employee guilty of certain charges and made an “interim award,” imposing a penalty of suspension without pay for 45 days and directing that the employee “otherwise be made whole.”
The final award mirrored the arbitrator's interim award but further provided that the arbitrator was "maintain[ing] jurisdiction . . . in the event that any dispute [arose] between the parties over the implementation of [the] [a]ward."
After the employee returned to work he filed a grievance alleging that the Department of Correctional Services* had not restored all of the back pay, time accruals and other benefits due him as directed by arbitration award.
Ultimately it appears that the employee’s union, the New York State Corr. Officers & Police Benevolent Assn. [NYSCOPBA] asked the arbitrator to reopen the arbitration to ascertain whether employee had been made whole pursuant to the terms of his award. A hearing date was scheduled, but the Department, contending that the arbitrator was powerless to, among other things, reopen, modify or explain the prior award, objected.
Notwithstanding the Department’s objection, the arbitrator conducted a hearing in which only NYSCOPBA participated and subsequently awarded the employee approximately $4,000 in vacation and holiday accruals.
The Department filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules seeking to vacate the award upon the ground that the arbitrator exceeded his power in reopening the proceeding. In rebuttal, NYSCOPBA argued that the Department had waived its right to seek vacatur of the award and cross-moved to confirm the award.
Supreme Court granted the Department’s application, vacating the award whereupon NYSCOPBA appealed contending that the Department “waived [its] opportunity to vacate the [challenged] arbitration award by, among other things, failing to challenge the arbitrator's assertion of continuing jurisdiction and/or participating in the [challenged] arbitration hearing."
The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling, rejecting NYSCOPBA’s argument that the Department had waived any of its rights. The court explained that the Department was “not immediately aggrieved by the arbitrator's purported retention of jurisdiction, the exercise of which admittedly was conditioned upon a future … entirely theoretical dispute between the parties as to the subsequent implementation of the award.”
Further, said the Appellate Division, while NYSCOPBA is correct that "a party that participates in the arbitration may not later seek to vacate the award by claiming it never agreed to arbitrate the dispute in the first place," here the Department expressly objected to the proposed hearing in writing, and it is undisputed that it did not attend in the hearing. Accordingly, the Appellate Division said that it was satisfied that the Department did not "actively participate [in the arbitration]."
As to merits of NYSCOPBA’s appeal, the court said that it is well settled “that an arbitrator has broad discretion to determine a dispute and fix a remedy, and that any contractual limitation on that discretion must be contained, either explicitly or incorporated by reference, in the arbitration clause itself.’
The Appellate Division said that the controlling provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the parties specifically provides that “[d]isciplinary arbitrators shall confine themselves to determinations of guilt or innocence and the appropriateness of proposed penalties . . . [and] shall neither add to, subtract from nor modify the provisions of [the CBA]." Further, said the court, the CBA agreement further provides that "[t]he disciplinary arbitrator's decision with respect to guilt[,] innocence [or] penalty . . . shall be final and binding upon the parties," which language “evidences a clear agreement by the parties to the CBA to ‘limit the discretion of disciplinary arbitrators.’"
While there may be circumstances where an arbitrator's retention of jurisdiction will be deemed permissible, in this instance the Appellate Division concluded that “such circumstances cannot — in light of the restrictive language of the underlying CBA — be said to exist here.”
Accordingly, court ruled that arbitrator's retention of jurisdiction in this matter "clearly exceed[ed] a specifically enumerated limitation [upon his] power” and the arbitrator's authority over the issues submitted to him ended once he rendered his decision.

* The Department of Correctional Services is now known as the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. 

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_07242.htm

Reprinted with permission New York Public Personnel Law

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2012/12/the-continuing-jurisdiction-of-the-arbitrator-once-a-final-determination-is-made-is-not-automatic.html

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