Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Arbitrator Is Free to Make Legal Errors

Safari Assocs. v. Superior Court, No. D065684 (D4d1 Dec. 2, 2014)

In awarding attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff in a breach-of-contract arbitration, an arbitrator declined to apply the agreement’s definition of prevailing party in favor of that provided in § 1717 of the Civil Code. According to the arbitrator,  the Code trumps any conflicting definition in a private agreement
. The defendant moved the superior court to have the award corrected on the basis that the arbitrator exceeded his powers by ignoring the contractual definition in making the award. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 1286.6. The trial court agreed; the award was amended. But the court of appeal here grants a writ reversing that decision. The arbitrator’s decision about the fee award was within the scope of his authority. His decision about what definition of prevailing party applied was, at worst, a legal error that is not subject to review by the court.

Writ granted.

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