The Arbitration Process: How Do I Get My Award? Part 2: The Court Process

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Arbitration Attorney

In our last blog, I discussed getting yourself into a position where you can go into a court and ask for a judgment to enforce a successful arbitration award. I said that you need a valid contract (which is presumed unless credible evidence is shown to the contrary) and the dispute must arise from the contract in question.  So once you have the award in hand, and the other side is not paying you what is due, you can now go to court to enforce this judgment.  This blog will discuss the court process.

Before I begin, I want to quickly note when this process does not apply.  If you are involved in a personal injury case or accounting case, when you file the enforcement action and it is then sent to mandatory arbitration, the process is different.  In these types of cases, the arbitrator makes a decision and files it with the court.  There are then three routes.  The parties first can settle and stipulate to the dismissal of the case.  If that doesn’t happen, either party can ask for a trial or can ask for confirmation of the award and entry of judgment on it.  The court doesn’t review the award.  It’s basically a take it or leave it situation.  Also, collective bargaining agreements are subject to their own procedures under the law.

The law allows you to file a complaint in Superior Court seeking confirmation of the award.  Unlike standard litigation, where one side has to answer the complaint, and their evidence in discovery commences, the law allows you to proceed in a summary fashion.  The rationale here is simple.  The court is not interested in re-litigating the facts of the dispute.  It is simply reviewing it, making sure it is valid, and then giving its seal of approval.  Because it is a summary action, the court reviews the complaint and sets the matter for a hearing, establishing how long the other parties have to file a response if they choose to oppose, and if they don’t oppose, the court signs the order to confirm the arbitration award.

But what if you aren’t satisfied with the award?  What if you believe the arbitrator was unfair in some way?  While the role of the courts in reviewing the judgment is limited, the court can vacate the award or modify it on certain grounds.  This can be done within 90 days of the issuance of the award, or if the one side files to confirm the award, can be done as opposition to the original complaint.  The court can vacate under the following grounds:

  1. There was corruption, fraud, or other means to unduly influence the award;
  2. Evident partiality or corruption by an arbitrator, or misconduct by the arbitrator that prejudices the rights of a party;
  3. Refusal to postpone the hearing upon showing of sufficient cause to do so, refusal to consider material evidence, or inappropriate conduct during the hearing so as to substantially prejudice the rights of a party;
  4. The arbitrator exceeded his or her powers by deciding something that was not in controversy;
  5. No valid agreement to arbitrate existed (this must be objected to at the start of the arbitration process in order to vacate the award on this ground alone); or
  6. Insufficient notice was given that substantially prejudiced the rights of a party.

If the court finds one of these occurred, it will vacate the award and order arbitration with a different arbitrator.  The court can also correct the award.  This is done if there was a mathematical miscalculation, mistake in the description of something in the award document, mistake in the form of the award, or if the arbitrator ruled on something not originally submitted to him or her (as long as the rest of the award can be left intact).  In this case, the award is changed based on the request, and the court will then confirm the modified award unless there is a pending application to vacate.

To discuss your NJ Arbitration matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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