Fisher v. USAA (CA1 8/7/18)

On the requirement of timeliness when challenging an arbitration award.

Claimants in a UIM arbitration suggested an arbitrator but apparently discovered after the carrier agreed to him than he also did arbitrations for another law firm that represented that carrier. But they raised no objection, went to arbitration, and lost. Following unsuccessful post-hearing motions with the arbitrator, they filed in court to vacate the award and to obtain discovery on the arbitrator’s alleged conflict of interest. The trial court denied the motions. (We have condensed the facts a bit, omitting an intriguing but irrelevant disagreement between the claimants and their original lawyer and making a small guess about what and when the claimants actually filed in court, the description of which lacks clarity and consistency.)

The Court of Appeals affirms, ruling that the claimants waived the objection. The statute (12-3001 et seq.) provides that an arbitrator must disclose conflicts and that an award can be set aside for failure to do so. But comments to the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act, on which our statute is based, say that objection must come “within a reasonable period after the person learns or should have learned of the undisclosed fact.” “We agree that parties who know or have reason to know of possible partiality must raise an objection with the arbitrator during the course of the arbitration proceeding.”

The claimants tried reverse the burden of proof by invoking a presumption of partiality. The statute provides for that if the arbitrator does not disclose a direct interest in the outcome of the case or a substantial relationship with a party. But no interest in the outcome was alleged and working as an arbitrator for another firm that represented a party is not a substantial relationship with that party. “When a party challenges an arbitration award, the burden is on the moving party to prove that grounds for vacating the award exist.”

Waiver of the claim having “extinguished the pending action connected to the discovery request,” the court expressly declines to rule on the denial of that request.

(Opinion: Fisher v. USAA)