ARBITRATION

Somerset Legal Journal headnotes from approximately 1991 through the present.

For earlier cases, please visit the Somerset County Law Library.

 

EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS

 

In reviewing an arbitration award under the Public Employee Relations Act (PERA), Pennsylvania courts apply the “essence test,” a standard that requires great deference to an arbitrator's interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Even if the court’s interpretation of the CBA differs from that of the arbitrator’s, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the arbitrator so long as the arbitrator's award interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Under the “public policy exception” to the “essence test,” a three-step analysis is applied.  The court must determine: (1) the nature of the conduct leading to the discipline; (2) if that conduct implicates a public policy which is “well-defined, dominant, and ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of supposed public interests;” and (3) if the arbitrator's award poses an unacceptable risk that it will undermine the implicated policy and cause the public employer to breach its lawful obligations or public duty. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

The issuance of an unsatisfactory rating of a tenured professional employee by the school administration constitutes a matter that arises out of the interpretation or application of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and, therefore, is subject to binding arbitration pursuant to §903 of Act 195. 43 P.S. §1101.903. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Under the Public School Code of 1949, unsatisfactory teaching performance based on unsatisfactory ratings can be a valid cause for termination of an employee's contract. 24 P.S.§11-1122. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

An arbitrator’s determination of the propriety of an unsatisfactory rating is binding should the rating be introduced into evidence at a subsequent dismissal hearing before the board. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

Where the CBA is silent as to its definition of just cause, it is within the arbitrator’s province to interpret the just cause provision. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

The regulations regarding such professional employee observations provide that whenever an unsatisfactory rating is given, anecdotal records that shall include specific evidence likely to be important in the event of a dismissal must support the rating. 22 Pa.Code §351.26(c).

The public policy exception cannot be raised for the first time on the appeal to the trial court or the appellate court.  Where the argument that the Arbitrator should not disturb the unsatisfactory rating issued by the School Administration because it violated public policy in denying administrators the right to effectively evaluate and improve their staff was not presented to the Arbitrator for consideration and the receipt of testimony, it is not proper for the court’s analysis. Shade-Central School District v. Shade-Central City Education Assoc., 65 Som.L.J. 145 (2012) (Klementik, J.).

 

 

GENERALLY

 

The scope of judicial review of an arbitration award is highly circumscribed and limited to the determination of whether the award is drawn from the essence of the collective bargaining agreement.  42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 7314(a), (d).  Conemaugh Township Area School District v. Conemaugh Township Education Association, 50 Som.L.J. 243 

 

Where the sole ground raised by a School District to vacate an arbitration award is that the Arbitrator exceeded his powers, and the Arbitrator's award is not contrary to any legislative enactment nor is the award prohibited by law, the award will be upheld unless the District can establish that the interpretation failed to draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement or that it can in no rational way be derived from the agreement.  Conemaugh Township Area School District v. Conemaugh Township Education Association, 50 Som.L.J. 243 

 

Where the underlying agreement does not invoke the provisions of the Uniform Arbitration Act, the case involves common law arbitration.  42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7302(a).  Rittenhouse v. Glotfelty, et al., 51 Som.L.J. 197 

 

In common law arbitration, an arbitrator's order may be modified or vacated only where it is clearly shown that a party was denied a hearing or that fraud, misconduct, corruption or other irregularity caused the rendition of an unjust, inequitable or unconscionable award.  42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7341.  Rittenhouse v. Glotfelty, et al., 51 Som.L.J. 197 

 

Those seeking modification or vacation of an arbitrator's order must demonstrate their right to relief by clear, precise and indubitable evidence.  Rittenhouse v. Glotfelty, et al., 51 Som.L.J. 197 

 

In order to have an arbitrator's order modified or vacated based on public policy, there must be a finding or explicit statutory public policy or public policy which is clearly defined and dominant.  Rittenhouse v. Glotfelty, et al., 51 Som.L.J. 197 

 

As a general principle, Pennsylvania public policy favors arbitration as a mechanism for settling disputes.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

Arbitration agreements are to be construed strictly and are not to be extended beyond their limits by implication; thus arbitration is favored only to the extent that the language of the agreement is in clear and unmistakable terms.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

Where contracting parties agree to a broad arbitration clause, the clause will be construed as an intent to arbitrate all disputes arising under the contract, unless a contrary purpose or exception clearly appears, and if any ambiguity exists, courts should resolve all doubt in favor of arbitration. PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

When interpreting an arbitration agreement, ordinary rules of contract construction are applicable; thus, whether a particular dispute is arbitrable depends upon the intent of the parties as expressed in the contract.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

In determining the intent of the parties, a court will look to that which the parties have clearly expressed. The law presumes that the parties have not chosen the contract language carelessly; and the court also assumes that seasoned business people are familiar with the terms of the contract.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

In the absence of allegations of fraud, mistake, or overreaching, the court will not redraft a contract to make it more favorable to a party than the agreement to which the parties originally entered; and where the contract is unambiguous, the intent of the parties is determined from the express language of the contract.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317 

 

Where the main issue is not arbitrable, the preliminary or threshold questions should also be excepted from arbitration so that they may be decided in the same forum as the main issue.  PBS Coals, Inc. v. Hardhat Mining, Inc., 52 Som.L.J. 317. 

 

It is within the Court's discretion whether to grant a prisoner's petition to attend an arbitration hearing in civil case initiated by the prisoner.  Warman, Jr. v. Skelton, 53 Som.L.J. 151. 

 

In considering such a petition, the Court weighs various factors, including but not limited to, the costs and inconvenience of transporting the inmate, any potential dangers, the substantiality of the matter, the possibility of success on the merits, the integrity of the correctional institution and the interests of the inmate in presenting live testimony.  Warman, Jr. v. Skelton, 53 Som.L.J. 151. 

 

Under the circumstances, the factors militating against plaintiff's petition outweigh those in favor.  Warman, Jr. v. Skelton, 53 Som.L.J. 151. 

 

Preliminary objections may be filed based on "pendency of a prior action or agreement for alternative dispute resolution." Pa.R.Civ.P. 1028(a)(6). Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

Where a party seeks to compel arbitration, the trial court must apply a two-part test: (1) determining if a valid arbitration agreement exists between the parties, and (2) if a valid arbitration agreement exists, whether the dispute is within the scope of the agreement. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

The scope of arbitration is determined by the intention of the parties as ascertained in accordance with the rules governing contracts generally. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

Arbitration agreements are to be strictly construed and effort made to favor the agreement, unless it clearly is not susceptible to an interpretation covering the dispute. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

VALIDITY OF ARBITRATION AGREEMENT – POWER OF ATTORNEY

 

In determining if a valid arbitration agreement exists, we must first examine the validity and scope of the Power Of Attorney that the Defendants claim authorized the Plaintiff to sign the Arbitration Agreement on behalf of his mother.  If the scope of the Power Of Attorney did not authorize the Plaintiff to bind his mother to arbitration, then the Arbitration Agreement is not valid. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

A principal may, by inclusion of the language quoted in any of the following paragraphs or by inclusion of other language showing a similar intent on the part of the principal, empower an agent to do any or all of the following acts. 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 5602(a). Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

In Estate of Reifsneider, the Court held that general language, which would otherwise be considered to encompass a power identified in section 5602(a), used in the power of attorney document could serve to grant specific powers found in section 5602(a) although no language exists explicitly identifying the specific power.  The Court reasoned that the statutory language does not suggest its provisions to be exclusive or completely restrict the way in which powers may be defined. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

Where no language appears in the Power Of Attorney regarding healthcare matters, the scope of the Power Of Attorney held by the Plaintiff to act as attorney-in-fact for his mother does not encompass healthcare decisions such as would empower the Plaintiff to have legally bound his mother to arbitration with the Defendants.  Because the Plaintiff lacked power to bind his mother to the Arbitration Agreement, the Arbitration Agreement is invalid. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).  

 

Authorizing medical care and pursuing litigation are listed in 20 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5602(a)(8), (9), (20) as powers that may be conferred upon an agent.  And, while there is no specific power enumerated in section 5602(a) to bind a principal to arbitration in medical/nursing/healthcare matters, Pennsylvania courts have concluded that the statute does not limit the subjects that may be addressed by powers of attorney, and Pennsylvania courts and courts in other jurisdictions have also addressed the issue of whether a non-signatory resident can be bound to a nursing home arbitration agreement. Miller v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 63 Som.L.J. 382 (2007)(Klementik, J.).