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Sanders v. Maple Springs Baptist Church

December 13, 2001

HAROLD L. SANDERS, APPELLANT
v.
MAPLE SPRINGS BAPTIST CHURCH, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-9808-96) (Hon. Stephen F. Eilperin, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Steadman, and Schwelb, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Argued May 28, 1998

Appellant, Harold Sanders, brings this appeal from an order of the Superior Court denying his motion to vacate an arbitration award in favor of appellee, Maple Springs Baptist Church ("Maple Springs"). Relying on D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a)(1) and (a)(2) (2001), Mr. Sanders contends that the award was procured by undue means, corruption, misconduct, and partiality on the part of the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). We conclude that we need not decide whether the term "arbitrator" in D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a)(2) refers only to the individual appointed to resolve a dispute or, in addition, to the administrative personnel of the AAA. On the question of whether there is sufficient evidence in the record requiring the award to be set aside under D.C. Code § 16-4311 (a)(1), we hold that there is not, and thus we affirm the decision of the trial court.

I.

An arbitrator's decision found Mr. Sanders liable to Maple Springs in the amount of $12,933.05. In the trial court Mr. Sanders moved to vacate that decision on three grounds, arguing (1) that the AAA did not afford him an opportunity to review the qualifications of the candidates for arbitrator; (2) that the AAA failed to transmit his amended claim to the arbitrator; and (3) that the AAA extended "special favors" to, and engaged in ex parte communications with, Maple Springs. Maple Springs, in turn, filed a motion to confirm the award. In a single order, the trial court denied Sanders' motion to vacate because he had "failed to point to any specific facts of record to show evident partiality of the arbitrator or any other statutory grounds" and granted Maple Springs' motion to confirm the award, thus entering judgment against Sanders in the amount of $12,933.05.

The dispute in this case arose out of a contract between the parties in which Mr. Sanders, an architect, was hired by Maple Springs to assist in the design and construction of an expansion of the church building. The contract, written on a standard American Institute of Architects form, contained the following arbitration clause:

Claims, disputes or other matters in question between the parties to this Agreement arising out of or relating to this Agreement or breach thereof shall be subject to and decided by arbitration in accordance with the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association currently in effect unless the parties mutually agree otherwise.

On December 1, 1995, Mr. Sanders filed a demand for arbitration claiming $49,378.05 in damages. Maple Springs responded with a counter-demand for $500,000.

A. The appointment of an arbitrator

Rule 13 of the American Arbitration Association Rules ("AAA Rules") establishes specific procedures for the AAA to follow when appointing an arbitrator to resolve a dispute. Immediately after a request for arbitration is filed, the AAA must send "simultaneously to each party" a list of proposed arbitrators. If any of the proposed arbitrators is a member of the AAA's national panel, Commentary C to Rule 13 states that the AAA will also furnish to each party a biographical sketch containing "information on the arbitrators' current employment, employment history, areas of technical expertise, educational background, practical career experiences, and professional association memberships." In addition, any party can receive further information on prospective arbitrators from any AAA regional office. After the AAA submits its list of suggested arbitrators to the parties, they have ten days within which to strike any names to which they object, rank the remaining names in order of preference, and return the list to the AAA. The AAA then chooses an arbitrator in accordance with the parties' stated order of preference.

It is clear from the record in this case that the AAA did not follow its own procedures in the selection process. First, the AAA unilaterally appointed Julian Hoffar as arbitrator of the dispute without sending either party a list of proposed candidates. Mr. Sanders objected to the appointment, and Hoffar subsequently recused himself as arbitrator. Second, after the AAA properly sent Sanders and Maple Springs a list of potential arbitrators on February 10, 1996, Mr. Sanders requested additional information on each nominee from the AAA's regional office in the District of Columbia ("the D.C. Office"). *fn1 The AAA collected the information, *fn2 but did not send it to Mr. Sanders until February 20. *fn3 He did not receive it until February 21, the day after he was required to return his list of preferences to the AAA. Sometime in late February (the exact date is not clear from the record), the AAA selected Gerald O'Brien to arbitrate the dispute between Mr. Sanders and Maple Springs.

Although Sanders initially accepted Mr. O'Brien as a potential arbitrator, *fn4 he was disturbed by the failure of the AAA to provide in a timely manner the additional information he had sought. After numerous requests to meet with the Administrative Supervisor and the Director of the D.C. Office, *fn5 he formally challenged Mr. O'Brien as an arbitrator on April 12, 1996, and demanded a new selection process. Sanders listed numerous alleged improprieties as the basis for his challenge:

1. [An AAA representative] attempted to coerce me during a telephone call he made to have me accept a schedule he implied ...


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