Friday, February 27, 2009

Well done, more or less

In Seguin v. Northrop Grumman, the Virginia Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Koontz held that an order compelling arbitration is not appealable, notwithstanding loose talk in a prior opinion in the case of Amchem Products v. Asbestos Cases Plaintiffs, 264 Va. 89, 563 S.E.2d 739 (2002).

I made this argument in opposition to a petition before the Virginia Supreme Court, but the Court simply denied the petition in my case, finding no error in the ruling on arbitrability. So, I know that the Virginia arbitration act is a uniform act, and there are dozens of cases interpreting its provisions in other states, and yet in Seguin the Virginia Supreme Court chose to ignore this aspect, because ... that's the way they roll. There will never be a dispute over the Virginia Supreme Court citing foreign law, because they won't do it - they don't like to cite any non-Virginia law, even when it would make life better for Virginia lawyers, as when uniform acts are applied uniformly.

In Virginia, as in Arizona, "[t]he right to appeal is not absolute but exists only by statute." Southern California Edison Co. v. Peabody Western Coal Co., 194 Ariz. 47, 52, 977 P.2d 769, 774 (1999). Arizona’s Uniform Arbitration Act “expressly permits appeal from an order denying arbitration but is silent as to an order compelling arbitration.” Id. (citing A.R.S. § 12-2101.01). From the limited list of appealable orders, "our legislature has made its intent clear that most interlocutory orders, including those compelling arbitration, are not appealable." Id. The Court concluded that "even in an independent proceeding in which the question of arbitrability has been raised, an order compelling arbitration will always adjudicate 'fewer than all of the claims.'" Id. This rule is "good policy in an arbitration case" because it would "support the purposes of that procedure - prompt, efficient, and inexpensive dispute resolution," avoiding "a multitude of appeals . . . when arbitration might determine all issues to the parties' satisfaction." Id. at 52-53, 977 P.2d at 774-75.

Like the Arizona court, a court in Kansas cited the prefatory comment to the Uniform Arbitration Act, which says: "The section on Appeals is intended to remove doubts as to what orders are appealable and to limit appeals prior to judgment to those instances where the element of finality is present." National Educ. Association-Topeka v. Unified School Dist. No. 501, 260 Kan. 838, 841, 925 P.2d 835, 837-38 (1996) (quoting Unif. Arbitration Act, 7 U.L.A. 2 (1985)). See Southern California Edison, 194 Ariz. at 52, 977 P.2d at 774 ("our legislature has made its intent clear that most interlocutory orders, including those compelling arbitration, are not appealable. This, too, was the intent of the UAA drafters.") (citing the same Prefatory Note.) In the Kansas case, the Court went further, adding:

The chairman of the committee that drafted the uniform act explained the rationale for making certain orders, but not others, appealable: "Appeals likewise are commonly neglected in arbitration statutes. Under the new act, the appealable orders are specifically designated and are confined to those final in nature, such as orders denying motions to compel arbitration or granting motions to stay arbitration. Orders directing, or refusing to stay, arbitration are not appealable but the point at issue can be raised on appeal from an order confirming the award should one be rendered. Appeals are permitted also from the judgment or decree rendered on an award." Pirsig, The New Uniform Arbitration Act, 11 Bus. Law, April 1956, at 44, 51. (Emphasis added.)

National Educ. Association-Topeka, 260 Kan. at 841-842, 925 P.2d at 38 (citation omitted).

You'd think that Virginia Supreme Court would embrace the idea that the outcome in this case is justified in part by the purpose, structure, and drafting history of the Uniform Arbitration Act, or any uniform act.

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