Domestic Diversions

Final, conclusive and decisive

The unpublished decision in Klungle v. Klungle (March 9, 2004; Case No. 240404) serves as a reminder of the finality of arbitration. The per curiam opinion states (excerpt):
. . . “[j]udicial review of a binding arbitrator’s award is strictly limited by statute and court rule.” Krist v Krist, 246 Mich App 59, 66; 631 NW2d 53 (2001). As stated in Konal v Forlini, 235 Mich App 69, 75; 596 NW2d 630 (1999):

[U]nder MCR 3.602, the parties are conclusively bound by the decision of the arbitrator absent a showing that the award was procured by duress or fraud, that the arbitrator or another is guilty of corruption or misconduct that prejudiced the party’s rights, that the arbitrator exceeded his powers, or that the arbitrator refused to hear material evidence, refused to postpone the hearing on a showing of
sufficient cause, or conducted the hearing in a manner that substantially prejudiced a party’s rights. MCR 3.602(J).
We acknowledge that MCR 3.602(K)(1)(a) states that a court may modify an arbitration award if “there is an evident miscalculation of figures or an evident mistake in the description of a person, a thing, or property referred to in the award.” Defendant argues that we must review various valuations made by the arbitrator because they constituted “evident miscalculation[s].” We do not agree. Indeed, it is clear to us that MCR 3.602(K)(1)(a) is referring to simple mathematical miscalculations evident from the face of the award, e.g., a clearly erroneous addition of a column of numbers. The court rule does not empower us to review an arbitrator’s decision to value a piece of property in a certain manner. See, e.g., Konal, supra at 75, and Krist v Krist, 246 Mich App 59, 66-68; 631 NW2d 53 (2001) (discussing the limited nature of a court’s review of an arbitration award). . . .
. . . As stated in Detroit Automobile Inter-Ins Exchange v Gavin, 416 Mich 407, 434; 331 NW2d 418 (1982), “arbitrators can fairly be said to exceed their power whenever they act beyond the material terms of the contract from which they primarily draw their authority, or in contravention of controlling principles of law.” To justify a vacation of the arbitration award, any error must be evident from the face of the award and be so material that it substantially affected the award. Gordon Sel-Way, Inc v Spence Bros, Inc, 438 Mich 488, 497; 475 NW2d 704 (1991). Moreover,

an allegation that the arbitrators have exceeded their powers must be carefully evaluated in order to assure that this claim is not used as a ruse to induce the court to review the merits of the arbitrators’ decision. Stated otherwise, courts may not substitute their judgment for that of the arbitrators and hence are reluctant to vacate or modify an award when the arbitration agreement does not expressly limit the arbitrators’ power in some way. [Id.]
As noted in Ackerman v Ackerman, 163 Mich App 796, 807; 414 NW2d 919 (1987), “[t]he objective of [a] property settlement is to reach a fair and equitable division in light of all the circumstances. Such division need not be equal, it need only be equitable.” Here, a determination of the most equitable division was the arbitrator’s task. Indeed, “[t]he fact that the relief could not or would not be granted by a court of law or equity is not ground for vacating or refusing to confirm . . . [an arbitration] award.” MCR 3.602(J)(1). We agree with the circuit court, which referred to the decision with regard to the household contents as “a judgment call that was made by the arbitrator.” The arbitrator made his judgment call. In doing so, he did not violate Lee and therefore did not exceed his authority by acting “in contravention of controlling principles of law.” See Gavin, supra at 434. Nor did the court violate Byington v Byington, 224
Mich App 103; 568 NW2d 141 (1997), another case cited by defendant. Indeed, Byington dealt with whether a particular asset should be considered part of a martial estate. See id. at 113. Here, there was no dispute regarding whether the household contents were part of the marital estate; the arbitrator simply chose to award that part of the estate to plaintiff. The arbitrator did not act in violation of legal principles, and we find no basis on which to vacate the arbitration award.
Defendant lastly claims that the arbitrator failed to act with impartiality. Under MCR
3.602(J)(1)(b), a court must vacate an arbitration award if “there was evident partiality by an
arbitrator appointed as a neutral [person].”
. . . As noted in Belen v Allstate Ins Co, 173 Mich App 641, 645; 434 NW2d 203 (1988), “[p]artiality or bias which will allow a court to overturn an arbitration award must be certain and direct, not remote, uncertain or speculative.” That Quinn had used Kooistra numerous times as an arbitrator simply does not evidence “certain and direct” partiality or bias. It is “uncertain or speculative,” at best. The court did not err in rejecting defendant’s “statistical analysis” as unpersuasive.
Defendant contends that Quinn or Kooistra should have disclosed the fact that Kooistra had arbitrated several of Quinn’s divorce cases in the past. Defendant cites MCL 600.5075(1), which states:

An arbitrator, attorney, or party in an arbitration proceeding under this chapter shall disclose any circumstances that may affect an arbitrator’s impartiality, including, but not limited to, bias, financial or personal interest and the outcome of the arbitration, or a past or present business or professional relationship with a party or attorney. . . .

This statute does not mandate reversal in the instant case. Indeed, the statute took effect after the
entry of the order submitting the instant case to arbitration. . . .

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