KAMER ZUCKER & ABBOTT PREVAILS BEFORE THE NEVADA SUPREME COURT AND HELPS TO ESTABLISH IMPORTANT NEW ARBITRATION PRECEDENT
We are proud to report a significant victory for Jody M. Florence and Gregory J. Kamer of Kamer Zucker & Abbott, as well as Carrie A. Torrence, the Acting City Attorney for North Las Vegas, before the Nevada Supreme Court. Representing the City of North Las Vegas, lead counsel, Jody Florence, successfully argued an issue of first impression related to the standard for setting aside an arbitration award under Nevada’s Uniform Arbitration Act on the basis of an arbitrator’s alleged appearance of partiality.
The case involved two highly-contested arbitration matters between the City of North Las Vegas and two former police officers discharged for egregious misconduct. After several years of litigation over whether the cases were arbitrable, two extensive arbitration hearings were conducted before Arbitrator Matthew Goldberg, which included pre-hearing discovery, full pre-hearing disclosure of witnesses and exhibits, written opening briefs, a total of 11 days of testimony, and lengthy post hearing briefs. Arbitrator Goldberg issued detailed written opinions in both matters after carefully analyzing each party’s arguments and concluding that the former officers had been discharged for just cause.
The grievants then sought to have the arbitration awards vacated under Nevada’s Uniform Arbitration Act, principally arguing that Arbitrator Goldberg should have disclosed that he served as a neutral arbitrator on arbitration panels for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and its two police unions – none of which were parties to the arbitration matters between the grievants and the City of North Las Vegas or otherwise involved in substance of the cases. Two different district court judges agreed with the grievants and vacated the hard-fought arbitration awards, essentially ruling that the Arbitrator’s failure to disclose his neutral relationship with non-parties demonstrated evident partiality under Nevada’s Uniform Arbitration Act.
The City appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the district court’s rulings and reinstated the arbitration awards. For the first time, the Court determined what standard should be applied to determining whether “evident partiality” has been established under Nevada’s Uniform Arbitration Act. Justice Rose, writing for the Court, explained that the appropriate legal standard was whether the actions at issue created a “reasonable impression of partiality.” In applying this standard to Arbitrator Goldberg’s failure to disclose a neutral relationship with non-parties, the Court agreed with the City that the district court judges should have looked no further than the particular procedural arbitration rules to which the parties agreed to be bound, which in this case were the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service’s Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor-Management Disputes, and found that Arbitrator Goldberg had no obligation to disclose his work as a neutral arbitrator. The Court gave deference to an opinion issued by the National Academy of Arbitrators and the Academy’s amicus brief which explained that service as a neutral arbitrator is not a circumstance which might raise a question as to the arbitrator’s impartiality. Instead, such service is exactly what is expected of a seasoned and qualified labor arbitrator.
This case is an important win for Nevada employers as it provides clearer legal standards for the application of Nevada’s Uniform Arbitration Act. Additionally, the case illustrates the importance selecting procedural rules that will govern an arbitration.
Thomas v. City of North Las Vegas, 127 P.3d 1057, 122 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 9 (Feb. 9, 2006).