IN RE: the Arbitration Between Carmen I. FALZONE

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Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, New York.

IN RE: the Arbitration Between Carmen I. FALZONE, Now Known as Carmen I. Cordero, Claimant-Respondent, New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Respondent-Appellant.

Decided: July 02, 2009

PRESENT:  SMITH, J.P., CENTRA, PERADOTTO, GREEN, AND GORSKI, JJ. Brown & Kelly, LLP, Buffalo (H. Ward Hamlin, Jr., of Counsel), for Respondent-Appellant. Gross, Shuman, Brizdle & Gilfillan, P.C., Buffalo (David H. Elibol of Counsel), for Claimant-Respondent.

 Claimant was allegedly injured in an automobile accident and, following a hearing based on the denial by respondent, her insurer, of her request for no-fault benefits, the arbitrator awarded claimant the sum of $4,354.56.   Claimant also sought supplemental uninsured motorist (SUM) benefits and, following a second hearing before a different arbitrator, the arbitrator denied her request for such benefits on the ground that her injuries were not caused by the accident.   Claimant moved pursuant to CPLR article 75 to vacate or modify the SUM arbitration award contending, inter alia, that respondent was collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of causation with respect to her injuries.   Respondent, on the other hand, sought confirmation of the SUM arbitrator's award.   We agree with respondent that Supreme Court erred in granting claimant's motion.   The fact that a prior arbitration award is inconsistent with a subsequent award is not an enumerated ground in either subdivision (b) or (c) of CPLR 7511 for vacating or modifying the subsequent award (see Matter of City School Dist. of City of Tonawanda v. Tonawanda Educ. Assn., 63 N.Y.2d 846, 848, 482 N.Y.S.2d 258, 472 N.E.2d 34).   As the court properly recognized, “[i]t was within the [SUM] arbitrator's authority to determine the preclusive effect of the prior arbitration on the instant arbitration” (Matter of Progressive N. Ins. Co. v. Sentry Ins. A Mut. Co., 51 A.D.3d 800, 801, 859 N.Y.S.2d 199).   The court erred in noting, however, that it was unable to determine whether the SUM arbitrator even considered claimant's contention with respect to collateral estoppel.   Arbitrators are not required to provide reasons for their decisions (see Matter of Solow Bldg. Co. v. Morgan Guar. Trust Co. of N.Y., 6 A.D.3d 356, 356-357, 776 N.Y.S.2d 547, lv. denied 3 N.Y.3d 605, 785 N.Y.S.2d 22, 818 N.E.2d 664, cert. denied 543 U.S. 1148, 125 S.Ct. 1310, 161 L.Ed.2d 110;  Matter of Guetta [Raxon Fabrics Corp.], 123 A.D.2d 40, 41, 510 N.Y.S.2d 576), and thus the SUM arbitrator was not required to state that he had considered that contention.

It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from is reversed on the law without costs, the motion is denied, and the arbitration award is confirmed.

We respectfully dissent and would affirm.   Although collateral estoppel “is not a basis on which [Supreme C]ourt may, under CPLR 7511, vacate an arbitration award” (Matter of Globus Coffee, LLC v. SJN, Inc., 47 A.D.3d 713, 714, 848 N.Y.S.2d 894;  see Matter of City School Dist. of City of Tonawanda v. Tonawanda Educ. Assn., 63 N.Y.2d 846, 848, 482 N.Y.S.2d 258, 472 N.E.2d 34), vacatur is permitted where the award “ ‘violates a strong public policy, is irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power’ ” (Matter of Mays-Carr [State Farm Ins. Co.], 43 A.D.3d 1439, 1439, 842 N.Y.S.2d 835, quoting Matter of New York City Tr. Auth. v. Transport Workers' Union of Am., Local 100, AFL-CIO, 6 N.Y.3d 332, 336, 812 N.Y.S.2d 413, 845 N.E.2d 1243;  see generally CPLR 7511[b][1][iii] ).   In our view, the arbitrator who issued the award with respect to supplemental uninsured motorist (SUM) benefits exceeded his power by disregarding the preclusive effect of a prior arbitration award and instead issuing a different determination with respect to causation, involving the same parties and based upon the same facts (see Matter of American Honda Motor Co. v. Dennis, 259 A.D.2d 613, 686 N.Y.S.2d 777;  Motor Veh. Acc. Indem. Corp. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 246 A.D.2d 420, 422, 667 N.Y.S.2d 741).

We agree with the majority that it generally is within the arbitrator's discretion to determine the preclusive effect of a prior arbitration award on the instant arbitration (see City School Dist. of City of Tonawanda, 63 N.Y.2d at 848, 482 N.Y.S.2d 258, 472 N.E.2d 34).   In a number of the cases setting forth that general proposition, however, there are factual issues whether the prior award should be given preclusive effect, either because the parties are not identical (see e.g. id., 63 N.Y.2d at 847-848, 482 N.Y.S.2d 258, 472 N.E.2d 34;  Board of Educ. of Patchogue-Medford Union Free School Dist. v. Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, 48 N.Y.2d 812, 813, 424 N.Y.S.2d 122, 399 N.E.2d 1143), or it is not clear whether the disputed issue was resolved in the prior proceeding (see e.g. Globus Coffee, LLC, 47 A.D.3d at 714, 848 N.Y.S.2d 894;  Matter of Town of Newburgh v. Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., 272 A.D.2d 405, 707 N.Y.S.2d 225;  Matter of Medina Power Co. [Small Power Producers], 241 A.D.2d 915, 661 N.Y.S.2d 399).   Here, there are no such factual issues.   The SUM arbitrator was thus barred from relitigating the issue of causation between the identical parties, inasmuch as it was “ ‘actually contested and therefore determined by the [prior] award’ ” (Medina Power Co., 241 A.D.2d 915, 661 N.Y.S.2d 399).

Further, we note that “strong public policy considerations favor finality in the resolution of disputes of all kinds to assure that parties will not be vexed by further litigation” (Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith v. Benjamin, 1 A.D.3d 39, 40, 766 N.Y.S.2d 1), and that “[t]he object of arbitration is to achieve a final disposition of differences between parties in an easier, more expeditious and less expensive manner” (Matter of Maye [Bluestein], 40 N.Y.2d 113, 117-118, 386 N.Y.S.2d 69, 351 N.E.2d 717).   Just as a court may not redetermine an issue conclusively decided in a prior arbitration proceeding between the same parties (see Clemens v. Apple, 65 N.Y.2d 746, 748-749, 492 N.Y.S.2d 20, 481 N.E.2d 560), despite having the same discretion as an arbitrator with respect to collateral estoppel determinations (see Rembrandt Indus. v. Hodges Intl., 38 N.Y.2d 502, 504, 381 N.Y.S.2d 451, 344 N.E.2d 383), an arbitrator is similarly precluded from redetermining an issue previously settled between the parties pursuant to an arbitration award (see American Honda Motor Co., 259 A.D.2d 613, 686 N.Y.S.2d 777).   To conclude otherwise would “defeat[ ] ․ two of arbitration's primary virtues, speed and finality” (Matter of Weinrott [Carp], 32 N.Y.2d 190, 198, 344 N.Y.S.2d 848, 298 N.E.2d 42), and would instead encourage parties to seek that finality by way of the court system.