The Supreme Court of Wyoming recently considered when a challenge to an arbitration award must be filed.
In 1997, Bruce Simon, d/b/a Prime Properties of Jackson Hole ("Broker"), received a commission for the sale of a lot. Following the sale, Jackson Hole Realty ("Claimant") claimed a portion of the Broker's commission. The dispute was submitted to mandatory arbitration before the Teton Board of REALTORS® ("Board").
The Board convened an arbitration panel. The panel found that the Broker owed the Claimant part of his commission (approximately $22,000). Pursuant to Section 53 of NAR's Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual, the award was binding and not appealable, except for a possible limited procedural review to a Board panel for any irregularities in the process. This review must be requested within twenty days after an award is made. The Broker initiated this limited procedural request exactly twenty days from the award date. Almost three months later (and more than ninety days after the award date), the Board's procedural review panel denied the Broker's request for review. Following this denial, the Broker filed a lawsuit challenging the finality of the arbitration award. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the Broker had failed to file his challenge to the arbitration within ninety days after the award date. The Broker appealed.
The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the trial court decision. The court first considered whether the Broker filed his challenge to the arbitration in a timely manner. Wyoming has adopted the Uniform Arbitration Act ("Act"), which states that a challenge to an arbitration award must be filed within ninety days of the award date. The Broker argued that the ninety day period did not begin running until the Board ruled on his request for a procedural review. The Board argued that the ninety days began running from the arbitration award date. The court agreed with the Board, finding that earlier Wyoming cases had established that the ninety day period began running from the award date. The court found that the limited procedural review requested by the Broker was not an appeal on the merits of the award, but rather was a challenge to the process used by the Board, and so it was not necessary for the Broker to exhaust this remedy before filing a lawsuit. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court decision.
The court briefly considered the trial court's denial of the Broker's request for a declaratory judgment. A declaratory judgment is used by parties to determine their legal rights. It stated that judicial review of an arbitration award is strictly limited by the Act, and the Broker could not circumvent those limits by requesting a declaratory judgment from the court. The Act was created to provide parties with a quick and efficient way to settle disputes. If parties were able to challenge arbitrations through declaratory judgment actions, it would undermine the entire arbitration system. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the lawsuit.
Simon v. Teton Board of REALTORS®, 4 P.3d 197 (Wyo. 2000).