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Burlage Update: On Rehearing California Court of Appeal Affirms Trial Court Decision Vacating Award

October 24th, 2009 California State Courts, Grounds for Vacatur, Procedural Misconduct 1 Comment » By Philip J. Loree Jr.

On October 15, 2009 we discussed the controversy about the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District’s decision in Burlage v. Superior Court of Ventura Cty., ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, slip op. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Aug. 31, 2009), opinion following rehearing  ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, slip op. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. October 20, 2009)  (A copy of the August 31, 2009 opinion is here, and a copy of our post is here.)  We are happy to report that on October 20, 2009 the Court issued its opinion following rehearing, which affirms the trial court’s decision vacating the award.  (A copy of the opinion following rehearing is here.)

The opinion following rehearing is substantially the same as the August 31, 2009 opinion, save for a few additional paragraph the majority added to respond further to Perren, J.’s dissenting opinion.  Perren, J.’s dissent was reissued without material change. 

The additional paragraphs the majority added to address the dissenting opinion are set forth for our readers’ convenience below:

We disagree with the dissent’s suggestion that the arbitrator considered the lot-line adjustment evidence in the in limine motion.  In the context of the case, we agree with the discerning comments of our colleagues in Gonzales v. Interinsurance Exchange (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 58, 63:  “One cannot ‘consider’ what one has refused to ‘hear.’  Legally speaking the admission of evidence is to hear it, and the weighing of it is to give it consideration.”

The situation here is different than that in Hall v. Superior Court, supra, 18 Cal.App.4th 427.  In Hall, a party wished to reopen the arbitration hearing with additional evidence.  After hearing the party’s offer of proof, the arbitrator announced that his decision would be the same even with the proffered evidence.  The appellate court concluded the arbitrator did not prevent the losing party from fairly presenting his defense.  (Id. at p. 439.)  The trial court’s ruling to vacate the arbitration award was reversed, however, because “[w]here . . . a party complains of excluded material evidence, the reviewing court should generally focus first on prejudice, not materiality.  To find substantial prejudice the court must accept, for purposes of analysis, the arbitrator’s legal theory and conclude that the arbitrator might well have made a different award had the evidence been allowed.”  (Ibid.)  Unlike Hall, the trial court here found on substantial evidence that “[t]he Arbitrator’s refusal to admit these subsequent circumstances directly affected the issue of damages, thereby substantially prejudicing  Defendant’s [Spencer’s] ability to dispute the amount of damage suffered by Plaintiffs [the Burlages].”

It may be argued that to avoid the imposition of section 1286.2, arbitrators will simply admit evidence to insulate their decisions from review.  We do not subscribe to this cynical view.  It is through judicial review that the law is shaped and developed.  Arbitrators do not subvert this process because a court might vacate an award.  Arbitrators base their decisions on a careful analysis of the law and facts.  They, like the arbitrator here, are professionals who conduct themselves according to the canons of ethics and the high degree of integrity their profession demands.

Slip op. at 6-7 (opinion following rehearing).

We shall keep readers apprised of any further developments as and when they occur.


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