September 06, 2018 practice point

"Very Limited Review" Given to Arbitration Award in Divorce Setting

By Andrew VandenBerg

In a case of first impression, the Illinois Appellate Court applied the principle of “very limited judicial review” to an arbitration award in a divorce proceeding. In re Marriage of Haleas, 2017 IL App (2d) 160799 (April 13, 2017).

In March 2014, Peter Haleas and Fanee Haleas had their marriage dissolved in court but agreed to resolve their property and maintenance issues through binding arbitration. After a five day evidentiary hearing, the arbitrator issued a ruling in which she applied the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (750 ILCS 5/). In a 70-page decision, the arbitrator considered the applicable factors under Illinois law and awarded maintenance to Fanee and certain personal property and non-marital stock to Peter.

Following the arbitration, Peter moved for the trial court to confirm the award. Fanee opposed the motion arguing that the arbitrator’s decision was unconscionable because the award of maintenance to Fanee had a termination date. On August 9, 2016, the trial court confirmed the award stating that both parties agreed to enter into binding arbitration and the award was not unconscionable. The trial court ultimately entered a final judgement of dissolution which incorporated the arbitration award.

Fanee appealed and argued that the arbitrator made various mistakes in the award, such as incorrectly calculating the amount of Fanee’s maintenance and setting a specific date for the maintenance to terminate. Peter disagreed and argued that, under the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act, the award was subject to only limited review.

The court held that judicial review of an arbitration award is far more restricted than review of a trial court’s decision. The court stated that there is a presumption that the arbitrator did not exceed his or her authority and that the court will normally defer to the arbitrator’s decision on the merits. The court also pointed out that Section 12 of the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act allows the court to vacate the award only if: (1) the award was "procured by corruption, fraud or other undue means"; (2) there was evident bias on the part of the arbitrator; (3) the arbitrator exceeded his or her authority; (4) the arbitrator failed to consider relevant evidence or refused to allow a reasonable request for a continuance; or (5) there was no agreement to arbitrate. Section 13 of the Arbitration Act allows the court to modify or correct the award only if: (1) there is an evident miscalculation of figures or an evident mistake in the description of any person or thing referred to in the award; (2) the arbitrator made a decision on a matter not submitted to him or her and the award can be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision on the matters submitted; or (3) the award is imperfect in a matter of form, not affecting the merits of the controversy.

The court determined that Fanee’s arguments for modification or rejection of the award failed to meet the requirements of Section 12 or 13 of the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act. Therefore, the court concluded that the trial court did not err in confirming and incorporating the arbitration award in its final dissolution judgement.

 

Andrew VandenBerg is a 2019 J.D. candidate at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois.


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