Broad Powers of an Arbitrator

Manger v. Manger, 417 N.J. Super. 370 (App. Div. 2010).  The parties in this matrimonial action settled some of their differences before a judge shortly before a scheduled trial.  They then agreed to arbitrate the remaining issues, which included the valuation and equitable distribution of a hair salon business, alimony for the defendant, and both parties’ requests for counsel fees and costs.

By the time that the parties agreed to arbitrate, discovery had closed, and no expert testimony as to the valuation or distribution of the business had been furnished.  The arbitrator declined to permit expert testimony and did so two months before the arbitration, thus allowing the parties to prepare their presentations accordingly.  She also excluded certain evidence that the defendant had not previously produced under a case management order.  The arbitrator awarded the business to the plaintiff while directing the plaintiff to make a weekly payment of $650 to the defendant as equitable distribution of her share of the business.

The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed.  Judge Cuff’s opinion emphasized the breadth of an arbitrator’s discretion in conducting arbitration proceedings.  “Consistent with her authority to ‘conduct an arbitration in such manner as the arbitrator considers appropriate for a fair and expeditious disposition of the proceeding,’ N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-15a, the arbitrator could have ignored or revised the orders entered in the trial court.  On the other hand, the arbitrator could apply any and all orders previously entered in the trial court and fashion new discovery and case management orders for the arbitration proceeding.”  The arbitrator had followed the latter course, and the Appellate Division upheld that action.