A broad arbitration clause still must satisfy the "reasonable relationship test" for a court to grant a petition to compel arbitration

A broad arbitration clause still must satisfy the "reasonable relationship test" for a court to grant a petition to compel arbitration Matter of Johnson City Professional Fire Fighters Local 921 v Village of Johnson City, Proceedings I and II, 2010 NY Slip Op 06029 [Appeals were consolidated by order of the Court] In response to the Village's initiating disciplinary action against certain members of Local 921, the Local filed a grievance demanding arbitration of an alleged breach of the collective bargaining agreement based on the Village's unilateral selection of a hearing officer to preside over the disciplinary hearings. On June 19, 2009 State Supreme Court Judge Ferris D. Lebous entered an order that, among other things, granted the Unions application to compel arbitration with respect its contract grievance concerning the selection of hearing officers [Proceeding No. 1].* On August 18, 2009, Judge Lebous entered an order denying the Village's application for a permanent stay of arbitration [Proceeding No. 2], ruling that the issue was "referable to arbitration. The Village appealed both rulings. The Appellate Division said "Whether a grievance may be arbitrated is decided by determining whether any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition bars arbitration of the dispute at issue and, if not, whether the parties agreed to arbitrate it." Citing Civil Service Law §75.2, the court said that the Village is statutorily vested with the power to designate a hearing officer in disciplinary proceedings.** However, this statutory power may be modified or superseded through collective bargaining or negotiation and a public employer may agree to submit disciplinary procedures to arbitration. The Village argued that modification of such a statutory power must be voluntarily undertaken as the result of "a conscious choice" and that there was no such agreement. The Appellate Division said that the CBA provides for arbitration of any dispute "involving the interpretation or application of any provisions of [the CBA]," a provision that the court had earlier described as broad. It then noted that "the court is limited to determin[ing] whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA." In this instance the Appellate Division concluded that no such reasonable relationship existed between the CBA and the parties' dispute regarding the selection of a hearing officer. The Appellate Division explained that "The CBA does not mention the selection of disciplinary hearing officers; its sole reference to disciplinary proceedings is a requirement that any reprimand be conducted privately, in a manner to avoid embarrassment." In response to the Local's assertion that that the CBA reflects the parties agreement to "follow [the Public Employment Relations Board's] rules of procedure for dispute resolution," which, in the Local's view, "precluded the Village from unilaterally selecting a hearing officer." However, said the court, the Local's analysis would require the arbitrator to engage in contractual interpretation not only of the CBA, but also PERB's rules while the CBA despite the fact that the CBA limits the arbitrator's authority to disputes "involving the interpretation and application of any provisions of this agreement." In addition, the Appellate Division commented that the CBA's reference to the Public Employment Relations Board's rules of procedure is not pertinent as its applicability is expressly limited to disputes "involving the interpretation or application of any provisions of this agreement." Reversing both Supreme Court's rulings, the court said that "Even a broad arbitration clause is not unlimited in its scope; to satisfy the reasonable relationship test, a contractual interpretation must be 'at least colorable …. ' As no colorable interpretation of the CBA brings the selection of a disciplinary hearing officer within its general scope, we cannot conclude that the parties agreed to arbitrate their dispute on this subject." The practical effect of the ruling: The Appellate Division vacated the decision granting Local's petition regarding the selection of a hearing officer [Proceeding No. 1} and granted the Village's application to stay arbitration [Proceeding No. 2]. * The order enjoining further disciplinary proceedings and compelled arbitration of the grievance. ** Civil Service Law §76.4 provides that such statutory power may be modified or superseded through collective bargaining or negotiation whereby "such sections may be supplemented, modified or replaced by agreements negotiated between the State and an employee organization pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law." Civil Service Law §75.2 has been relied upon for similar authority with respect to political subdivisions of the State while Education Law §3020-a provides the authority for disciplinary charges filed against an educator in the unclassified service to be considered by an arbitrator or arbitration panel and subject to the provisions of Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_06029.htm

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