Facts: The plaintiffs and the defendant submitted their dispute concerning liability for an automobile collision to arbitration. Each side selected an arbitrator and agreed to a neutral third. After the arbitration took place, the plaintiffs learned of a possible conflict of interest on the part of the neutral arbitrator, but did not notify the arbitration panel of the conflict until nearly a month after the panel issued its decision. The plaintiffs sent a second letter detailing another possible basis for a conflict of interest. The arbitration panel then withdrew its decision based on the second alleged conflict.
The defendant sough confirmation of the original arbitration decision under RSA 542:8, which states in pertinent part:
At any time within one year after the award is made any party to the arbitration may apply to the superior court for an order confirming the award, correcting or modifying the award for plain mistake, or vacating the award for fraud, corruption, or misconduct by the parties or by the arbitrators, or on the ground that the arbitrators have exceeded their powers.
The trial court denied the defendant's motion, ruling that there was no decision for it to act on since the decision had been withdrawn by the arbitration panel. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred when it ruled that the arbitration panel's withdrawal of its decision precluded preview.
Held: Reversed and remanded.
The Court held that although the language of RSA 542:8 addresses the superior court's review of an "award," a decision of an arbitration panel to withdraw the award is still reviewable under the statute.
The Court noted that the plain meaning of the term "award" includes a "final decision." Thus, a party may obtain judicial review of any final arbitration decision under RSA 542:8, including a decision to withdraw an award.
The Court remanded the matter to the trial court for consideration of the defendant's claims that: 1) the arbitration panel did not have the authority to vacate its own decisions; and 2) even if the panel has authority to withdraw its award, it may not do so without sufficient reason.