First Merchants Group Limited Partnership v. Fordham
The trial courts decision denying summary judgment and finding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether an arbitration award was final, and, therefore, whether the arbitrator still had jurisdiction, foreclosed the possibility of remanding any issues to the arbitrator until the court considered the evidence on the merits of the action. The defendant, Harriet Fordham, and the plaintiff, First Merchants Group Limited Partnership, members of a limited liability company, submitted a dispute regarding their operating agreement to arbitration. The arbitrator issued a decision disposing of all of the issues submitted to her… The defendant continued to serve the arbitrator with pleadings, seeking relief related to the decision and for issues subsequently arising. Almost a year after the decision, the arbitrator suggested that the decision was not a final award. The plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination primarily that the arbitrators decision was a final award. The trial court granted the defendants motion to dismiss the action. The Appellate Court, in a prior appeal, reversed the judgment concluding that the motion was improperly granted without an evidentiary hearing when material issues of fact were in dispute. On remand, the trial court denied the defendants motion for summary judgment finding that issues of material fact remained in dispute and remanded the case to the arbitrator to make findings of fact. The plaintiff appealed claiming that once the court denied summary judgment on whether the arbitration had ended, it lacked authority to send any issues back to the arbitrator without first hearing evidence and deciding the merits of the action. The Appellate Court agreed and reversed the judgment. The effect of the remand was to deny the plaintiff the right it sought to have adjudicated in the declaratory judgment actionthe right to foreclose any further proceedings before the arbitrator. The remand had the same effect as granting summary judgment and was an appealable judgment. The trial courts finding that genuine issues of material fact existed precluding summary judgment, foreclosed the possibility of remanding any issues to the arbitrator until the court considered the evidence on the merits of the action. The dispute remained whether the award was final and, therefore, whether the arbitrator still had jurisdiction.