On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Union County, Docket No. C-120-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Graves and Grall.
In 2003, the Legislature enacted a modified version of the Uniform Arbitration Act of 2000 recommended by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
L. 2003, c. 95 (codified at N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-1 to -32). One section of this new law provides the first statutory authorization in New Jersey for consolidation of separate arbitration proceedings. N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-10. This appeal provides the first occasion for us to interpret that section.
Plaintiff Biber Partnership is an architectural firm. Defendant McManus Group is a structural engineering firm. Biber contracted with McManus to act as structural engineering consultant in connection with four construction projects for which Biber was the architect. The contract between Biber and McManus did not contain any provision for arbitration of disputes.
One of the construction projects for which Biber provided architectural services involved additions and alterations to a building in Berkeley Heights owned by defendant Diamond Hill Joint Venture. The contract Biber entered into with Diamond Hill contained a provision for arbitration of disputes. This provision stated that any such arbitration would be conducted before a panel of three arbitrators and would be governed by the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association.
At some point in 2005, Diamond Hill terminated Biber's services as the architect on its construction project. Disputes then arose between Biber and McManus regarding Biber's payments for McManus' services, and McManus filed construction lien claims in September 2005 on three projects for which it had provided structural engineering services. In November 2005, Biber filed an action in the Law Division seeking discharge of the construction lien claims and other relief against McManus.
In January 2006, Biber and McManus entered into a settlement agreement under which the parties agreed to submit their disputes to arbitration. This agreement specified that the arbitration would be conducted before retired Judge John M. Boyle and would be governed by the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules attached to the agreement.
Shortly before entering into this settlement agreement, in December 2005, Biber made a demand for arbitration of its disputes with Diamond Hill in accordance with the arbitration provision of their contract. For the next twenty months, arbitration of the disputes between Biber and McManus before Judge Boyle and arbitration of the disputes between Biber and Diamond Hill before three arbitrators selected by those parties proceeded separately without any attempt to consolidate.
The hearings on the arbitration between Biber and Diamond Hill were scheduled to start on September 10, 2007. However, on that same day, Biber filed this action seeking consolidation of its arbitration proceedings against McManus with its arbitration proceedings against Diamond Hill. Biber proposed that the consolidated arbitration be held before the three arbitrator panel selected under its contract with Diamond Hill. Both McManus and Diamond Hill opposed the consolidation. As a result of ...