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Sciamarelli v. Semet

May 10, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-1808-09.

Per curiam.


Argued April 21, 2010

Before Judges Fisher, Sapp-Peterson and Espinosa.

At the conclusion of protracted proceedings, an arbitrator found Sound Design Enterprises Inc. t/a Sound Design Construction (Sound Design), as well as its president, plaintiff Joseph Sciamarelli, liable to Elliot and Kathleen Semet (the Semets), in the amount of $326,267.53, based on the breach of a contract for the repair and remodeling of the Semets' home in Brielle. Sciamarelli thereafter filed this action, seeking a vacation of the award insofar as it applied to him, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-23(a)(4) (allowing vacation of an award when "the arbitrator's powers" were "exceeded") and N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-23(a)(5) (allowing vacation of an award when "there was no agreement to arbitrate"). Upon the filing of the complaint, Judge Daniel M. Waldman entered an order requiring the Semets to show cause why judgment should not be entered in favor of Sciamarelli.

On May 26, 2009, a few days after hearing argument, Judge Waldman entered an order, as authorized by N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-20, directing the arbitrator to advise him in writing: (1) "whether she intended to enter the [a]ward... against [Sound Design] solely, or against both that corporate entity and the individual, Joseph Sciamarelli," and (2) if she intended the latter, "then set forth the procedural and/or substantive basis upon which that decision was based." These inquiries were certainly warranted, as the award contained no rationale for the award against Sciamarelli; instead, the award consisted only of a list of construction items with monetary figures representing the amount of the Semets' claim alongside monetary figures representing the award on each item. The award, however, referred in the caption to "respondents" as both Sound Design and Sciamarelli, and ultimately concluded that "[r]espondents shall pay" to the Semets $326,267.53 (emphasis added). Thus, the award gave every appearance -- but provided no explanation -- that the arbitrator had found both Sound Design and Sciamarelli liable to the Semets for the full amount awarded.

The arbitrator responded to Judge Waldman by letter dated June 10, 2009. She stated: (1) the award "was intended to include '[r]espondents' as described in the original claim filed [by the Semets]," noting that the "[r]espondents included Joseph Sciamarelli throughout the entire arbitration process"; and (2) "[t]he arbitration case filed in this matter... named Joseph Sciamarelli as a [r]espondent." The arbitrator also provided these comments:

In the [a]nswer & [c]ounterclaim filed by [r]espondents' attorney [at the time], the caption includes Joseph Sciamarelli. In [the] body of the [a]nswer & [c]ounterclaim there is no mention of excluding Joseph Sciamarelli from the arbitration process. (See attached)[.]

When the arbitration process started[,] [former counsel] was replaced by [present counsel for plaintiff] as attorney for "[r]espondents."

In an [a]rbitration [b]rief filed by [present counsel for plaintiff] he states, "Joe Sciamarelli is not a party to that contract, and therefore, he is not a proper party to this arbitration." (See attached). Testimony during the hearings by [the Semets] alleged that Mr. Sciamarelli's purported expertise to re-build their home and testify as an expert witness for them in another matter were the main reasons they hired him.

The claim filed with the American Arbitration Association was against Joseph Sciamarelli and [Sound Design], "[r]espondents[.]" My intention was to find for the [Semets] and although Mr. Sciamarelli did not sign personally on the [c]ontract or give a personal guarantee he was named as a "[r]espondent."

Thereafter, Judge Waldman again heard argument and, on August 10, 2009, rendered a written decision and entered judgment in Sciamarelli's favor.

In appealing, the Semets argue the judge erred: (1) in understanding what had been submitted to the arbitrator and the scope of the arbitrator's authority; (2) in appreciating the rules and practice governing the arbitration; (3) in applying contract principles regarding Sciamarelli's liability for Sound Design's wrongdoing; and (4) in determining the Semets failed to present facts to the arbitrator to support a basis for piercing Sound Design's corporate veil. We find insufficient merit in these arguments, or any other arguments that may be discerned from the Semets' pro se brief, to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add only the following.

Much of the parties' efforts in the trial court and here have been devoted to whether Sciamarelli was a proper party to the arbitration. Although relevant, this dispute distracts from the larger question -- whether there were grounds for the imposition of an award against Sciamarelli even if the claim against him was arbitrable. Although there were questions about the timeliness of Sciamarelli's assertion of his objection to arbitration, which the arbitrator never addressed, we need not determine whether the order under review may be sustained on that ground ...

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