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Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange v. Ap Surgical Center

March 22, 2012

CITIZENS UNITED RECIPROCAL EXCHANGE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
AP SURGICAL CENTER, L.L.C., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-2579-11.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued February 27, 2012 -

Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.

This appeal involves the application of the section of the Alternative Procedure for Dispute Resolution Act (APDRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:23-1 to -30, which provides that upon entry of a trial court order confirming, modifying or correcting an arbitration award under the APDRA, "[t]here shall be no further appeal or review of the judgment or decree." N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-18(b).

On December 11, 2007, Jassiel Martinez was involved in an automobile accident. At the time of this accident, Martinez was insured by plaintiff Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange (Citizens United). Martinez's policy included personal injury protection (PIP) benefits for any necessary and reasonable medical expenses she incurred as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Martinez sought chiropractic treatment from Dr. Jason Tirado of USA Chiropractic. On three separate occasions, Martinez received treatment, known as manipulation under anesthesia, at the ambulatory surgery center of defendant AP Surgical Center.

AP Surgical filed a PIP claim for $49,650, as Martinez's assignee, for the use of its facility for those treatments. However, Citizens United determined that AP Surgical was entitled to only $6,064.44. AP Surgical then demanded arbitration under the APDRA seeking the full amount of its billings.

On December 20, 2010, the arbitrator assigned to the matter rendered an award in AP Surgical's favor for $36,000. The arbitrator also awarded AP Surgical $1525 for counsel fees and costs incurred in the arbitration proceeding.

Citizens United brought this action in the Law Division seeking to vacate the arbitration award on the ground that the arbitrator had erroneously applied the law to the facts of the case. Following oral argument, the Law Division rejected Citizens United's challenge to the arbitration award and dismissed its complaint. The court also awarded AP Surgical $750 for counsel fees and costs incurred in the Law Division action.

N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-18(b) prohibits appellate review of a judgment of the Law Division confirming, correcting or modifying an arbitration award under the APDRA:

Upon the granting of an order confirming, modifying or correcting an award, a judgment or decree shall be entered by the court in conformity therewith and be enforced as any other judgment or decree.

There shall be no further appeal or review of the judgment or decree. [Emphasis added.]

In Mount Hope Development Associates v. Mount Hope Waterpower Project, L.P., 154 N.J. 141, 147-53 (1998), the Court upheld the constitutionality of this prohibition upon appellate review of a judgment confirming, correcting or modifying arbitration awards under the APDRA. However, in upholding the constitutionality of this prohibition, the Court noted that there may be "'rare circumstances' grounded in public policy that might compel this Court to grant limited appellate review." Id. at 152. The Court pointed to a case involving the "enforceability of an award affecting child support" that could "affect[] the substantial best interest of [a] child" as one example of a case implicating a "public policy" that could compel a right of limited appellate review. Ibid. The Court pointed to "an award that is confirmed, modified, or vacated by a biased court" as another example of such an award, because such a decision would implicate "the Court's supervisory function over the courts." Ibid.

In Allstate Insurance Co. v. Sabato, 380 N.J. Super. 463, 473-74 (App. Div. 2005), we concluded that an award of counsel fees by an arbitrator also implicated the Court's exclusive supervisory powers over the practice of law requiring the opportunity for limited appellate review. In reaching this conclusion, we stated that "[t]he award of attorney's fees, whether encompassing bookkeeping records, reasonableness, or the type of fee agreed to, is governed by our Court rules, ...


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