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Yarborough v. State Operated School District of the City of Newark, Essex County

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 8, 2018

LEONARD YARBOROUGH, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE OPERATED SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEWARK, ESSEX COUNTY, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued February 27, 2018

          On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-5629-16.

          Charles I. Auffant argued the cause for appellant (Stuart Ball, LLC, attorneys; Charles I. Auffant, on the brief).

          Ramon E. Rivera argued the cause for respondent (Scarinci & Hollenbeck, LLC, attorneys; Ramon E. Rivera, of counsel; Shana T. Don, on the brief).

          Before Judges Fisher, Sumners [1] and Moynihan.

          OPINION

          MOYNIHAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).

         Leonard Yarborough, a third-grade teacher for the State Operated School District of the City of Newark, Essex County (District), appeals from the trial court's order denying his motion to vacate, effectively confirming that portion of an arbitration award and decision imposing a 12 0-day suspension without pay after the arbitrator found Yarborough culpable of a conduct-unbecoming tenure charge for inflicting corporal punishment on two students in contravention of N.J.S.A. 18A:6-1.

         Yarborough contends the trial court erred in failing to vacate the arbitration award because the court: misinterpreted the entire controversy doctrine (ECD) which should have precluded the District from prosecuting the tenure charge; failed to consider "fundamental legal principles" such as the doctrines of industrial double jeopardy, estoppel, laches, waiver and unclean hands; and failed to find the arbitration award was procured by undue means, N.J.S.A. 2A:24-8, because, "[e]ven if the charge of conduct unbecoming was properly before the [a]rbitrator, the [a]ward is not supported by a preponderance of the evidence standard."

         We are not persuaded that the ECD precludes the prosecution of the conduct-unbecoming charge; nor are we persuaded that the arbitrator's award was procured by undue means and affirm.

         "Judicial review of an arbitration award is very limited." Bound Brook Bd. of Educ. v. Ciripompa, 228 N.J. 4, 11 (2017) (quoting Linden Bd. of Educ. v. Linden Educ. Ass'n ex rel. Mizichko, 202 N.J. 268, 276 (2010)). "An arbitrator's award is not to be cast aside lightly. It is subject to being vacated only when it has been shown that a statutory basis justifies that action." Ibid, (quoting Kearny PBA Local # 21 v. Town of Kearny, 81 N.J. 208, 221 (1979)).

         In reviewing the award confirmation, we owe no special deference to the trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from the established facts. Town of Kearny v. Brandt, 214 N.J. 76, 92 (2013) (citing Manalapan Realty, LP v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995)). We thus review the trial court's decision on a motion to vacate an arbitration award de novo. Minkowitz v. Israeli, 433 N.J.Super. 111, 136 (App. Div. 2013).

         The court may vacate an arbitration award "[w]here the award was procured by . . . undue means." N.J.S.A. 2A:24-8(a). "'[U]ndue means' ordinarily encompasses a situation in which the arbitrator has made an acknowledged mistake of fact or law or a mistake that is apparent on the face of the record." Borough of E. Rutherford v. E. Rutherford PBA Local 275, 213 N.J. 190, 203 (2013) (alteration in original) (quoting Office of Emp. Relations v. Commc'ns Workers, 154 N.J. 98, 111 (1998)). We perceive neither a mistake of law nor a mistake of fact in the record.

         We turn first to the issue of whether the ECD precludes the District from bringing the conduct-unbecoming charge. The ECD is equitably rooted; its applicability is left to judicial discretion based on the particular circumstances in a given case. Mystic Isle Dev. Corp. v. Perskie & Nehmad, PC, 142 N.J. 310, 322-23 (1995); DiTrolio v. Antiles, 142 N.J. 253, 275 (1995). In Kavanaugh v. Quigley, 63 N.J.Super. 153, 158 (App. Div. 1960) (citations omitted), we held:

It is well settled that discretion means legal discretion, in the exercise of which the trial judge must take account of the law applicable to the particular circumstances of the case and be governed accordingly. . . . [I]f the trial judge misconceives the applicable law, or misapplies it to the factual complex, in total effect the exercise of the legal discretion lacks a foundation and becomes an arbitrary act, however conscientious may have been the judge in the performance of it. When this occurs it is the duty of the ...

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