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Lake County Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental
Disabilities et al., Appellees, v. Professional Association for
the Teaching of the Mentally Retarded et al., Appellants.
[Cite as Lake Cty. Bd. of Mental Retardation & Dev.
Disabilities v. Professional Assn. for the Teaching of the
Mentally Retarded (1994), Ohio St.3d .]
Courts -- Arbitration -- Common pleas court does not have
authority under R.C. 2711.11(C) to review and modify
opinion accompanying arbitration award, when.
A court of common pleas does not have authority under R.C.
2711.11(C) to review and modify the opinion accompanying
an arbitration award when the award itself is not appealed
from or alleged to be unlawful.
(No. 93-1670 -- Submitted September 20, 1994 -- Decided
November 23, 1994.)
Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Lake County, No.
Appellee, Lake County Board of Mental Retardation and
Developmental Disabilities ("board"), operates an adult
residence center for the rehabilitation of the mentally
retarded and developmentally disabled. Appellant, Professional
Association for the Teaching of the Mentally Retarded
("association"), is the union which represents the board's
employees. The board is a "public employer" as defined in R.C.
4117.01(B), and is, therefore, subject to the provisions of the
Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act, R.C. 4117.01 et.
seq. Pursuant to R.C. Chapter 4117, the board is required to
bargain with the association over the terms and conditions of
employment. Under this mandate, the board negotiated a
collective bargaining agreement which provides that all
grievances must be submitted to binding arbitration.
This case arose during the arbitration of an otherwise
unrelated grievance between the board and the association. In
that grievance, the association claimed that a particular
client at the adult residence center was creating an unsafe
condition and requested that additional staff be assigned to
the client. The association alleged over fifty incidents which
involved the patient. The board wanted verification of the
number of incidents which had occurred in order to determine
whether the association's complaint was justified and a
resolution of the grievance was possible.
While the grievance hearing continued, the association
gathered documentation from members of the bargaining unit to
show incidents involving the client in question. These
documents, which contained confidential client information,
were submitted for consideration. Thereafter, the matter was
Following the settlement, the board demanded the
documents. The association refused the board's order. Paul R.
Hecker, the association representative who had presented the
records, was disciplined for insubordination for failing to
surrender the records and for allegedly violating certain state
and federal laws as well as board policy which require that the
files of the board's clients be accorded strict
confidentiality. He received a suspension from work.
As a result of this discipline, Hecker filed a grievance
that proceeded to arbitration. This grievance is the basis of
this case. In his award, the arbitrator reversed the suspension
and directed that Hecker be made whole for his losses in wages
and benefits and that all records of the suspension be removed
from his file. In his opinion accompanying the award, the
arbitrator determined that association members needed access to
what would otherwise be confidential information in order to
process grievances. The arbitrator also found that Hecker was
not bound to obey the board member who demanded the documents.
Pursuant to R.C. 2711.11, the board filed a motion with
the Court of Common Pleas of Lake County seeking to modify the
opinion supporting the award and a complaint for declaratory
judgment. Specifically, the board sought to modify that
portion of the arbitrator's opinion which allowed association
members access to confidential information in order to process
The common pleas court determined that the arbitrator's
finding was contrary to state and federal confidentiality
laws. Accordingly, the court modified the opinion to eliminate
this finding. The court did not disturb the actual award.
Declaratory judgment was also granted in the board's favor.
The court of appeals affirmed, ruling that it was
permissible to modify the opinion of an arbitration award,
without modifying the actual award itself. The court also
affirmed the declaratory judgment.1
This matter is now before this court upon an allowance of
a motion to certify the record.
Duvin, Cahn, Barnard & Messerman, Kenneth B. Stark, Robert
M. Wolff and Mark A. Duvin; and Robert J. Pietrykowski, for
Green, Haines, Sgambati, Murphy & Macala Co., L.P.A.,
Ronald G. Macala and Anthony M. DioGuardi II, for appellants.
Francis E. Sweeney, Sr., J. The issue before us is
whether the court of common pleas has the authority under R.C.
2711.11 to review and modify the underlying rationale
supporting an arbitration award, even though the award itself
was not appealed or alleged to be unlawful. For the following
reasons, we answer in the negative and reverse the judgment of
the court of appeals.
Arbitration has long been the preferred means of resolving
disputes between labor and management. We have consistently
emphasized that "'"[i]t is the policy of the law to favor and
encourage arbitration and every reasonable intendment will be
indulged to give effect to such proceedings and to favor the
regularity and integrity of the arbitrator's acts."'" Findlay
City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. Findlay Edn. Assn. (1990), 49
Ohio St.3d 129, 131, 551 N.E.2d 186, 189, citing Mahoning Cty.
Bd. of Mental Retardation v. Mahoning Cty. TMR Edn. Assn.
(1986), 22 Ohio St.3d 80, 84, 22 OBR 95, 98, 488 N.E.2d 872,
In order to uphold the strong public policy favoring
private settlement of grievances, the General Assembly has
limited the role of judicial review. R.C. Chapter 2711
describes the circumstances under which the common pleas court
may vacate (R.C. 2711.10) or modify (R.C. 2711.11) an
arbitration award. See Lynch v. Halcomb (1984), 16 Ohio App.3d
223, 16 OBR 238, 475 N.E.2d 181.
In seeking to modify the arbitrator's opinion, the board
relies on R.C. 2711.11(C). The board contends that the
arbitrator went beyond his mandate and interpreted the
collective bargaining agreement to require the disclosure of
confidential client documents in order to process grievances.
The board argues that a common pleas court may modify this
award because it violates public policy and express state and
federal rights guaranteed to the board's clients. The board
relies on State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Wells (1985),
18 Ohio St.3d 382, 18 OBR 437, 481 N.E.2d 632, Mahoning Cty.
Bd. of Mental Retardation v. Mahoning Cty. TMR Edn. Assn.
(1986), 22 Ohio St.3d 80, 22 OBR 95, 488 N.E.2d 872, and Ohio
Office of Collective Bargaining v. Ohio Civ. Serv. Emp. Assn.
(1991), 59 Ohio St.3d 177, 572 N.E.2d 71, for this
proposition. While this contention may be true, the fallacy of
the board's argument comes from its interpretation of the word
The issue before the arbitrator was whether Hecker's
actions were subject to discipline. The arbitrator concluded,
based upon his interpretation of the parties' agreement, that
they were not. In his award, the arbitrator reversed the
suspension and directed that Hecker be made whole for his
losses and that all records of the suspension be removed from
his file. The board does not seek reinstatement of the
discipline imposed against Hecker, i.e., the award. Instead,
the board challenges the arbitrator's reasoning which he stated
to justify his award. R.C. 2711.11 does not provide the
statutory authority for such a challenge.
R.C. 2711.11 provides as follows:
"In any of the following cases, the court of common pleas
in the county wherein an award was made in an arbitration
proceeding shall make an order modifying or correcting an award
upon the application of any party to the arbitration if:
"* * *
"(C) The award is imperfect in matter of form not
affecting the merits of the controversy.
"The order shall modify and correct the award, so as to
effect the intent thereof and promote justice between the
parties." (Emphasis added.)
By its very terms, the statute allows the court of common
pleas to modify or correct an award that is unlawful, but does
not provide a statutory basis for modifying the arbitrator's
opinion alone, where the award is not even appealed from or
alleged to be unlawful.
Our interpretation of the statute is consistent with our
previous holding that, if an award is not unlawful, a reviewing
court can make no further inquiry into the substantive merits
of the arbitrator's decision. Findlay, supra, at 132, 551
N.E.2d at 189. Although Findlay dealt with reviewing a court's
authority under R.C. 2711.10, its reasoning applies with equal
force here. The premise of Findlay is that an arbitrator's
award which draws its essence from the collective bargaining
agreement and which is not unlawful, arbitrary or capricious
will be upheld. This is so because, in the absence of such
restrictions, the integrity and purposes of the arbitration
system of dispute resolution would be seriously undermined.
Thus, since R.C. Chapter 2711 allows only a limited appeal
of an award, the court of common pleas had no basis under R.C.
2711.11 to review and clarify the reasoning behind it.
Accordingly, we hold a court of common pleas does not have
authority under R.C. 2711.11(C) to review and modify the
opinion accompanying an arbitration award when the award itself
is not appealed from or alleged to be unlawful. The judgment
of the court of appeals is reversed.
A.W. Sweeney, Douglas, Resnick and Pfeifer, JJ., concur.
Wright, J., concurs separately.
Moyer, C.J., dissents.
1 The ruling on the declaratory judgment was not
appealed. Therefore, we express no opinion as to its merits.
Wright, J., concurring. The majority quite properly
reverses the judgment of the court of appeals concerning the
trial court's improper modification of the underlying rationale
of the arbitration award. However, I would not rely on the
majority's narrow interpretation of the word "award" found in
R.C. 2711.11. I believe that the board has not succeeded in
its attempt to have the arbitration opinion corrected, because
the board sought to modify the arbitration opinion under R.C.
2711.11 instead of seeking to vacate the arbitration award
under R.C. 2711.10.
It is well settled in Ohio that a reviewing court may
vacate an arbitration award that is contrary to the law. R.C.
"*** the court of common pleas shall make an order
vacating the award upon the application of any party to the
"(D) The arbitrators exceeded their powers ***."
This court has determined that an arbitrator exceeds his
or her powers, thus justifying a reviewing court to vacate the
arbitration award, when an arbitration award violates the law.
See Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Shuff (1981), 67 Ohio
St.2d 172, 174, 21 O.O.3d 108, 109, 423 N.E.2d 417, 418;
Mahoning Cty. Bd. of Mental Retardation v. Mahoning Cty. TMR
Edn. Assn. (1986), 22 Ohio St.3d 80, 22 OBR 95, 488 N.E.2d 872,
paragraph one of syllabus; Hillsboro v. Fraternal Order of
Police, Ohio Labor Council, Inc. (1990), 52 Ohio St.3d 174, 556
N.E.2d 1186; Findlay Bd. of Edn. v. Findlay Edn. Assn. (1990),
49 Ohio St.3d 129, 551 N.E.2d 186.
This court has concluded that R.C. 2711.11 provides the
exclusive circumstances under which a reviewing court may
modify an arbitration award. See Warren Edn. Assn. v. Warren
City Bd. of Edn. (1985), 18 Ohio St.3d 170, 173, 18 OBR 225,
227, 480 N.E.2d 456, 459. Unlike R.C. 2711.10, R.C. 2711.11
does not allow a reviewing court to modify an arbitration award
for the reason that the award violates the law. R.C.
2711.11(C), which is the specific statutory subsection at issue
in this case, authorizes a reviewing court to modify an
arbitration award if "[t]he award is imperfect in matter of
form not affecting the merits of the controversy." This
language makes it clear that a reviewing court may modify only
the form of an arbitration award; a court may not review the
merits or modify the substance of an arbitration decision, even
if the decision contains errors of law.
In this case, the trial court improperly reviewed the
merits of and modified the substance of the arbitration
opinion. If the board had sought to vacate the arbitration
award because the award violated state and federal
confidentiality laws, which is not the case here, the trial
court properly could have vacated the award pursuant to R.C.
2711.10. However, the trial court had no authority under R.C.
2711.11 to modify either the arbitration award or its
reasoning, even if the arbitrator's opinion violated the law.
Therefore, the court of appeals erred in affirming the judgment
of the trial court.
For the foregoing reasons, I concur.
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