Award Rejection and Petition to Vacate Arbitration Award Are Not “Action” Filing Equivalents.
We have posted in the past on the importance of observing formalities when it comes to rejecting a nonbinding award in an attorney-client arbitration under the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act (MFAA). Well, here is another unpublished decision that tells attorneys, when they lose, to strictly adhere to the rules. Or, put more forcefully, make sure you have a collection action already on file or file it within 30 days of the nonbinding arbitration award.
In Avetisyan v. Gordon, Case No. D057916 (4th Dist., Div. 1 Sept. 30, 2011) (unpublished), attorney and client arbitrated a fee/costs dispute under MFAA via the nonbinding track with respect to attorney’s client handling of an immigration matter for client. Client won a nonbinding award of $7,600 plus a $375 arbitration filing fee against attorney, who filed a rejection of the award and later moved to vacate the arbitration award within the 30 day deadline from the transmittal of the award. However, attorney did not file a court action in connection with the award. Mistake.
The lower court granted client’s petition to confirm the award, this time escalating the amount of the judgment to $19,316.70 (after other fees and costs were added).
Not so good for attorney on appeal. The problem here was that attorney failed to file an action to collect fees within 30 days of the arbitration award. Simply filing a rejection of the award or a petition to vacate the award did not suffice. Judgment based on award in client’s favor was affirmed in this one, which has object lessons to teach all attorneys attempting to collect fees (and subject to MFAA arbitration, which usually is the case).