Otherwise, Fees/Costs Recovery Could Be Forfeited; Best Is To Ask For An Interim Award On Merits And Reserve Other Issues For Later Interim Award.
The next case really is a stark reminder to litigators to make sure an arbitrator reserves fees and costs issues for decision in a subsequent interim award after an interim award on the merits. If you do not do so, you may face the unhappy conclusion in the next case.
The unhappy conclusion in Buckley v. El Dorado Enterprises, Inc., Case No. B282204 (2d Dist., Div. 1 May 16, 2018) (unpublished) was that a claimant recovering on a pregnancy discrimination and failure to accommodate claims (but not awarded damages based on a subsequent reinstatement) did not gain a substantial award of attorney’s fees and costs as the prevailing party. We describe how this came about.
The arbitrator entered a final award on the merits in favor of claimant, but claimant never requested any attorney’s fees. After that award, claimant moved for fees and costs, with the arbitrator in a second award deciding she was the prevailing party and awarding about $120,000 in fees, costs, AAA administrative fees, and arbitrator compensation/expenses. However, the trial judge vacated the award of fees and costs, prompting an appeal by claimant.
The 2/1 DCA decided that claimant had no basis to supplement the first award with the second award recovery given that there was no mathematical error or failure of the arbitrator to rule on a submitted issue. This was so under the California Arbitration Act and the AAA Rules. So, the moral of the story (so to speak), is to make sure that a merits award is interim and that the arbitrator is asked to reserve a ruling on fees/costs through a later interim award. If not, and a final award is issued instead, a claimant may be deprived of a recoupment of substantial fees and costs even though the arbitrator would have awarded them but for labeling the award a “final” one.