Bennett v. Meader

Decision Date19 July 1988
Docket NumberNo. 13293,13293
Citation545 A.2d 553,208 Conn. 352
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesAnn J. BENNETT et al. v. Elaine MEADER.

Antoinette E. Grenier, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Christopher B. Carveth, Milford, for appellees (plaintiffs).


ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

The issue on this appeal is whether an arbitration award must be vacated at the request of a party on the basis that there was no written agreement between the parties to submit the dispute to arbitration. The defendant appeals from the judgment of the trial court, McGrath, J., vacating the arbitration award. We find no error.

The facts are not in dispute. On November 9, 1982, an automobile owned and operated by the named plaintiff, Ann J. Bennett, was involved in an accident with an automobile owned and operated by the defendant, Elaine Meader. Ann Bennett and her husband, Philip Bennett, then brought a civil action seeking damages for personal injury, lost wages and loss of consortium as a result of the accident.

In December, 1985, original counsel for the plaintiffs began negotiations for settlement with the defendant's insurer, Travelers Insurance Company (Travelers). Plaintiffs' counsel made a settlement demand of $60,000, and Travelers' claims manager offered $30,000. The settlement negotiations reached an impasse with the plaintiffs' final demand of $43,000 and Travelers' final offer of $33,000. Travelers' claims manager then suggested resolution of the dispute by arbitration. All parties orally agreed to arbitrate as to both liability and damages.

The insurer contacted the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which sent to the attorneys for the parties a notice of hearing, biographical data on the arbitrator, 1 a blank submission agreement, an oath to be signed by the arbitrator, and a copy of the AAA's alternative dispute resolution rules. After some discussion among the parties and the AAA, the parties accepted the AAA's selection of attorney Robert Berchem as the arbitrator. Neither the plaintiffs nor the defendant completed the submission agreement provided by the AAA, nor did the parties execute any other writing memorializing their agreement to arbitrate the dispute.

On or about March 17, 1986, the plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew their civil action from the Superior Court docket. On June 5, 1986, the arbitration hearing was held as to both liability and damages resulting from the automobile accident. All parties to the dispute testified at the hearing. By memorandum of decision dated June 26, 1986, the arbitrator assessed liability and damages against the defendant as to Ann Bennett's claims in the amount of $5110.20. The memorandum of decision did not mention Philip Bennett's claim for loss of consortium. The plaintiffs then filed an application in the Superior Court to vacate the arbitration award.

After a hearing, the trial court vacated the arbitration award. The court ruled that General Statutes § 52-408 2 requires that an arbitration agreement, to be enforceable, must be in writing. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court and this court transferred the case to itself pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

Resolution of the issue in this case requires this court to make a threshold determination of whether arbitration in Connecticut is controlled by both statute and common law or by statute alone. We hold that our comprehensive statutory scheme regarding arbitration, General Statutes §§ 52-408 through 52-424, controls arbitration in this state where the common law is inconsistent with our statutory scheme.

Many jurisdictions regard common law arbitration and statutory arbitration as coexistent. See, e.g., Zelle v. Chicago & North Western Railway Co., 242 Minn. 439, 446, 65 N.W.2d 583 (1954); Heffner v. Jacobson, 100 N.J. 550, 554, 498 A.2d 766 (1985); Daniels Ins. Agency v. Jordan, 99 N.M. 297, 299, 657 P.2d 624 (1982); Lammonds v. Aleo Mfg. Co., 243 N.C. 749, 753, 92 S.E.2d 143 (1956); Runewicz v. Keystone Ins. Co., 476 Pa. 456, 460, 383 A.2d 189 (1978); Harwell v. Home Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 228 S.C. 594, 600, 91 S.E.2d 273 (1956). We favor the approach that the arbitration statute governs where the statute conflicts with the common law. See, e.g., Andrews v. Stearns-Roger, Inc., 93 N.M. 527, 602 P.2d 624 (1979).

This approach is consistent with prior holdings of our court. This court has declared that "authority for arbitration must be derived from the agreement of the parties ... and the relevant provisions of applicable statutory directives...." W.J. Megin, Inc. v. State, 181 Conn. 47, 49, 434 A.2d 306 (1980). The development of our statute was recounted briefly in Reinke v. Greenwich Hospital Assn., 175 Conn. 24, 392 A.2d 966 (1978), and that discussion is illuminating. "In 1929, by virtue of 1929 Public Acts, chapter 65, the legislature enacted what is now chapter 909 of the General Statutes which, in effect, rendered arbitration contracts subject to specific statutory requirements...." Id., 175 Conn. at 26-27, 392 A.2d 966.

There also have been instances where Connecticut courts, with reference to specific statutory provisions, have implied that the statutory scheme governs arbitrations where there may be a conflict with the common law. In Carroll v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 189 Conn. 16, 22, 453 A.2d 1158 (1983), we stated: "The right to review an arbitration award is wholly encompassed within the parameters of § 52-418." 3 General Statutes § 52-418 goes beyond the common law and provides additional grounds upon which to vacate an award. See Yale & Towne Mfg. Co. v. International Assn. of Machinists, 15 Conn.Sup. 118, 119 (1947). The Appellate Court has concluded similarly: "Arbitration proceedings, including court proceedings to compel arbitration, are creatures of statute in Connecticut and are not common law actions." Fishman v. Middlesex Mutual Assurance Co., 4 Conn.App. 339, 345, 494 A.2d 606, cert. denied, 197 Conn. 806, 807, 499 A.2d 57 (1985); see also R.A. Civitello Co. v. New Haven, 6 Conn.App. 212, 226, 504 A.2d 542 (1986); Skidmore, Owings & Merrill v. Connecticut General Life Ins. Co., 25 Conn.Sup. 76, 84, 197 A.2d 83 (1963). At common law, a party could not compel arbitration through judicial process. See A. Gold, "Judicial Interpretations and Applications of the Connecticut Arbitration Statutes," 7 Conn.L.Rev. 147, 149 (1974), citing Yale & Towne Mfg. Co. v. International Assn. of Machinists, supra; R. Rodman, Commercial Arbitration (1984) § 3.1, pp. 48-49. In contrast, this court has extended equity to remedy a dispute that was not within the purview of the statute. See Gaer Bros., Inc. v. Mott, 144 Conn. 303, 130 A.2d 804 (1957).

Additionally, there are a multitude of references to the common law arbitration scheme that were made in the past tense. In discussing an arbitrator's use of ex parte evidence, this court noted that "[t]his was permitted even under the common law.... The statute codifies the former rule." (Emphasis added.) International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Shapiro, 138 Conn. 57, 64-65, 82 A.2d 345 (1951); see generally Yale & Towne Mfg. Co. v. International Assn. of Machinists, supra. Further, Judge John Cotter, later Chief Justice of this court, noted that "[a]rbitration is in derogation of the common law," in that it removes the resolution of disputes from the courts, where the claimant has a right to disposition, to a private forum. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 25 Conn Sup. 414, 416, 206 A.2d 847 (1964). Common law rules of arbitration must yield to statutory provisions concerning the subject matter of the rules. See Burns v. Gould, 172 Conn. 210, 222, 374 A.2d 193 (1977).

This case law illustrates, at the very least, the long standing assumption by our courts that arbitration is governed by statute where the statute is inconsistent with the common law. Our courts have not taken opportunities to declare explicitly that the statutory arbitration scheme is cumulative with the common law, as many other jurisdictions have. See R. Rodman, supra, § 3.1, p. 50. Neither has the legislature expressly preserved the common law rules along with the statute, as some states have done. See, e.g., Ala.Code § 6-6-16 (1975).

The view that we express today also is consistent with accepted principles of statutory construction. "In cases of conflict between legislation and the common law, legislation will govern because it is the latest expression of the law." 2A J. Sutherland, Statutory Construction (4th Ed. Sands 1984) § 50.01, p. 421; see Skorpios Properties, Ltd. v. Waage, 172 Conn. 152, 156, 374 A.2d 165 (1976). The statutory arbitration scheme encompasses many aspects of the arbitration process ranging from the agreement to arbitrate; General Statutes § 52-408; through the relationship between the arbitration process and the judicial process; General Statutes §§ 52-409 and 52-410; discovery; General Statutes § 52-412; and postaward action; General Statutes §§ 52-417 to 52-421; to judicial appeal. General Statutes § 52-423. Thus, it is evident that the legislature's purpose in enacting the statutory scheme was to displace many common law rules. Having decided that the statutory scheme replaces the common law where there is any inconsistency between the two, we now can address directly the propriety of the trial judge's decision vacating the arbitration award that was not made pursuant to a written agreement to arbitrate.

At common law, an oral agreement to arbitrate was valid. R. Rodman, supra, § 3.1, p. 50. The parties to the agreement, however, could not obtain a court order compelling arbitration under the agreement. An aggrieved party could resort to judicial intervention for equitable relief only if the arbitrator was accused of fraud or partiality, if the arbitrator failed to apply the decision-making principles...

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