South Carolina BAR Journal
SC Lawyer, September 2012, #1.
South Carolina LawyerSeptember 2012Appealable ArbitrationBy J. Mark Taylor and Kermit S. KingFor those of us who favor arbitration as a viable alternative dispute resolution methodology, the type of arbitration employed is typically binding arbitration (i.e., without any appeal of the award). We attorneys are led to assume all arbitration precludes appeal-and are led to reject arbitration out of fear of finality. Our response is: "Assume nothing"-a wise rule for life in general and a necessary rule for the practice of law. If one simply assumes something, this assumption may lead to unwise decisions, which in turn may lead to inaccurate, inappropriate or improper results.
The authors of this article jointly have experienced more than 85 years of law practice. Yet we, as many others, have fallen into misguided assumptions about arbitration. We both have embraced mediation in the family court arena and have used mediation routinely-in part because we practice in mandatory mediation counties but in larger part because we believe in the process. Similarly, we have utilized arbitration, both as co-counsel and as opposing counsel. Generally we have favored binding arbitration, for a variety of reasons. Out of habit, we have found ourselves assuming, as many among us do, that arbitration does not allow appeal. The truth is that arbitration
can be made binding and without appeal, but, upon proper election and procedure, parties may preserve the right of appeal.
Arbitration is a favored method of settling disputes in South Carolina. When a dispute is submitted to arbitration, the arbitrator decides both questions of law and questions of fact. In binding arbitration, courts will refuse to review the merits of an award. An award will be vacated only upon narrow, limited grounds. Harris v. Bennett, 332 S.C. 238, 243-44, 503 S.E.2d 782, 785-86 (Ct. App. 1998); Pittman Mortgage Co. v. Edwards, 327 S.C. 72, 75-76, 488 S.E.2d 335, 337 (1997) (citations omitted).
Arbitration agreements in South Carolina are governed by the Uniform Arbitration Act (the Arbitration Act). S.C. Code Ann. 15-48-10 through 240 (2005); see also Swentor v. Swentor, 336 S.C. 472, 477, 520 S.E.2d 330, 333 (Ct.App. 1999).
Section 15-48-200 states with particularity:
(a) An appeal may be taken from:
(1) an order denying an application to compel arbitration made under 15-48-20;
(2) an order granting an application to stay arbitration made under 15- 48-20(b);
(3) an order confirming or denying confirmation of an award;
(4) an order modifying or correcting an award;
(5) an order vacating an award without directing a rehearing; or
(6) a judgment or decree entered pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.
(b) The appeal shall be taken in the manner and to the same extent as from orders or judgments in a civil action.
Without having to change one word...