This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Independent School District No. 112 Chaska, Minnesota,
Filed June 25, 2002
Carver County District Court
File No. C600485
Robert A. Nicklaus, Nicklaus, Braaten & Hollenhorst, PLLC, Suite 200, 500 Pine St. North, Chaska, MN 55318 (for appellant)
Eric J. Magnuson and Gregory S. Madsen, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, LLP, Suite 2000, 333 South Seventh St., Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from a district court order upholding the arbitrator’s confirmation of the school district’s termination of his employment, Dr. Mario Cianflone argues that the arbitrator impermissibly exceeded his power. The record provides no support for any statutorily permissible grounds for vacating the arbitrator’s decision, and we affirm.
F A C T S
Dr. Mario Cianflone has taught music to elementary students in the Chaska, Minnesota, school district since 1974. In January 1993, the Chaska school board sent Cianflone a notice of deficiency for making unacceptable physical contact with students and using inappropriate and demeaning methods of discipline. The school board suspended Cianflone without pay for ten working days and directed him to refrain from touching students, from allowing his anger to affect his interaction with students, and from making any statements to students that could be reasonably interpreted as threats. Cianflone appealed the suspension, and an arbitrator upheld the school board’s actions.
Approximately five years passed without an additional recorded incident of Cianflone engaging in unacceptable physical contact or inappropriate methods of discipline. Then, in early 1998, two incidents occurred. In February 1998, Cianflone shouted “shut up already” at two disruptive students and threw a hand drum across the room for what he characterized as “dramatic effect.” Two months later, Cianflone took a student by the arm and escorted him to the principal’s office after the student disrupted the classroom. While Cianflone was escorting the student out of the classroom, the door swung shut and made contact with the student and Cianflone.
As a result of these two incidents, the school board sent Cianflone a notice of proposed termination of his employment in June 1998. Cianflone requested and received a five-day hearing before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found that the conduct was not sufficiently severe to warrant termination under Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 8 (1996) (now codified at Minn. Stat. § 122A.40, subd. 13 (2000)), which relates to situations that require immediate removal from the classroom. But the arbitrator further found that Cianflone had engaged in a pattern of persistent conduct that was inappropriate for a teacher and upheld his termination under Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 6 (1996) (now codified at Minn. Stat. § 122A.40, subd. 9 (2000)).
Cianflone filed a motion to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, but the district court denied the motion as untimely. Cianflone appealed, and this court found the motion timely and remanded. Cianflone v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 112, No. C8-00-1806 (Minn. App. Mar. 6, 2001). On remand, the district court again denied Cianflone’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s decision. Cianflone appeals the denial on the merits of his motion to vacate the arbitrator’s decision.
D E C I S I O N
If arbitrability of a dispute is established or uncontested, courts vacate an arbitrator’s decision only upon proof of one of the grounds stated in Minn. Stat. § 572.19. Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1 (2000). One of the statutorily permissible grounds for vacating arbitrators’ decisions is that “[t]he arbitrators exceeded their powers.” Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1(3). “But the fact that the relief was such that it could not or would not be granted by a court of law or equity” does not constitute grounds for vacating or refusing to confirm the arbitrator’s decision. Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1.
The statutory grounds for overturning an arbitrator’s decision are narrow. Cournoyer v. Amer. Television & Radio Co., 249 Minn. 577, 580, 83 N.W.2d 409, 411-12 (1957). The decision should stand unless the arbitrator made a mistake in applying his own theory or his conclusions appear to be so at odds with any conclusions that might be drawn from the evidence so as to imply fraud or misconduct. Id. (noting that arbitrator is “final judge of both law and fact” because any other rule would “serve but to delay the final determination of the rights of the parties”). Our review of an arbitrator’s decision accords it every reasonable presumption of finality and validity. Hunter, Keith Indus., Inc. v Piper Capital Mgmt., Inc., 575 N.W.2d 850, 854 (Minn. App. 1998).
In arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his power, Cianflone points to three particular instances. He argues that the arbitrator impermissibly disregarded the facts to which Cianflone and the district stipulated, improperly relied on predictions that Cianflone would not be able to correct his deficiencies in the future, and denied Cianflone his statutory opportunity to correct any deficiency. None of these alleged errors constitutes an instance in which the arbitrator either misapplied his own theory or possibly engaged in fraud or misconduct. Furthermore, Cianflone’s allegations are not supported by the record.
First, there is no evidence to suggest that the arbitrator disregarded the stipulated facts and relied on unproven facts from the 1993 arbitration. In addressing the 1993 arbitration, the arbitrator noted that the school district may not have proven all the allegations underlying the suspension, but the established conduct was sufficiently serious to warrant a ten-day suspension. By not focusing on the disputed underlying conduct that gave rise to the 1993 arbitration, the arbitrator viewed the previous arbitration in the light most favorable to Cianflone. This is an appropriate use of the previous arbitration and the stipulated facts. It constitutes neither a misapplication of the law nor evidence of fraud or misconduct.
Second, the record does not support Cianflone’s claim that the arbitrator impermissibly relied upon his own prediction as to Cianflone’s future amenability to change when upholding the school district’s termination. The arbitrator stated in his decision that he was “convinced that the conduct would likely not be corrected if [Cianflone] was given another warning.” The arbitrator supported this statement by noting that because Cianflone failed to recognize that the behavior that gave rise to the current arbitration was inappropriate, any change in behavior was unlikely. The arbitrator’s extrapolation from Cianflone’s failure to acknowledge his inappropriate behavior is an assessment of the severity of the current circumstances; furthermore, the finding does not constitute a misapplication of theory nor is it evidence of fraud or misconduct.
Finally, Cianflone argues that the arbitrator exceeded his power because he upheld the termination, thereby denying Cianflone his statutorily mandated opportunity to correct the deficiency. Minn. Stat. § 125.12, subd. 6 (now codified at Minn. Stat. § 122A.40, subd. 9), states, “[a] contract must not be terminated upon one of the grounds specified [in this subdivision], unless the teacher fails to correct the deficiency after being given written notice of the specific items of complaint and reasonable time within which to remedy them.” In 1993, the school board sent Cianflone a letter ordering him to refrain from touching any student unless it was an emergency and from allowing his anger to affect his discipline. The school board waited a reasonable time—more than five years—for Cianflone to correct these deficiencies, yet Cianflone failed to do so. If, as Cianflone asserts, the school board was required to wait a reasonable time after every additional deficiency occurred, no teacher could ever be terminated for improper conduct. Cianflone has not demonstrated any facts that would warrant impeachment of the arbitrator’s decision, and we affirm the district court’s denial of the motion to vacate.