may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Igor Bassovski, et al.,
File No. 9419415
Mitchel I. Kirshbaum, Kirschbaum & Kirschbaum, Chtd., 6465 Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 770, Minneapolis, MN 55426 (for respondent)
Michael Hughes, Patrick J. Kelly, La Bore & Guiliani, Ltd., P.O. Box 70, Hopkins, MN 55343-0070 (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Short, Judge.
After suffering injuries in a 1993 automobile accident, Irena Balchova sought no-fault benefits from State Farm Automobile Insurance Company and personal injury damages from Igor Bassovski, the driver of the vehicle, and Brent William Peterson, the vehicle's owner. All of the parties entered into a binding high/low arbitration agreement, which provided that regardless of the actual amount awarded for both claims, Balchova would receive no less than $5,000 and no more than $30,000.
The arbitrator found Balchova was entitled to $0 in damages, which, under the terms of the agreement, resulted in a $5,000 award. Balchova refused tender of the award and filed a motion with the state trial court to vacate the award on the ground of arbitrator misconduct under Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1(2). The trial court vacated the award on the basis of the arbitrator's evident partiality, finding the arbitrator's post-arbitration statements to Balchova's counsel indicated the arbitrator had relied on his own personal experience and partiality in reaching his decision.
Pursuant to court order, the parties engaged in a second arbitration. That arbitrator awarded Balchova $8,674.31 in no-fault benefits and $10,000 in personal injury damages in excess of her no-fault claim. The trial court confirmed the second arbitration award and entered judgment accordingly. Bassovski and Peterson appeal from the judgment, arguing the trial court erred in vacating the original arbitration award. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Whether an arbitrator's conduct constitutes "evident partiality" presents a legal question, which we review de novo. Pirsig v. Pleasant Mound Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 512 N.W.2d 342, 343 (Minn. App. 1994) (citing Northwest Mechanical, Inc. v. Public Utils. Comm'n, City of Virginia, 283 N.W.2d 522, 524 (Minn. 1979)).
Bassovski and Peterson argue the trial court erred in vacating the original arbitration award because the arbitrator's actions did not demonstrate evident partiality. See Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1(2) (1996) (requiring vacation of arbitration award when there is "evident partiality by an arbitrator appointed as a neutral * * * or misconduct prejudicing the rights of any party"). However, the record shows: (1) Balchova is a person of foreign citizenship, present in the United States on a visitor's visa; (2) the arbitrator was aware of Balchova's foreign status; (3) as an attorney, the arbitrator had represented many immigrants in various legal matters; (4) in explaining his decision to Balchova's counsel, the arbitrator stated that, based on his representation of immigrants, he believed "[immigrants] all know where to go [to] get medical treatment"; and (5) although the arbitrator stated that his experiences "were not the basis of any determination made in the award," he stressed to Balchova's counsel that Balchova's overall credibility was tainted because she testified that she was not aware of the benefits available to her. While the arbitrator's prior experience as an immigration attorney does not itself compel a finding of evident partiality, the record demonstrates an appearance of bias sufficient to support the trial court's vacation of the original arbitration award. See Northwest Mechanical, 283 N.W.2d at 524 (holding even those impermissible contacts or dealings that "might create an impression of possible bias" suffice to show evident partiality); Produce Refrigerator Co. v. Norwich Union Fire Ins. Soc'y, 91 Minn. 210, 212, 97 N.W. 875, 877 (1904) (noting general rule that person is disqualified to act as arbitrator where he or she has formed opinion or is otherwise prejudiced with respect to subject matter). Therefore, we affirm the trial court's confirmation of the second arbitration award and the corresponding entry of judgment.