From the Desk of Joshua Hayward:
After a mandatory, non-binding arbitration, if a party wants to appeal the arbitrator’s decision, they must file an appeal within 20 days after the arbitrator enters their decision and award with the Court. But what happens if an arbitrator files a proof of service that inaccurately describes how the award was served? Does the 20-day deadline start when the inaccurate proof of service was filed or when the arbitrator files a corrected proof of service? Read on to find out.
In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals found that the Defendant’s 20-day filing deadline started when the arbitrator’s inaccurate certificate of service was filed, because Defendants were put on notice of the arbitrator’s decision and award. The Court therefore held that Defendant’s notice of appeal was untimely, and that Defendant had provided no good cause for an extension.
McCorquodale v. Oxford House, Inc., 320 Or App 587 (2022).
Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant after Defendant terminated Plaintiff’s tenancy and locked Plaintiff out of a property that he had been renting. The case was submitted to mandatory arbitration, where an arbitrator concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to an award against Defendant. On November 26, 2018, the arbitrator emailed a letter to counsel for the parties explaining his decision and awarding Plaintiff damages. On December 13, 2018, the arbitrator emailed counsel the arbitration award, and a letter explaining the decision to award Plaintiff his requested fees and costs. The December email stated that the arbitrator’s work was complete, that a document detailing the final award was attached, and that the arbitrator would file the award that day. The final award contained a notice indicating how to appeal the award, and the notice detailed the 20-day time limit for an appeal under ORS 36.425(2)(a). The arbitrator filed the decision and award on December 13, 2018. The certificate of service stated that the award would be served on all parties by mail. The award was never sent via mail and was only provided to the parties via email. Defendant did not file an appeal within the 20-day period after that award was filed.
On January 24, 2019, the arbitrator filed an Arbitrator’s Time Report. Attached to the report were copies of the arbitration award, the November letter of the decision on the merits, and the December letter decision of the fees and costs. On February 11, 2019, about 2 months after the arbitration award had been filed, and sent to parties via email, Defendant attempted to appeal the award. Plaintiff filed a motion for entry of judgment on the arbitration award, asserting that Defendant’s appeal was untimely under ORS 36.425.
At the hearing on Plaintiff’s motion, Defendant argued that his appeal was still timely because the certificate of service he received incorrectly stated that the arbitrator would mail the arbitration award, and Defendant had been waiting for a copy of the award by mail before filing his appeal. The trial court concluded that Defendant made a showing of “good cause” for more time to appeal. After the hearing, the trial court entered an order allowing Defendant’s notice of appeal and request for trial de novo. The order contained two factual findings: (1) service of the arbitration award was not effective until January 24, 2019, and (2) the notice of appeal and request for a trial de novo was timely filed.
ORS 36.425 lays out the procedures regarding what should occur once an arbitration has concluded. Under ORS 36.425, after the conclusion of arbitration, “the arbitrator shall file the decision and award with the clerk of the court that referred the action to arbitration, together with proof of service of a copy of the decision and award upon each party.”
ORS 36.425(2)(a) provides that an appeal of a decision and award must be made within 20 days after the filing of the decision and award with the clerk of the court, and that a party seeking relief must file a “written notice of appeal and request for a trial de novo of the action.”
Further, ORS 36.425(3) states that if a notice of appeal is not filed within 20 days, then the court shall enter judgment based on the original arbitration decision and award. Once a judgment is entered under this statute, the arbitration award cannot be appealed.
The Oregon Court of Appeals evaluated the critical issue of what constitutes timely filing for a notice of appeal. Defendant argued that a proof of service that is “materially inaccurate” fails to trigger the 20-day deadline to appeal under ORS 36.425(1). Defendant further argued that because the proof of service inaccurately described service by mail, that service was not complete until the arbitrator filed the January 24 Arbitrator’s Time Report.
The Court first examined the text of ORS 36.425 to determine whether the arbitrator’s December 13 email, and subsequent filing, constituted adequate “proof of service” to trigger the 20-day deadline. The Court found that under a straightforward reading of the text, the arbitrator had satisfied the requirement in the statute when he filed the award and the two decision letters, as well as a certificate of service, on December 13. The Court found that ORS 36.425 does not have any accuracy requirement that would require a court to disregard service if the certificate of service contained inaccuracies.
Additionally, in examining case law for context, the Court concluded that what matters in the determination of proper service under ORS 36.425 is not the accuracy of the proof of service, but whether the intended recipient received notice as required by law.
Based on this understanding of ORS 36.425, the Court ultimately found that Defendant had actual knowledge of the arbitrator’s decision, the arbitrator’s service of the decision on the parties, and the arbitrator’s intent to file the decision with the Court on December 13. While the Court acknowledged that there wasan error on the certificate regarding service by mail, the Court concluded that the error had not prevented Defendant from checking the filing date, nor did the error suggest that the time for filing a notice of appeal would begin to run only after Defendant received a copy of the award by mail. All indications suggested that the arbitrator was filing the decision on December 13, regardless of whether service would occur by mail or email. Thus, the Court held that the 20-day deadline for appeal began on December 13, that Defendant’s notice of appeal was untimely, and that Defendant had not established good cause for an extension to file a notice of appeal. Based on these findings, the Court reversed the judgment for Defendant and remanded the case for entry of judgment for the Plaintiff on the arbitration award.
The purpose of mandatory arbitration on low value cases is to allow parties to resolve the matter quickly and efficiently without the need for a full trial. Courts consistently apply a very strict standard when determining whether the procedures to request a trial de novo were followed. If a party wants to request a trial de novo, they should carefully follow the procedures and err on the side of caution if they are concerned about any ambiguity.