COA Opinion: Arbitrator exceeded its authority by ordering a chief judge to re-appoint court officers to their former positions.
In 36th District Court v Michigan American Federation of Sate, County and Municipal Employees, the Court of Appeals decided several issues arising out of arbitration between the 36th District Court and AFSCME over the chief judge’s decision not to re-appoint four judicial officers. First, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court, and not the arbitrator, should have determined whether the contract containing an arbitration clause had been terminated, thereby eliminating the contractual duty to arbitrate. The Court of Appeals reasoned its holding was consistent with the common law in Michigan that requires the court, not an arbitrator, to decide whether a contract to arbitrate exists. Second, the Court of Appeals determined that in this case, the 36th District Court did not terminate the collective bargaining agreement because the 36th District Court only gave notice of its intent to terminate or modify the agreement. The 36th District Court’s notice preserved its right to terminate, but it did not effectuate that right. Third, the Court of Appeals concluded that the arbitrator exceeded its authority by ordering the chief judge to re-appoint court officers to their former positions. The collective bargaining agreement stated that the arbitrator would be without authority to require the employer to delegate any power or responsibility which by State law the employer could not delegate. Under Michigan Court Rules, the only the chief judge has the authority to make reappointment decisions, and the judicial branch is constitutionally accountable for those who provide court services. Accordingly, under the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator exceeded his authority by requiring the chief judge to re-appoint the judicial officers.