Court Reviews Procedure for Appeal from Arbitration Award and Rule 60(b) Order

The Court of Civil Appeals addressed a number of specialized rules of appellate procedure in Tuscaloosa Chevrolet, Inc. v. Guyton, No. 2080590 (Ala.Civ.App. Dec 11, 2009). Tuscaloosa Chevrolet appealed from an order granting Shirley Guyton’s Rule 60(b) motion for relief from a judgment on an arbitration award in favor of the dealership. The Court of Civil Appeals addressed the preliminary procedural issue in the case, explaining that although the Court generally regards an order under Rule 60(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as a non-appealable interlocutory order because additional trial court proceedings are likely, the order for Shirley was final and appealable because it “not only relieved her from [the arbitration] judgment but also rendered a judgment in her favor, which terminated the proceedings in the trial court.”  The Court then addressed the more complex procedure for appeals from arbitration awards.

Shirley asked for relief from the judgment on the arbitrator’s award, arguing that she had not been served with process until after the entry of a judgment on the award, and she was not a party to the arbitration agreement at issue. The dealership replied that Shirley waived her right to challenge the judgment on the arbitrator’s award because she did not file a timely appeal of the award. The Court of Civil Appeals held that because the procedure for seeking relief from an arbitration award was not clear when the arbitrator issued the award at issue, Shirley’s effort to challenge the award could go forward. The Court then reviewed the correct procedure for challenging an arbitration award: 

a party seeking judicial review of an arbitration award must file a notice of appeal from that award within 42 days from the date the party received notice of the award. 999 So.2d at 464. Thereafter, once the clerk of the circuit court enters a judgment on the award pursuant to § 6-6-2, that judgment is conditional and may be set aside by the circuit court based on the grounds stated in § 6-6-14 if the party challenging the award has filed a motion to vacate . . .

 

The judgment entered by the circuit clerk on the arbitrator’s award pursuant to § 6-6-15 is a conditional one; it does not become a final appealable judgment until the circuit court has had an opportunity to consider a motion to vacate filed by a party seeking review of the arbitration award. A party seeking review of an arbitration award is required to file a motion to vacate . . . ‘within 30 days of filing the notice of appeal of the arbitration award and the clerk’s entry of the conditional judgment based thereon’ in order to ‘invoke the circuit court’s authority to set aside the [conditional] judgment’ on the arbitration award. Id. If the party wishing to challenge the arbitration award does not file a motion to vacate within that time, the circuit court’s judgment based on the arbitration award becomes final. Id.

 

If the party files a timely motion to vacate, ‘the circuit court shall then have 90 days, unless that time is extended by the consent of all the parties, to dispose of the motion.’ Id.  ‘If the circuit court grants the motion to vacate during this 90-day period, then the nonmovant has 42 days from the order granting the motion in which to file in the circuit court a notice of appeal of the court’s judgment. If the circuit court denies the motion to vacate within 90 days or allows the motion to be denied by inaction after 90 days, then the conditional judgment entered by the circuit clerk becomes final, and the appeal [of the party challenging the award] is processed based on the prior notice of appeal.’