January 2013 Bar Bulletin
Arbitrator's Powers: Expansive, but Open to Challenge if Exceeded
By Phil Cutler
Like judges, arbitrators have broad powers when managing and deciding cases. But their powers are limited by the agreement to arbitrate from which those powers are derived, and state and federal arbitration law or, in mandatory arbitrations conducted under RCW Chapter 7.06 and the MARs, by that statute and those rules.
The Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. 1–16) declares a national policy in favor of arbitration where the parties have agreed to arbitration, and governs arbitration in cases involving interstate or maritime commerce.1 For cases that fall within its reach, the FAA governs all aspects of arbitration procedure and preempts inconsistent state law.2 However, as the FAA is silent on most issues related to an arbitrator's powers,3 state law fills in those gaps and will govern as long as it does not conflict with or undermine the FAA's policy favoring arbitration.
Arbitration law in Washington was substantially changed in 2005 when the Legislature repealed RCW Chapter 7.04 and, in its place, adopted the Washington Uniform Arbitration Act, RCW Chapter 7.04A. The WUAA is modeled after, and practically a verbatim copy of, the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act promulgated by the National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in late 2000.4
For arbitrations to which the WUAA applies, the arbitrator, unless validly limited by the parties' arbitration agreement5 or the rules applicable to the proceeding: