Broad judicial deference is given to arbitration awards even where blatant factual or legal errors appear on their face. While California courts have no authority to review the reasoning by which arbitrators reach their conclusions, or even correct facial errors of fact or law, the courts can vacate or modify an award where arbitrators step beyond those powers granted to them by the parties in their agreement or in their submission of issues to be arbitrated. Code of Civil Procedure §1286.2(a)(4) provides in pertinent part that the court shall vacate an arbitration award if it determines that “[t]he arbitrators exceeded their powers and the award cannot be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision upon the controversy submitted.”
Attacks by disappointed parties claiming that arbitrators exceeded their powers rarely succeed because the courts construe the “excessive powers” ground narrowly. They are, however, are amenable to challenges on this basis where arbitration awards, including remedies ordered, conflict with an established public policy, including perceived impingement on constitutional or statutory rights, or the award is attacked as a product of procedural unfairness prejudicing a party’s rights. The courts may also find that a party has waived an otherwise successful excessive powers attack through its own conduct during the arbitration and the scope of its submissions, thus warranting caution that objections must be raised to the scope of the arbitrators’ authority during the proceedings to preserve the excessive powers ground to vacate an adverse award.
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