Failure To Make Record Of Arbitration Hearing Prevents Later Challenge To Decision

A group of police officers working for the City of Weslaco, Texas, presented numerous complaints to the City regarding alleged acts of harassment, official oppression, retaliation and discrimination taken against them by then-Police Chief J.D. Martinez and other senior Police Department personnel. Eventually, the City and the officers signed an agreement to arbitrate the claims under the Uniform Arbitration Act. The agreement provides that the written decision of the two arbitration judges “shall be binding upon the sides.”

The Arbitration Panel heard sworn testimony from approximately 30 witnesses over 17 days of hearing. The Arbitration Panel found that senior police officials had engaged in “intentional, oppressive and harmful acts” against the officers, that Chief Martinez “knew or should have known” of the senior officers’ misconduct, and that by “failing to stop the officers’ abuse of their authority, Chief Martinez sanctioned the misconduct.” The Arbitrators awarded monetary damages to the officers, the removal of certain written reprimands or charges from the officers’ personnel files, and $20,000 in attorney fees. The City appealed the Arbitrators’ decision.

The Texas Court of Appeals refused to overturn the Arbitrators’ decision awarding damages and requiring the removal of the reprimands. The Court found that any party challenging an arbitrator’s award “has the burden to bring forth a complete record establishing the basis for vacating or modifying the award.” In challenging the Arbitrators’ decision, the City failed to produce any record of the hearing – in fact, the City argued that there was no complete record of the arbitration proceedings.

The Court found that the failure to create or produce a record barred the City from later challenging the Arbitrators’ decision: “Without a record, we presume that adequate evidence was presented to support the Arbitrators’ award. The burden is on the City to establish that the Arbitrators exceeded their authority: The City has not met its burden. The record before us does not include any evidence that the Arbitrators exceeded their authority.”

The Court did vacate the award of attorney fees, finding that Texas law did not provide for the award of attorney fees as a remedy in arbitration cases unless such a remedy was clearly agreed to by the parties.

City of Weslaco v. Castillo, 2007 WL 2811631 (Tex.App. 2007).

This article appears in the December 2007 issue