1. No party seeks affirmative relief other than a money judgment; and
2. (No party seeks an award in excess of the jurisdictional limit for arbitration set by applicable local rule of the Superior Court. (Rule 72, ARCP)
For purposes of these rules, “award” and “affirmative relief” include punitive damages, but do not include interest, attorneys' fees or costs. This required parties at the time they filed their initial pleadings to certify whether the claims were subject to compulsory arbitration. Of course, these rules also included arbitration by consent also apply. (Rule 72, ARCP) Once the suitability for arbitration is determined, the court assigns an arbitrator and the parties proceed to an arbitration hearing which will result in a decision filed by the arbitrator with the court. Within ten days of the notice of decision, either party may submit to the arbitrator a proposed form of award or other final disposition, which may include monetary damages, interest, attorneys' fees and court costs, and sanctions if appropriate. After the arbitrator consider and rules upon timely objections he renders a final decision, signs, and files the arbitration award. (Rule 76, ARCP)
What if a party fails to file a proposed arbitration award? Well, there is the missed opportunity to recoup court costs, attorney fees, and interest, but still the rules provide that unless a formal award or stipulation for entry of another form of relief is filed with the court within 50 days from the date of filing the notice of decision, the notice of decision shall constitute the award of the arbitrator. (Rule 76(b), ARCP)
So what? Any party who appears and participates in the arbitration proceedings may appeal from the award or other final disposition by filing a notice of appeal with the Clerk of the Superior Court within 20 days after the filing of the award or 20 days after the date upon which the notice of decision becomes an award, whichever occurs first. (Rule 77, ARCP) However, even though the parties get a fresh opportunity to present their case, the judgment after a trial de novo must be at least twenty-three percent (23%) more favorable for the party who appealed the arbitration award. Otherwise, the the court may order the appellant to pay the non-appealing parties court costs and fees. (Rule 77, ARCP) In other words, by the time a case has proceeded from arbitration to trial, the recovery of attorney fees may become the driving force behind litigation. In such cases, if a party who prevails at arbitration, but gambled by appealing the arbitration award in hope of getting a better judgement, and failed to do 23% better, will get a judgement; but that gain may be lost after being ordered to pay the losing party's court costs, attorney fees, and other costs associated witht he apeal.Translation: there is a risk of actually losing for winning.
But this is not all, supposing a party does not appeal the decision of the arbitrator. Suppose they have successfully obtained an award for what they desired including court costs and attorney fees, are they in the clear? No. After a party has survived the gauntlet of litigation and secured a favorable arbitration award, the entire case shall be permanently dismissed unless the prevailing party remembers to file an application for the entry of judgment on the arbitration award within 120 days from the date of the filing of the notice of decision. (Rule 76(d), ARCP) Remember the clock starts counting from the date of the notice of decision of the arbitrator, NOT from the date of the filing of the final arbitration award.
So litigants beware! In cases of compulsory arbitration, your best laid efforts will go up in flames unless the superior court judge signs off by entering judgment on the arbitration award. As such, in cases of arbitration, even after obtaining the award, the process is not over, until and unless the fat lady sings.