The Ninth Circuit recently decided two cases related to arbitration awards arising out of a settlement agreement between the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) and MultiCare Health System governing nurses' breaks and staffing plans. The settlement agreement required MultiCare to adopt practices such that each nurse receives a 15-minute break every four hours of work, but also to ensure that such practices do not violate the staffing plan. An arbitrator agreed that MultiCare had violated these requirements and ordered MultiCare cease using the "buddy system" as a practice to provide breaks and required assignment of a reserve or floating nurse to ensure compliance. The district court vacated the award as to the buddy system but did not address the reserve or floating nurse component.

First, the Ninth Circuit held that the lower court erred in its conclusion that the settlement agreement did not allow the arbitrator to eliminate the practice of using the buddy system. Citing precedent severely restricting vacatur where the arbitrator even arguably construed the contract, the court found the arbitrator appropriately considered the buddy system and the settlement and determined that the buddy system violated the essence of the settlement agreement.

Second, the court found no reason to vacate the award regarding the use of reserve or float nurses where the district court declined to rule on MultiCare's objection because it had already vacated the award regarding the use of the buddy system. Even if there was ambiguity in the basis of the award, the court noted, that would not be grounds to vacate the award.

Finally, the court affirmed the lower court's finding that MultiCare failed to show any bias, partiality, or other wrongdoing on the arbitrator's behalf to warrant reassigning the case to a different arbitrator for any further proceedings.

Multicare Health Sys. v. Wash. State Nurses Ass'n, No. 16-36048 (9th Cir. July 23, 2018).

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