Parties seeking to vacate an arbitration award in Ohio courts better act quickly -especially if the opposing party has already moved to confirm the arbitration award. That's the key takeaway from BST Ohio Corp. v. Wolgang, 2021-Ohio-1785, the Ohio Supreme Court's latest decision to further Ohio's public policy preference for arbitration. Wolgang clarifies that the deadline to move to vacate, correct, or modify an arbitration award is the earlier of these two dates: (1) the date of the hearing to confirm the arbitration award; or (2) three months from the day the award is issued.
Put differently, three months is the absolute maximum amount of time to vacate an arbitration award in Ohio courts. But if a party moves to confirm an arbitration award, the opposing party must move to vacate the award before the court's hearing to confirm the award - even if the hearing is less than three months after the arbitration award was issued. Indeed, the deadline to vacate an arbitration award could come as soon as five days after the arbitrator issues an award.
The facts in Wolgang help explain this rule. A lengthy arbitration with the two main parties - BST Ohio Corporation (BST) and Evan Gary Wolgang - ended on Dec. 6, 2018, when the arbitrator issued its award. That same day, BST applied to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to confirm that award. The next day, Wolgang moved to vacate or correct the award in California, where he thought jurisdiction and venue were proper. Meanwhile, the trial court scheduled a hearing on BST's application to confirm the award for Dec. 27.
Wolgang made a fatal mistake: he never moved to vacate the award in Ohio. So when the trial court heard the parties in late December, there was no pending motion to vacate the arbitration award - only BST's motion to confirm. About two weeks after that hearing - and just over one month after the arbitrator issued the award - the trial court confirmed the award. Wolgang appealed - and the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that the Ohio Arbitration Act gives parties like Wolgang a full three months to move to vacate, correct, or modify an arbitration award. So BST appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
At issue before the Ohio Supreme Court were two key provisions of the Ohio Arbitration Act. First, R.C. 2711.09 sets a one-year deadline to confirm an arbitration award, instructing that courts "shall grant" the confirmation "unless the award is vacated, modified, or corrected." Second, R.C. 2711.13 sets a three-month deadline to move to vacate, correct, or modify an arbitration award. Wolgang argued that R.C. 2711.13 effectively imposes a three-month waiting period before a court may confirm an arbitration award under R.C. 2711.09, giving parties time to challenge an arbitration award in court.
But the Ohio Supreme Court rejected that interpretation, explaining that nothing in the Ohio Arbitration Act - or R.C. 2711.09, specifically - required the trial court to wait for the three-month limitation period to expire before confirming the award. While R.C. 2711.09 requires at least five days' notice before a hearing on an application to confirm an arbitration award, the court described the three-month limitation period as "an upper limit that may be shortened by another party's filing a pleading or motion to which a response is required." So when BST moved to confirm the arbitration award and the court scheduled a hearing, Wolgang was on notice that his deadline to challenge the award was fast approaching.
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