As most attorneys practicing in Washington State will know by now, the statute governing our Mandatory Arbitration Rules (MAR) changed effective September 1, 2018. Some of the changes – such as a substantial increase in the jurisdictional amount – are significant.
“Civil” Arbitration Rules (RCW 7.06.010)
The new rules remove any reference to the word “mandatory”, instead renaming them “Civil Arbitration Rules”.
The statute remains mandatory (or “required”) only for counties with a population over 100,000. Other counties will decide by vote of their Superior Court judges whether or not to implement the statute.
Increase in Jurisdictional Limit (RCW 7.06.020)
Until September 1, 2018, cases were subject to mandatory arbitration only if the amount of monetary relief claimed did not exceed $50,000. The jurisdictional limit has been increased to $100,000; however, a two-thirds vote of the Superior Court judges of the county is required to raise the limits to $100,000. King County has done so effective September 1, 2019 for cases filed after that date, and has amended LMAR 2.1(a) accordingly.
Of note to those attorneys practicing in the area of family law, the provision allowing maintenance and child support obligations to be arbitrated regardless of the amount or number of payments involved remains within the purview of each county, and requires a majority vote of the county’s Superior Court judges.
Qualifications of Arbitrators (RCW 7.06.04)
In a change that is significant primarily to arbitrators, the new rules require that an individual may not be appointed to serve as arbitrator unless that individual has completed three hours of legal education credits on the professional and ethical considerations of serving as an arbitrator. There are some exceptions, which will depend on the specific county.
Some, including King County, allow arbitrators with sufficient arbitration experience to continue to handle arbitrations without the CLE requirement.
Date of Hearing (RCW 7.06.043)
The new rules create a state-wide requirement that hearings be scheduled to take place no sooner than 21 days and no later than 75 days after appointment of the arbitrator. In effect, this means that a decision can be obtained on a case within three months of appointment.
Parties may stipulate to a different timeline, and arbitrators are authorized to delay the hearing beyond the 75-day limit upon good cause shown. However, parties should be aware of any applicable local rules that may impact the ability to enter into such stipulations.
Discovery (RCW 7.06.047)
This is a change to the limits on discovery after assignment to arbitration. Parties may request medical examinations under CR 35, request admissions under CR 36, and take the depositions of parties. No other discovery is permitted except by order of the arbitrator.
Appeals (RCW 7.06.050)
The significant change to this section is the requirement that any notice of appeal must be signed by the party, rather than merely by the party’s attorney.
Although the statute became effective as of September 1, 2018, implementation requires action by each county’s judiciary. Therefore, the actual changes for practitioners and starting dates will vary by county. New statewide arbitration rules are expected, but not yet issued, as of the date of this posting. However, some counties have issued new LMAR provisions and the statutory changes are in effect in those counties.