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Colacurcio v. Frei

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

December 30, 2019

MARIA COLACURCIO, Respondent,
v.
BRENT FREI, Appellant.

          Leach, J.

         Brent Frei asks this court to modify a decision by a commissioner of this court concluding that he does not have an immediate right to appeal superior court orders that recused one arbitrator and appointed another. Because Frei may not appeal these orders as of right, we deny the motion to modify.

         FACTS

         On June 5, 2018, Maria Colacurcio sued her ex-husband, Brent Frei. She claimed that during the mediation of their marriage dissolution case, Frei committed securities fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, and other misconduct by failing to disclose important financial information. The mediation produced a settlement agreement that included an arbitration provision:

Williams . . .; or another agreed upon arbitrator (if the parties cannot agree, two of the above named arbitrator[ ]s will decide upon a person to act) if none of the above are available to act.

         Colacurcio asked the court to decide that her claims were not subject to this arbitration provision. Frei asked the court to compel arbitration. The trial court granted Frei's request and ordered arbitration before Dan Williams, who had served as their mediator, "or another agreed upon arbitrator in compliance with the parties' CR 2A Agreement." Neither party appealed the order. Arbitration began before Williams.

         Several months into arbitration, during a March 2019 deposition, Frei said that during the mediation he disclosed to Williams information that Colacurcio claimed Frei withheld from her. After the deposition, Colacurcio's counsel sent a letter to Williams, raising the concern that Frei's statements made Williams a material witness and undermined his ability to serve as arbitrator. Frei's counsel sent Williams a letter denying Williams's importance as a witness and describing Williams as "the appropriate person to arbitrate this dispute." Williams then suspended his involvement in the arbitration "absent further agreement or court order."

         Colacurcio asked Frei to agree to proposed conditions under which Williams could continue as arbitrator, to stipulate to a new arbitrator, or to provide the names of acceptable replacements. Frei responded by asking the trial court "to enforce [the] parties' CR 2A agreement" and rule that Williams should continue as arbitrator. In his request, he described the issue before the court as, "Should the Court enforce the parties' CR 2A agreement and retain Dan Williams as Arbitrator?" He asserted that recusal was not appropriate given the circumstances and Washington law and that Colacurcio's request would prejudice him improperly.

         The same day Colacurcio asked the court to disqualify Williams and appoint a new arbitrator. She suggested Judge Palmer Robinson (retired), Judge Paris Kallas (retired), or attorney James Smith. Frei replied that it was premature to consider replacement arbitrators and asked the court to maintain Williams. He also rejected the three arbitrators Colacurcio suggested and named two attorneys, Larry Besk and Teresa McNally.

         The trial court disqualified Williams. It found that Frei's alleged ex parte communication with him was a central issue in the arbitration. The court ordered James Smith to replace Williams. If Smith was not available or was unwilling to serve, it ordered Judge Palmer Robinson to replace Williams. It concluded by stating that the court case remained "stayed pending resolution of the parties' arbitration."

         Frei asked the court to reconsider part of its decision, contending that the parties had to agree to a replacement arbitrator. He also claimed that the court should not appoint Smith because Frei's counsel had consulted with Smith earlier about the case. He stated that "[s]electing a new arbitrator in accordance with [the] CR 2A Agreement's mandated procedures will not be a futile exercise given that Mr. Frei is prepared to agree to the appointment of Judge Kallas."

         The trial court ruled that because of this communication, Smith should not serve as arbitrator. It found "that the time for mutually agreeing on an alternative [arbitrator] has passed, in that the parties had the opportunity to agree, and were unable to do so." It appointed Judge Robinson or, alternatively, Judge Kallas.

         Frei filed a notice of appeal challenging the trial court orders that disqualified Williams and appointed Robinson. Colacurcio moved to dismiss the appeal, asserting that the orders were not appealable and the court should not grant discretionary review.[1] A commissioner of this court ruled that the challenged orders were not immediately appealable.

         Frei filed a motion to modify the commissioner's ruling and asked this court to stay the arbitration until we resolved the issue of who would be the arbitrator. A commissioner stayed the arbitration and ordered that any note for a hearing on a motion for discretionary review would be due 10 days after this court's decision on the motion to modify.

         ANALYSIS

         Frei contends that RAP 2.2(a)(3) and RCW 7.04A.280(1)(a) provide him with an immediate right to appeal the trial court's orders removing Williams as arbitrator and appointing a new arbitrator. We disagree.

         This court reviews a motion to modify a commissioner's ruling de novo.[2]RAP 2.2 identifies the decisions that a party may appeal as a matter of right. RAP 2.3 provides a procedure for requesting discretionary appellate review of a superior court decision not appealable as a matter of right. This rule also describes the considerations governing acceptance of discretionary review. Frei has not filed a ...


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