Grabowski v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.Annotate this Case
Plaintiff-appellant Joanna Grabowski brought claims for medical malpractice against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Southern California Permanente Medical Group, and various associated physicians (collectively, Kaiser). The claims were heard by an arbitrator, pursuant to a contractual arbitration agreement. After a contested hearing, the arbitrator awarded judgment in favor of Kaiser. Grabowski petitioned the trial court to vacate the arbitration award, alleging: (1) the arbitrator committed misconduct, and revealed disqualifying bias, by engaging in an ex parte communication with Kaiser’s counsel about Grabowski’s self-represented status; (2) the arbitrator failed to disclose two matters involving Kaiser where he was selected as an arbitrator; and (3) the arbitrator improperly denied Grabowski’s request for a continuance of the arbitration hearing. The trial court found that “the arbitrator’s conduct did not rise to a level that substantially prejudiced [Grabowski’s] rights” and dismissed her petition. Grabowski appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal agrees the award should have been vacated. The Court concluded the arbitrator committed misconduct on several levels, at least one required vacating the arbitration award. The ex parte communication between the arbitrator and Kaiser’s counsel was recorded by Grabowski’s mother as part of her effort to document the arbitration hearing; the audio recording revealed comments by the arbitrator making light of Grabowski’s self- representation and her inability, in the arbitrator’s view, to effectively represent herself. The arbitrator volunteered these comments to Kaiser’s counsel, ex parte, and “they shared a hearty laugh about Grabowski’s perceived shortcomings as an advocate.” Because the arbitrator was aware of this communication and did not disclose it to Grabowski, the award had to be vacated.