On June 25, 2009, the Appellate Division decided IAFF, Local 1197 v. Township of Edison, Docket No.: A-0194-08T1. In the case, IAFF, Local 1197 appeals from an order entered by the trial court on August 4, 2008, denying its motion for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in this action to enforce an arbitration award against defendant Township of Edison (“Township”) and for interest on the arbitration award.
Plaintiff is the exclusive representative for firefighters and certain other emergency workers employed by the Township. A collective bargaining agreement between the parties had been in effect from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2004. The parties engaged in negotiations, but were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.
Consequently, on May 12, 2005, plaintiff initiated compulsory interest arbitration by filing a petition with the Public Employment Relations Commission (“PERC”). The proceedings ultimately resulted in a decision by the arbitrator on April 7, 2008, which granted the affected employees retroactive and future salary increases.
On April 25, 2008, plaintiff’s counsel wrote to the Township and inquired as to when the arbitration award would be implemented. The Township responded that the award would be implemented when the new agreement was executed. Plaintiff asserted that arbitrator’s award should be implemented immediately. On May 8, 2008, the Township sent plaintiff a draft of the new contract. Plaintiff responded on May 22, 2008 and informed the Township that the salary rates in the draft agreement had not been calculated correctly. Thereafter, Plaintiff provided the Township with its own salary schedule.
By letter dated May 29, 2008, the Township advised Plaintiff that it was reviewing the salary rates submitted by Plaintiff to determine if they were correct. The Township also informed Plaintiff that retroactive payments would be made as soon as it concluded its review of the salary rates.
On May 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed a petition in the trial court to enforce the arbitration award. On June 9, 2008, the Township advised Plaintiff that it had completed its review of the salary rates submitted by Plaintiff and had determined that the rates were correct. The Township informed Plaintiff, however, that retroactive payments could not be processed until it received information concerning contributions by the employees to the Township’s deferred compensation plan. On July 1, 2008, the Township provided Plaintiff with its calculations of the retroactive payments due to the affected employees.
The trial court heard oral argument on July 3, 2008. The Township did not oppose Plaintiff’s application to enforce the arbitration award, but argued that the court should not award Plaintiff attorneys’ fees, costs, or interest on the award because it had been actively implementing the award.
The court stated on the record that it would enforce the award, but reserved decision on Plaintiff’s application for attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest on the award. On July 9, 2008, the salary increases were implemented and retroactive payments were included in paychecks issued on July 23, 2008. On August 4, 2008, the trial court entered its order denying Plaintiff’s application for attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest. Specifically, the court found: (1) the implementation of the award was complex and time consuming undertaking; (2) the Township acted in good faith and made a timely effort to implement the award in the face of challenging circumstances; and (3) there was no evidence that the Township sought to challenge or avoid compliance with award. This appeal ensued.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s determinations. The Court found that, under the Uniform Arbitration Act, the award of attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Although the Township did not implement the award immediately, the record shows the Township acted with reasonable promptness. Specifically, the Township took steps to ensure the Plaintiff agreed with its calculation of the new salary schedule and the retroactive payments required by the award. Moreover, the Court noted that some of the delay in implementing the award was attributed to Plaintiff. As such, the Court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to award Plaintiff attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest on the arbitration award.