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Ronald Lee Worman and Sherri Lynne Worman, Deceased v. Bp America Production Company

March 25, 2011

RONALD LEE WORMAN AND SHERRI LYNNE WORMAN, DECEASED, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] An arbitrator denied Ronald Worman's claims against BP America Production Company. In the district court, Mr. Worman sought to vacate the arbitrator's decision. The district court denied the motion, and Mr. Worman appealed. We will affirm the district court.

ISSUE

[¶2] Mr. Worman contends that the arbitrator's decision must be vacated because it shows "a manifest mistake of fact and law."

FACTS

[¶3] On August 23, 2006, Mr. Worman was working for Nabors Drilling Company on an oil rig in Carbon County, Wyoming. The well site was owned and operated by BP, and Wayne Sanford was BP's "company man" on site.*fn1 According to Mr. Worman, Mr. Sanford, "[w]ithout warning, provocation, or any cause," grabbed Mr. Worman and placed him in a "head lock" and squeezed. Mr. Worman felt a "popping sensation in his neck, and immediately experienced significant and severe pain." A few minutes later, Mr. Sanford put his hands around Mr. Worman's neck and began choking him. Mr. Worman filed suit against Mr. Sanford, BP, and two co-workers, claiming he had sustained serious and permanent injury to his neck as a result of Mr. Sanford's actions.*fn2

[¶4] BP filed a motion with the district court seeking to compel arbitration of the claims, asserting that arbitration was required pursuant to agreements among BP, Nabors Drilling, and the employees of Nabors. The district court stayed the litigation and ordered the parties to submit to arbitration. At some point, Mr. Worman reached settlement agreements with the other defendants, and arbitration proceeded only on his claims against BP. The arbitrator ruled that BP was liable for Sanford's actions only if they were "within the scope of employment or apparent scope of authority." She concluded that Mr. Sanford's actions constituted "horseplay" that was "motivated by personal reasons" and "outside the scope of his authority." On that basis, she ruled that BP was not liable to Mr. Worman.

[¶5] Mr. Worman asked the district court to vacate the arbitrator's decision, asserting that it reflected a "manifest mistake of Wyoming law." The district court concluded that manifest mistake of law is not one of the grounds available for vacating this arbitration award, but even if it were, the Arbitrator had not made a manifest mistake of Wyoming law. It denied Mr. Worman's motion, and Mr. Worman perfected this appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] We review de novo a district court's decision to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award. "When reviewing the district court's order after an arbitration, we 'undertake a full review of the record without deference to the views of the trial court.'" Welty v. Brady, 2005 WY 157, ¶ 12, 123 P.3d 920, 924 (Wyo. 2005), quoting JBC of Wyoming Corp. v. City of Cheyenne, 843 P.2d 1190, 1194 (Wyo. 1992), quoting Inter-Mountain Threading, Inc. v. Baker Hughes Tubular Servs., Inc., 812 P.2d 555, 558 (Wyo. 1991). At the same time, this Court, like the district court, shows substantial deference to the decision of the arbitrator.

In reviewing the record below, we are mindful that the grounds for vacating or modifying an arbitrator's award remain narrow in scope. Because of its voluntary, informal nature, awards made in arbitration are subject to less intensive scrutiny than are, for example, the orders of administrative agencies. The reviewing court must observe the principle that arbitrators are free to fashion forms of relief which could not be ordered by a court in law or equity. Furthermore, we are reluctant to disturb an arbitrator's just solution to a controversy, even if it differs from the resolution we might have chosen, had we been in ...


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