The failure of arbitrator John Chalk to disclose his religious beliefs and attendance at Christian universities to the parties in a breach of contract dispute constitutes evident partiality and mandates the $603,000 award at issue be vacated, a Dallas area pain management clinic recently argued.
American Pain and Wellness, represented by Seth I. Rubinson of Rubinson Law in Houston, filed a motion to vacate the award in favor of APW’s former employee, Dr. Lee A. Brock, on Monday, telling Dallas County District Judge Monica Purdy that Chalk had “intentionally failed to disclose material portions of his education, training, experience which would have directly influenced the arbitrator selection process.”
Chalk is accused of intentionally failing to disclose his prior work as a minister and his attendance at Abilene Christian University and Harding University Graduate School in the early 1960s, before he attended the University of Texas School of Law in 1971. Chalk is the managing member of Whitaker Chalk in Fort Worth.
The issue, according to APW’s motion, is that Brock “shares the same personal undisclosed background and interest of arbitrator Chalk in Christian faith, the ministry, and application of his religious views and belief in Jesus Christ to his profession.”
Rubinson told The Lawbook in an interview Wednesday that he’s developed a specialty in handling motions to vacate arbitration awards across the country but said he hasn’t previously raised this particular argument — regarding religious training and inclination — nor has he seen it raised in similar motions.
“It may be a relatively novel issue in the area of vacatur,” he said.
But the argument has merit, he said, because the parties to an arbitration are supposed to disclose “interests as well as relationships.” He said because religion is “obviously an intensive part of” Chalk’s life, it should have been disclosed.
“I don’t think it’s often seen, and in this case I think it’s at least relatively unique, in that the other party to the litigation shared those qualities and during the course of the litigation religious issues were raised,” he said.
Counsel for Brock sent a letter to Rubinson Wednesday demanding the motion be withdrawn by 5 p.m. Friday or they will seek sanctions and an order of contempt.
“If this were a valid basis to challenge an arbitration award, every arbitrator would be required to disclose their religious beliefs, political views, sexual orientation, etc.,” reads the letter signed by Dave Wishnew of Crawford Wishnew & Lang. “As a Jew, I could move to vacate any award in which the arbitrator was an undisclosed Christian or Muslim. If an arbitrator is an undisclosed republican, would that give the right for litigants that are democrats to object? If the arbitrator is an undisclosed vegan, would that give the right for litigants that eat meat to object? The examples of this ludicrous position are endless. You should be embarrassed and ashamed.”
In an interview with The Lawbook Wednesday, Wishnew said he was “shocked” to read the arguments in the motion to vacate.
“I’ve never seen the argument made, and the reason is because it’s a ludicrous and offensive argument,” he said. “It’s offensive to suggest that a man’s faith would render him unable to be impartial.”
Wishnew said Rubinson promptly responded to his demand letter.
“He said he didn’t want to talk and that if we filed a motion for sanctions, he would seek sanctions against us for filing it,” Wishnew said.
Mark T.J. Jones of Crawford Wishnew & Lang, who also represents Brock, said Chalk’s alleged failure to disclose to the parties his religious history isn’t borne out by the evidence. The law firm that handled the case for two years had Chalk’s full resume, he said.
“The specific basis for what they’re alleging is that arbitrator Chalk didn’t disclose his religious background and the [resume] wasn’t disseminated and that he concealed it,” Jones said. “Well, the fact is arbitrator Chalk didn’t conceal anything. It was available on request and the law firm representing APW had this document.”
Brock filed the motion to confirm the arbitration award on Monday, according to court records. The arbitration involved Brock’s claims that he wasn’t paid and reimbursed for expenses in accordance with his employment contract.
Arbitration took place in January 2022, and the award of $603,376 plus daily interest of $136 was issued June 30, according to court records.
The docket did not reflect as of Wednesday afternoon that a hearing had been set on the motion to vacate.
The case number is DC-23-09201.