A state court in Florida held that an arbitration conducted by the Better Business Bureau regarding a complaint under Florida’s lemon law was a quasi-judicial hearing, and thus an arbitrator was afforded absolute immunity for acts in relation to the proceeding.
In Kidwell v. General Motors Corp., No. 2D05-5935, 2007 WL 2213324 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.2d Aug. 03, 2007), Billy Kidwell purchased a truck from General Motors (GM). He subsequently filed complaint under Florida’s Lemon Law alleging problems with the vehicle. Subsequent to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) arbitration proceeding, an award was issued in GM’s favor.
Kidwell filed a multi-count complaint against GM and Nichols, an employee of GM. Nichols moved to dismiss the claims against him, contending that he was entitled to immunity for acts in relation to the arbitration proceeding.
The trial court rejected Kidwell’s argument that Nichols was not entitled to such protection because the BBB arbitration was not a judicial or quasi-judicial hearing.
This Court agreed. “An arbitration hearing, although informal, is a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding.” See Cassara v. Wofford, 55 So.2d 102, 106 (Fla. 1951). As such, absolute immunity is afforded to acts done in relation to the proceeding.
The Court rejected Kidwell’s contentions that the BBB arbitration lacked due process, was biased, and was paid for by a private corporation.
First, Kidwell was given opportunity to testify, offer evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses. Second, he had opportunity to appeal the decision through the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board and failed to do so.
Finally, GM does not own or operate the BBB Auto Line Arbitration program. Additionally, the procedure is audited once a year and certified by the Division of Consumer Services of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court concluded that the BBB arbitration proceeding was a quasi-judicial hearing and thus, Nichols had absolute immunity from Kidwell’s complaints.
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