Litigation triple-header

cerebrusIn a followup to Al Rushaid v. Nat’l Oilwell Varco, Inc., 757 F.3d 416 (5th Cir. 2014), the Fifth Circuit confronted a situtation where the plaintiffs’ claims against National Oilwell Varco Norway would be arbitrated before the ICC; claims against NOV LP, an American affiliate would be arbitrated in the Southern District of Texas; and claims against other NOV entities that did not sign the relevant arbitration agreement would proceed in Texas state court. The Court declined jurisdiction over NOV LP’s appeal because the district court granted its TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Smallmotion to compel arbitration, leaving no statutory basis for an otherwise interlocutory appeal.  As to the nonsignatories, the Court affirmed, finding that the plaintiffs were not seeking to enforce either contract that implicated arbitration.  Acknowledging that the litigation would be “fragmented,” the Court observed: “This is an inevitable and permissible consequence where one of multiple defendants asserts a right to arbitrate.”  Al Rushaid v. National Oilwell Varco, No. 15-20260 (Feb. 17, 2016).  [On the issue of “fragmentation,” consider the dueling opinions in the recent case of In re: Rolls-Royce Corp., 775 F.3d 671 (5th Cir. 2014)]

Beyond the outer bound of arbitrability theories . . .

limit-signIn USHealth Group v. South, applying Texas law, the Fifth Circuit rejected the use of “concerted misconduct estoppel” to compel arbitration against a nonsignatory (citing In re: Merrill Lynch Trust Co. FSB, 235 S.W.3d 185 (Tex. 2007)), and also found no basis for “direct benefits estoppel” because the claims did not arise solely from the contracts with the arbitration clause, and the issues in dispute could be resolved without reference to those contracts (citing In re: Weekley Homes, L.P., 180 S.W.3d 127 (Tex. 2005)).  No. 15-10117 (Dec. 8, 2015, unpublished).

I have to arbitrate, you have to arbitrate.

seabreezeA general contractor began an arbitration against several subcontractors about problems with the Sea Breeze Condominiums and Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi.  One of the subcontractors resisted the arbitration demand; while it won in district court, the Fifth Circuit reversed, based on this contract language: “If the Contractor has a claim or dispute involving the same general subject matter, either in whole or in part, with any third party if elected by the Contractor, the Subcontractor shall assert its claims and defenses in and shall be bound TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Smallby the same forum and in the same proceeding which has jurisdiction over the claims or disputes between the Contractor and such third party.” Unlike other contract terms about arbitration, this clause had no limitation as to the Subcontractor’s claims against a particular party.  New Orleans Glass Co. Roy Anderson Corp., No. 15-60083 (Dec. 1, 2015, unpublished).

“Related to” and arbitration

Vocada sued Nuance for securities fraud.  They had a merger agreement in which they agreed to arbitrate “any . . . dispute relating to the Earnout Consideration.”  The Fifth Circuit found that this claim had to be arbitrated, noting: “Although the arbitration clause as a whole is narrow, the ‘relates to’ language is broad.  The clause does not require that the remedy sought in arbitration be the earnout consideration or that the claim relate to how the earnout consideration is calculated or distributed.”  Accordingly, “this securities fraud ‘dispute’ is arbitrable because it ‘relates to’ the representations that Nuance made about how to achieve the Earnout Consideration.”  Murchison Capital Partners, L.P. v. Nuance Communications, Inc., No. 14-1819 (Aug. 11, 2015).

Arbitration, I presume?

TRC Environmental Corporation, the contractor on a project to decommission a power plant, sued LVI Facilities Services for breach of its subcontract with TRC.  The subcontract said that “All disputes arising under the Contract Documents will be resolved in accordance with the terms of the Project Agreement”; otherwise, they would be arbitrated.  The Project Agreement spelled out various ADR processes but did not require arbitration.  In affirming the rejection of LVI’s motion to compel arbitration, the Fifth Circuit reminded: “The Federal Arbitration Act codifies a ‘liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.’  But, this presumption applies when a court evaluates the scope of an arbitration under the second step of the arbitration analysis, not when a court is determining whether a valid arbitration agreement exists at all.”  TRC Environmental Corp. v. LVI Facility Servcs., No. 14-51269 (May 22, 2015, unpublished).

Challenge to arbitration award shot down as untimely

texas patersonHeritage and OMG disputed their commissions related to the auction of high-end firearms (such as Colt’s Texas Paterson, right).  They arbitrated and Heritage won.  OMG successfully opposed confirmation in the district court, which concluded: “By finding that the [parties contracts]  never came into existence, the arbitrator intruded on an issue that was reserved for an alternative decision-maker and thereby exceeded his authority.”  OMG, LP v. Heritage Auctions, Inc., No. 14-10403 (May 8, 2015, unpublished).

The Fifth Circuit disagreed.  It reminded: “By submitting issues for an arbitrator’s consideration, parties may expand an arbitrator’s authority beyond that provided by the original arbitration agreement such that we need not address whether the original agreement encompassed such authority.”  Here, “the parties agreed to arbitrate the issue of contract formation by submitting, briefing, and generally disputing that issue throughout the arbitration proceedings, with the plaintiffs never contesting the arbitrator’s authority to decide contract formation until he issued an adverse award.”

To compel arbitration, do not misplace the arbitration agreement.

lostlogoChester sued DIRECTV for age discrimination; it moved to compel arbitration.  Chester swore: “I do not remember signing any arbitration agreement, and dispute that I signed an arbitration agreement with Directv, LLC at anytime. . . . Had I been offered an arbitration agreement I would have attempted to continue my employment without signing it, and only would have signed it if the employer threatened to terminate me if it was not signed. . . . If I was threatened with termination if I did not sign an arbitration agreement I would remember it. Since I do not remember any such threat I am sure I did not sign an arbitration agreement.”

DIRECTV, admitting that it lost the arbitration agreement, argued that it had a practice of having employees sign one of two form agreements.  The Fifth Circuit was unimpressed, noting that the two agreements contained substantial substantive differences.  DIRECTV sought solace in the fact that it had lost Chester’s entire file, not just the arbitration agreement; the Court noted that DIRECTV was unable to provide arbitration agreements for 26 of the 87 other employees in the relevant office.  In sum: “Considering the entire record, it is clear that, somewhere along the way, DIRECTV’s purported practice of collecting and filing arbitration agreements for all new employees broke down . . . .” Chester v. DIRECTV, LLC, No. 14-60247 (April 29, 2015, unpublished).

No estoppel, so no arbitration

finraSeveral investors in the ill-fated Stanford scheme sued Pershing LLC, who provided clearing services to the Stanford Group.  Many of the investors had contracts with Pershing that required arbitration with FINRA, but one group did not, and sought to compel arbitration based on estoppel theories.  As to a “direct benefits” theory, the Fifth Circuit found “no evidence that Pershing was aware that [the investors] had executed contracts to purchase CDs from the Stanford entities,” reminding that “a nonsignatory’s generalized sense that the two contracting parties have a course of dealing will not satisfy this requirement.”  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the denial of the plaintiffs’ motion to compel arbitration.

How to enjoin a former employee

stopsignHalliburton obtained an injunction in an arbitration against a former employee.  The employee sought vacatur under the FAA, arguing that it allows judicial review of an injunction for vagueness.  After reviewing some dispute as to whether such review is allowed after Hall Street, the Court rejected the challenge.  The employee challenged a provision that enjoined him from “utilizing in any fashion” certain documents “that concern [Halliburton’s] products or services, arguing that “utilization” was undefined, the limitation had no time period, and the document description was vague.  The Court found that, “read in context,” it was clear that the arbitrator was referring to material that the employee had improperly taken from Halliburton.  Because this gave the employee “fair notice of what he may, and must not, do,” it was “clearly capable of being implemented and enforced.” McVay v. Halliburton Energy Services, No. 10-10172 (April 22, 2015).  The entire injunction appears on pages 6-7 of the opinion and is of general interest to noncompete and trade secret litigation.

Public policy challenge to arbitration award sinks at sea

rickmers_dailanLito Asignacion, a Filipino seaman, worked aboard the M/V RICKMERS DALIAN (right, en route to Antwerp at the time of this post) – a “superflex heavy” container ship owned by a German company and flying the flag of the Marshall Islands.  Severely burned in an onboard accident, he went to arbitration in the Phillippines under Filipino law, and received an award of $1,700 — significantly less than U.S. maritime law would afford.  The district court refused to enforce the award on public policy grounds, and the Fifth Circuit reversed.  Asignacion v. Rickmers Genoa, No. 14-30132 (April 16, 2015).  Acknowledging the strong U.S. policy that gives “special solicitude to seamen” and treats them as “wards of admiralty,” the Court found it outweighed by the policy in favor of arbitration, coupled with unique considerations about the legal arrangements under which Filipino citizens find employment at sea.  It also rejected a challenge based on the “prospective waiver” doctrine, finding that the Supreme Court had not extended it beyond purely statutory rights.

Error in arbitrator appointment = vacated award

BWIFLAGSeveral insurance-related businesses had a dispute. The businesses were not all parties to all relevant agreements, leading to confusion about whether arbitration should proceed with the AAA or ICC, and about how to select an arbitrator. The district court found that the arbitrator was not appointed correctly, vacated the award, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed: “Arbitration is simply a matter of contract between the parties; it is a way to resolve those disputes — but only those disputes — that the parties have agreed to submit to arbitration.”  Poolre Ins. Corp. v. Organizational Strategies, Inc., No. 14-20433 (April 7, 2015).   Interestingly, the relevant contract required arbitrator selection “by the Anguilla, [British West Indies] Director of Insurance” — a nonexistent position.  This error did not moot that provision, however, but simply implicated the section 5 of the FAA, which lets a district judge appoint an arbitrator if “a lapse in the naming of an arbitrator” arises.