Arbitration here, there, or nowhere.

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallSharpe v. Ameriplan re-engages the recurring problem of an arbitration agreement governed by multiple documents.  No. 13-10922 (Oct. 16, 2014).  Specifically:

— A Policy Manual contained an arbitration clause;

— A Broker Agreement, which incorporated the Policy Manual.  This Agreement said that the Agreement could not be changed except by written agreement, but acknowledged that the Manual could be changed at will; and

–3 of 4 plaintiffs had Sales Director Agreements that contained a lengthy dispute resolution provision, which began with a commitment to nonbinding mediation and concluded with detailed language that “claims, controversies, or disputes” be “submitted . . . to the jurisdiction” of courts in Dallas (a fourth had a much shorter provision that was simply a Dallas forum selection provision for “any action” on the agreement).

The Court held that that shorter provision did not trump the arbitration clause, but that the longer one did: “The language in Guarisco’s agreement demonstates that AmeriPlan knew how to draft a narrow forum selection clause, and its decision in later Sales Director Agreements to add far more extensive language establishing a full dispute resolution process must be given effect as creating something beyond that.”  The Court distinguished its recent opinion of Klein v. Nabors Drilling USA, L.P., 710 F.3d 234 (5th Cir. 2013), in which it read language about nonbinding mediation as not conflicting with “an exclusive procedural mechanism for the final resolution of all Disputes falling within its terms.”  (See also Lizalde v. Vista Quality Markets,  No. 13-50015 (March 25, 2014) (enforcing an arbitration agreement in the face of a benefit plan with a broad termination right, noting that both agreements’ termination provisions were limited to “this Agreement” and “this Plan” respectively and thus “clearly demarcate their respective applications”)).

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