SUPREME COURT HOLDS ARBITRATOR CAN FULLY DECIDE THRESHOLD ARBITRABILITY ISSUE

shutterstock_1018025605The United States Supreme Court recently decided parties to a contract can agree, under the Federal Arbitration Act, an arbitrator, rather than a court, can fully resolve the initial arbitrability question.  Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., 2019 WL 122164 (2019).  The arbitrability question is whether the dispute itself is subject to arbitration under an arbitration provision.  Parties that do not want to arbitrate try to circumvent this process by filing a lawsuit and asking the court to determine the threshold arbitrability question.  

 

In Henry Schein, Inc., the contract at-issue provided:

 

This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of the State of North Carolina.  Any dispute arising under or related to this Agreement (except for actions seeking injunctive relief and disputes related to trademarks, trade secrets, or other intellectual property) shall be resolved by binding arbitration in accordance with the arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association.  The place of arbitration shall be in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

The plaintiff in this case asserted a claim for injunctive relief (among other claims) and argued that, therefore, the dispute is not subject to arbitration based on the exception in the provision.  The initial, threshold issue became whether the dispute was subject to arbitration and, importantly, who decides this issue. The Court further looked at whether a trial court can resolve this issue under the “wholly groundless” exception, i.e.,the court can decide the issue if the argument for arbitration is wholly groundless.  

 

The Supreme Court held that, “[w]hen the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, a court may not override the contract.  In those circumstances, a court possesses no power to decide the arbitrability issue.  That is true even if the court thinks that the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to a particular dispute is wholly groundless.” Henry Schein, Inc, supra, at *4.  Through this ruling, the Court rejected the wholly groundless exception that would allow a trial court to rule on an threshold arbitrability question if the argument for arbitration is wholly groundless. 

 

The Court did not rule as to whether the arbitration provision at-issue delegated the arbitrability question to the arbitrator.   However, the American Arbitration Association’s rules provide that arbitrators have the power to resolve such threshold arbitrability questions so there is an argument that the provision through reference to the American Arbitration Association gave this authority to the arbitrator.  But, the best thing to do, as always, is to be clear.   Include language in the arbitration provision that specifically states that an arbitrator is authorized to decide the arbitrability of issues, particularly if it is your arbitration provision and you want disputes resolved by arbitration.  Conversely, if you want the initial, threshold issue of arbitrability to be decided by a court, make sure to specify that in the provision.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

 

 

 

DRAFTING A CONTRACTUAL ARBITRATION PROVISION

shutterstock_505551922A recent Florida case discussing a contractual arbitration provision in a homebuilder’s contract discussed the difference between a narrow arbitration provision and a broad arbitration provision.  See Vancore Construction, Inc. v. Osborn, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D2769b (Fla. 5th DCA 2018).   Understanding the distinction between the two types of arbitration provisions is important, particularly if you are drafting and/or negotiating a contractual arbitration provision.

 

A narrow contractual arbitration provision includes the verbiage “arises out of”  the contract such that disputes arising out of the contract are subject to arbitration.  Arbitration is required for those claims the have a direct relationship with the contract.

 

A broad contractual arbitration provision includes the verbiage “arises out of or relating to” the contract such that disputes arising out of or relating to the contract are subject to arbitration.  Arbitration is required for those claims that have a significant relationship to the contract. A significant relationship exists if there is a nexus between the claim and the contract meaning the “claim presents circumstances in which the resolution of disputed issues requires either reference to, or construction of, a portion of the contract.”  See Vancore Construction, Inc., supra, (citation omitted). 

 

When drafting or negotiating an arbitration provision, make sure you understand those claims that will be subject to arbitration and those potential claims that will not.    Typically, if you want a arbitration provision in your contract, you more than likely prefer a broad arbitration provision such that claims arising out of or relating to the contract will be subject to arbitration.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

BAILOUT FOR AN IMPROPERLY DRAFTED INDEMNIFICATION PROVISION

shutterstock_1060051475A recent opinion came out that held that even though an indemnification provision in a subcontract was unenforceable per Florida Statute s. 725.06, the unenforceable portion is merely severed out of the indemnification clause leaving the rest of the clause intact.  In essence, an otherwise invalid indemnification clause is bailed out by this ruling (which does not even discuss whether this subcontract had a severability provision that states that if any portion of any provision in the subcontract is invalid, such invalid portion shall be severed and the remaining portion of the provision shall remain in full force and effect). 

 

This opinion arose from a construction defect case, CB Contractxors, LLC v. Allens Steel Products, Inc.,43 Fla.L.Weekly D2773a (Fla. 5thDCA 2018), where the general contractor, sued by an association, flowed down damages to subcontractors based on the contractual indemnification provision in the subcontracts.  Subcontractors moved to dismiss the contractual indemnification claim because it was not compliant with Florida Statute s. 725.06.  The indemnification provision required the subcontractors to indemnify the general contractor even for the general contractors own partial negligence, but failed to specify a monetary limitation on the extent of the indemnification as required by Florida Statute s. 725.06.  (The indemnification clause in the subcontract was the standard intermediate form of indemnification that required the subcontractor to indemnify the general contractor for claims regardless of whether the claims were caused in part by the general contractor.) 

 

The trial court held that because the indemnification clause was unenforceable under Florida Statute s. 725.06, the general contractor’s contractual indemnification claims fail.   But, the appellate court reversed providing a bailout to an unenforceable indemnification clause by simply severing out the unenforceable portion. Thus, while a subcontractor would be required to indemnify the general contractor for its own negligence, it would not be required to indemnify the general contractor for any partial negligence caused by the general contractor.  

 

This case leads to a couple of very important takeaways:

 

  • Make sure the indemnification clauses in your construction contracts comply with Florida Statute s. 725.06.  Have a construction attorney review the indemnification provision.  Do not, and I mean, do not, bank on this ruling that even if the indemnification provision is noncompliant, only the unenforceable part will be severed.  That is not good practice.

 

  • Include a severability provision in your contract. Always.  Even though this case did not discuss such a clause, the clause will bolster the argument that only the unenforceable aspect of the provision should be severed. 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

EXISTENCE OF “DUTY” IN NEGLIGENCE ACTION IS QUESTION OF LAW

shutterstock_523440886In a negligence action, the issue of whether a duty applies is a question of lawSee Limones v. School Dist. of Lee County, 161 So.3d 384, 389 (Fla. 2015) (“[T]he existence of a duty is a legal question because duty is the standard to which the jury compares the conduct of the defendant.”); McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So.2d 500, 502 (Fla. 1992) (“Since duty is a question of law, an appellate court obviously could reverse based on its purely legal conclusion that no such duty existed.”).  Thus, the trial court determines, as a matter of law, whether a legal duty of care applies in a negligence action.

 

Florida law recognizes the following four sources of duty: (1) statutes or regulations; (2) common law interpretations of those statutes or regulations; (3) other sources in the common law; and (4) the general facts of the case.  

See id.  

 

Oftentimes it is the fourth source – the general facts of the case – that comes into play to determine whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.  

 

To determine whether a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty under the general facts of the case, the issue becomes “whether the defendant’s conduct foreseeably created a broader ‘zone of risk’ that poses a general threat of harm to others.”  McCain, 593 So.2d at 502.  

 

For example, in White v. Ring Power Corp., a personal injury case discussed here regarding an expert’s qualifications, the trial court granted summary judgment (as a matter of law) finding that the lessor of a crane did NOT owe the plaintiff a duty to download certain crane overload data before renting the crane to the lessee.  The appellate court affirmed because nothing in the record established that the failure to download such data by the lessor before renting the crane created a broader zone of risk to the plaintiff.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.