ARBITRATION PROVISIONS ARE CHALLENGING TO CIRCUMVENT

Arbitration provisions are enforceable and they are becoming more challenging to circumvent, especially if one of the parties to the arbitration agreement wants to arbitrate a dispute versus litigate a dispute.  Remember this when agreeing to an arbitration provision as the forum for dispute resolution in your contract.  There is not a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to arbitration provisions and how they are drafted.  But, there is a very strong public policy in favor of honoring a contractual arbitration provision because this is what the parties agreed to as the forum to resolve their disputes.  

 

By way of example, in Austin Commercial, L.P. v. L.M.C.C. Specialty Contractors, Inc., 44 Fla.L.Weekly D925a (Fla. 2d DCA 2019), a subcontractor and prime contactor entered into a consultant agreement that contained the following arbitration provision:

 

Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the breach thereof shall be subject to the dispute resolution procedures, if any, set out in the Prime Contract between [Prime Contractor] and the [Owner]. Should the Prime Contract contain no specific requirement for the resolution of disputes or should the [Owner] not be involved in the dispute, any such controversy or claim shall be resolved by arbitration pursuant to the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association then prevailing, and judgment upon the award by the Arbitrator(s) shall be entered in any Court having jurisdiction thereof.

 

The prime contract between the owner and prime contractor did not require arbitration.

 

The prime contractor initially hired the subcontractor during the design phase of the project as a consultant.  The consultant agreement contained the aforementioned arbitration provision. Then, during the construction phase, the prime contractor and subcontractor entered into a work order that incorporated the terms of the consultant agreement, meaning the arbitration provision was incorporated into the work order.  

 

A payment dispute arose during the construction phase and the subcontractor sued the prime contractor.  The prime contractor moved to compel the dispute to arbitration per the terms of the arbitration provision in the consultant agreement.  The trial court denied the prime contractor’s motion to compel.   This was reversed on appeal – and it was probably an easy reversal for three main reasons:

 

One:  Florida has a strong public policy in favor of enforcing arbitration provisions, as mentioned above.  Remember this. 

 

Two:  the work order between the prime contractor and subcontractor for the construction phase incorporated the terms of the consultant agreement that contained an arbitration provision.  Thus, the consultant agreement with the arbitration provision had to be interpreted together with the work order.  Remember that a document or contract can incorporate another document or contract. 

 

Three:  the dispute was between the subcontractor and prime contractor.   The owner was NOT “involved” in the dispute because it was not a party to the lawsuit and the payment dispute the subcontractor initiated against the prime contractor did not involve the owner considering the owner did not need to participate in the dispute.   “[O]ne would not ordinarily understand an entity to be ‘involved’ in a dispute where that entity is neither drawn into the dispute nor affected by the dispute. Only an impermissible, strained textual interpretation of ‘involved in the dispute’ would yield a conclusion that HCAA [Owner] would be affected by a financial dispute between Austin [Prime Contractor] and Mims [Subcontractor].”  Austin Commercial, supra.   Remember this that the word “involve,” as this word is used in the arbitration provision, is not going to be read so broadly to render inconsequential the prime contractor’s right to arbitrate disputes with its subcontractor. 

 

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.

QUICK NOTE: UNENFORCEABLE LANGUAGE IN ARBITRATION PROVISION

imagesAlthough arbitration is a dispute resolution provision provided for in a contract, the scope of judicial review of an arbitrator’s award is still governed by law.  There are limited circumstances in which an arbitrator’s award can be challenged under the law.  One of those circumstances is not because a party believes that an arbitrator applied the incorrect law.  

 

In a recent construction case, discussed in more detail here, an arbitration provision provided that a party can essentially appeal/challenge an arbitrator’s award to the circuit court if the arbitrator applied the incorrect law.  The appellate court held this language was unenforceable because it attempted to expand the legal scope of judicial review of an arbitration award.  The issue, here, became more than just the unenforceable language but whether the entire arbitration clause should be deemed unenforceable.  In other words, the issue became whether the unenforceable language that expanded the scope of judicial review of an arbitration award could be severed from the provision such that the parties would still be required to arbitrate (hence, the importance of a severability provision in a contract) OR the entire arbitration provision should be deemed unenforceable.  This is a HUGE difference because in one instance the parties still can arbitrate absent the expanded scope of judicial review and in the other instance the arbitration clause is unenforceable in entirety and the parties would be required to litigate. 

 

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.

DOES ARBITRATION APPLY TO CONTEMPORANEOUSLY EXECUTED CONTRACTS (WHEN ONE OF THE CONTRACTS DOES NOT HAVE AN ARBITRATION PROVISION)?

shutterstock_572312269Binding arbitration is an alternative to litigation.  Instead of having your dispute decided by a judge and/or jury, it is decided by an arbitrator through an arbitration process.  Arbitration, however, is a creature of contract, meaning there needs to be a contractual arbitration provision requiring the parties to arbitrate, and not litigate, their dispute.  Just like litigation, there are pros and cons to the arbitration process, oftentimes dictated by the specific facts and legal issues in the case.

 

What happens when a person executes two (or more) contemporaneous contracts, one with an arbitration provision and one without?  Are the parties required to arbitrate the dispute arising out of the contract that does not contain the arbitration provision?

 

The reality is that this has become an unnecessary over-complicated situation that should be avoided by specifically incorporating all of the contracts into an operative contract or, conversely, expressing the intent in each contract whether arbitration applies.  Being specific will avoid the over-compilation of this issue.

 

In an example of what really amounts to an over-complicated opinion regarding an arbitration provision, the case of Lowe v. Nissan of Brandon, Inc., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D103b (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) dealt with a consumer automobile transaction where a consumer challenged the sale price of an automobile.  The consumer purchased a car and signed three contemporaneous contracts: a purchase agreement, an installment sale contract (i.e., the purchase was subject to the condition that the installment contract would be accepted by a financing institution), and an arbitration agreement.  The purchase agreement incorporated the arbitration agreement.   The arbitration agreement incorporated the installment contract.  The installment contract (quite confusingly, in my opinion), however, did not incorporate the arbitration agreement or the purchase contract.

 

The consumer claimed that because the installment contract did NOT incorporate the arbitration agreement, arbitration did not apply to disputes involving the installment contract.  Notwithstanding, the trial court compelled arbitration. The appellate court affirmed.

 

The general contract principle regarding construing contemporaneously executed documents together has been reiterated in many casesSee, e.g.Dodge City, 693 So. 2d at 1035; Phoenix Motor Co., 144 So. 3d at 696 (quoting Collins, 641 So. 2d at 459). But if the parties execute ‘two separate contracts and only one contract contains an arbitration clause, the parties cannot be compelled to arbitrate disputes arising from the contract that does not call for arbitration.’ ” Phoenix Motor Co., 144 So. 3d at 696 (quoting Lee v. All Fla. Constr. Co., 662 So. 2d 365, 366 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995)). The exception is where the contract with the arbitration clause incorporates by reference the contract which does not contain an arbitration clause, such that the latter could be “interpreted as part of the [former] contract.” Id. at 697 (citing Affinity Internet, Inc. v. Consol. Credit Counseling Servs., Inc., 920 So. 2d 1286, 1288-89 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006)).

To incorporate by reference a collateral document, the incorporating document must (1) specifically provide “ ‘that it is subject to the incorporated [collateral] document’ ” and (2) the collateral document to be incorporated must be “ ‘sufficiently described or referred to in the incorporating agreement’ ” so that the intent of the parties may be ascertained. Kantner v. Boutin, 624 So. 2d 779, 781 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (quoting Hurwitz v. C.G.J. Corp., 168 So. 2d 84, 87 (Fla. 3d DCA 1964)). The [s]upreme [c]ourt set forth the second requirement for incorporation by reference in OBS Co. v. Pace Construction Corp., 558 So. 2d 404, 406 (Fla. 1990): “It is a generally accepted rule of contract law that, where a writing expressly refers to and sufficiently describes another document, that other document, or so much of it as is referred to, is to be interpreted as part of the writing.

Lowe, supra.

 

Here, there was no dispute regarding the contemporaneous execution of the contracts.  The appellate court found that while the installment contract did not incorporate the arbitration provision, this contract was a condition precedent to the purchase agreement.  Thus, once the installment contract was accepted by a financing institution, the purchase agreement with the arbitration provision became the operative contract without any conditions precedent. (The case actually has a more complicated legal analysis to affirm the trial court’s ruling that the parties should be compelled to arbitration).

 

In my opinion, this is nothing more than a basis to compel the parties to arbitrate when the installment contract that was sued upon did not contain an arbitration provision or incorporate the arbitration agreement or purchase agreement.  All of this could have been avoided had specificity occurred in the installment contract or had the purchase agreement specifically incorporated the installment contract.  But, if arbitration is a creature of contract, and the dealership prepared (which it did) the contracts it wanted the consumer to contemporaneously execute, compelling the parties to arbitrate based on what is perceived to be the “operative contract” seems to go against the grain that parties cannot be compelled to arbitrate disputes arising from a contract that does not contain an arbitration 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.

 

BE CAUTIOUS WHEN FILING YOUR LAWSUIT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO ARBITRATE

Lawsuit If you really want to arbitrate your construction dispute pursuant to your contract, DO NOT file a lawsuit without at least contemporaneously moving to stay the lawsuit and compel arbitration.  Otherwise your right to arbitration will be waivedThe determination as to whether a party waived their right to arbitrate is a determination for the court (not the arbitrator) as demonstrated in the non-construction case of Cassedy, Jr. v. Hofmann, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D2450a (1st DCA 2014).

 

In this case, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against their stockbroker that they voluntarily dismissed without prejudice years later.  The plaintiffs then initiated arbitration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.  The defendant filed a lawsuit to prevent the arbitration from going forward arguing that the plaintiffs waived their right to arbitration by initiating the lawsuit that they subsequently dismissed.  The First District Court of Appeals held the trial court must conclude whether a party waived their right to arbitrate by acting inconsistently with the right to arbitrate a dispute. The First District did not decide whether the right to arbitration had been waived; however, considering the plaintiffs filed the very lawsuit that they subsequently dismissed, it would appear that this right was waived or should be deemed waived.  If the plaintiffs really wanted to arbitrate, they should not have first filed a lawsuit without preserving their right to arbitrate through a contemporaneous motion to stay the lawsuit and compel 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.

DON’T INCLUDE AN ARBITRATION PROVISION IN YOUR CONTRACT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ARBITRATE!

images-1Arbitration as the method of dispute resolution is based on your contract.  If you don’t want to arbitrate, do not (I repeat, do not) include an arbitration provision.  If you ultimately have no choice and need to agree to a contract that includes an arbitration provision, understand that this provision will be enforced unless the parties agree to waive it.

 

The recent case of Bari Builders, Inc. v. Hovstone Properties Florida, LLC, et al., 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1648a (Fla. 4th DCA 2014), exemplifies what happens if you include an arbitration provision.  In this case, a condominium association sued the developer for construction defects.  The developer (that may have also served as the general contractor / home builder) third-partied in its subcontractors.  However, there was a binding arbitration provision in the subcontract.  Subcontractors, therefore, moved to compel arbitration of the developer’s claims against them.  The developer, naturally, did not want to arbitrate its third-party claims against subcontractors when it was being sued by the condominium association.  It makes more sense to wrap up the disputes in one matter.  The developer tried to argue around arbitration by arguing that the arbitration provision in its contract was ambiguous because another place in the contract said, “In all actions the parties waive the right to jury and agree to determination of all facts by the court.”   The Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed with the developer’s ambiguity argument and reconciled this language:

 

[T]he jury waiver language in the subcontract does not render the arbitration provision ambiguous, as the two provisions can be reconciled in favor of arbitration.  Read together, the provisions provide that the parties agree to submit any ‘controversy or claim’ to arbitration and, thereafter, any award may be reduced to judgment in court without the right to a jury trial.  Additionally, in the event that the parties choose to waive their right to arbitration, the clause provides that any ‘action’ in court will be in the form of a bench trial.

Bari Builders, supra.

 

As shown in this case, courts will favor arbitration when there is an arbitration provision in the contract.  If parties prefer arbitration, and specifically if arbitration is preferred by a general contractor, the contract should include language that in the event the general contractor is sued by the developer or association (or any third-party), the general contractor, at its sole discretion, can waive arbitration and the parties are bound to the forum governing the dispute against the general contractor.  In other words, the general contractor has the authority to join in the subcontractor to any dispute it is involved in irrespective of the arbitration 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.

DEFERENCE GIVEN TO ARBITRATION PROVISIONS

arbitration[1]The recent case of Pulte Home Corp. v. Bay at Cypress Creek Homeowner’s Association, Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1705a (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) involves a dispute by a homeowner’s association against its developer / homebuilder. In this case, the association sued the developer / homebuilder for building code violations under Florida Statute s. 553.84. The association did this in order to try to circumvent an arbitration provision in the developer / homebuilder’s limited warranty given in favor of initial purchasers. The developer / homebuilder moved to compel arbitration which was denied by the trial court. On appeal, the Second District Court of appeals reversed the trial court finding that statutory claims were covered by the arbitration provision.

 

The issue to remember is that deference is given to arbitration provisions and that statutory claims, breach of contract claims, warranty claims, and tort claims are all claims that may be submitted to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration provision. In Pulte Home, the association, for strategic reasons, did not want to arbitrate and tried to pursue a claim that did not subject it to arbitration.  Although the Second District did not recite the arbitration provision in the opinion, the Court maintained that the agreement to arbitrate in the limited warranty given to initial purchasers covered statutory claims.

 

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.

CAREFUL DRAFTING OF ARBITRATION PROVISIONS TO ENSURE THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS APPLIES TO CLAIMS RESOLVED THROUGH ARBITRATION

UnknownMany construction contracts include arbitration provisions as the means to resolve a dispute instead of resorting to litigation.  Certain owners prefer to resolve their disputes with contractors through arbitration and certain contractors, likewise, prefer to resolve their disputes with subcontractors through arbitration.

 

 

The case of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Phillips, 36 Fla. L. Weekly D2479a (2d DCA 2011), certified the following question to the Florida Supreme Court:

 

Does Section 95.011, Florida Statutes, apply to arbitration when the parties have not expressly included a provision in their arbitration agreement stating that it is applicable.”

 

While this case was not a construction case, the question certified to the Florida Supreme Court was a fundamental issue that applied to ALL arbitration provisions.  Section 95.011 is included in Florida Statutes Chapter 95 (“Chapter 95”) dealing with the statute of limitations for actions.  The statute of limitations requires lawsuits to be brought within the specified timeframe set forth in Chapter 95 or else the action is time-barred, meaning it cannot properly be asserted under the law.  In this case, however, the Second District found that there was nothing in the arbitration provision at-issue that required actions to be brought within the limitations periods set forth in Chapter 95 and, along these lines, nothing in Chapter 95 clarified that the statutes of limitations for actions was intended to apply to disputes resolved through arbitration.

 

This decision was crucial because if the statute of limitations is not intended to apply to disputes resolved through arbitration, and nothing in the arbitration provision clarifies that the statute of limitations periods set forth in Chapter 95 are intended to apply, then there is technically NO time period for when a dispute needs to be initiated because they could never be time-barred under the law.  The corollary of this is that it could open arbitration floodgates because parties that thought they could no longer bring an arbitration claim under the law could now assert an argument that their claim was never time-barred under the law.

 

Luckily, the Florida Supreme Court answered the Second District’s certified question in the affirmative holding that the statute of limitations DOES APPLY TO ARBITRATION PROCEEDINGS!!! See Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. v. Phillips, 126 So.3d 186 (2013).  This means that the defense of statute of limitations can be raised in an arbitration proceeding as a basis to bar an untimely filed claim.

 

With respect to construction contractors, parties that utilize the AIA Agreements (promulgated by the American Institute of Architects) that select arbitration as the dispute resolution procedure should still safely ensure the agreement contains a provision to the effect:

 

In no effect shall the demand for arbitration be made after the date when institution of legal or equitable proceedings based on such claim would be barred under the applicable statute of limitations.”

 

The AIA standard form agreements usually include this provision almost verbatim.  This provision should not be deleted.  When drafting or negotiating an AIA agreement that includes an arbitration provision, a party should ensure that language to the effect is included in the agreement and not deleted or substantially manipulated so as to render it ambiguous.  Also, parties that do not use an AIA agreement and prefer arbitration need to draft such a provision or mimic one after the provision used in the standard form AIA agreements to ensure the statute of limitations applies to claims / disputes resolved through arbitration no matter what.  

 

 

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.