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.

 

 

SUBCONTRACT REQUIRING ARBITRATION OUTSIDE OF FLORIDA

shutterstock_1127513288Have you entered into a subcontract that requires you to arbitrate disputes?  If so, does the arbitration provision require you to arbitrate your dispute outside of Florida?  If so, the case of Sachse Construction and Development Corp.  v. Affirmed Drywall, Corp., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1622e (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) applies and reinforces the notion: Read and consider what you sign!  

 

In Sachse Construction, a drywall subcontractor entered into a subcontract for a construction project in Miami with an  arbitration provision.   The subcontract provided that it shall be construed in accordance with Michigan law and required that arbitration shall take pace in Michigan per the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association. 

 

A dispute arose and, naturally, the drywall subcontractor did not want to arbitrate against the general contractor in Michigan.  The subcontractor argued the arbitration provision was unenforceable pursuant to Florida Statute s. 47.025, which is a Florida venue statute that renders a venue provision in construction contracts void if it requires a resident contractor to initiate venue outside of Florida (see hyperlink for more on the statute).  A clever argument.  But…the venue provision in the subcontract at-issue involved arbitration, not litigation, and the appellate court held that if the arbitration provision was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, then the Federal Arbitration Act would preempt the application of s. 47.025 and the venue provision would not be rendered unenforceable.  “[A] Florida court must enforce an arbitration agreement that is valid and enforceable under the FAA even when the agreement would be unenforceable under Florida law.”  Sasche Construction, supra

 

The Federal Arbitration Act would apply if the contract involved interstate commerce.  (Commerce, as defined under the Federal Arbitration Act, involves commerce among the states or with foreign countries).  For this reason, the appellate remanded back to the trial court to determine whether interstate commerce applied. If interstate commerce did apply then the drywall subcontractor would be required to arbitrate its dispute in Michigan.

 

Two considerations:

 

First, it would seem that the general contractor should be able support the application of interstate commerce to trigger the application of the Federal Arbitration Act.  It argued that its principal office was in Michigan, but it should be able to further argue accounting or other financial or insurance related issues were processed and performed in Michigan.  It may also argue that the materials to be incorporated into the project (e.g., the drywall, etc.) were materials that flowed through interstate commerce.  If this is the case, the drywall subcontractor will be required to arbitrate its dispute in Michigan—a huge advantage to the general contractor.  

 

Second, even if interstate commerce did not apply and the application of s. 47.025 came into effect, it is uncertain why the parties would be required to litigate the dispute versus arbitrate the dispute in Florida, instead of Michigan.  The appellate court did note that the contract did not contain a severability clause (reinforcing the importance of such a clause in a contract), but there was not any argument or real discussion regarding this issue and the invalidation of an arbitration provision as a whole.  

 

Remember, read and consider what you sign!  It can have huge implications, such as being required to arbitrate your dispute outside of Florida.

 

 

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.