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.

DOWNSIDE OF A BROAD ARBITRATION PROVISION

imagesIn Sunsplash Events Inc. v. Robles, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D2368a (Fla. 4th DCA 2014), the plaintiff entered into an employment agreement with the defendant. The employment agreement contained an arbitration provision that read, “[T]he Parties hereby agree and specifically stipulate that all differences, claims or matters of dispute relating to the performance of duties and/or benefits arising between the Parties to this Agreement contained herein shall be submitted to a mutually acceptable arbitrator….” Contemporaneously with the execution of the employment agreement, the parties entered into a bill of sale agreement regarding the plaintiff’s existing business whereby the plaintiff sold the inventory and goods of that business to the defendant.  This separate bill of sale agreement did not contain an arbitration provision.

 

Plaintiff thereafter sued the defendant relating to the bill of sale agreement (that did not contain an arbitration provision) and the defendant moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in the employment agreement. The plaintiff’s claims were interrelated to the employment agreement.

 

The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the arbitration provision in the employment agreement included plaintiff’s claims relating to the bill of sale agreement because the claims fell within the ambit of the employment agreement’s broad arbitration provision:

 

“[T]he plaintiff’s claims relating to the bill of sale agreement have a significant relationship to the claims relating to the employment agreement. According to the second amended complaint, the numerous misrepresentations alleged to have been made by the company president to induce the plaintiff into entering the bill of sale agreement are the same misrepresentations alleged to have been made to induce the plaintiff into entering the employment agreement. As a result, the claims relating to the bill of sale agreement are inextricably intertwined with the transaction from which the employment agreement emanated and the employment agreement itself.”

 

 

This case contains an important holding–a broad arbitration provision can compel parties to arbitrate a dispute under a separate agreement that does not contain an arbitration provision.  Thus, this goes back to the fundamental premise that parties should not include an arbitration provision if they do not want to arbitrateAnd, if an arbitration provision exists in one agreement and not a separate agreement (whether simultaneously executed or executed on a subsequent date), that separate agreement should clarify it is not subject to the arbitration provision in the earlier agreement.

 

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.

INCLUDING IN YOUR ARBITRATION CLAUSE THAT ARBITRATION WILL BE CONDUCTED BY THE AMERICAN ARBITRATION ASSOCIATION

imagesThe American Arbitration Association (known as “AAA”) is a well-recognized organization that administers binding arbitration.  AAA has its own set of developed arbitration rules and procedures that must be followed in a construction arbitration referred as the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules and Mediation Procedures.  (This is no different than a dispute proceeding in federal or state court where a party must follow a governing rule of civil procedures.)

 

Parties that incorporate a binding arbitration provision often include language that the arbitration must be conducted by AAA and/or pursuant to AAA’s Construction Industry Arbitration Rules.   Sometimes when a dispute occurs, a party wants to challenge the scope of the arbitration provision because they prefer that their dispute gets resolved through litigation instead of arbitration.  But, as illustrated by the Eleventh Circuit decision in U.S. Nutraceuticals, LLC v. Cyanotech Corp., 2014 WL 5471913 (11th Cir. 2014), this is not an easy accomplishment.

 

In this case, the buyer and seller entered into two contracts with the second contract succeeding the first contract. Both contracts contained a confidentiality provision; however, the second contract provided that a party can enforce the confidentiality provision in court. Both contracts also contained an arbitration provision for dispute resolution that required the arbitration to be conducted “under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association.”  The second contract, though, excluded from arbitration disputes relating to a breach of the confidentiality provision. (Under the first contract, disputes relating to the breach of the confidentiality provision would be subject to arbitration.)

 

A dispute arose and the buyer sued the seller for claims associated with the breach of the confidentiality provision.  Based on the allegations in the buyer’s lawsuit, it was unclear whether the first contract, the second contract, or both, were implicated by the dispute.  The seller moved to compel the dispute to arbitration pursuant to the first contract that did not carve out an exception for breaches of the confidentiality provision.  The district court denied the motion, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed ruling that the district court should have compelled arbitration.  The reason was that the arbitration provisions incorporated the rules of the American Arbitration Association.  Once the parties did this, they agreed that the arbitrator would decide whether a particular dispute was subject to the arbitration provision.  Hence, questions as to the scope or arbitrability of a dispute would be determined by the arbitrator and not the court.

 

The arbitration clause in this case that required the arbitration to be conducted “under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association” is not language atypical to a construction contract.  This language, however, was enough for the Eleventh Circuit to deem AAA’s applicable rules and procedures incorporated into the arbitration clause.   In a construction dispute, Rule 9 of the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules (set forth below) authorizes the arbitrator to rule on the scope or arbitrability of a dispute, which is not ideal for a party that wants the court versus the arbitrator to have this power.  It is important that parties that want to carve out exceptions to the arbitration clause to clearly convey these exceptions in the clause.  Further, if parties want the court instead of the arbitrator to determine the scope or arbitrability of a particular claim, this should also be clearly conveyed in the clause.  Otherwise, this determination will be made by the arbitrator.

 

 

R-9. Jurisdiction

(a) The arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction, including any objections with respect to the existence, scope or validity of the arbitration agreement.

(b) The arbitrator shall have the power to determine the existence or validity of a contract of which an arbitration clause forms a part. Such an arbitration clause shall be treated as an agreement independent of the other terms of the contract. A decision by the arbitrator that the contract is null and void shall not for that reason alone render invalid the arbitration clause.

(c) A party must object to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator or to the arbitrability of a claim or counterclaim no later than the filing of the answering statement to the claim or counterclaim that gives rise to the objection. The arbitrator may rule on such objections as a preliminary matter or as part of the final award.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONTRACTUAL RIGHT TO ARBITRATE CAN BE WAIVED

imagesArbitration is a form of dispute resolution that emanates from your contract.  Hence, if your contract requires arbitration, then arbitration, as opposed to litigation, is the method of dispute resolution.  But, the contractual right to arbitrate can be waived if a party actively participates in litigation or takes a position in litigation that is wholly inconsistent with their contractual right to arbitrate Remember, if you negotiated arbitration as the form of dispute resolution in your contract, and you want to arbitrate a dispute, then take action consistent with this right. Otherwise, you risk waiving this contractual right to arbitrate—a right that you negotiated on the front-end in your contract.

 

However, just because you file a lawsuit or counterclaim does not mean that you automatically waive your right to arbitration.  The key is that if you want to arbitrate to file a motion to compel arbitration simultaneously with the lawsuit / counterclaim moving the court to compel the dispute to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration provision in your contract.  For instance, in Andre Franklin, Inc. v. Wax, 2014 WL 5002130 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), a contractor recorded a lien on a residential project prompting the owner to file a lawsuit against the contractor to, among other things, discharge the construction lien.  The contractor filed a counterclaim moving to foreclose the lien and for breach of contract and simultaneously moved to compel arbitration; the contractor also moved to dismiss or abate the lawsuit.  At a hearing, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss and allowed the owner to amend the complaint.  When the owner amended the complaint, the contractor renewed its motion to compel arbitration and simultaneously  answered the amended complaint. The owner argued that the contractor waived the right to arbitrate by filing the counterclaim and arguing the motion to dismiss and abate; the trial court agreed.

 

On appeal, the Second District held that the contractor never waived its right to arbitration. The Second District explained:

 

A party may waive its contractual right to arbitrate by actively participating in a lawsuit or taking action inconsistent with that right.

***

[But,] we conclude that Franklin [contractor] did not waive its contractual right to arbitrate by filing a counterclaim simultaneously with its motion to compel arbitration, motion to dismiss, and motion to abate.  Franklin did not implement discovery.  Franklin’s filing of the counterclaims and motion to dismiss at the same time as a motion to compel arbitration is filed, without more, does not waive the contractual right to arbitrate.

Andre Franklin, Inc., supra, at *1, 2.

 

 

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.

ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO ARBITRATE?!?

imagesArbitration is a hot topic in dispute resolution as parties need to dictate in their contracts whether they want to arbitrate disputes arising out of their contract or, if not, litigate their disputes.   Recently, I discussed a Third District Court of Florida case where the court held that when a party is challenging the legality of a contract, that determination MUST be decided by the arbitrator;  and, the arbitration award will NOT be vacated simply because the arbitrator may have decided the issue wrong.

 

The Florida Supreme Court also chimed in on this issue in a non-construction case.  In Visiting Nurse Association of Florida, Inc. v.  Jupiter Medical Center, Inc., 39 Fla. L. Weekly S503b (Fla. 2014), the issue was whether a court can vacate an arbitration award because of an illegal contract.  In this case, the party moving to vacate the arbitration award argued that the arbitration panel reached a decision based on an interpretation of an agreement that would render the agreement illegal.  The Florida Supreme Court nixed this argument stating: “the claim that an arbitration panel construed a contract containing an arbitration provision to be an unlawful agreement is an insufficient basis to vacate an arbitrator’s decision pursuant to the FAA [Federal Arbitration Act] or the FAC [Florida Arbitration Code].” Jupiter Medical Center, supra.

 

If a party wants to be able to challenge an arbitration award based on the potential illegality of the entire contract, they should include this specific right in their contract that allows the court and not the arbitrator to determine the illegality and enforceability of the contract.  The contract should also provide that the parties can move to vacate the award based on the illegality of the contract. However, by preserving such arguments or rights, the party is severely watering-down the fundamental purpose of arbitration which is to timely and efficiently resolve disputes.  Yes, technical arguments such as the illegality of a contract will have more weight in court where there is a right to appeal.  But, this should be known on the front-end when selecting arbitration as the method of dispute resolution in order to achieve a timely, efficient, and final resolution versus a resolution in  court where the losing party will have a right to appeal and prolong the dispute resolution process.

 

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.

 

ENFORCEABILITY OF CONTRACT AS A WHOLE TO BE DETERMINED BY ARBITRATOR AND NOT A BASIS TO VACATE ARBITRATION AWARD

untitledArbitration is a form of dispute resolution that parties elect in their contracts.  With respect to construction contracts, the arbitration provision may provide that the parties will submit their dispute to the American Arbitration Association.  A benefit to arbitration is that the dispute will be decided by an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators that theoretically have expertise in the subject matter of the dispute.  A downside is that there is no great avenue to appeal or vacate an arbitrator’s award (absent very limited circumstances) even if a party believes the arbitrator misapplied the law.

 

An example of this downside can be found in The Village of Dolphin Commerce Center, LLC v. Construction Service Solutions, LLC, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1065a (Fla. 3d DCA 2014), where an owner hired a contractor to construct a warehouse. At the time of contract, the contractor was not licensed.  The contractor became licensed after the execution of the contract.  The contractor proceeded with construction and, due to a payment dispute, recorded a construction lien.  The contractor also filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association pursuant to its contract. The owner answered the demand for arbitration and asserted as a defense that the contract was unenforceable pursuant to Florida Statute s. 489.128 which provides, “As a matter of public policy, contracts entered into…by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor.”   Section 489.128 further provides that, “[i]f a contract is rendered unenforceable under this section, no lien or bond claim shall exist in favor of the unlicensed contractor….”

 

The owner further filed a lawsuit in circuit court asking the court to declare that that the contractor’s claim of lien was unenforceable since the contractor was unlicensed at the time of contract.  The contractor asserted a counterclaim (although it is uncertain what claims were asserted) and moved to compel arbitration; the circuit court stayed the action and compelled the parties to arbitrate the dispute.

 

During arbitration, the owner never objected to the arbitrator’s jurisdiction to rule on whether the contractor’s lack of license at the time of contract prevented it from enforcing the contract and the construction lien. “The rules of the American Arbitration Association specifically state that any objection to the panel hearing an issue must be submitted with the answering statement or it is determined that the panel will have jurisdiction.”  The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center, supra.

 

The contractor prevailed in the arbitration and moved to enforce the arbitration award in circuit court.  The owner moved to vacate the award based on the unenforceability of the contract and lien under s. 489.128 (because the contractor was not properly licensed at the time of its contract with the owner).  The trial court affirmed the arbitration award and the owner appealed.

 

The issue on appeal was whether the arbitrator had jurisdiction to determine the enforceability of the contract and the lien pursuant to s. 489.128.   The Third District held that it did:

 

“[T]he issue of enforceability was submitted to the panel and neither party objected.  As such, based on the AAA [American Arbitration Association] rules, the panel had jurisdiction to determine the issue.  To ask the trial court to revisit the issue would require the trial court to step into an appellate position.   The Florida Arbitration Statutes do not provide for such.  Pursuant to section 682.13, Florida Statutes, the authority of the trial court to vacate an arbitration award is very narrow.”

The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center, supra.

 

 

The Third District, relying primarily on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 126 S. Ct. 1204 (2006), as well as other Florida appellate decisions, maintained that when a party is challenging the legality / enforceability of a contract as a whole (versus only the arbitration provision), that determination MUST go to the arbitrator and not the court.  For this reason, the Court held, “Those cases make clear that a trial or appellate court’s view that an arbitration panel wrongly decided the issue of illegality of a contract, and specifically illegality of a contract under section 489.128, is not a basis to vacate an arbitration award.” The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center, supra.

 

 

imagesA3FNB0L2Now, there are interesting take-aways from this ruling that need to be considered: 

 

    • If a party is arguing that a contract that contains an arbitration provision is unenforceable as a whole (such as being unenforceable because the contractor was not licensed at the time of contract), that determination should go to the arbitrator and not the court.   Yet, even the Third District noted that the Fourth District in Jupiter Medical Center, Inc. v. Visiting Nurse Association of Florida, Inc., 72 So.3d 184 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011), entered a ruling that conflicted with the United States Supreme Court (and, thus, the instant ruling) by stating: “If [a] contract is found to be illegal, a prior arbitration will not prevent the trial court from vacating the award.”  The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center, supra, quoting Jupiter Medical Center, Inc., 72 So.3d at 186.  How should this be reconciled with the instant ruling?  If a party in arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association wants to preserve its argument that the arbitrator does not have jurisdiction to rule on the enforceability of the contract and lien under s. 489.128, it needs to (a) timely object to the arbitrator’s jurisdiction in accordance with the American Arbitration Association’s rules to ensure this argument is not waived and (b) hope that the court agrees with the Fourth District’s ruling in Jupiter Medical Center that a court can vacate an arbitration award if a contract is found to be illegal.  More than likely, however, the court will do exactly what the Third District did in The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center by holding that the arbitrator has the authority to determine the enforceability of a contract when the legality of the contract is be challenged as whole.

 

    • If a party wants to have the ability to appeal a ruling, particularly a ruling that involves a potentially incorrect application of the law, that party should NOT agree to a contract that contains an arbitration provision.  There is no discussion in this case (and the appellate court likely did not know) why the arbitration panel overlooked the fact that the contractor was not properly licensed and/or the reasons it found that s. 489.128 did not apply.  It did appear from the opinion, however, that the contractor was not properly licensed at the time of the contract and that s. 489.128 should have applied.

 

    • Determine whether the party being hired is licensed at the time of contract. Also, if a party is required to be licensed at the time of contract, it should get licensed in order to avoid having the other party to the contract argue that the contract and/or lien is unenforceable.

 

    • Recently, I discussed the Second District Court’s opinion in Snell v. Mott’s Contracting Services, Inc., 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1053a (Fla. 2d DCA), where the Court held that the contractor’s lien was unenforceable because the contractor did not timely enforce the lien in court after receiving a Notice of Contest of Lien.  (See http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/dont-forget-to-timely-foreclose-the-construciton-lien-in-court/).   There is no discussion in The Village at Dolphin Commerce Center whether the contractor ever moved to foreclose its lien in court. Most likely, it asserted a lien foreclosure action in its counterclaim against the owner in court that was stayed pending the arbitration.  However, if it did not, then there would remain an issue as to how the lien is enforceable if it was not timely foreclosed on in court.

 

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.

 

STAYING LITIGATION AGAINST A PAYMENT BOND SURETY PENDING THE OUTCOME OF ARBITRATION INVOLVING THE GC AND SUB

canstock3275078The all-too-common dilemma: If the subcontract includes an arbitration provision, but the payment bond does not, can the subcontractor pursue a simultaneous lawsuit against the payment bond surety while there is an arbitration proceeding involving the general contractor? And, can the general contractor or the payment bond surety stay the litigation pending the outcome of the arbitration involving the subcontractor?

 

Hofer, Inc. v. Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland, 2014 WL 644598 (N.D. Fla. 2014), is an interesting opinion that involves this very dilemma. In this case, a payment dispute arose where the subcontractor claimed it was owed money for work it performed for an apartment project and the general contractor claimed the subcontractor was not owed money for deficient work. A familiar fact pattern! The subcontract contained an arbitration provision. Before arbitration came into play, the subcontractor filed a lawsuit against the payment bond. (The payment bond was not an unconditional payment, but rather, a conditional payment bond meaning that if the owner did not pay the general contractor, the subcontractor would have lien rights, not payment bond rights.) After the lawsuit was filed, the general contractor demanded arbitration with its subcontractor pursuant to the subcontract. The payment bond did not contain an arbitration provision nor did it incorporate by reference the subcontract’s arbitration provision. Thus, there was no way the surety could be compelled to arbitration. After the arbitration proceeding commenced, the payment bond surety moved to stay the lawsuit pending the outcome of the arbitration proceeding involving the subcontractor and general contractor. Naturally, the subcontractor contested this motion–it was the party that initiated the dispute first.

 

The Northern District maintained that it is has discretion whether to stay the litigation pending the outcome of the arbitration. It explained that there is a heavy presumption that litigation can proceed at the same time as arbitration when the litigation involves a nonarbitrable claim (a claim not subject to arbitration such as the payment bond claim), but “if the arbitrable issues are crucial for the determination of nonarbitrable claims, a court has discretion to stay the litigation.” Hofer, supra, at *1. In other words, if the arbitration is going to resolve issues that are important to the litigation, a court has the discretion to stay the litigation pending the outcome of arbitration.

 

A payment bond surety is entitled to most of the contractual defenses of its bond-principal general contractor. Therefore, it would be entitled to the same defenses / arguments that the general contractor was raising against the subcontractor pertaining to deficient work. So, if the general contractor prevails in its arbitration, the subcontractor’s claim against the payment bond surety could become moot. Because the payment bond was a conditional bond, the surety and general contractor could argue that the subcontractor does not have a payment bond claim because the owner never paid the general contractor for the subcontractor’s work and the subcontract contained a pay-if-paid provision. However, it does not appear this argument was asserted so perhaps the owner did pay the general contractor and the general contractor simply withheld the amount of the back-charge. To this point, the Northern District maintained, “Nothing in the record suggests that whether Apex [general contractor] has been paid for Hofer’s [subcontractor] work will be an issue in the arbitration process.” Hofer, supra, at *2. Indeed, the only issue in arbitration was whether the general contractor paid the subcontractor the proper amounts due under the subcontract. This means that the fact that the payment bond was a conditional bond instead of an unconditional payment bond was of no true significance in this dispute. This is important because since most payment bonds are unconditional payment bonds (that are not conditioned on the payment of the owner and where pay-if-paid is not a defense), the rationale in this case would apply to unconditional payment bonds.

 

The Northern District found that even though the subcontractor was not bound to arbitrate its dispute with the payment bond surety, the litigation should nonetheless be stayed because i) the subcontractor agreed to resolve its disputes with the general contractor through arbitration and ii) the predominant issue in the dispute, that being whether the general contractor owed the subcontractor money, was being decided by the arbitration proceeding.

 

Although the actual facts of the dispute were not discussed, it seems apparent that once the subcontractor filed the lawsuit against the payment bond, the general contractor affirmatively demanded arbitration pursuant to the subcontract in furtherance of having the dispositive facts of the dispute decided by an arbitrator instead of through litigation. This was a good strategy because the general contractor and subcontractor agreed to have such disputes decided by arbitration. Even though the payment bond surety was not bound by the arbitration provision, the surety is typically defended by the general contractor and is raising most of the same defenses the general contractor would raise such as deficient work. Now, because the court had discretion as to whether to stay the litigation or allow it to proceed simultaneously with the arbitration, this is a risk the general contractor took by virtue of the subcontract. It is a risk because if the Northern District denied the surety’s motion to stay, the general contractor could have likely had the facts of this dispute determined by litigation instead of arbitration (depending on which case was tried first) which could have made portions of the arbitration moot.

 

So, what could have been done to prevent this scenario? A couple of thoughts to create the argument to avoid a simultaneous litigation and arbitration:

 

  1. In drafting the arbitration provision in the subcontract, ensure that it includes the general contractor’s surety. The provision could state something to the effect that if the subcontractor initiates a claim against the general contractor’s surety, the surety, at its option, can invoke and demand arbitration pursuant to this arbitration provision as the surety is an intended third party beneficiary of the right to demand arbitration in this provision. The key is that if the subcontractor files suit and the general contractor/surety prefer arbitration, they have a contractual provision that would make it compelling to dismiss the litigation or, more likely, stay it pending the outcome of arbitration.
  2. The other option, although far, far less common, is to include in the bond that the dispute resolution procedure is the same as in the subcontract of the claimant. There may be arguments around such a provision and the surety may not want its fate determined in an arbitration where there are not any appellate rights (and, perhaps, it may have concerns over the indemnification it is receiving from the general contractor).

 

For more information on arbitration provisions, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/deference-given-to-arbitration-agreements/ and http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/appreciating-the-risks-or-frustrations-of-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.

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.

APPRECIATING THE RISKS OR FRUSTRATIONS OF ARBITRATION

arbArbitration, just like litigation, can come with its own risks and frustrations. Once an arbitration award is rendered, the prevailing party will usually file an action or move to compel a circuit court to confirm the arbitrator’s award so that the award is turned into a judgment. However, a party that does not like the arbitrator’s award, will try to move to modify or vacate the award in accordance with Florida’s Arbitration Code (Florida Statutes Chapter 682). Although there are specific statutory grounds in order to move to modify or vacate an arbitrator’s award (and the motion must be filed within a specific window of time – typically, 90 days after delivery of the award), non-prevailing parties will still make an effort to vacate or modify the award with the circuit court within their required time parameters. The bases to modify or vacate an award are different than appellate rights afforded to litigants in court because an arbitration award is not supposed to be vacated or modified if an arbitrator erred as to the law.

 

The case of Wells v. Castro, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1509a (Fla. 3d DCA 2013), illustrates certain frustrations. Without going into the factual details of the dispute, an arbitrator entered an award in favor of a claimant (party demanding arbitration) against one respondent (party responding to the demand for arbitration) and against the claimant as to another respondent. All of the parties agreed that the arbitrator is vested with the authority to determine the prevailing party for purposes of being entitled to attorneys’ fees. The respondent that prevailed as to the claimant’s claim wanted to be the prevailing party in order to recover its attorneys’ fees. However, the arbitrator found that neither party was the prevailing party meaning neither the respondent nor claimant would be entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees (as to the claimant’s claim against the prevailing respondent). Notably, under the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Trytek v. Gale Indus., Inc., 3 So.3d 1194 (Fla. 2009), a court is to look at which party prevailed on the significant issues in the case for purposes of determining the prevailing party and has discretion to determine that there is not a prevailing party; stated differently, there is now uncertainty as to whether a party will be deemed the prevailing party and be entitled to their attorneys’ fees under the “significant issues” standard.

 

The respondent that prevailed moved the circuit court to essentially modify the arbitration award arguing that the arbitrator erroneously concluded that neither party was the prevailing party and that the respondent should have been deemed the prevailing party because it prevailed as to the claimant’s claims. The trial court granted the motion and deemed the respondent the prevailing party for purposes of being entitled to attorneys’ fees.

 

On appeal through a petition for a writ of mandamus (in this case, an appeal for the appellate court to order the trial court to confirm the arbitrator’s award), the Third District reversed the trial court maintaining: (a) the parties agreed to have the arbitrator determine the issue of prevailing party for purposes of attorneys’ fees (and need to live by that determination) and (b) an arbitrator’s error of law is not a basis to vacate or modify an award.   Thus, if the arbitrator erred in determining the prevailing party under Florida caselaw, the parties need to live with that determination because they agreed to have the arbitrator determine this issue in their arbitration.

 

While there are certain benefits to arbitration, it can come with its own risks and frustrations.  Again, the reasons to modify or vacate the award are limited under Florida statute and not designed to correct an arbitrator’s potential errors in law.  Also, if the parties want the arbitrator to determine the prevailing party for purposes of attorneys’ fees (which makes sense since the arbitrator will be the most familiar with the factual nature of the dispute), the parties will more than likely have to live by that determination.

 

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.