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RCM Technologies, Inc. v. Construction Services Associates

May 31, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas


IRENAS, District Judge:

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Compel Arbitration and Stay Proceedings. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is denied.


On February 1, 1999, Plaintiff RCM Technology, Inc. ("RCM") and Defendants Construction Service Associates ("CSA"), formerly known as Computer Software Associates, and Edwin J. Smith, the owner of CSA, entered into an Asset Purchase Agreement ("APA") whereby RCM was to purchase substantially all of CSA's assets. The purchase price for the assets was $6,750,000, subject to certain post-closing adjustments specified by the APA. (APA ¶ 3.1) Pursuant to the agreement, RCM paid $2,500,000 at the closing. (Id. ¶ 3.2(i)). The remainder of the purchase price was to be paid as deferred consideration based on the financial performance of the purchased business. (Id. ¶ 3.2).

Among the representations and warranties made by Defendants as "a material inducement" for Plaintiff to enter into the APA was a promise that CSA's "closing net operating income' was "not less than $1,200,000." (Id. ¶ 5; ¶ 5.23). Defendants also warranted that CSA's business had suffered no "materially adverse changes in the business, condition (financial or otherwise, results of operations, properties, assets, liabilities, earnings or net worth...." (Id. ¶ 5.5). According to the APA, these representations were conditions precedent to any of Plaintiff's obligations under the contract. (Id. ¶ 10.2).

At some point after the execution of the APA, Plaintiff discovered that CSA's closing net operating income was in fact less than $1,200,000. Plaintiff claims that Defendants either submitted false numbers reflecting CSA's financial performance through October 1998 or that the Defendants failed to disclose that CSA had suffered "materially adverse changes" prior to the closing. (Pl.'s Opp. at 3).

On October 2, 2000, Plaintiff brought suit in New Jersey Superior Court, asserting claims of fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and breach of contract. Subsequently, on November 9, 2000, Defendants removed the matter to this Court. On November 17, 2000, Defendants simultaneously filed an Answer and the instant Motion. Defendants seek to stay these proceedings and compel arbitration based on the APA's arbitration clause, which provides in relevant part that "[i]f a dispute arises as to interpretation of this Agreement, it shall be decided finally by three arbitrators in an arbitration proceeding...." (Id. ¶ 12). The agreement further provides for arbitration to be held in Phoenix, Arizona. *fn1


The Supreme Court has long recognized that the Federal Arbitration Act embodies a strong federal policy favoring arbitration. See Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S. 1, 10 (1984); Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp, 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983); Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 24-25 (1967). Pursuant to the Act, an arbitration clause in a "transaction involving commerce" is "valid, irrevocable, and enforceable" except on "such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2. Section 3 of the Act requires a court in which suit has been brought on an issue referable to arbitration under a written arbitration agreement "to stay the court action pending arbitration once it is satisfied that the issue is arbitrable under the agreement." Prima Paint Corp., 388 U.S. at 400 (discussing 9 U.S.C. § 3). *fn2 Upon motion by "[a] party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal" to honor such an arbitration agreement, Section 4 directs the court "to order arbitration once it is satisfied that an agreement for arbitration has been made and has not been honored." Id. at 400 (discussing 9 U.S.C. § 4).

There is no dispute that the APA involves interstate commerce or that the construction of its arbitration clause is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act. (Pl.'s Opp. at 5; Defs.' Br. at 4). However, the parties disagree as to the result under the Act. Defendants urge this Court to stay litigation and compel arbitration while Plaintiff contends that its claims do not fall within the scope of the APA's arbitration clause.

The Supreme Court has instructed that "the first task for a court asked to compel arbitration of a dispute is to determine whether the parties agree to arbitrate that dispute." Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 626 (1985). That decision must be made "by applying the `federal substantive law of arbitrability, applicable to any arbitration within the coverage of the Act.'" Id. (citations omitted). Further, it must be made "with a healthy regard for the federal policy favoring arbitration." Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 24. The Arbitration Act establishes that, as a matter of federal law, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration...." Id. at 24-25. However, the Supreme Court has made clear that "arbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit." United Steel Workers of America v. Warrior and Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960). Nevertheless, the Court has instructed that "[a]n order to arbitration should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute." Id. at 582-83 (discussing arbitration under Labor Management Relations Act). Accordingly, doubts as to arbitrability are to be "resolved in favor of coverage." Id. at 583.

Thus, a broad arbitration clause carries with it a certain presumption of arbitrability. See Keifer Specialty Flooring v. Tarket, Inc., 174 F.3d 907, 910 (7th Cir. 1999); McDonnell Douglas Fin. Corp. v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 858 F.2d 825, 832 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).

With narrower clauses, however, a court considering the appropriate range of arbitrable issues must "consider whether the [question at] issue is on its face within the purview of clause." ... In determining whether a particular dispute falls within the scope of a narrow and specific arbitration clause, "[t]he tone of the clause as a whole ...

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