Saturday, July 26, 2008

Does choice-of-law clause trump the FAA in case involving interstate commerce?

Dallas Court of Appeals answered the question in: Roehrs v. FSI Holdings, Inc., No. 05-06-01432-CV, 246 SW3d 796 (Tex.App.- Dallas, Feb. 26, 2008, pet. denied June 20, 2008) FROM THE OPINION: Choice of law Appellants argue that the Federal Arbitration Act and the Texas Arbitration Act apply concurrently to the issues raised in this case. FSI argues that the TAA alone applies, based on a choice-of-law clause in the Stock Purchase Agreement. That clause provides, “This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas, without giving effect to its ruled [sic] governing conflict of laws.” Whether the FAA applies in the face of a general choice-of-law clause such as this one presents a “particularly thorny question of contract construction.” Note, An Unnecessary Choice of Law: Volt, Mastrobuono, and Federal Arbitration Act Preemption, 115 Harv. L. Rev. 2250, 2250 (2002). The FAA generally governs the enforceability of an arbitration agreement when the transaction involves interstate commerce. 9 U.S.C.A. §§ 1-2 (West 1999); Jack B. Anglin Co., Inc. v. Tipps, 842 S.W.2d 266, 269-70 (Tex. 1992) (orig. proceeding). FSI does not dispute that the Agreement involves interstate commerce, but it contends that the parties' general choice-of-law clause trumps the FAA and requires application of the TAA. Some authorities support FSI's position. E.g., Ruedemann v. Energy Operators, Inc., 198 F. Supp. 2d 894, 896-97 (S.D. Tex. 2002). But the Texas Supreme Court has held that a choice-of-law clause will not be construed to select the TAA to the exclusion of the FAA unless the clause “specifically exclude[s] the application of federal law.” In re L & L Kempwood Assocs., L.P., 9 S.W.3d 125, 127-28 (Tex. 1999) (per curiam). A general choice-of-law clause such as the one in the Agreement does not satisfy this standard. Dewey v. Wegner, 138 S.W.3d 591, 596 & n.5 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, no pet.). Accordingly, we apply the FAA, while recognizing that the TAA also applies to the extent it is consistent with the FAA. In re D. Wilson Constr. Co., 196 S.W.3d 774, 779-80 (Tex. 2006). On issues of federal law, such as the proper interpretation of the FAA, we must follow the decisions of the United States Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court; the decisions of other federal courts, by contrast, may be persuasive but are not binding on us. Penrod Drilling Corp. v. Williams, 868 S.W.2d 294, 296 (Tex. 1993). DANIEL ROEHRS, ET AL. v. FSI HOLDINGS, INC.; from Dallas County; 5th district (05-06-01432-CV, 246 SW3d 796, 02-26-08, pet. denied by the Texas Supreme Court June 20, 2008)

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