An engineering company was hired to perform work in connection with construction and renovation of the South African Embassy, and subcontracted for sheet metal work with a third party. The subcontract contained an arbitration provision covering “any controversy or claim of Contractor against Subcontractor or Subcontractor against Contractor.” The third party then negotiated with a surety company for a surety bond, which incorporated the subcontract by reference. After a dispute between the engineering company and its subcontractor arose, the engineering company terminated the subcontract, notified the surety company that it intended to make a claim under the surety bond, and filed a request to join the surety company as a party in arbitration proceedings with its subcontractor. The surety company refused to consent to joinder and both parties moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether they must arbitrate the dispute over the bond. The engineering company argued that because the surety bond incorporated the subcontract by reference, the engineering company had agreed to arbitrate not only claims on the bond but also any issues of arbitrability. Relying on the disjunctive “or” in the language of the arbitration clause, the engineering company argued the subcontract required that “any controversy” involving any parties must be arbitrated, as well as any “claim of Contractor against Subcontractor” or vice versa. The court disagreed, applying a heightened standard of “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the surety company agreed to arbitrate. The court reasoned that although the surety company was bound by the subcontract as a whole, the surety company was not bound by the arbitration clause because the language clearly limited it to claims between the engineering company and its subcontractor. , No. 15-cv-327 (USDC D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2016).
This post written by Gail Jankowski, a law clerk at Carlton Fields in Washington, DC.
See our disclaimer.