In City of Laurel, Mississippi v. Cintas Corp. No. 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the issue whether a valid arbitration agreement existed between the plaintiff City of Laurel, Mississippi, and defendant Cintas Corporation No. 2. The court affirmed the district court’s order denying Cintas’ motion to stay proceedings and compel arbitration, concluding that “there is no valid arbitration agreement between Cintas and the City.”
The case involved two contracts. The first contract, referred to as the “master agreement,” was between Cintas and “the lead public agency” and included an arbitration clause. The second contract was between Cintas and the city, and included provisions establishing how Cintas would deal with the city and other “participating public agencies.” The parties did not dispute that there was a valid arbitration agreement between Cintas and the “lead public agency” as stated in the first contract. Rather, the dispute focused on whether “the same [arbitration] agreement exists between Cintas and the City.”
The city brought breach of contract claims against Cintas, and the district court denied Cintas’ motion to stay the action and compel arbitration. In affirming the district court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit first noted that under the FAA, “the court is limited to determining (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, and, if it does, (2) whether the agreement encompasses the dispute at issue.” The court found the contract between Cintas and the city did not include an arbitration clause, and instead provided that Cintas and the city would resolve disputes “directly between them in accordance with and governed by the laws of the State in which [the City] exits.” The court found that if this language compelled arbitration, “it would be superfluous in light of the arbitration agreement incorporated into the Master Agreement,” noting that courts “must avoid interpreting a contract in a way that would render provisions ‘redundant and superfluous.’” The court also rejected Cintas’ argument that the court should “harmonize” the two contracts by applying the arbitration agreement contained in the contract between Cintas and the lead public agency, citing Morgan v. Sundance Inc., which stated that “a court may not devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation.”
In a dissenting opinion, one of the circuit judges concluded that the underlying agreement between the parties compels arbitration of the dispute, and he would reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to compel arbitration.
City of Laurel, Mississippi v. Cintas Corp. No. 2, No. 22-15476 (9th Cir. Mar. 6, 2023).