The Second Circuit has upheld an order granting a petition by Hermès of Paris to compel arbitration after Matthew Swain, a former employee, sued Hermès and a coworker in state court for alleged violations of state non-discrimination laws. The Second Circuit rejected Swain’s argument that there was no subject matter jurisdiction, finding that only parties to the petition to compel arbitration, not the parties in the underlying lawsuit, should be considered when evaluating diversity jurisdiction.
After Swain was fired by Hermès, he sued asserting claims under New Jersey law. Hermès filed a petition in federal court to compel arbitration, and the district court granted that petition. On appeal, Swain argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, which the court had based on complete diversity of citizenship, because, even though Hermès and Swain were citizens of different states, Swain and the coworker defendant in the underlying action were both citizens of New Jersey. Thus, Swain argued that the district court was required to “look through” the arbitration petition to the facts of the underlying state court litigation to determine the jurisdiction issue, citing the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Vaden v. Discover Bank.
The Second Circuit, applying its 1995 decision in Doctor’s Associates v. Distajo, held that the court could only consider the citizenship of the parties to that petition—Hermès and Swain—in evaluating whether diversity jurisdiction existed. The court further held that Vaden, in which the Supreme Court found that the allegations of the underlying lawsuit were relevant to jurisdiction over the arbitration petition, did not apply because it dealt with federal question jurisdiction, not diversity. Diversity jurisdiction raises different concerns, the Second Circuit found, including the possibility that a plaintiff could try to defeat diversity by adding a party from the same state as a defendant.
The court also rejected Swain’s argument that the coworker, as a third-party beneficiary of the contract containing the arbitration clause, was an indispensable party to the federal litigation. In fact, the court held that whether the coworker was a third party beneficiary did not matter, as the district court could afford full relief to Hermès in the form of an order compelling arbitration without the coworker’s presence in the lawsuit, such that the coworker was not an indispensable party.