In this case, Royal Wine Corporation (“Royal”) moved for a preliminary injunction in a New York state court action to enjoin an arbitration filed by Cognac Ferrand SAS (“Cognac”), against Mystique Brands, LLC (“Mystique”) until the court has resolved the issues raised in Royal’s complaint filed against Cognac and Mystique, which seeks a declaratory judgment that Royal is not the alter ego of Mystique, and a permanent injunction barring Cognac from maintaining an arbitration against Mystique.
The background of the dispute is as follows. In 2008, Cognac and Mystique entered into a five-year contract (the “Agreement”), which granted Mystique the exclusive right to import certain of Cognac’s products to the North American market. Prior to its expiration, Cognac terminated the Agreement due to Mystique’s insolvency. Royal demanded that Cognac pay a $238,000 termination fee. Mystique then initiated an arbitration to obtain the termination fee, and Cognac filed counterclaims for fraud and breach of contract in that matter (the “First Arbitration”). The arbitrator dismissed the claims of Mystique and granted Cognac’s counterclaims, leaving only the issue of damages to be determined. Prior to a resolution as to Cognac’s damages, Mystique filed for bankruptcy, and the First Arbitration was stayed. According to the Bankruptcy Trustee’s Complaint, Royal funded Mystique’s unsuccessful First Arbitration and filed Mystique’s bankruptcy proceeding. Cognac then moved the Bankruptcy Court to lift the stay to permit Cognac to obtain a judgment for damages against Mystique and to proceed against Mystique’s principals on an alter ego theory of liability, which was denied. After the conclusion of Mystique’s bankruptcy action in 2017, Cognac filed a new arbitration against Mystique (the “Second Arbitration”), in which Cognac raised claims nearly identical to its counterclaims in the First Arbitration and sought to recover over $5 million in damages. Royal then filed the instant action in New York state court.
With respect to its motion for a preliminary injunction, Royal argued that Mystique is a defunct entity, that “serial arbitrations” are prohibited, and that the Second Arbitration is untimely. The New York court denied the motion, finding that Royal has no standing to stay the arbitration and is not entitled to assert Mystique’s defenses to the arbitration because Royal is not a signatory to the arbitration agreement between Cognac and Mystique. It further found that Royal failed to satisfy the elements necessary to obtain injunctive relief. In order to obtain injunctive relief, Royal was required to establish (1) a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim, (2) the danger of irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction, and (3) the balance of the equities favors it. The New York court found that Royal failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits because it is not entitled to advance arguments on Mystique’s behalf while denying that it is Mystique’s alter ego. In this regard, the court noted that although “serial arbitrations” may be prohibited, such an argument belongs to Mystique, which had yet to be served with notice of the Second Arbitration. Royal also claimed that it will suffer irreparable harm if it is unable to assert Mystique’s defenses because Mystique is a defunct entity and Royal, the alleged alter ego, faces a potential default judgment for over $5 million. By contrast, Royal argued that Cognac would suffer no harm if the arbitration was delayed while the court determined the issue of Royal’s alter ego status.
The court rejected Royal’s argument, finding that if it denied the motion for preliminary injunction and Royal is later successful in its lawsuit, Royal will establish that it is not Mystique’s alter ego and will moot the issue of whether Royal may raise Mystique’s defenses. Accordingly, the court declined to find that extraordinary irreparable harm compensates for Royal’s deficiencies as to the applicable factors for obtaining a preliminary injunction. Thus, the court denied Royal’s motion to stay the Second Arbitration.