The representative of former stockholders who sold their shares in a leasing corporation pursuant to a stock purchase agreement had filed identical complaints in state court and before an arbitration tribunal alleging a breach of the stock purchase agreement by the bank and seeking an order for specific performance of the contract. The bank removed the case from state court to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and then successfully compelled arbitration and obtained dismissal of the case.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the forum selection clause in the parties’ stock purchase agreement did not waive the right to remove where the clause required litigation to “be brought and determined in Orange County, California,” which is the seat of both state and federal courts. “Because the clause uses the preposition ‘in,’ the contract contemplates federal as well as state courts as proper courts for adjudication.” This contrasts with a 2019 Ninth Circuit case, City of Albany v. CH2M Hill Inc., wherein the relevant forum selection clause waived the right to remove because “there is no federal courthouse located in the designated county.”
The Ninth Circuit also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the district court erred by compelling arbitration despite a carve-out from the agreement that preserved the ability to seek in court “temporary or preliminary injunctive relief … in aid of arbitration.” The court determined that the plaintiff’s claims were not “in aid of arbitration” because they were not “aimed at preserving the status quo until the dispute may be resolved by an arbitrator.” Rather, the plaintiff’s complaint sought specific performance, a remedy for the defendant’s alleged breach of contract. Per the parties’ arbitration agreement, only the arbitrator had the power to grant that relief. The federal district court was correct to compel arbitration.
Meyer v. Fifth Third Bank, No. 19-56506 (9th Cir. Jan. 20, 2021).