Monday, September 27, 2010

“Muddied waters” or not, Law 75 claims for termination of exclusive distributorship and tort damages are arbitrable

It is unremarkable that the Federal Arbitration Act enforces written arbitration agreements involving Law 75 claims. Unless the movant (the dealer) seeks to invoke the district court’s limited power to issue a Teradyne injunction in aid of arbitration, claims for injunctive relief fall in the hands of the arbitrator. Next Step Medical Co. v. Johnson & Johnson International, No. 09-2077 (1st Cir. Aug. 30, 2010) is one of those cases. What is peculiar about the case is the appeal from the District Court’s judgment dismissing with prejudice a tort claim for emotional distress as not viable in a contract action, despite a Magistrate’s prior recommendation that the entire action was arbitrable. Despite the First Circuit's statement that the district judge “muddied the waters” by dismissing the arbitrable claims with prejudice, the appellate court sanitized the Judgment and concluded that the dismissal with prejudice meant the claims could not be brought in court; but rather, the claims survived on the merits for arbitration. After a removal to federal court, a still born request for injunctive relief, the lost appeal, years of litigation, the dealer was forced to arbitrate as required by the clear and broad arbitration agreement.