This week as reported in the Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions:
First Impression—Compelling Arbitration on a Non-signatory—Appellate Attorney Fees—Confirmation of Arbitration Award.
DeLollis and Stout founded an information technology company, Venti Solutions, LLC. Meister invested in Venti and became a member of the company. The purchase agreement signed by Venti, Stout, DeLollis, and Meister granted Meister a 20% interest in Venti in exchange for a capital contribution of $500,000.
The agreement incorporated by reference the Venti operating agreement, which was executed by Stout and DeLollis. The operating agreement had a dispute resolution article providing that arbitration was the exclusive mechanism for resolving all disputes.
In 2012, Meister sued DeLollis, Stout, and Venti. DeLollis and Venti moved to compel arbitration, and the court so ordered. The arbitrator dismissed Meister’s claims with prejudice and awarded $375,738.70 against him on Venti’s breach of contract counterclaim. The district court confirmed the award.
Meister appealed on the ground that arbitration should not have been compulsory as to his claims against Venti, a non-signatory to the operating agreement. Under Colorado law, both signatory and non-signatory parties may be bound by an arbitration agreement if so dictated by ordinary principles of contract law. Equitable estoppel may also be used to bind parties to an arbitration agreement.
The Court of Appeals held that Meister’s claims against Venti were subject to arbitration under an estoppel theory. All of his claims referenced or presumed and relied on the existence of the operating agreement. He was therefore equitably estopped from avoiding arbitration of his claims against Venti. As additional support for this conclusion, the Court noted that Meister’s claims alleged interconnected and concerted misconduct among Venti, Stout, and DeLollis, and it was admitted that Stout and DeLollis were subject to the operating agreement and the arbitration provision.
Meister also challenged the district court’s confirmation of the arbitration award. The Venti operating agreement required arbitration to take place not more than sixty days after selection of an arbitrator. Originally scheduled for July 9 and 10, 2013, arbitration was postponed to September 3 and 4, after Meister failed to pay the arbitration deposit. Meister was also under travel restrictions stemming from an unrelated federal indictment in Florida. He did not disclose these criminal proceedings to the arbitrator or to defendants. He filed a motion to appear electronically on the basis of poor health. Defendants discovered his involvement in criminal proceedings and Meister refused the arbitrator’s requests to verify his health status. His request to appear electronically was denied. The Court affirmed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case for determination of the appellees’ attorney fees and costs.
For More Information: http://www.cobar.org/opinions/opinion.cfm?opinionid=9766&courtid=1