This is an appeal of an order denying a motion to dismiss and/or to stay and compel arbitration. Because the brokerage contracts between the parties required arbitration, we reverse.
This case arises out of a number of virtually identical New England Life Insurance Company ["New England Life"] brokerage contracts signed by appellees, Rasiklal Nagda and Harshada Nagda ["Nagdas"], the plaintiffs below. Their complaint alleges that in late 1999, the Nagdas met with Sami Qubty ["Qubty"] and Dipak Shah ["Shah"], representatives of the Orlando office of New England Life. Qubty and Shah told the Nagdas that, if they transferred money to New England Life, they would be charged fees of 1% per annum on a portfolio of up to $500,000;.5% per year on a portfolio of $500,000 to $1 million; and a quarter percent per year on a portfolio of over a million dollars. They were further promised they could buy and sell an unlimited number of stocks with no extra trading fees and that all family accounts would be considered one account for the purpose of calculating fees. Based on these representations, the Nagdas transferred $488,000 to New England Life to be held in accounts listed in the names of the Nagdas and their three children, and they began to trade the stock in those accounts. The Nagdas were told by Qubty that New England Life did not intend to honor its earlier agreement due to excessive trading in the account, and were charged $32,000 in commissions on trades in violation of the brokerage agreement prior to the closing of the account.
The Nagdas filed a two-count complaint seeking damages for breach of contract and fraud in the inducement from New England Life, Qubty and Shah. New England Life filed a motion to dismiss on two grounds. Relevant to this appeal, New England Life asserted that documents signed by the Nagdas concerning their accounts contained mandatory arbitration clauses. Attached to the motion was a "New England Securities Account Application," which had been signed by Dr. Nagda on November 22, 1999. At the top of the signature page, the agreement stated in capital letters:
Immediately above his signature, the agreement stated in bold type:
The form "customer agreement" appended to the application stated in relevant part that:
Also appended was a "Premier Select SEP-IRA Application" signed by Dr. Nagda on November 11, 2000, which stated immediately above his signature:
Virtually identical documents, containing the same arbitration provisions, had been signed by Mrs. Nagda. Dr. Nagda had also signed "New England Securities Account Applications" on behalf of the children. These documents had been countersigned by Shah and/or Qubty on behalf of New England Life.
The Nagdas filed a response asserting that the arbitration clause was unenforceable because:
Qubty filed his own motion to compel arbitration and stay the Nagdas' action. The Nagdas' response to Qubty's motion asserted that the arbitration agreements were unenforceable on similar grounds. In a supplemental response to Qubty's motion, the Nagdas also argued that they could not be compelled to arbitrate their claims against Qubty because he was not a signatory to the new account application and the Nagdas had sued Qubty in his individual capacity.
On or about August 31, 2001, the Nagdas filed a memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss and/or to compel arbitration, in which they argued that the arbitration provisions were unenforceable for yet another reason—that the contract had been rescinded by mutual cancellation. They explained that:
The Nagdas maintained that claims of fraud in the inducement of a contract were not subject to arbitration where the party claiming fraudulent inducement is seeking rescission of the contract. The court held a hearing on the party's motions and ultimately issued two nonspeaking orders denying the respective motions of New England Life and Qubty.
This case is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, which by its terms applies to an arbitration clause in a contract involving interstate commence. See 9 U.S.C.A. s. 1, et seq.; Powertel, Inc. v. Bexley, 743 So.2d 570, 573 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999), review denied, 763 So.2d 1044 (Fla. 2000). With respect to these contracts,
Under both federal statutory provisions and Florida's Arbitration Code, there are three elements for courts to consider in ruling on a motion to compel arbitration of a given dispute: (1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists; (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) whether the right to arbitration was waived. Florida Power Corp. v. City of Casselberry, 793 So.2d at 1178-1179. All doubts regarding the scope of an arbitration agreement, as well as any questions about waiver, should be construed in favor of arbitration rather than against it. See Rath v. Network Mktg., L.C., 790 So.2d 461, 463 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); Breckenridge v. Farber, 640 So.2d 208, 210 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994). This court reviews de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion to compel arbitration. Avid Engineering, Inc. v. Orlando Marketplace Ltd., 809 So.2d 1 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).
The Nagdas contend that the trial court properly found that the agreement to arbitrate was unenforceable because the underlying contract was rescinded or terminated prior to the time that defendants moved to compel arbitration.
Nor does the fact that the Nagdas are seeking rescission of the contract on the basis of fraud in the inducement preclude enforcement of the arbitration provisions contained in the contract, as long as the claims for rescission are directed at the contract as a whole, as opposed to the arbitration provision contained in the contract. This is true with respect to arbitration sought under both the Florida and Federal Arbitration Acts. See, e.g., Prima
The Nagdas' contention that the order denying defendants' request for arbitration should be affirmed as to Qubty because he was sued in his individual capacity is based mainly on Hirshenson v. Spaccio, 800 So.2d 670 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001). Hirshenson involved a claim by an investor against Spaccio, an investment counselor, and Anchor, an "introducing broker." Spaccio and Anchor subsequently filed a motion to compel arbitration. The court agreed that both Spaccio and Anchor were covered by the arbitration provisions in an agreement made by the investor with a "clearing broker," given that the agreement expressly identified him as a third-party beneficiary. However, this court cautioned that:
Qubty concedes that the contract involved here does not designate him to be a third party beneficiary of the contract. He nonetheless contends he has a right to enforce the arbitration agreement under principles of agency. We agree.
A number of courts have held that agents must be afforded the benefits of arbitration agreements made by their principal, at least to the extent that the principal's liability and the agent's liability are based on the same set of facts.
Similarly, in Pritzker v. Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 7 F.3d 1110 (3d Cir.1993), the court held that by agreeing in the context of a customer's agreement to arbitrate "all controversies which may arise between us," the clients had committed themselves to arbitrate claims against the firm and its agents arising out of the brokerage relationship. The court noted that since the brokerage could act only through agents and employees, "an arbitration agreement would be of little value if it did not extend to [them]." Id. at 1122 (quoting Trott v. Paciolla, 748 F.Supp. 305, 309 (E.D.Pa.1990)). Accordingly, "[i]n keeping with the federal policy favoring arbitration," the court said it would "extend the scope of the arbitration clauses to agents of the party who signed the agreements." Id. at 1122. See also MS Dealer Serv. Corp. v. Franklin, 177 F.3d 942, 947 (11th Cir.1999) (a non-signatory may invoke agreement to arbitrate when, "under agency or related principles, the relationship between the signatory and nonsignatory defendants is sufficiently close that only by permitting the nonsignatory to invoke arbitration may evisceration of the underlying arbitration agreement between the signatories be avoided."); Arnold v. Arnold Corp., 668 F.Supp. 625, 629 (N.D.Ohio 1987).
The Nagdas' final argument is that New England Life and/or Qubty have waived the right to arbitrate and therefore the order denying arbitration of their claims should be affirmed. The alleged basis of the waiver is three-fold: first, that the Nagdas were "never given copies of the opening account applications containing the arbitration clause"; second, that New England Life failed to warn the Nagdas during the fifteen month period of their negotiations that they should not waste their time filing a civil action, as there was an arbitration clause; and third, the defendants failed to demand arbitration while the parties were negotiating.
The Nagdas cannot be heard to complain that they did not know what was in the agreement, because as the Supreme Court of Florida explained in Allied Van Lines, Inc. v. Bratton, 351 So.2d 344 (Fla. 1977):
Id. at 347-348. Accord Sabin v. Lowe's, Inc., 404 So.2d 772 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981) ("A party has a duty to learn and know the contents of a proposed contract before he signs and delivers it and is presumed to know and understand its contents, terms and conditions."). Here, there is no allegation that the Nagdas were prevented
The Nagdas' final waiver arguments are also unpersuasive. Defendants' presuit negotiation with the Nagdas is not inconsistent with the right to arbitrate. Nor were defendants under a duty to make a presuit demand for arbitration. Brown v. ITT Consumer Fin. Corp., 211 F.3d 1217 (11th Cir.2000). We reverse and remand with instructions to order arbitration.
REVERSED and REMANDED.
COBB and HARRIS, JJ., concur.