RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.
Continental Casualty Co. ("Continental") filed suit against American National Insurance Co. ("ANICO"), a co-participant in the Associated Accident and Health Reinsurance Underwriters ("AAHRU") reinsurance pool managed by IOA Re, Inc. ("IOA Re"). Continental attempted to leave the reinsurance arrangement in 2000. It sought a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty to indemnify ANICO pursuant to a Quota Share Personal Accident Retrocession Contract ("Quota Share Contract")
The district court agreed with ANICO, holding that IOA Re had apparent authority as a matter of law to bind Continental to the Quota Share Contract and that the Participation Agreement's arbitration clause also compelled arbitration. Because the arbitration venue was not the Northern District of Illinois, the district court dismissed the action and Continental appeals. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
Continental and ANICO were major participants in the reinsurance pool, AAHRU.
ANICO claims that in 2000 it sought to cede certain reinsurance business to AAHRU. This cession was reduced to writing in a Quota Share Contract. For reasons that are unexplained by ANICO and are not clear from the record, the formal Contract was not executed until April 20, 2001—after Continental's withdrawal from the pool. However, the Contract was back-dated and given an effective date of January 1, 2000. The ceded block of policies included risks covering the World Trade Center that were implicated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Continental asserts that it learned of the Quota Share Contract when, in the wake of the attacks, ANICO asked for partial indemnification under the agreement.
Continental's participation is important to ANICO because, in 2000, Continental represented almost 50% of the total AAHRU participation. Without Continental, ANICO's indemnification from other insurers would be reduced significantly. ANICO claims that it would not have entered
B. District Court Proceedings
Continental filed this action against ANICO, seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not bound by, and owed ANICO no duty under, the Quota Share Contract. ANICO then filed a motion to dismiss, contending that (1) the Quota Share Contract contained an arbitration clause, and arbitration was required under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.; (2) the venue was improper, see Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3); and (3) Continental had failed to join IOA Re, an indispensable party, see id. 12(b)(7).
ANICO grounded its arbitration argument in the arbitration clauses of two different agreements: the Quota Share Contract entered into by IOA Re and ANICO and the Participation Agreement between IOA Re and Continental establishing Continental's membership in AAHRU. The district court first determined, as a matter of law, that IOA Re had the apparent authority to bind Continental to the Quota Share Contract that IOA Re had signed with ANICO. Therefore, held the court, Continental was bound to arbitrate any disputes under the Quota Share Contract.
In the alternative, the court determined that the dispute over Continental's liability under the Quota Share Contract arose under the Participation Agreement. The court reasoned that, although ANICO was not a signatory to the Continental/IOA Re agreement, ANICO was a third-party beneficiary to the Participation Agreement and thus was entitled to invoke the Agreement's arbitration clause. As the district court viewed the matter, then, the dispute before it was subject to two arbitration clauses: the Quota Share Contract required arbitration and Continental's Participation Agreement's arbitration clause also covered "any dispute" arising from the arrangement. Accordingly, the district court held that "under either the Quota Share Contract or the Participation Agreement, a valid arbitration agreement exists; however, in either case, the forum for arbitration is not in the Northern District of Illinois." R.18 at 8. The court accordingly dismissed the action. See Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Lauer, 49 F.3d 323, 328 (7th Cir.1995); Snyder v. Smith, 736 F.2d 409, 420 (7th Cir.1984), overruled on other grounds by Felzen v. Andreas, 134 F.3d 873 (7th Cir.1998).
Continental then brought this appeal, seeking review of the two alternative holdings of the district court.
Before embarking on our analysis, we pause to set forth some basic governing principles. "Although the Federal Arbitration Act favors resolution of disputes through arbitration, its provisions are not to be construed so broadly as to include claims that were never intended for arbitration." American United Logistics, Inc. v. Catellus Dev. Corp., 319 F.3d 921, 929 (7th Cir.2003). Whether the parties have agreed to arbitrate is a question normally answered by the court rather than by an arbitrator. The issue is governed by state law principles governing contract formation. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944, 115 S.Ct. 1920, 131 L.Ed.2d 985 (1995); Reliance Ins. Co. v. Raybestos Prods. Co., 382 F.3d 676, 678-79 (7th Cir.2004). Nevertheless, we must be mindful that the FAA "is a congressional declaration of a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements" and "that questions of arbitrability
We begin our analysis by dealing with a threshold issue on which the parties have spent a great deal of time and energy in the course of this appeal. In this court the parties dispute the procedural posture in which this case comes to us. ANICO takes the view that the district court acted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction. Continental contends, however, that the district court dismissed the case under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The parties believe that this disagreement is important for two reasons. First, Continental submits that, if the motion was decided under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court erred by considering matters outside of the pleadings, specifically the Participation Agreement, without affording Continental Rule 56 procedural protections. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b).
Second, the parties believe that the procedural characterization of the district court's action is important because it affects our standard of review or, more particularly, our presumptions in exercising that review. If ANICO is correct, and the district court dismissed the action under Rule 12(b)(1), we review the district court's legal conclusions de novo and its findings of fact, in particular, the court's finding that ANICO had apparent authority, for
There is some authority to support the view of each party. Some courts have taken the view that, if a district court determines that parties have agreed to arbitrate a dispute, the district court, at least temporarily, no longer has the authority to resolve arbitrable claims. See 9 U.S.C. § 3.
We need not—indeed we cannot—choose between the competing characterizations
The central issue in this case is whether Continental agreed to arbitrate this dispute. Our review of that question is plenary. See Continental Ins. Co. v. M/V Orsula, 354 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2003) ("Our review of the enforceability and applicability of a forum-selection clause, a contractual term used to select a specific venue, is de novo."); Hawkins v. Aid Ass'n for Lutherans, 338 F.3d 801, 805 (7th Cir.2003) ("We review de novo the court's decision to compel arbitration based on its finding that the parties entered into an enforceable agreement."). "[I]nsofar as [the district court's] decision rests on findings of fact, . . . we use the clearly erroneous standard." Reliance Ins. Co., 382 F.3d at 678; see Murphy v. Schneider Nat'l, Inc., 362 F.3d 1133, 1140 (9th Cir.2004) ("Upon holding an evidentiary hearing to resolve material disputed facts, the district court may weigh evidence, assess credibility, and make findings of fact that are dispositive on the Rule 12(b)(3) motion. These factual findings, when based upon an evidentiary hearing and findings on disputed material issues, will be entitled to deference.").
We have determined that the district court properly considered the Participation Agreement. We now review the Participation Agreement to determine its proper role in resolving the situation before us. The first factor that must be noted is the comprehensiveness of this document. This agreement is central to the role of Continental in the reinsurance relationship. The Participation Agreement is the only agreement to which Continental is a party; it is the basis of any relationship among Continental, ANICO, AAHRU and IOA Re. It governs the basic duties and responsibilities of Continental as a member of the reinsurance pool, the role of the advisory committee of members in coordinating the activities of all the members, and the termination of a member from the arrangement. The Participation Agreement also is central to Continental's position in bringing this action for declaratory relief. The Participation Agreement demonstrates the interrelatedness and, indeed, interdependence of this agreement with the similar agreements of the other participants. Indeed, the Participation Agreement acknowledges this interdependence, see R.8, Ex.A, art.V, and Continental's complaint in this action specifically refers to the aggregate of these participation agreements as the basis for the relationship of its members. Finally, the arbitration clause in the Participation Agreement is broad. It governs "any dispute
Continental nevertheless submits that the Participation Agreement is irrelevant to the present dispute which, in its view, concerns only its obligations under the Quota Share Contract. Indeed, Continental points out that ANICO is not a party to the Participation Agreement between Continental and IOA Re and therefore cannot enforce its provisions. We cannot accept this perspective. As our earlier discussion makes clear, the Participation Agreement is central to Continental's relationship to all other entities involved in this reinsurance arrangement. Any obligation of Continental in the Quota Share Contract transaction arose from its participation in AAHRU, the specifics of which are governed by the Participation Agreement. Although ANICO is not a party to Continental's Participation Agreement, it is clear that the Agreement was undertaken precisely to provide a framework to facilitate underwriting relationships between Continental and other carriers such as ANICO.
The same characteristics of the Participation Agreement make it clear that ANICO can indeed enforce the provisions at issue in this litigation. As a general matter in Illinois,
"Illinois recognizes two types of third-party beneficiaries, intended and incidental. An intended beneficiary is intended by the parties to the contract to receive a benefit for the performance of the agreement and has rights and may sue under the contract; an incidental beneficiary has no rights and may not sue to enforce them." Estate of Willis v. Kiferbaum Const. Corp., 294 Ill.Dec. 224, 830 N.E.2d 636 (2005). For an intended third-party beneficiary to enforce contract terms, the liability of a promisor to the beneficiary "`must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument,'" id. (quoting Carson Pirie Scott & Co. v. Parrett, 346 Ill. 252, 178 N.E. 498 (1931)), and the contract must be made for the direct benefit of the third party, Swavely v. Freeway Ford Truck Sales, Inc., 298 Ill.App.3d 969, 233 Ill.Dec. 80, 700 N.E.2d 181, 185 (1998); see also Cahill v. E. Benefit Sys., Inc., 236 Ill.App.3d 517, 177 Ill.Dec. 718, 603 N.E.2d 788, 791 (1992). It is not necessary that the beneficiary be identified by name in the contract, but it must be identified in some manner, for example, by describing the class to which it belongs. Holmes v. Fed. Ins. Co., 353 Ill.App.3d 1062,
Despite Illinois' stringent requirements to demonstrate third-party beneficiary standing, we believe that ANICO may enforce terms of the Participation Agreement. ANICO is a beneficiary of the Participation Agreement as a pool participant. The Participation Agreement contemplates that Continental will participate to the extent of its agreed share in any reinsurance business accepted by IOA Re, see R.8, Ex.A, art.V § 2, including the block of reinsurance ceded by ANICO, if that business was ceded before Continental revoked IOA Re's agency. Thus, we agree with the district court that ANICO may enforce the Participation Agreement's arbitration provision as a third-party beneficiary of the Continental/IOA Re Agreement.
Given our discussion of the Participation Agreement, we have little difficulty in concluding that the district court properly determined that the issue of whether Continental has any liability for the risks involved in the Quota Share Contract is an issue for the arbitrator. The breadth of the language in the Participation Agreement makes clear that Continental's liability must be decided in that forum.
Continental's complaint asserted that IOA Re had no authority to enter into the Quota Share Contract on its behalf because Continental had withdrawn from AAHRU at the time that the block of reinsurance at issue was ceded. Resolution of whether Continental has any liability therefore will require a determination of when the block of reinsurance at issue was ceded. Concluding that this transaction took place prior to Continental's claimed withdrawal will require the antecedent conclusion that the arrangement among the parties, as memorialized in the various participation agreements, permitted the cession of such reinsurance in a form other than writing. If, however, the cession became effective after Continental's attempt to withdraw, there will be questions as to whether Continental had communicated effectively its withdrawal to its fellow members through its notification of IOA Re. This issue will require a determination of whether the contractual arrangement among the participating insurance companies permitted notification through IOA Re or whether it required more on the part of Continental. This issue also may require a determination of the nature of the fiduciary obligation under these interdependent participation agreements between IOA Re and each of the participating companies. The interpretation of this multi-dimensional contractual arrangement, and the significance of the parties' actions in relation to that arrangement, are complicated questions for the arbitrator.
We conclude that the issues presented by the complaint are subject to arbitration under the Participation Agreement. Moreover, because the Federal Arbitration Act forbids the district court to compel arbitration outside the confines of the district, the court properly dismissed the action. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
In the year 2000, Continental's contribution constituted 48.8% ($20 million) of the total value of AAHRU. ANICO's contribution represented 42.5% ($17.4 million). Two other participants made up the remainder. In the decade of its participation, Continental's contribution to the AAHRU fund had increased from 5% to 48.8% as other participants left; ANICO's first year as a participant was 2000.
At oral argument, it became clear that Continental's interpretation of the district court's action as a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is grounded in the first footnote of the district court's order. There, the court stated its rationale for considering the arbitration clause in the Participation Agreement and cited a case construing Rule 12(b)(6):
R. 18 at 3 n. 1.