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Estabrook v. Piper Jaffray Companies

July 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge


This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendants Piper Jaffray Companies and Piper Jaffray Companies Amended and Restated 2003 Annual Long-Term Incentive Plan ("the Plan") (both Defendants hereinafter collectively referred to as "Piper Jaffray") to compel arbitration. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted and the case is dismissed without prejudice.


Plaintiff Richard Estabrook is an Illinois citizen who formerly worked for Piper Jaffray as a securities broker. When Estabrook was hired in 2000, he was required as a condition of his employment to register with the National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD"). NASD is a self-regulatory organization, or SRO. The registration document is entitled "Form U4: Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer" (hereinafter referred to as "Form U4"). The application states that Estabrook, as the signatory, "agree[s] to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy that may arise between me and my firm...that is required to be arbitrated under the rules...of the SROs indicated in item 11*fn1 as may be amended from time to time...." NASD Code of Arbitration Procedure Rule 10201 provides that disputes, claims, and controversies between members and associated persons*fn2 arising in connection with the activities of such associated person or out of the employment of such associated person or its termination shall be arbitrated if such arbitration is requested by a member. Piper Jaffray is a member of the NASD, and Estabrook was an associated person while he was employed with Piper Jaffray. Around the same time that he completed his Form U4, Estabrook executed a memorandum of understanding with Piper Jaffray explaining the import of the arbitration clause of the form as well as giving some general information about differences between arbitration and court proceedings.

As part of its efforts to attract, retain, and motivate employees, Piper Jaffray had incentive programs including stock options, grants of restricted stock, and performance awards. These incentives were governed by the Plan. Only "Eligible Individuals" could participate in the Plan. These individuals were defined as current employees, prospective employees who had accepted an offer of employment, officers, directors, consultants providing services to Piper Jaffray or its affiliates, or prospective consultants who had accepted an offer of consultancy. The Plan provided that incentive awards could be forfeited in certain specified circumstances.

In 2004 and 2005, Estabrook entered into three Restricted Stock Agreements with Piper Jaffray pursuant to the terms of the Plan. The stock was not to vest until February 2007, February 2008, and May 2008. Each agreement specified that it was to be construed and interpreted under Delaware state law. Each also contained the following integration clause: "This Agreement and the Plan set forth the entire agreement and understanding of the parties hereto with respect to the issuance and sale of the Restricted Shares...and supersede all prior agreements, arrangements, plans, and understandings relating to the issuance and sale of the Restricted Shares."

In October 2005, Estabrook's employment was terminated. Piper Jaffray revoked his awards of restricted stock, claiming that the shares were forfeited. On January 22, 2007, Estabrook filed suit for specific performance, breach of contract, and declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Piper Jaffray timely removed the case to this court. Based on their belief that the issues in the complaint arise out of Estabrook's employment with them and/or its termination, they requested by letter that he submit to arbitration. When he refused, they filed the instant motion to compel arbitration.


The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") indicates a strong federal policy in favor of the enforcement of private arbitration agreements. 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.; Shearson/American Express, Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 225-26, 107 S.Ct. 2332 (1987). According to the FAA, a written agreement to arbitrate "in a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce ... shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2; Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Construction, 460 U.S. 1, 24, 103 S.Ct. 927 (1983). Where a contract includes an arbitration clause, the clause creates a presumption that the dispute should be arbitrated, unless the party opposing arbitration can show that the clause is incapable of an interpretation that could cover the dispute at hand. AT & T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 650, 106 S.Ct. 1415 (1986). A motion to compel arbitration should be granted when three things are shown: "a written agreement to arbitrate, a dispute within the scope of the arbitration agreement, and a refusal to arbitrate." Zurich American Ins. Co. v. Watts Industries, Inc., 417 F.3d 682, 687 (7th Cir. 2005).

With these principles in mind, we turn our attention to Piper Jaffray's motion.


As a threshold matter, we note that Estabrook has asserted that we should apply Delaware law rather than federal law to decide the instant motion in light of the choice of law provision of the Restricted Stock Agreements. Though the agreements unequivocally indicate that they will be construed and interpreted under the laws of the state of Delaware, Delaware law also contains a strong presumption in favor of arbitration. SBC Interactive, Inc. v. Corporate Media Partners, 714 A.2d 758, 761 (Del. 1998). Echoing the U.S. Supreme Court's statement in Moses H. Cone, 460 U.S. at 24-25, 103 S.Ct. at 941, the Delaware Supreme Court has established that, in Delaware, doubts as to the scope of a valid arbitration agreement are usually to be resolved in favor of arbitrating the issue in question. SBC Interactive, 714 A.2d at 761.*fn3

Estabrook does not deny that, in signing the Form U4, he agreed to arbitration under its terms. Instead, he insists that the Restricted Stock Agreements, through their integration clauses, revoked his previous agreement to arbitrate disputes regarding his employment with Piper Jaffray. We do not share Estabrook's conviction about the effect of the integration clauses within the Restricted Stock Agreements.

A plain reading of the language of the integration clauses demonstrates that their reach is not as broad as Estabrook would make it out to be. By their own terms, they supersede only other agreements relating to the issuance and sale of the stock, not the forum where disputes will be decided. In support of his position, Estabrook relies upon cases involving integration clauses broader than that of the Restricted Stock Agreements. See Riley Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Anchor Glass Container Corp., 157 F.3d 775, 778 (10th Cir. 1998) ("supersedes any and all prior agreements...relating to the subject matter [of this agreement]"); Kanuth v. Prescott, Ball & Turben, Inc., 1988 WL 90392 at *2 (stating that provisions within other agreements "arguably retrench the limit of the U-4 [sic] form"). Estabrook also places particular emphasis on Hough Assocs., Inc. v. Hill, 2007 WL 148751 (Del. Ch. 2007), in which a Delaware court concluded that an arbitration provision in one agreement between an employer and an employee did not mandate arbitration of a dispute arising out of a second agreement executed on the same day that did not include an arbitration provision. However, unlike the Restricted Stock Agreements, the agreement in Hough that did not contain an arbitration clause specifically referred to remedies that would be available only before a court of law.*fn4 See id. at *12. In light of this specific reference, the court concluded as a matter of contract interpretation that it could not incorporate a directly conflicting provision from another agreement. See id. The Restricted Stock Agreements contain no provision comparable to the one upon which the Hough court based its decision. The language ...

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