Marzocchi v. Tara Tiger, Inc. et al

Filing 45

ORDER RE: PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION AND MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS (Dkt. No. 30). Signed by Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley (ahm, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/21/2013)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 MARION L. MARZOCCHI, d.b.a. PRAPATA 13 14 Case No.: 12-cv-4433 JSC ORDER RE: PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION AND MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS (Dkt. No. 30) Plaintiff, v. 15 16 17 TARA TIGER, INC., et al., Defendants. 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff contends Defendants unlawfully used her art work on their beach bag product line. Now pending before the Court is Defendants’ Petition to Compel Arbitration and Motion to Stay Proceedings. (Dkt. No. 30). After carefully considering the parties’ briefing and evidence, including their post-hearing briefs, and having had the benefit of oral argument on February 14, 2013, the Court finds that the parties did not agree to arbitrate the dispute presented by Plaintiff’s complaint. Accordingly, the Court DENIES the Petition to Compel Arbitration and Motion to Stay. BACKGROUND Plaintiff Marion Marzocchi, d.b.a. Prapata, is an artist and resident of Hawaii. (Complaint ¶ 5.) In 2000, she met Defendants Paul Tiger and Dorothy Patricia Moller-Tiger. 1 (Id. ¶ 13.) The Tigers jointly own Tara Tiger, Inc. a California limited liability corporation 2 which manufactures and distributes resort, cruise, and beach bags in the United States and 3 Caribbean. (Id. ¶¶ 6-8.) On July 7, 2000, Defendant signed a licensing agreement with 4 Plaintiff granting Tara Imports (the successor company to Tara Tiger, Inc.) the right to use 5 Plaintiff’s artwork in its beach bag line. (Complaint ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 31, Ex. A.) In exchange, 6 Plaintiff would receive royalties in the amount of five percent. (Id.) On July 3, 2001, 7 Defendant signed a revised licensing agreement granting Tara Imports the right to use 8 additional artwork and raising the royalty fees to seven percent. (Complaint ¶ 15; Dkt. No. 9 31, Ex. B.) Both licensing agreements included an arbitration clause at Paragraph 6 which Northern District of California reads as follows: 11 United States District Court 10 6. 12 Term. Until revoked by either party. In the event either party wishes to cancel the agreement, option for recourse will be made through California binding arbitration In lieu of legal fees. 13 (Dkt. No. 31.) Plaintiff received royalty payments and quarterly statements until sometime 14 in 2003. (Complaint ¶ 16.) In early 2012, Plaintiff discovered that Defendants were 15 continuing to use her artwork on their products. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff, through counsel, sent a 16 cease and desist letter on August 14, 2012. (Id. ¶ 19). 17 Plaintiff subsequently filed this action against Defendants Tara Tiger, Inc., Dorothy 18 Patricia Moller-Tiger, and Paul Tiger. The Complaint alleges claims for copyright 19 infringement, breach of contract, and unfair business practices. Shortly after the Complaint 20 was served, Defendants sent Plaintiff a letter terminating the contracts. (Dkt. No. 31 ¶ 5.) 21 Thereafter, Defendants filed the pending Petition to Compel Arbitration. (Dkt. No. 11.) 22 LEGAL STANDARD 23 The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 2, et seq., provides that arbitration 24 agreements “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at 25 law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” Under the FAA, “arbitration agreements 26 [are] on an equal footing with other contracts,” and therefore courts are required to enforce 27 arbitration agreements according to their terms. Rent–A–Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, –– 28 U.S. ––, 130 S.Ct. 2772, 2776, 177 L.Ed.2d 403 (2010). “Like other contracts, however, they 2 1 may be invalidated by ‘generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or 2 unconscionability.’” Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). 3 The FAA espouses a general policy favoring arbitration agreements. AT & T Mobility rigorously enforce an agreement to arbitrate. See Hall Street Assoc., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 6 552 U.S. 576, 582 (2008). The court must direct parties to proceed to arbitration should it 7 determine: (1) that a valid arbitration agreement exists; and (2) that the agreement 8 encompasses the dispute at issue. Cox v. Ocean View Hotel Corp., 533 F.3d 1114, 1119 (9th 9 Cir. 2008); see also 9 U.S.C. § 4 (“If a court ... [is] satisfied that the making of the agreement 10 for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall make an order 11 Northern District of California v. Concepcion, –– U.S. ––, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1745–46, (2011). Federal courts are required to 5 United States District Court 4 directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the 12 agreement.”). Courts shall resolve any “ambiguities as to the scope of the arbitration clause 13 itself ... in favor of arbitration.” Volt Info. Sciences, Inc. v. Bd. of Trustees of Leland 14 Stanford Jr. Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 476 (1989). 15 Under the FAA, “once [the court] is satisfied that an agreement for arbitration has 16 been made and has not been honored,” and the dispute falls within the scope of that 17 agreement, the court must order arbitration. Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. 18 Co., 388 U.S. 395, 400 (1967). Although the court may initially determine whether a valid 19 agreement exists, disputes over the meaning of specific terms are matters for the arbitrator to 20 decide. Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84, 123 S.Ct. 588, 154 L.Ed.2d 21 491 (2002); Prima Paint, 388 U.S. at 403–04 (holding that “a federal court may consider 22 only issues relating to the making and performance of the agreement to arbitrate”). DISCUSSION 23 24 A. Whether a Valid Arbitration Agreement Exists 25 The first question is whether there is an agreement between the parties to arbitrate. 26 Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler—Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 626, (1985). As 27 arbitration is a matter of contract, a party cannot be required to arbitrate a claim that it has 28 not agreed to arbitrate. AT & T Tech., Inc. v. Communs. Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 648– 3 1 50 (1986). “To evaluate the validity of an arbitration agreement, federal courts should apply 2 ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts.” Ingle v. Circuit City 3 Stores, Inc., 328 F.3d 1165, 1170 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). 4 In this case, Plaintiff is a resident of Hawaii, Defendant is a California Corporation, and the 5 contracts at issue state that “[i]n the event either party wishes to cancel the agreement, option 6 for recourse will be made through California binding arbitration in lieu of legal fees.” (Dkt. 7 No. 33-1, ¶ 6.) The parties appear to agree that the Court should look to California contract 8 law to determine whether the agreement to arbitrate is enforceable. (2) their consent; (3) a lawful object; and (4) sufficient cause or consideration. United States 11 Northern District of California In California, the elements for a viable contract are (1) parties capable of contracting; 10 United States District Court 9 ex rel. Oliver v. Parsons Co., 195 F.3d 457, 462 (9th Cir. 1999). Here, Defendant Paul Tiger 12 mailed signed documents entitled “Licensing/Royalty Agreement” and “Licensing/Royalty 13 Agreement (revised)” to Plaintiff on July 7, 2000, and July 3, 2001, respectively. 14 (Complaint ¶¶ 14 & 15; Dkt. No. 31, Exs. A & B at ¶ 6.) The agreements granted Tara 15 Imports the right to use Plaintiff’s artwork specified therein in return for five percent and 16 seven percent royalty payments, respectively. The royalty payments ceased sometime in 17 2003, but Plaintiff alleges that sometime in 2012 she discovered that Defendants were still 18 using her artwork. (Complaint ¶¶ 16-17.) 19 As an initial matter, the arbitration agreement does not fail merely because the 20 contract was signed only by Paul Tiger on behalf of Tara Imports (now Tara Tiger, Inc.). 21 The parties’ course of conduct determines the validity of the contacts— “[a] voluntary 22 acceptance of the benefit of a transaction is equivalent to a consent to all the obligations 23 arising from it, so far as the facts are known, or ought to be known, to the person accepting.” 24 CAL. CIV. CODE § 1589. Further, “[a]lthough an arbitration agreement must be in writing, it 25 need not be signed to be enforceable if the unsigned agreement is otherwise deemed to be a 26 contract under state law principles.” Shany Co., Ltd. v. Crain Walnut Shelling, Inc., No. 11- 27 1112, 2012 WL 1979244, at *5 (E.D. Cal. June 1, 2012). The parties’ actions here manifest 28 intent to be bound by the terms of the licensing agreements. 4 1 The Court is also not persuaded by Plaintiff’s contention that the contents of the 2 agreement are ambiguous. “Under California law, the interpretation of a contract is a 3 question of law[.]” In re Bennett, 298 F.3d 1059, 1064 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). 4 California Civil Code section 1638 prescribes: “The language of a contract is to govern its 5 interpretation, if the language is clear and explicit, and does not involve an absurdity.” A 6 contract must be construed “by reading it as a whole and interpreting each part with 7 reference to the entire contract.” Tanadgusix Corp. v. Huber, 404 F.3d 1201, 1205 (9th Cir. 8 2005); see also Winet v. Price, 4 Cal.App.4th 1159, 1166, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 554 (1992) (“It is 9 the outward expression of the agreement, rather than a party’s unexpressed intention, which 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 the court will enforce”). Here, the contract is quite brief and its terms clear. Similarly, the Court finds Plaintiff’s piecemeal theory of contract enforcement 12 unavailing. Plaintiff agrees that the parties intended to create a license agreement, but 13 contends that she did not intend to be bound by any arbitration clause in the agreement; 14 instead, Plaintiff contends that the parties only agreed to the payment terms. She bases this 15 theory on the undisputed fact that Plaintiff did not sign and return the document to 16 Defendant. Plaintiff has sued for breach of contract—she cannot have it both ways. Either 17 there was an enforceable contract or not; if so, she is bound by all its terms including the 18 arbitration agreement. See Teledyne, Inc. v. Kone Corp., 892 F.2d 1404, 1410 (9th Cir. 19 1989) (affirming an order compelling arbitration where the Plaintiff brought a breach of 20 contract action, thus implicitly agreeing to the validity of the underlying contract and did not 21 make an independent challenge to the arbitration provision). 22 While a contract “extends only to those things concerning which it appears that the 23 parties intended to contract,” Plaintiff never manifested the intent not to be bound by the 24 contract as a whole. CAL. CIV. CODE § 1648. To the contrary, in the 2001 revised contract, 25 a sentence was added to the clause containing the arbitration language which reads “[i]n the 26 event of death of Prapata, payments shall be made to her daughter, Shakti Kahler, under the 27 terms of this agreement.” (Dkt. No. 31, Ex. B at ¶ 6.) Plaintiff, not Defendants, would have 28 requested this language, suggesting that she was not only aware of, but agreed to the 5 1 preceding sentence regarding arbitration. “The whole of a contract is to be taken together, so 2 as to give effect to every part, if reasonably practicable, each clause helping to interpret the 3 other.” Cal. Civil Code § 1641. Accordingly, the Court concludes that a valid arbitration 4 agreement exists between the parties. 5 B. The Scope of the Arbitration Agreement 6 The Court next must decide the scope of the arbitration agreement. The arbitration 7 clause is contained within the paragraph defining the term of the agreement and states: 8 “Term. Until revoked by either party. In the event either party wishes to cancel the 9 agreement, option for recourse will be made through California binding arbitration In lieu of Northern District of California legal fees.” (Dkt. No. 33-1, pp. 6, 10.) The plain language of this provision limits 11 United States District Court 10 arbitration to disputes involving the cancellation of the agreements. 12 “[A] federal court’s task in reviewing the arbitrability of a particular dispute is to 13 determine whether the parties have agreed to submit that dispute to arbitration—i.e., whether 14 the dispute is within the scope of the arbitration agreement.” AT & T Mobility LLC v. 15 Bernardi, No. 11-03992, 2011 WL 5079549, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 26, 2011). The 16 agreements here indisputably do not contain language which states that “any and all disputes 17 shall be submitted to binding arbitration” although such language is routine in arbitration 18 clauses. See, e.g., Schoenduve Corp. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 442 F.3d 727, 732–33 (9th Cir. 19 2006) (“any dispute arising out of or relating to”); Chiron Corp. v. Ortho Diagnostic Sys., 20 Inc., 207 F.3d 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (“The parties’ arbitration clause is broad and far 21 reaching: ‘Any dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to the validity, 22 construction, enforceability or performance of this Agreement ...’ ”); Simula, Inc. v. Autoliv, 23 Inc., 175 F.3d 716, 721 (9th Cir. 1999) (“the language ‘arising in connection with’ reaches 24 every dispute between the parties having a significant relationship to the contract and all 25 disputes having their origin or genesis in the contract”). 26 Instead, the parties here specified that the arbitration clauses become effective if 27 “either party wishes to cancel the agreement.” (Dkt. No. 33-1, pp. 6 & 10, ¶¶ 6.) Thus, this 28 case is akin to cases interpreting arbitration clauses covering disputes “arising out of” or 6 Environmental Services Co., 42 F.3d 1292, 1295 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that “arising out of 3 language” would not encompass a tort claim, which is an “independent wrong from any 4 breach” of the contract that “does not require interpretation of the contract and is not 5 arbitrable.”); Mediterranean Enterprises, Inc. v. Ssangyong Construction Co., 708 F.2d 6 1458, 1463-64 (9th Cir. 1983) (holding that the parties choose not to have a broad 7 arbitration provision by using “arising hereunder” language rather than the common “arising 8 out of or relating to” language). The Ninth Circuit has held that “arising under” language 9 signifies a narrow arbitration agreement. Cape Flattery Ltd. v. Titan Mar., LLC, 647 F.3d 10 914, 924 (9th Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1862 (U.S. 2012) (discussing the court’s 11 Northern District of California “relating to” a particular subject matter. See, e.g., Tracer Research Corp. v. National 2 United States District Court 1 narrow interpretation of “arising under” language). The plain language of the arbitration 12 clause limits the arbitration requirement to “in the event either party wishes to cancel the 13 agreement” and does not include other disputes, such as the payment of licensing and royalty 14 fees that might occur under the terms of the agreements while in effect. 15 Defendants, at oral argument and in their supplemental brief, argue that limiting the 16 arbitration agreement to disputes involving cancellation of the agreement would render the 17 arbitration clause meaningless because the agreement is unilaterally terminable such that 18 there can be no wrongful termination of the agreement. Not so. There are a litany of reasons 19 why one side might have recourse upon cancellation of the agreement, including the 20 hypothetical discussed at oral argument where, for example, the licensor canceled the 21 agreement while the licensee was awaiting a shipment of goods bearing the licensed artwork. 22 Under those circumstances, the licensing party might have a legal claim based on the timing 23 of the cancellation, sufficiency of notice, and the like. Defendants’ insistence that the 24 licensee would require injunctive relief in that situation, relief that an arbitrator could not 25 provide, is wrong. The licensee’s damages would be monetary and therefore injunctive 26 relief unavailable. See Walters v. Reno, 145 F.3d 1032, 1048 (9th Cir. 1998). 27 28 The Court is similarly unpersuaded by Defendants’ contention that “[t]he logical explanation for adding the condition to arbitration is that any disagreement not justifying 7 1 cancellation of the Agreement is not worth submitting to formal dispute resolution.” (Dkt. 2 No. 43 5:12-13.) A party to a contract has multiple remedies when it believes its right under 3 the contract have been violated or the other party is not performing. One remedy is 4 termination, but another is seeking to enforce its rights under the contract and compel the 5 other party to perform under the contract, as here. Defendants’ suggestion that the 6 agreements here require a party to terminate the agreement as a precondition to raising any 7 major (as opposed to minor) issues regarding the contract reads too much into the language 8 of these short agreements. The Court is bound by the agreements’ language. Defendants’ 9 counsel’s interpretation of the agreements is not evidence of their meaning. 10 As arbitration is a matter of contract, a party cannot be required to submit to Northern District of California United States District Court 11 arbitration any dispute it has not agreed is subject to this alternative means of resolving 12 disputes. First Options of Chicago v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 943 (1995); Dream Theater, 13 Inc. v. Dream Theater, 124 Cal.App.4th 547, 552, 21 Cal.Rptr.3d 322 (2004). The Court 14 finds that the parties here limited the arbitration clause to disputes over the cancellation of 15 the agreement. At the time this case was filed, neither party had exercised their rights to 16 revoke or terminate the agreements; instead, Plaintiff sued for copyright infringement, 17 breach of contract, and unfair business practices. It was only after the suit was filed that 18 Defendants sent a letter terminating the contracts effective October 9, 2012. (Dkt. No. 31, ¶ 19 5.) Because this case is not about cancellation of the agreements, and instead concerns 20 copyright infringement and breach of contract claims with respect to the royalty payments 21 under the agreements, the arbitration clause does not apply. CONCLUSION 22 23 24 25 26 Based on the foregoing, Defendant’s Petition to Compel Arbitration and Motion is Stay is DENIED (Dkt. No. 30). IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: March 21, 2013 _________________________________ JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 27 28 8

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