Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Burr et al
RULING RE: PLAINTIFF'S PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION 1 . FOR THE REASONS SET FORTH, THE PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION IS GRANTED AND THE CASE IS CLOSED. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 12/28/16.(Campbell, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
DOCTOR’S ASSOCIATES INC.,
BRIAN BURR, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
DECEMBER 28, 2016
RULING RE: PLAINTIFF’S PETITION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION (DOC. NO. 1)
Plaintiff Doctor’s Associates, Inc. (“DAI” or “Subway”), the franchiser of Subway
sandwich shops in the United States, filed a Petition to Compel Arbitration (Doc. No. 1)
against defendants Brian Burr and Bryn Burr (also known as Brynn Burr) (collectively,
“the Burrs”). The Burrs entered an arbitration agreement with DAI, as part of two
Subway Applications for Additional Information that the Burrs completed. See Subway
Applications for Additional Information (Doc. No. 2-8) at 3, 5. DAI now seeks to compel
arbitration in connection with a lawsuit that the Burrs are pursuing in California state
court (“the California Lawsuit”). See Pet. ¶ 16; see also California Compl. (Doc. No. 22).1 In the California Lawsuit, the Burrs are suing DAI’s development agents, Raghu
Marwaha and Rohit Marwaha (collectively, “the Marwahas”). See Pet. ¶ 16; California
DAI filed this action based on the original California Complaint. After this action began, the
Burrs amended their California Complaint to add claims against DAI. See California Am. Compl. (on
pages 1–17 of Doc. No. 13-1). DAI is no longer a party to the California Lawsuit, however. See
Response (Doc. No. 13) at 6 n.2. For simplicity, this court cites to the original California Complaint.
Compl. DAI seeks an order “directing the Burrs to arbitrate with DAI their claims against
DAI’s agents that they asserted or could have asserted in the California State Court
Lawsuit.” See Pet. ¶ 35.
The Burrs argue that the Petition should be denied for the following reasons:
First, the Burrs argue that the California Lawsuit falls outside the scope of the arbitration
agreement between the Burrs and DAI. See Response (Doc. No. 13) at 2. Second, the
Burrs argue that the Marwahas are required parties whose joinder would destroy
diversity jurisdiction. See id. at 2–3. Third, the Burrs argue that the principle of comity
dictates that the California court should decide arbitrability. See id. at 2.
For the reasons stated below, DAI’s Petition to Compel Arbitration is granted.2
In the fall or winter of 2013, the Morongo Tribal Council approved the Burrs to
open and run a new Subway franchise location inside the Morongo Casino Resort &
Spa. See California Compl. ¶ 11; Brian Burr Declaration (Doc. No. 13-3) ¶ 3. In
December 2013, the Burrs then contacted a Subway regional headquarters regarding
the possibility of opening a Subway franchise in the casino. See California Compl. ¶ 12;
Brian Burr Decl. ¶ 4.
On December 13, 2013 and January 5, 2014, the Burrs completed and executed
2 The court makes this decision after reviewing all the briefing in this case, including the Burrs’
Sur-Reply (Doc. No. 17-1). The court did not find the arguments in the Sur-Reply to be persuasive. The
Sur-Reply unsuccessfully attempts to distinguish this case from Doctor’s Associates Inc. v. Pahwa, No.
16-cv-446 (D. Conn. Dec. 2, 2016) (Ruling Adopting Recommended Ruling) and Doctor’s Associates Inc.
v. Tripathi, No. 16-cv-562 (D. Conn. Dec. 2, 2016) (Ruling Adopting Recommended Ruling) by stating
that, “[h]ere, while the Burrs entered a franchise application with DAI, the Burrs are not suing DAI. They
have sued third-parties.” See Sur-Reply at 2. In Pahwa and Tripathi, however, this court compelled
arbitration where defendants had sued third parties in addition to DAI. See Doctor’s Associates Inc. v.
Pahwa, No. 16-cv-446 (D. Conn. Nov. 3, 2016) (Recommended Ruling) at 4; Doctor’s Associates Inc. v.
Tripathi, No. 16-cv-562 (D. Conn. Nov. 3, 2016) (Recommended Ruling) at 4.
Subway Applications for Additional Information. See Pet. ¶ 6; Ralph Piselli Declaration
(Doc. No. 2-7) ¶ 7; Subway Applications for Additional Information. In exchange for the
Burrs filling out the Applications, DAI agreed to provide the Burrs with information
concerning a Subway franchise and to consider the Burrs as potential Subway
franchisees. See Pet. ¶ 6; Piselli Decl. ¶ 7. The Applications both contain the following
I agree that I will settle any and all previously unasserted
claims, disputes or controversies arising out of or relating to
my application or candidacy for the grant of a SUBWAY®
franchise from Franchisor, pursuant to the laws of
Connecticut, USA and by binding arbitration only. The
arbitration shall be administered by the American Arbitration
Association (“AAA”) . . . in accordance with its administrative
rules including, as applicable, the Commercial Rules of the
AAA and under the Expedited Procedures of such rules or
under the Optional Rules for Emergency Measures of
Protection of the AAA. . . . I agree that the arbitration will be
held in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA, conducted in English
and decided by a single arbitrator.
Subway Applications for Additional Information at 3, 5.
DAI was initially poised to approve the Burrs as franchisers of a new Subway
location in the casino. See California Compl. ¶¶ 14–16, 23–26; see also Pet. ¶ 26. In
August 2014, the Burrs learned that the Marwahas had become DAI’s new development
agents for the area. See California Compl. ¶ 19; see also Pet. ¶ 24. As development
agents, the Marwahas use an operating company, the Marwaha Group, to operate their
development agent business. See Pet. ¶ 26 n.5; David A. Cousins Second Declaration
(Doc. No. 15-1) ¶ 6. The Marwahas operate the Marwaha Group with one other
individual, Ravi Marwaha. See Response at 4 n.1. DAI ultimately did not approve the
Burrs to run the location. See California Compl. ¶ 29–30; Pet. ¶ 27.
The California Lawsuit alleges that the reason DAI ultimately did not approve the
Burrs was because the Marwahas “caused the Marwaha Group to take steps as the
Development Agent to cause Subway to withdraw its acceptance so that [the
Marwahas] could steal the franchise for themselves.” See California Compl. ¶ 32; Brian
Burr Decl. ¶ 26. The California Lawsuit alleges that the Marwahas told the casino’s
CEO “that they would own the franchise or there would be no franchise.” California
Compl. ¶ 34; see also Brian Burr Decl. ¶ 28. The Marwahas currently operate the
Subway franchise in the casino. See California Compl. ¶ 34; Brian Burr Decl. ¶ 29.
On July 22, 2016, the Burrs filed the California Lawsuit against the Marwahas
and several Doe defendants. See California Compl. The California Lawsuit alleges
intentional misrepresentation, interference with contractual relations and prospective
economic relations, and unfair business practices. See California Compl. Counts 1–5.
On August 4, 2016, DAI filed an arbitration against the Burrs for declaratory relief
relating to the facts underlying the California Lawsuit. See Arbitration Statement of
Claims (Doc. No. 2-6).
DAI argues that diversity jurisdiction exists because DAI is a Florida corporation
with a principal place of business in Connecticut, the Burrs both live in California, and
the amount in controversy is met. See Pet.’s Mem. at 7.
The Burrs respond that the Marwahas are required parties, whose joinder would
destroy diversity jurisdiction because they are California residents. See Response at 2–
3, 11. This court has recently considered and rejected arguments very similar to the
Burr’s argument in two cases, Doctor’s Associates Inc. v. Pahwa, No. 16-cv-446 (D.
Conn. Dec. 2, 2016) (Ruling Adopting Recommended Ruling) and Doctor’s Associates
Inc. v. Tripathi, No. 16-cv-562 (D. Conn. Dec. 2, 2016) (Ruling Adopting Recommended
In Pahwa and Tripathi, the defendants also argued that DAI’s development
agents were required parties to an action to compel arbitration. See Doctor’s
Associates Inc. v. Pahwa, No. 16-cv-446 (D. Conn. Nov. 3, 2016) (Recommended
Ruling) at 8; Doctor’s Associates Inc. v. Tripathi, No. 16-cv-562 (D. Conn. Nov. 3, 2016)
(Recommended Ruling) at 11. In those cases, as here, joinder was not “feasible,”
because joining the development agents would destroy subject matter jurisdiction. See
Pahwa Rec. Ruling at 13; Tripathi Rec. Ruling at 17. Where joinder is not feasible, the
court applies Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) to determine whether the case
should proceed without the absent party, or be dismissed. See Pahwa Rec. Ruling at
13; Tripathi Rec. Ruling at 17; Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b). However, Rule 19(b) does not
require dismissal for inability to join “individuals who are not parties to the arbitration
agreement . . . if they do not meet either of the threshold tests of Rule 19(a).” Doctor's
Assocs., Inc. v. Distajo, 66 F.3d 438, 446 (2d Cir. 1995); Pahwa Rec. Ruling at 13–14;
Tripathi Rec. Ruling at 17.
The applicable threshold tests are (1) whether, “in that person’s absence, the
court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties,” and (2) whether, “that
person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that
disposing of the action in the person’s absence may: (i) as a practical matter impair or
impede the person’s ability to protect the interest; or (ii) leave an existing party subject
to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations
because of the interest.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1). Applying these tests, the Second
Circuit held in Distajo, and this court held in Pahwa and Tripathi, that DAI’s development
argents are not required parties to a federal action to compel arbitration, where the
development agents are not parties to the underlying arbitration agreement. See
Distajo, 66 F. 3d at 445–46; Pahwa Rec. Ruling at 14–16; Tripathi Rec. Ruling at 18–
Based on the reasoning in Distajo, Pahwa, and Tripathi, this court similarly
concludes that the Marwahas are not required parties under Rule 19. Complete
diversity thus exists, and this court has subject matter jurisdiction.
The Burrs argue that the principle of comity dictates that the California court
should decide arbitrability. See Response at 2. The Burrs point out that the California
Lawsuit was filed first and state that the Marwahas may file a motion to compel
arbitration in the California Lawsuit if they believe that the dispute between them and
the Burrs is subject to arbitration. See id. at 13. The Burrs cite section 1281.2 of the
California Code of Civil Procedure for authority that the Marwahas may move to compel
arbitration. See id. at 13. As the Burrs have stated, however, the Marwahas are not
parties to the arbitration agreements between the Burrs and DAI. See id. at 2; Subway
Applications for Additional Information. Section 1281.2 explicitly applies to a “petition of
a party to an arbitration agreement.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1281.2. The Burrs offer no
reason to believe the Marwahas, as non-parties to the arbitration agreement, could
compel arbitration in the California action. The Burrs thus fail to explain how the
question of arbitrability could come before the California court.
The Burrs quote Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Fox Entm’t, 522 F.3d 271, 274–75
(2d Cir. 2008), for the proposition that, “as a general rule, where there are two
competing lawsuits, the first suit should have priority.” Response at 13–14. This firstfiled rule, however, applies only to competing federal lawsuits, rather than to a state
lawsuit competing with a federal lawsuit. See Kytel Int’l Grp., Inc. v. Rent A Ctr., Inc., 43
F. App’x 420, 422 (2d Cir. 2002) (“The first filed rule, a change of venue principle,
permits the transfer or dismissal of subsequently commenced litigation involving the
same parties and the same issues when both suits are pending in federal courts.
Because [the other] action is in state court, it was error for the District Court to dismiss
on the basis of the first filed rule.”); Hon Hai Precision Indus. Co. v. Wi-LAN, Inc., No.
12-CIV.-7900 (SAS), 2013 WL 2322675, at *5 n.58 (S.D.N.Y. May 28, 2013) (“[T]he
first-filed rule does not apply in cases of parallel state and federal proceedings.”). When
it comes to parallel state and federal proceedings, “[b]ecause federal courts have a
virtually unflagging obligation to exercise the jurisdiction given them[,] the pendency of
an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the
Federal court having jurisdiction.” Hon Hai, 2013 WL 2322675, at *5 (internal quotation
marks and ellipses omitted) (quoting Kytel, 43 F. App’x at 422). Therefore, the first-filed
rule is inapplicable here.
The court concludes that principles of comity do not require that the California
state court decide arbitratability and do not preclude this court from ruling on the Petition
to Compel Arbitration.
Applicability of Arbitration Agreement
DAI argues that “[t]he Burrs must arbitrate their claims with DAI because the
controversy arises out of or relates to the Burrs’ ‘application or candidacy for the grant
of a SUBWAY® franchise from Franchisor.’” Pet.’s Mem. (Doc. No. 2) at 7. The Burrs
respond that the California Lawsuit falls outside the scope of the arbitration agreement
because it only states claims against the Marwahas, and (1) the Marwahas are not
parties to the arbitration agreement, (2) the Marwahas were not acting in their capacity
as agents of DAI when they committed the actions alleged, and (3) the Burrs never
agreed to arbitrate the claims that they have against the Marwahas. See Response at
The court agrees with DAI that the California Lawsuit “aris[es] out of or relat[es]
to [the Burrs’] application or candidacy for the grant of a SUBWAY® franchise from
[DAI].” See Subway Applications for Additional Information at 3, 5. The California
Complaint alleges that the Marwahas stole from the Burrs the opportunity to run a
Subway franchise. See, e.g., California Compl. ¶ 32. The Burrs allege a cause of
action against the Marwahas for misrepresenting whether the franchise application was
approved. See id. ¶¶ 36–37. The Burrs allege a cause of action for interference with “a
contract between [the Burrs] and Subway, in which Subway agreed to sell [the Burrs] a
franchise.” Id. ¶ 45. The Burrs allege a cause of action for interference with
prospective economic relations between the Burrs and DAI, which were based on the
Burrs’ franchise application. See id. ¶ 55. This alleged interference included allegedly
misrepresenting the Burrs as unqualified candidates for a franchise. See id. ¶ 55. Each
of these aspects of the California Lawsuit arises squarely out of the Burrs’ application or
candidacy for a Subway franchise.
The argument that the Marwahas are not parties to the arbitration agreement is
unavailing. The arbitration clause does not specify that the Burrs need only arbitrate
claims that are against a party to the arbitration agreement. See Subway Applications
for Additional Information at 3, 5. To the contrary, the clause contains a broad
reference to all claims “arising out of or relating to [the Burrs’] application or candidacy
for the grant of a SUBWAY® franchise from Franchisor,” which, on its face, could
encompass claims against nonparties to the agreement. Id. at 3, 5. Furthermore,
courts in this Circuit have repeatedly held that a “court will not permit plaintiffs to avoid
arbitration simply by naming individual agents of the party to the arbitration clause and
suing them in their individual capacity.” Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA v.
Konvalinka, No. 10 CIV. 9355 (AKH), 2011 WL 13070859, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 17,
2011); Doctor’s Assocs., Inc. v. Hollingsworth, 949 F. Supp. 77, 83 (D. Conn. 1996);
Mosca v. Doctors Assocs., Inc., 852 F. Supp. 152, 155 (E.D.N.Y. 1993). “To do so
would be to subvert the federal policy favoring arbitration and the specific arbitration
clause in the instant case.” Hollingsworth, 949 F. Supp. at 83; Mosca, 852 F. Supp. at
The Burrs argue that, “[i]n order for a claim against a nonsignatory to fall within
the scope of an arbitration provision, the agency ‘relationship between the signatory and
nonsignatory’ must be ‘sufficiently close that only by permitting the nonsignatory to
invoke arbitration may evisceration of the underlying arbitration agreement between the
signatories be avoided.’” Response at 10 (quoting MS Dealer Serv. Corp. v. Franklin,
177 F.3d 942, 947 (11th Cir. 1999)). The Burrs misapply MS Dealer. MS Dealer held
that the existence of a sufficiently close relationship operated as an exception to the
general rule that only parties to an agreement can compel arbitration. See 177 F.3d at
947. There is no question in this case, however, of whether a nonparty can compel
arbitration. Here, the party seeking to compel arbitration, DAI, is a party to the Subway
Applications for Additional Information. See Piselli Decl. ¶ 7 (“In consideration for the
agreements set forth in the Application, DAI agreed to consider the Burrs as potential
SUBWAY® franchisees and to provide them with additional information concerning the
franchise.”). MS Dealer did not address a case like that at bar, in which a party to an
agreement seeks to compel arbitration of claims that other parties to the agreement
have asserted against nonparties.
The Burrs argue unconvincingly that the Marwahas were not acting in their
capacity as agents of DAI when they committed the actions alleged. See Response at
2. This argument is belied by the fact that the California Complaint alleges that the
Marwahas “caused the Marwaha group,” which the Marwahas run with one other
individual, “to take steps as the Development Agent to cause Subway to withdraw its
acceptance” of the Burrs’ application. See California Compl. ¶ 32 (emphasis added).
The Petition asserts that, “the gravamen of the Burrs’ California Complaint is that: (1)
they should have been approved as SUBWAY® franchisees, and; (2) that a particular
site for a SUBWAY® franchise should have been awarded to them. Under these
circumstances, the Marwahas’ only ability to affect or influence that process would be in
their role as SUBWAY® Development Agents.” Pet. ¶ 30. The court agrees.
The Burrs cite a Northern District of Texas case, Celanese Corp. v. Boc Grp.
PLC, No. CIV. A. 3:06-CV-1462-P, 2006 WL 3513633 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 6, 2006), for the
proposition that, because the California Lawsuit alleges that the Marwahas engaged in
tortious conduct “separate and distinct” from DAI’s “conduct, this Court cannot compel
the Burrs to arbitrate their claims under the theory that they were acting as agents of
DAI.” See Response at 10–11. This line of argument is misguided. As a preliminary
matter, the court does not agree that the allegations against the Marwahas are separate
from DAI’s conduct. The main thrust of the California Lawsuit is that the Marwahas led
DAI to withdraw its acceptance of the Burrs’ application. As an entity made up of
individuals, DAI’s decision-making is necessarily comprised of the conduct of individuals
who lead DAI to make that decision. Furthermore, DAI has stipulated that the
Marwahas were acting within “the scope of their agency for DAI in their dealings with
the Burrs.” Pet. ¶ 30 n.7. Second, Celanese is not on point: The arbitration clause in
Celanese was explicitly limited to disputes “’between the Parties’” to the arbitration
clause. See 2006 WL 3513633 at *1 (quoting arbitration clause), *7 (basing decision in
part on “the plain language of the contract which states that only disputes between the
parties to the arbitration clause shall be arbitrated”).3 Here, however, the arbitration
clause applies broadly to claims on a certain topic, regardless of whom the claims are
The Burrs’ argument that they never agreed to arbitrate claims that are against
the Marwahas is inaccurate. See Response at 6. The Burrs broadly agreed to arbitrate
“all” claims related to their franchise application, without specification as to whom those
Furthermore, in Celanese, the party seeking to compel arbitration, while a signatory to the
contract, was not defined as a “Party” to the arbitration clause, see id. at *2, *7, and both parties against
whom arbitration was sought were nonsignatories to the contract—although one was defined as a “Party”
to the arbitration clause, see id. at *2. Here, however, both the party seeking to compel arbitration, DAI,
and the parties against whom arbitration is sought, the Burrs, are parties to the Applications for Additional
Information and its arbitration clause.
claims might be against. See Subway Applications for Additional Information at 3, 5.4
The court thus concludes that the arbitration agreement applies to the claims asserted
in the California Lawsuit.
For the reasons set forth herein, the Petition to Compel Arbitration (Doc. No. 1) is
GRANTED. The case is closed.
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 28th day of December, 2016.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
This court notes that DAI does not seek to compel the Burrs to arbitrate with the Marwahas.
See Pet. ¶ 35. Rather, DAI seeks to compel “the Burrs to arbitrate with DAI their claims against” the
Marwahas. Id. ¶ 35.
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