293 S.W.3d 182 (Tex. 2009), 07-0665, In re Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc.

Docket Nº:07-0665
Citation:293 S.W.3d 182, 52 Tex.Sup.Ct.J. 1072
Opinion Judge:David M. Medina, Justice
Party Name:IN RE MORGAN STANLEY & CO., INC., SUCCESSOR TO MORGAN STANLEY DW, INC., RELATOR
Attorney:For Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated, Relator: Mr. Thomas R. Phillips, Baker Botts L.L.P., Austin, TX; Mr. David D. Sterling, Ms. Brooke Ashley Geren, Baker & Botts L.L.P, Houston, TX. For Nathan Griffin, Real Party in Interest: Ms. Amy B. Ganci, Ms. Dolores G. Wolfe, Cowles & Thompson, P.C., Da...
Judge Panel:JUSTICE MEDINA delivered the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE JEFFERSON, JUSTICE WAINWRIGHT, JUSTICE GREEN, JUSTICE JOHNSON, and JUSTICE WILLETT joined. JUSTICE BRISTER filed a concurring opinion. JUSTICE WILLETT filed a concurring opinion. JUSTICE HECHT filed a dissenting opinion. JU...
Case Date:July 03, 2009
Court:Supreme Court of Texas
 
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293 S.W.3d 182 (Tex. 2009)

52 Tex.Sup.Ct.J. 1072

IN RE MORGAN STANLEY & CO., INC., SUCCESSOR TO MORGAN STANLEY DW, INC., RELATOR

No. 07-0665

Supreme Court of Texas

July 3, 2009

For Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated, Relator: Mr. Thomas R. Phillips, Baker Botts L.L.P., Austin, TX; Mr. David D. Sterling, Ms. Brooke Ashley Geren, Baker & Botts L.L.P, Houston, TX.

For Nathan Griffin, Real Party in Interest: Ms. Amy B. Ganci, Ms. Dolores G. Wolfe, Cowles & Thompson, P.C., Dallas, TX; Mr. Charles T. Frazier Jr., Ms. LaDawn H. Conway, Alexander Dubose Jones & Townsend LLP, Dallas, TX.

JUSTICE MEDINA delivered the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE JEFFERSON, JUSTICE WAINWRIGHT, JUSTICE GREEN, JUSTICE JOHNSON, and JUSTICE WILLETT joined. JUSTICE BRISTER filed a concurring opinion. JUSTICE WILLETT filed a concurring opinion. JUSTICE HECHT filed a dissenting opinion. JUSTICE O'NEILL did not participate in the decision.

OPINION

David M. Medina, Justice

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ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

In this original mandamus proceeding, the relator seeks to compel arbitration in accordance with its agreement in the underlying case. The other putative party to the agreement resists arbitration on the ground that she lacked the mental capacity to assent to the contract. The question here is whether the court or the arbitrator should decide this issue of capacity. The trial court concluded that it was the proper forum. We agree and, accordingly, deny the petition for writ of mandamus.

I

Helen Taylor's estate was worth several million dollars in 1999, the year in which she was diagnosed with dementia. That year, she also transferred several of her securities accounts to Morgan Stanley. Each account agreement with Morgan Stanley included an arbitration clause. 1 Over the next few years, Taylor also signed a durable power of attorney in favor of her granddaughter, Kathryn Albers, and a trust agreement, naming Albers as trustee. During this period, Albers made gifts to her mother, her sister, and herself from Taylor's estate.

In 2004, a Dallas probate court appointed Nathan Griffin as guardian of Taylor's estate. By this time, the value of her estate had been significantly reduced. In May 2005, the guardian sued Taylor's granddaughters and others for violation of the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, civil theft, conversion, and for the imposition of a constructive trust. About a year later, Taylor's guardian added Morgan Stanley as a defendant, asserting breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and

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malpractice, unsuitability of investments, violations of the Texas Security Act, and breach of contract. Morgan Stanley moved to compel arbitration of the dispute. The guardian resisted the motion, arguing that Taylor lacked the mental capacity to contract when she signed the account agreements with arbitration clauses and that it was for the court, not an arbitrator, to decide this issue of capacity. Taylor's guardian also subsequently nonsuited the breach of contract claim. 2 The trial court refused to compel arbitration.

Morgan Stanley petitioned the court of appeals for mandamus relief, but the court also declined to order the matter to arbitration. In re Morgan Stanley & Co., 2007 Tex.App. LEXIS 5582, 2007 WL 2035128 (Tex.App.--Dallas July 17, 2007, orig. proceeding) (mem. op.). Morgan Stanley then petitioned this Court. We set the case for argument to consider whether a court or an arbitrator should determine the issue of mental capacity to contract.

II

The Federal Arbitration Act (" FAA" ) generally governs arbitration provisions in contracts involving interstate commerce. See 9 U.S.C. § 2; see also In re L & L Kempwood Assocs., L.P., 9 S.W.3d 125, 127 (Tex. 1999). Where the FAA ostensibly controls, as it does here, an agreement to arbitrate is valid except on grounds as exist at law or in equity to revoke the contract. 9 U.S.C. § 2. Section 2 of the FAA provides that courts shall compel arbitration on issues subject to an arbitration agreement. Id. Section 4 of the FAA provides that a court may consider only issues relating to the making and

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performance of the agreement to arbitrate. 9 U.S.C. § 4. Thus, once a party seeking to compel arbitration has established that there is a valid agreement to arbitrate and that the plaintiff's claims are within the agreement's scope, the trial court must compel arbitration. Id.; In re Oakwood Mobile Homes, Inc., 987 S.W.2d 571, 573 (Tex. 1999) (per curiam).

Before 1967, however, courts often reasoned that any defense that would render the entire contract unenforceable or void was for the court to decide because if the underlying contract was invalid so too was the agreement to arbitrate. See generally Katherine V.W. Stone, ARBITRATION LAW at 242 (2003). The United States Supreme Court rejected that reasoning in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co., 388 U.S. 395, 404, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967).

The issue in Prima Paint was whether the court or an arbitrator should decide a claim of fraud in the inducement of the entire contract. Id. at 402. Relying on section 4 of the FAA, the Supreme Court held that a claim of fraud in the inducement of a contract generally, as opposed to the arbitration clause specifically, was for the arbitrator, not the court, to decide. Id. at 404 (" a federal court may consider only issues relating to the making and performance of the agreement to arbitrate" ). Prima Paint thereby established the " separability" doctrine, explaining that an arbitration provision was separable from the rest of a contract under section 4 and that the issue of the contract's validity was to be determined by the arbitrator unless the challenge was to the agreement to arbitrate itself. Id. at 402-04.

Since Prima Paint, we have dutifully followed the separability doctrine that presumptively favors arbitration. See Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S. 1, 15-16, 104 S.Ct. 852, 79 L.Ed.2d 1 (1984) (holding that federal arbitration law created by the FAA applies in state courts). We have held that defenses attacking the validity of a contract as a whole, and not specifically aimed at the agreement to arbitrate, are for the arbitrator, not the court. See In re RLS Legal Solutions, LLC, 221 S.W.3d 629, 631-32 (Tex. 2007). But we have also recognized that the presumption favoring arbitration arises only after the party seeking to compel arbitration proves that a valid arbitration agreement exists. J.M. Davidson, Inc. v. Webster, 128 S.W.3d 223, 227 (Tex. 2003). We have not, however, previously considered whether the defense of mental incapacity is an attack on the validity of the contract as a whole and therefore a matter for the arbitrator, as Morgan Stanley argues, or a gateway matter concerning the existence of an agreement that must be proven to the satisfaction of the court, as Taylor's guardian argues.

There is some disagreement about what Prima Paint requires in this situation. The Fifth Circuit in Primerica Life Insurance Co. v. Brown, 304 F.3d 469, 472 (5th Cir. 2002), has concluded that the arbitrator should decide a defense of mental incapacity because it is not a specific challenge to the arbitration clause but rather goes to the entire agreement. The Tenth Circuit reached the opposite result in Spahr v. Secco, 330 F.3d 1266 (10th Cir. 2003), concluding that the " mental incapacity defense naturally goes to both the entire contract and the specific agreement to arbitrate in the contract." Id. at 1273. Thus, under the Tenth Circuit's view, the mental incapacity defense places the " making" of the arbitration agreement at issue under Section 4 of the FAA, giving the court authority to determine whether the parties have actually agreed to arbitration. Id. The Supreme Court has not yet settled this

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conflict but rather expressly reserved the question in Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 444 n.1, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 163 L.Ed.2d 1038 (2006).

Buckeye concerned the defense of illegality. The plaintiffs there claimed that the defendant's check cashing agreement " violated various Florida lending and consumer-protection laws," and was therefore void and illegal ab initio. Id. at 443. Applying Florida law, the Florida Supreme Court agreed that the contract was illegal and void, and refused to compel arbitration. Id. at 443, 446. Applying Prima Paint 's doctrine of separability, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court. Id. at 449.

As it had done in Prima Paint, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement depended on the distinction between void and voidable contracts. Id. at 448. Instead, the Court reiterated three controlling principles of federal arbitration law. First, that an arbitration provision is severable from the remainder of the contract. Id. at 445. Second, that " unless the challenge is to the arbitration clause itself, the issue of the contract's validity is considered by the arbitrator in the first instance." Id. at 445-46. Third, that federal arbitration law applies in state and federal courts. Id. at 446. The Court concluded that because the plaintiffs challenged " the [a]greement, but not specifically its arbitration provisions," the rule of separability applied, and the arbitration provisions were enforceable " apart from the remainder of the contract." Id. at 446.

Most importantly to our present case, however, was the distinction the Supreme Court drew between issues of validity and issues of contract formation. The Court noted that an illegality defense, raising the issue of the contract's validity, was different from a formation defense, raising the issue of whether a contract was ever...

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