337 F.3d 125 (2nd Cir. 2003), 02-9195, Merrill Lynch Inv. Managers v. Optibase, Ltd.

Docket Nº:02-9195
Citation:337 F.3d 125
Party Name:Merrill Lynch Inv. Managers v. Optibase, Ltd.
Case Date:July 18, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 125

337 F.3d 125 (2nd Cir. 2003)

MERRILL LYNCH INVESTMENT MANAGERS, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

OPTIBASE, LTD., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 02-9195.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 18, 2003

Argued: April 14, 2003.

Page 126

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Stephen P. Younger (Monica Youn, Deborah Steinberger, of counsel), Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.

Judith Welcom (Daniel A. McLaughlin, of counsel), Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: KEARSE, JACOBS, and CABRANES, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM.

Defendant-Appellant Optibase, Ltd. ("Optibase") suffered losses on an investment fund recommended by broker-dealer Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. ("MLPF&S"), with which Optibase had an agreement to arbitrate. Optibase commenced an arbitration asserting claims against three parties, including Plaintiff-Appellee Merrill Lynch Investment Managers ("MLIM")--a sister company to MLPF&S--which served as investment adviser for the fund, and with which Optibase had no agreement to arbitrate. MLIM sought in the district court a preliminary injunction restraining Optibase from proceeding with arbitration against MLIM in the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE"). Optibase appeals from the grant of the preliminary injunction entered September 10, 2002 by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Swain, J.).

Optibase contends that MLIM is bound to arbitrate with it on the grounds that (1) the arbitration agreement between Optibase and MLPF & S references affiliates of MLPF & S, of which MLIM is one, (2) MLPF & S was acting as agent of MLIM, and (3) in any event the injunction is barred by laches. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed.

Optibase, an Israeli corporation with offices in California and Massachusetts, offers broadband digital video streaming solutions. In 1999, Optibase's chief executive and chief financial officers met with a MLPF&S broker in New York City to discuss potential investment opportunities. MLPF&S is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") as a broker-dealer, and is a member of the NYSE. MLPF&S is a wholly owned subsidiary of Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. ("ML&Co."), a publicly held corporation. The MLPF&S broker advised Optibase to invest $4 million in the Merrill Lynch Senior Floating Rate Portfolio (the "Merrill Lynch Fund" or "Fund"), and Optibase did.

The investment adviser for the Fund is MLIM, a limited partnership. MLIM is neither a registered broker-dealer nor a member of the NYSE. It is one of the world's largest asset management organizations and manages approximately $500 billion in funds, including registered and unregistered investment companies, hedge funds, pension funds, 401(k) plans, unit investment trusts, personal trusts, and individual client accounts. The general partner of MLIM is Princeton Services, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of ML&Co. ML&C. is also MLIM's limited partner. Under the federal securities laws, ML&Co. and MLPF&S are deemed to be affiliates of MLIM.

In early August 2000, Optibase signed a Working Capital Management Account Agreement (the "Agreement") in connection with its account at MLPF&S. The arbitration clause that is a subject of this appeal provides in part:

Page 128

The Customer agrees that all controversies that may arise between the Customer and MLPF&S ... shall be determined by arbitration.

J.A. at 362. Following the signature line, the Agreement adds:

MLPF&S and its affiliates shall be entitled to fully rely upon the above certifications, representations and warranties.

Id. at 127 (the "affiliate provision"). The next paragraph states:

In accordance with [the arbitration clause] of the WCMA Agreement, [Optibase] is agreeing in advance to arbitrate any controversies which may arise with MLPF&S.

Id.

On February 5, 2002, Optibase filed arbitration claims with the NYSE against MLIM and ML&Co. On March 11, 2002, Optibase filed an Amended Statement of Claim, adding MLPF&S as a party. The Amended Statement of Claim alleges, inter alia, that the Merrill Lynch Fund was an unsuitable investment; that the MLPF&S broker made several unauthorized purchases of the Fund for Optibase's account; that the total invested was approximately $14.8 million; that individuals managing the Merrill Lynch Fund for MLIM resigned at the end of October 2000 because the Fund was performing poorly; and that by reason of the conduct of MLIM, MLPF&S, and ML&Co., Optibase lost more than $2 million.

MLIM protested its inclusion in the arbitration, first to Optibase and then to the NYSE, on the ground that there was no basis for compelling it to arbitrate. By letter dated May 21, 2002, the NYSE denied MLIM's request that the NYSE decline the use of its facilities for the arbitration of Optibase's claims against...

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