Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, No. 77-2566

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore ADAMS, WEIS and GARTH; GARTH
Citation585 F.2d 39
PartiesBECKER AUTORADIO U.S.A., INC. v. BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GmbH and Max Egon Becker and Becker Electronics, Inc. and Lothar Amanda and Roland Becker and Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc., Appeal of BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GmbH, Becker Electronics, Inc., Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker, inAppeal of MERCEDES BENZ OF NORTH AMERICA, INC., in
Decision Date17 July 1978
Docket NumberNos. 77-2566,No. 77-2567,No. 77-2566,77-2567

Page 39

585 F.2d 39
BECKER AUTORADIO U.S.A., INC.
v.
BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GmbH and Max Egon Becker and Becker
Electronics, Inc. and Lothar Amanda and Roland
Becker and Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc.,
Appeal of BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GmbH, Becker Electronics,
Inc., Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker, in No. 77-2566.
Appeal of MERCEDES BENZ OF NORTH AMERICA, INC., in No. 77-2567.
Nos. 77-2566, 77-2567.
United States Court of Appeals,
Third Circuit.
Argued June 7, 1978.
Decided July 17, 1978.

Page 40

Norman R. Bradley, Philadelphia, Pa., William Schurtman, Peter R. Engelhardt, New York City, for appellants Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, Becker Electronics, Inc., Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker; Saul, Ewing, Remick & Saul, Philadelphia, Pa., Walter, Conston, Schurtman & Gumpel, P. C., New York City, of counsel.

Robert J. Spiegel, Spencer Ervin, Jr., R. Mark Armbrust, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc.; Gratz, Tate, Spiegel, Ervin & Ruthrauff, Philadelphia, Pa., of counsel.

Page 41

Samuel P. Lavine, John P. Quinn, Carl T. Bogus, Steinberg, Greenstein, Gorelick & Price, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellee.

Before ADAMS, WEIS and GARTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

GARTH, Circuit Judge.

This appeal concerns the arbitrability of a dispute between defendant Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH ("BAW"), a West German manufacturer of automobile radios and accessories, and plaintiff Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. ("Becker U.S.A."), a Pennsylvania corporation and BAW's exclusive American distributor. The district court denied BAW's motion to stay judicial proceedings and compel arbitration. We reverse.

I

On July 1, 1974, BAW entered into a written, two-year Exclusive Distribution Agreement (the "1974 Agreement") with Becker U.S.A. 1 This contract, written in German and subscribed to in Ittersbach, West Germany, granted Becker U.S.A. the exclusive right to sell Becker automobile radios and accessories (art. 1). The 1974 Agreement provided for termination on June 30, 1976 (art. 11(1)). The contract also provided in article 11(5) that:

In the event that the parties to the agreement should wish to extend the collaboration beyond June 30, 1976, this shall be subject to negotiations not later than 6 months prior to the expiration of the agreement.

Becker U.S.A. and BAW engaged in extensive negotiations concerning renewal of the 1974 Agreement, but were unable to agree on terms, and the contract apparently expired on June 30, 1976.

On February 1, 1977, Becker U.S.A. commenced this diversity action against BAW, Becker Electronics, Inc. (a Delaware subsidiary of BAW), Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker (representatives of BAW), Lothar Amanda (Executive Vice President of Becker Electronics), and Mercedes Benz of North America, Inc. (a customer of BAW). Count II of the amended complaint (the only count directly relevant to this appeal) alleged that BAW, through its representatives Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker, orally promised that BAW would renew the 1974 Agreement "on the same terms as the existing (I. e., the 1974) Agreement" for a five year term, provided that plaintiff fulfill certain conditions, Viz (1) continue to promote satisfactorily the sales of BAW radios; (2) open a branch office in Chicago; (3) establish at its expense Becker radio exhibits during 1975 and thereafter; and (4) perform without compensation certain administrative functions for Becker Electronics' avionics division in Paramus, New Jersey. Becker U.S.A. further alleged that, relying on these assurances, it performed these tasks, but that its distribution rights were not renewed. 2

All the defendants moved, under the federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 3 and 206, to stay Becker U.S.A.'s action in the district

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court and to compel arbitration. BAW relied on article 13(2) of the 1974 Agreement, which provided:

The Arbitration Court domiciled in Karlsruhe (Federal Republic of Germany) shall have sole jurisdiction with regard to all disputes arising out of and about this agreement. The Arbitration Court shall determine its procedures according to the Rules of Procedure of the International Chamber of Commerce, Paris. The arbitral award shall have the effect, with respect to the parties, of a legally valid court judgment. 3

Article 13(2) also gave BAW (but not Becker U.S.A.) the option of suing in court for breach instead of submitting the dispute to arbitration. Under this provision if BAW elected to sue in court, it was required to do so in a court in the United States and subject to American law. Additionally, article 13(2) contains an express covenant by Becker U.S.A. not to "bring suit against BAW, based on any alleged claim whatsoever under this agreement before any court other than the arbitration court in Karlsruhe."

The other defendants have contended that if a stay pending arbitration were granted as to BAW on Count II, the proceedings on Counts I and III should be stayed as well. On appeal Becker U.S.A. "does not take issue with the request of all defendants that should the action against BAW be stayed pending arbitration, the entire action be stayed." Appellee's Brief at 16 n.5.

In support of their motion, the defendants argued before the district court that the dispute was one "arising out of and about" the 1974 Agreement and was therefore governed by the arbitration clause, and that consequently they were entitled to a stay by reason of § 9 and § 206 of the Arbitration Act. 4 The district court disagreed. In an opinion and order dated October 5, 1977, the district court denied the motion for a stay, 5 ruling that BAW's alleged obligation to renew the distribution agreement arose not from the 1974 Agreement, but rather from a separate and distinct oral agreement. 6 The court held that disputes arising out of this independent oral contract were not subject to the arbitration clause of the 1974 Agreement. All the defendants except Amanda have appealed. 7

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II

A

There has been much discussion by the parties concerning the applicability of German law or Pennsylvania law in the resolution of this dispute. It may well be that the question of which law is to be applied will have to be answered in deciding the merits of the underlying controversy. However the case before us presents only the issue of the Arbitrability of that controversy. When a contract involves "commerce", as this one does, whether a "suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration . . . under an agreement (to arbitrate)" pursuant to the federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 3, or to the Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Art. II, P 3 and 9 U.S.C. § 206, is clearly a matter of federal substantive law. Thus, the question of whether, in contracts involving commerce, there is an agreement to arbitrate an issue or dispute upon which suit has been brought is governed by federal law. Concomitantly, questions of interpretation and construction of such arbitration agreements are similarly to be determined by reference to federal law. See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co., 388 U.S. 395, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967); Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Lecopulos, 553 F.2d 842, 845 n.4 (2d Cir. 1977); Robert Lawrence Co. v. Devonshire Fabrics, Inc., 271 F.2d 402, 404-05 (2d Cir. 1959), Cert. granted, 362 U.S. 909, 80 S.Ct. 682, 4 L.Ed.2d 618, Cert. dismissed, 364 U.S. 801, 81 S.Ct. 27, 5 L.Ed.2d 37 (1960); Singer Co. v. Tappan Co., 403 F.Supp. 322, 328-29 (D.N.J.1975); Litton, RCS, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 376 F.Supp. 579, 585 (E.D.Pa.1974), Aff'd, 511 F.2d 1394 (3d Cir. 1975); Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. v. Docutel Corp., 371 F.Supp. 240 (E.D.N.Y.1973); Aberthaw Construction Co. v. Centre County Hospital, 366 F.Supp. 513, 514 (M.D.Pa. 1973), Aff'd, 503 F.2d 1398 (3d Cir. 1974). As the court in Coenen v. R. W. Pressprich & Co., 453 F.2d 1209, 1211 (2d Cir. 1972), stated, "(o)nce a dispute is covered by the (federal Arbitration) Act, federal law applies to all questions of (the arbitration agreement's) interpretation, construction, validity, revocability, and enforceability." Cf. The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 1907, 32 L.Ed.2d 513 (1970); Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972 (1957).

It is true that, if the parties agree that certain disputes will be submitted to arbitration and that the law of a particular jurisdiction will govern the resolution of those disputes, federal courts must effectuate that agreement. See Scherk v. Alberto-Culver, Inc., 417 U.S. 506, 94 S.Ct. 2449, 41 L.Ed.2d 270 (1974). Cf. The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., supra. However, whether a particular dispute is within the class of those disputes governed by the arbitration and choice of law clause is a matter of federal law. 8 See Coenen v. R. W. Pressprich & Co., supra, at 1211. 9

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B

We now turn to the central issue in this case: whether the dispute between plaintiff and BAW concerning an alleged renewal of the 1974 Agreement is a dispute "arising out of and about" that Agreement, and is therefore arbitrable under article 13 of the Agreement. 10 According to Becker U.S.A. (with whom the district court agreed), this case does not involve any breach of the 1974 Agreement, or any right or obligation stemming from that Agreement. Becker U.S.A. argues that the 1974 Agreement terminated on June 30, 1976, and has no effect upon the dispute in issue here. Instead, Becker U.S.A. asserts that its claim in this case is wholly independent of the 1974 Agreement, and is based on certain parol representations. These parol representations form the basis for its complaint that BAW has breached its oral contract.

Becker U.S.A. looks to Korody Marine Corp. v. Minerals & Chemicals Philipp Corp., 300 F.2d 124 (2d Cir. 1962) (per curiam), for support. In that diversity case the plaintiff claimed...

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95 practice notes
  • Moses Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corporation, No. 81-1203
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1983
    ...643 (CA7 1981); Wick v. Atlantic Marine, Inc., 605 F.2d 166, 168 (CA5 1979); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 43-45 (CA3 1978); Hanes Corp. v. Millard, 174 U.S.App.D.C. 253, 266, 531 F.2d 585, 598 (1976); Acevedo Maldonado v. PPG Industries, Inc., 514......
  • Village of Cairo v. Bodine Contracting Co., No. WD
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    • January 29, 1985
    ...Corporation, 460 U.S. 1, 27, 103 S.Ct. 927, 941, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 44 [8-10] (3d Cir.1978); City of Meridian, Mississippi v. Algernon Blair, Inc., 721 F.2d 525, 527 n 2 (5th Cir.1983); Borough of Ambridge Water Pa......
  • Chloe Z Fishing Co. v. Odyssey re (London) Ltd., No. 99-2521-IEG RBB.
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    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • April 26, 2000
    ...construction, validity, revocability, and enforceability."). Moreover, in Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39 (3d Cir.1978), the Third Circuit decided that neither West German law nor Pennsylvania law applied to the question of whether the parties agreed ......
  • Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Distajo
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • September 28, 1995
    ...Inc. v. Minnotte Contracting Corp., 878 F.2d 167, 168 (6th Cir.1989); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 47 (3d Cir.1978); W.L. Jorden & Co. v. Blythe Indus., 702 F.Supp. 282, 284 (N.D.Ga.1988); Willis Flooring, Inc. v. Howard S. Lease Constr. Co. & Ass......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
95 cases
  • Moses Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corporation, No. 81-1203
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1983
    ...643 (CA7 1981); Wick v. Atlantic Marine, Inc., 605 F.2d 166, 168 (CA5 1979); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 43-45 (CA3 1978); Hanes Corp. v. Millard, 174 U.S.App.D.C. 253, 266, 531 F.2d 585, 598 (1976); Acevedo Maldonado v. PPG Industries, Inc., 514......
  • Village of Cairo v. Bodine Contracting Co., No. WD
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • January 29, 1985
    ...Corporation, 460 U.S. 1, 27, 103 S.Ct. 927, 941, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 44 [8-10] (3d Cir.1978); City of Meridian, Mississippi v. Algernon Blair, Inc., 721 F.2d 525, 527 n 2 (5th Cir.1983); Borough of Ambridge Water Pa......
  • Chloe Z Fishing Co. v. Odyssey re (London) Ltd., No. 99-2521-IEG RBB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • April 26, 2000
    ...construction, validity, revocability, and enforceability."). Moreover, in Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39 (3d Cir.1978), the Third Circuit decided that neither West German law nor Pennsylvania law applied to the question of whether the parties agreed ......
  • Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Distajo
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • September 28, 1995
    ...Inc. v. Minnotte Contracting Corp., 878 F.2d 167, 168 (6th Cir.1989); Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. v. Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH, 585 F.2d 39, 47 (3d Cir.1978); W.L. Jorden & Co. v. Blythe Indus., 702 F.Supp. 282, 284 (N.D.Ga.1988); Willis Flooring, Inc. v. Howard S. Lease Constr. Co. & Ass......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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