Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard, No. 11–1377.

CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation568 U.S. 17,184 L.Ed.2d 328,133 S.Ct. 500
Decision Date26 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–1377.
Parties NITRO–LIFT TECHNOLOGIES, L.L.C. v. Eddie Lee HOWARD et al.

568 U.S. 17
133 S.Ct.
500
184 L.Ed.2d 328

NITRO–LIFT TECHNOLOGIES, L.L.C.
v.
Eddie Lee HOWARD et al.

No. 11–1377.

Supreme Court of the United States

Nov. 26, 2012.


133 S.Ct. 501

PER CURIAM.

568 U.S. 17

State courts rather than federal courts are most frequently called upon to apply the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., including the Act's national policy favoring arbitration. It is a matter of great importance, therefore, that state supreme courts adhere to a

568 U.S. 18

correct interpretation of the legislation. Here, the Oklahoma Supreme Court failed to do so. By declaring the noncompetition agreements in two employment contracts null and void, rather than leaving that determination to the arbitrator in the first instance, the state court ignored a basic tenet of the Act's substantive arbitration law. The decision must be vacated.

* * *

This dispute arises from a contract between petitioner Nitro–Lift Technologies, L.L.C., and two of its former employees. Nitro–Lift contracts with operators of oil and gas wells to provide services that enhance production. Respondents Eddie Lee Howard and Shane D. Schneider entered a confidentiality and noncompetition

133 S.Ct. 502

agreement with Nitro–Lift that contained the following arbitration clause:

" ‘Any dispute, difference or unresolved question between Nitro–Lift and the Employee (collectively the "Disputing Parties") shall be settled by arbitration by a single arbitrator mutually agreeable to the Disputing Parties in an arbitration proceeding conducted in Houston, Texas in accordance with the rules existing at the date hereof of the American Arbitration Association.’ " Pet. for Cert. 5.

After working for Nitro–Lift on wells in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, respondents quit and began working for one of Nitro–Lift's competitors. Claiming that respondents had breached their noncompetition agreements, Nitro–Lift served them with a demand for arbitration. Respondents then filed suit in the District Court of Johnston County, Oklahoma, asking the court to declare the noncompetition agreements null and void and to enjoin their enforcement. The court dismissed the complaint, finding that the contracts contained valid arbitration clauses under which an arbitrator, and not the court, must settle the parties' disagreement.

568 U.S. 19

The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained respondents' appeal and ordered the parties to show cause why the matter should not be resolved by application of Okla. Stat., Tit. 15, § 219A (West 2011), which limits the enforceability of noncompetition agreements. Nitro–Lift argued that any dispute as to the contracts' enforceability was a question for the arbitrator. It relied for support—as it had done before the trial court—upon several of this Court's cases interpreting the FAA, and noted that under Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 446, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 163 L.Ed.2d 1038 (2006), "this arbitration law applies in both state and federal courts." Record in No. 109, 003 (Okla.), p. 273.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court was not persuaded. It held that despite the "[U.S.] Supreme Court cases on which the employers rely," the "existence of an arbitration agreement in an employment contract does not prohibit judicial review of the underlying agreement." 2011 OK 98, ¶ 15, n. 20, ¶ 16, 273 P.3d 20, 26, n. 20, 27. For that proposition, the court relied on the "exhaustive overview of the United States Supreme Court decisions construing the Federal Arbitration Act" in Bruner v. Timberlane Manor Ltd. Partnership, 2006 OK 90, 155 P.3d 16, which found Supreme Court jurisprudence "not to inhibit our review of the underlying contract's validity." 273 P.3d, at 26. Finding the arbitration clauses no obstacle to its review, the court held that the noncompetition agreements were "void and unenforceable as against Oklahoma's public policy," expressed in Okla. Stat., Tit. 15, § 219A. 273 P.3d, at 27.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court declared that its decision rests on adequate and independent state grounds. Id., at 23–24, n. 5. If that were so, we would have no...

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165 practice notes
  • Guy v. Wyo. Dep't of Corr., S-18-0231
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 9, 2019
    ...conclusion that it was not bound by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of § 1988 ) (quoting Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 20, 133 S.Ct. 500, 503, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (per curiam)). Because the United States Supreme Court has decided the meaning of "prevailing p......
  • Cazun v. Attorney Gen. U.S., No. 15-3374
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 2, 2017
    ...non derogant , that the specific governs the general in interpreting a statutory scheme. See Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 133 S.Ct. 500, 504, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012). The logic behind this canon is quite simple: when there are two conflicting provisions, we can assume t......
  • Assured Guaranty Corp. v. Fin. Oversight & Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico (In re Fin. Oversight & Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico), Nos. 18-1165
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 31, 2019
    ...view that the stay exceptions construed here override Section 305 in specific and limited ways. See Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard, 568 U.S. 17, 21, 133 S.Ct. 500, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (per curiam) (recognizing the "the ancient interpretive principle that the specific governs the gen......
  • Hawaii v. Trump, No. 17-15589
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • June 12, 2017
    ...a more generalized spectrum" of issues. Radzanower , 426 U.S. at 153–54, 96 S.Ct. 1989 ; see also Nitro–Lift Techs., LLC v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 133 S.Ct. 500, 504, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (explaining that the interpretive principle generalia specialibus non derogant means that "the specifi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
163 cases
  • Guy v. Wyo. Dep't of Corr., S-18-0231
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 9, 2019
    ...conclusion that it was not bound by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of § 1988 ) (quoting Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 20, 133 S.Ct. 500, 503, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (per curiam)). Because the United States Supreme Court has decided the meaning of "prevail......
  • Cazun v. Attorney Gen. U.S., No. 15-3374
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 2, 2017
    ...non derogant , that the specific governs the general in interpreting a statutory scheme. See Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 133 S.Ct. 500, 504, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012). The logic behind this canon is quite simple: when there are two conflicting provisions, we can assume t......
  • Assured Guaranty Corp. v. Fin. Oversight & Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico (In re Fin. Oversight & Mgmt. Bd. for Puerto Rico), Nos. 18-1165
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 31, 2019
    ...view that the stay exceptions construed here override Section 305 in specific and limited ways. See Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard, 568 U.S. 17, 21, 133 S.Ct. 500, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (per curiam) (recognizing the "the ancient interpretive principle that the specific governs th......
  • Hawaii v. Trump, No. 17-15589
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • June 12, 2017
    ...a more generalized spectrum" of issues. Radzanower , 426 U.S. at 153–54, 96 S.Ct. 1989 ; see also Nitro–Lift Techs., LLC v. Howard , 568 U.S. 17, 133 S.Ct. 500, 504, 184 L.Ed.2d 328 (2012) (explaining that the interpretive principle generalia specialibus non derogant means that "t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • GAMING CERTIORARI.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 Nbr. 5, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...Laws of the United States, and Treaties made" and over controversies between states). (214) See Nitro-Lift Techs., L.L.C. v. Howard, 568 U.S. 17, 21 (2012) (per curiam) ("It is this Court's responsibility to say what a [federal] statute means, and once the Court has spoken, it is ......

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