Prima Paint Corporation v. Flood Conklin Mfg Co, 343

Decision Date12 June 1967
Docket NumberNo. 343,343
Citation388 U.S. 395,18 L.Ed.2d 1270,87 S.Ct. 1801
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Robert P. Herzog, New York City, for petitioner.

Martin A. Coleman, New York City, for respondent.

Gerald Aksen, New York City, for the American Arbitration Assn., as amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the federal court or an arbitrator is to resolve a claim of 'fraud in the inducement,' under a contract governed by the United States Arbitration Act of 1925,1 where there is no evidence that the contracting parties intended to withhold that issue from arbitration.

The question arises from the following set of facts. On October 7, 1964, respondent, Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Company, a New Jersey corporation, entered into what was styled a 'Consulting Agreement,' with petitioner, Prima Paint Corporation, a Maryland corporation. This agreement followed by less than three weeks the execution of a contract pursuant to which Prima Paint purchased F & C's paint business. The consulting agreement provided that for a six-year period F & C was to furnish advice and consultation 'in connection with the formulae, manufacturing operations, sales and servicing of Prima Trade Sales accounts.' These services were to be performed personally by F & C's chairman, Jerome K. Jelin, 'except in the event of his death or disability.' F & C bound itself for the duration of the contractual period to make no 'Trade Sales' of paint or paint products in its existing sales territory or to current customers. To the consulting agreement were appended lists of F & C customers, whose patronage was to be taken over by Prima Paint. In return for these lists, the covenant not to compete, and the services of Mr. Jelin, Prima Paint agreed to pay F & C certain percentages of its receipts from the listed customers and from all others, such payments not to exceed $225,000 over the life of the agreement. The agreement took into account the possibility that Prima Paint might encounter financial difficulties, including bankruptcy, but no corresponding reference was made to possible financial problems which might be encountered by F & C. The agreement stated that it 'embodies the entire understanding of the parties on the subject matter.' Finally, the parties agreed to a broad arbitration clause, which read in part:

'Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or the breach thereof, shall be settled by arbitration in the City of New York, in accordance with the rules then obtaining of the American Arbitration Association * * *.'

The first payment by Prima Paint to F & C under the consulting agreement was due on September 1, 1965. None was made on that date. Seventeen days later, Prima Paint did pay the appropriate amount, but into escrow. It notified attorneys for F & C that in various enumerated respects their client had broken both the consulting agreement and the earlier purchase agreement. Prima Paint's principal contention, so far as presently relevant, was that F & C had fraudulently represented that it was solvent and able to perform its contractual obligations, where as it was in fact insolvent and intended to file a petition under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act, 52 Stat. 905, 11 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., shortly after execution of the consulting agreement. Prima Paint noted that such a petition was filed by F & C on October 14, 1964, one week after the contract had been signed. F & C's response, on October 25, was to serve a 'notice of intention to arbitrate.' On November 12, three days before expiration of its time to answer this 'notice,' Prima Paint filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking rescission of the consulting agreement on the basis of the alleged fraudulent inducement.2 The complaint asserted that the federal court had diversity jurisdiction.

Contemporaneously with the filing of its complaint, Prima Paint petitioned the District Court for an order enjoining F & C from proceeding with the arbitration. F & C cross-moved to stay the court action pending arbitration. F & C contended that the issue presented—whether there was fraud in the inducement of the consulting agreement—was a question for the arbitrators and not for the District Court. Cross-affidavits were filed on the merits. On behalf of Prima Paint, the charges in the complaint were reiterated. Affiants for F & C attacked the sufficiency of Prima Paint's allegations of fraud, denied that misrepresentations had been made during negotiations, and asserted that Prima Paint had relied exclusively upon delivery of the lists, the promise not to compete, and the availability of Mr. Jelin. They contended that Prima Paint had availed itself of these considerations for nearly a year without claiming 'fraud,' noting that Prima Paint was in no position to claim ignorance of the bankruptcy proceeding since it had participated therein in February of 1965. They added that F & C was revested with its assets in March of 1965.

The District Court, 262 F.Supp. 605, granted F & C's motion to stay the action pending arbitration, holding that a charge of fraud in the inducement of a contract containing an arbitration clause as broad as this one was a question for the arbitrators and not for the court. For this proposition it relied on Robert Lawrence Co. v. Devonshire Fabrics, Inc., 271 F.2d 402 (C.A.2d Cir. 1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 909, 80 S.Ct. 682, 4 L.Ed.2d 618, dismissed under Rule 60, 364 U.S. 801 (1960). The Court of Appeals or the Second Circuit dismissed Prima Paint's appeal, 2 Cir., 360 F.2d 315. It held that the contract in question evidenced a transaction involving interstate commerce; that under the controlling Robert Lawrence Co. decision a claim of fraud in the inducement of the contract generally—as opposed to the arbitration clause itself—is for the arbitrators and not for the courts; and that this rule—one of 'national substantive law'—governs even in the face of a contrary state rule.3 We agree, albeit for somewhat different reasons, and we affirm the decision below.

The key statutory provisions are §§ 2, 3, and 4 of the United States Arbitration Act of 1925. Section 2 provides that a written provision for arbitration 'in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce * * * shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.'4 Section 3 requires a federal court in which suit has been brought 'upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration' to stay the court action pending arbitration once it is satisfied that the issue is arbitrable under the agreement. Section 4 provides a federal remedy for a party 'aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration,' and directs the federal court to order arbitration once it is satisfied that an agreement for arbitration has been made and has not been honored.5 In Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co., 350 U.S. 198, 76 S.Ct. 273, 100 L.Ed. 199 (1956), this Court held that the stay provisions of § 3, invoked here by respondent F & C, apply only to the two kinds of contracts specified in §§ 1 and 2 of the Act, namely those in admiralty or evidencing transactions in 'commerce.' Our first question, then, is whether the consulting agreement between F & C and Prima Paint is such a contract. We agree with the Court of Appeals that it is. Prima Paint acquired a New Jersey paint business serving at least 175 wholesale clients in a number of States, and secured F & C's assistance in arranging the transfer of manufacturing and selling operations from New Jersey to Maryland.6 The consulting agreement was inextricably tied to this interstate transfer and to the continuing operations of an interstate manufacturing and wholesaling business. There could not be a clearer case of a contract evidencing a transaction in interstate commerce. 7 Having determined that the contract in question is within the coverage of the Arbitration Act, we turn to the central issue in this case: whether a claim of fraud in the inducement of the entire contract is to be resolved by the federal court, or whether the matter is to be referred to the arbitrators. The courts of appeals have differed in their approach to this question. The view of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as expressed in this case and in others,8 is that—except where the parties otherwise intend—arbitration clauses as a matter of federal law are 'separable' from the contracts in which they are embedded, and that where no claim is made that fraud was directed to the arbitration clause itself, a broad arbitration clause will be held to encompass arbitration of the claim that the contract itself was induced by fraud.9 The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, on the other hand, has taken the view that the question of 'severability' is one of state law, and that where a State regards such a clause as inseparable a claim of fraud in the inducement must be decided by the court. Lummus Co. v. Commonwealth Oil Ref. Co., 280 F.2d 915, 923—924 (C.A.1st Cir.), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 911, 81 S.Ct. 274, 15 L.Ed.2d 225 (1960).10

With respect to cases brought in federal court involving maritime contracts or those evidencing transactions in 'commerce,' we think that Congress has provided an explicit answer. That answer is to be found in § 4 of the Act, which provides a remedy to a party seeking to comel compliance with an arbitration agreement. Under § 4, with respect to a matter within the jurisdiction of the federal courts save for the existence of an arbitration clause, the federal court is instructed to order arbitration to proceed once it is satisfied that...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2715 cases
  • Hebei Hengbo New Materials Tech. Co. v. Apple, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of California
    • September 26, 2018
    ...arbitration or agree to litigate in court. It cannot choose both.").Hengbo's citations to Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co. , 388 U.S. 395, 406, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967), and Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna , 546 U.S. 440, 445–46, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 163 L.Ed.2d......
  • Ex parte Alabama Oxygen Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • May 13, 1983
    ...draftsman for the American Bar Association of the proposed bill.) See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co., 388 U.S. 395, 408-11, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 1808-1810, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967) (Black, J., dissenting), where Justice Black discusses the legislative history of the We canno......
  • Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Distajo
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • September 28, 1995
    ...It has been argued that, according to the Supreme Court's decision in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co., 388 U.S. 395, 403-04, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 1805-06, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967), an arbitration clause is separable from its underlying contract, and therefore must be supporte......
  • In re American Express Merchants' Litigation
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • January 30, 2009 [which challenge] the contract generally.'" Id. at 445, 126 S.Ct. 1204 (quoting Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 403-404, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967)). The plaintiffs are plainly challenging the Card Acceptance Agreement's arbitration clause inso......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 firm's commentaries
  • Promotion Of Arbitration In The 21st Century
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • May 28, 2013
    ...clause without a direct challenge to the clause were for an arbitrator to decide. See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395 (1967). This is what is referred to as the "severability" doctrine. As a result of the severability doctrine, a party may be bound by an arbi......
  • International Arbitration Comparative Guide
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • November 10, 2022 severable from the remainder of the contract and is therefore enforced separately (see Prima Paint Corp v Flood & Conklin Mfg Co, 388 US 395, 403 (1967); S Jersey Sanitation Co, Inc v Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co, Inc, 840 F3d 138, 144 (3d Cir Hence, unless a challenge ......
  • Arbitrators Can Decide Validity Of Arbitration Provision In Construction Contracts
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • December 8, 2011
    ...the Ninth Circuit, the majority of the Supreme Court focused on its prior decision in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 87 Sup. Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967). In Prima Paint, the Court had held that under § 2 of the FAA, an arbitration agreement in a contra......
  • Expected Impact Of New Legislation On State Arbitration Regimes
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • December 5, 2001
    ...applied by a majority of the states. The leading case is the US Supreme Court case of Prima Paint v Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co, 388 US 395 (1967). Section 6 provides that whether an agreement to arbitrate exists and whether it covers a particular dispute is for the courts to decid......
40 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Texas DTPA Forms & Practice
    • March 31, 2016
    ...& Co. , 573 S.W.2d 560 (Tex. Civ. App.—Texarkana 1978, writ ref’d n.r.e.), § Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co. , 388 U.S. 395, 87 S. Ct. 1801 (1967), §§8.01.5, 8.01.7 Progressive County Mutual Ins. Co. v. Boyd , 177 S.W.3d 919 (Tex. 2005), §§10.04, 11.04 Progressive Coun......
  • Arbitration of trust disputes: two bodies of law collide.
    • United States
    • Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 45 No. 4, October 2012
    • October 1, 2012
    ...and "issues of competence-competence," and the allocation of jurisdictional authority between arbitrators and U.S. courts.). (334.) 388 U.S. 395 (335.) 546 U.S. 440 (2006). (336.) BORN, supra note 5, at 363. (337.) Id.; see also Buckeye Check Cashing, 546 U.S. at 440 (holding that an arbitr......
  • The Uneasy Relationship Between Arbitration and Bankruptcy.
    • United States
    • American Bankruptcy Law Journal Vol. 96 No. 4, December 2022
    • December 22, 2022
    ...trial system.") (collecting commentary on issue) (footnotes omitted). (11) See, e.g., Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manuf. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 403 n. 9 (1967) ("We note that categories of contracts otherwise within the Arbitration Act but in which one of the parties characteristic......
  • Resolution Without Trial
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Litigating Employment Discrimination Cases. Volume 1-2 Volume 2 - Practice
    • May 1, 2023 directed specifically to the arbitration clause—not the employment contract itself. See Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co ., 388 U.S. 395, 407, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 1808 (1967) (Justice Black dissenting) (“The Court here holds that the United States Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§1—14,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT