May 26, 2020

May 26, 2020

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Court Compels Arbitration Based on Clause Incorporated Into Guaranty Agreement

The U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands recently compelled arbitration after concluding that a personal guaranty incorporated an arbitration agreement from an underlying contract and rejecting various arguments to the contrary.

Solar Leasing Inc. signed a leasing agreement with Dun-Run Holdings to install solar panels at a golf course in the Virgin Islands. William Hutchinson, a principal at Dun-Run, guaranteed Dun-Run’s obligations in a personal guaranty. The leasing agreement contained an arbitration provision, but the personal guaranty did not. The personal guaranty did, however, provide that Hutchinson guaranteed the “performance of any and all financial obligations of the Lessee to the Lessor … subject to the terms and conditions contained in the … Leasing Agreement.”

Solar Leasing subsequently sought to bring suit claiming that Hutchinson, in his capacity as a principal at Dun-Run, had breached the leasing agreement’s terms by, among other things, selling the golf course. Hutchinson sought to compel arbitration under the terms of the leasing agreement. Solar Leasing opposed, arguing that the personal guaranty, which it was seeking to enforce, did not contain an arbitration provision, that even if the leasing agreement’s arbitration clause was incorporated into the personal guaranty, it was not enforceable, and that a condition precedent to arbitration had not been met because the parties were required to first engage in informal efforts to resolve their dispute and then proceed to mediation before arbitration.

The district court sided with Hutchinson and compelled arbitration. The plain language of the personal guaranty incorporated the arbitration provision from the leasing agreement. The personal guaranty did not incorporate only the financial obligations as Solar Leasing suggested. The limitation regarding financial obligations “only describe[d] what [was] being guaranteed, not how th[e] guaranty may be enforced.”

The leasing agreement, meanwhile, clearly articulated a desire to arbitrate by stating that a dispute regarding the leasing agreement would be “resolved by binding arbitration.” Although the leasing agreement did not delineate the process for selecting arbitrators, that was not fatal.

The dispute in the instant case was within the scope of the leasing agreement’s arbitration clause because all of the alleged breaches that Solar Leasing complained of were financial in nature. Even if that was not the case, however, the language was at best for Solar Leasing ambiguous and the court was required to resolve that ambiguity in favor of arbitration.

Solar Leasing, Inc. v. Hutchinson, No. 3:17-cv-00076 (D.V.I. Sept. 20, 2019).

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About this Author

Brendan Gooley, Employment Lawyer, Workplace Discrimination, Carlton Fields Law Firm

Brendan Gooley is a litigator who focuses on employment discrimination, education, and insurance matters. He joined the firm after clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Brendan defends employers, including municipalities and educational institutions, accused of various types of employment discrimination in all stages of litigation, including pre-suit, before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), and after actions are filed. He handles complaints alleging violations of Title VII and the...