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District Court Grants Motion to Compel Arbitration, Finding Arbitration Provision Not Severable From Allegedly Void Contract

A Pennsylvania federal district court granted a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act, over objection by the defendant on severability grounds. The defendant argued that its contract with the plaintiff was void ab initio and thus unenforceable. While the contract contained an arbitration clause, the defendant argued that under Pennsylvania law, an arbitration provision is not severable from the remainder of a void contract, and as such, the arbitration clause at issue was unenforceable. The court disagreed, however, finding the proposition to be “directly at odds” with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court noted that the Supreme Court explicitly held in Buckeye that “an arbitration provision is severable from the remainder of the contract” and that “unless the challenge is to the arbitration clause itself,” a challenge to the validity of the contract as a whole must go to the arbitrator in the first instance. Because the defendant here challenged the validity of the contract as a whole, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel arbitration.

Thrivest Specialty Funding, LLC v. Wright, No. 2:18-cv-04764 (E.D. Pa. June 5, 2019)

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About this Author

Alex Silverman, Insurance lawyer, Carlton Fields

Alex Silverman represents U.S. and international insurers and reinsurers in complex commercial litigation and arbitration, including complex insurance coverage disputes and reinsurance matters. He regularly litigates and counsels insurers in connection with multimillion-dollar first-party and third-party claims in state and federal courts across the country, and has also litigated large-scale commercial health care and insurance fraud actions on behalf of insurers, including False Claims Act and RICO actions. 

In addition, Alex has experience representing corporations in shareholder...