Arbitration for One is Not Arbitration for All: Sixth Circuit Allows Lawsuit Against Indirect Parties Following Consolidated Arbitration
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit allowed a subcontractor's lawsuit against design professionals to proceed even though all parties had previously participated in a consolidated arbitration proceeding over the same issues. W.J. O'Neil Co. v. Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, Inc., No. 12-2320, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16607 (6thCir. Aug. 28, 2014). The design professionals were brought into the arbitration via indemnification claims by the owner, and there was no arbitration agreement between the subcontractor and the design professionals. Given this, the court found that the subcontractor's claims against the designers were not a part of the arbitration and not barred byres judicata. The court applied a technical approach to res judicata based on the principle that a party cannot be forced to arbitrate a claim against another party with whom it has not agreed to arbitrate.
The O'Neil decision is potentially significant for any consolidated construction arbitrations involving additional parties added through indemnification claims. Whether a contractor, project manager, or design professional, O'Neil holds that arbitration is binding and final only as to the parties who agreed to arbitrate the claims that are subject to arbitration. The result highlights the fact that the same claims may have to be relitigated in their entirety in a second proceeding—depriving everyone of a sense of finality. The risk of multiple proceedings and increased costs should be considered in determining how to proceed in a consolidated arbitration proceeding and how to draft arbitration clauses to minimize the risk of repeatedly litigating the same claims.
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