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Supreme Court of the United States
October 4, 1994, Argued ; January 18, 1995, Decided
[**836] [*268] [***760] JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the reach of § 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act. That section makes enforceable a written arbitration provision in "a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce." 9 U.S.C. § 2 (emphasis added). Should we read this phrase broadly, extending the Act's reach to the limits of Congress' Commerce Clause power? Or, do the two italicized words -- "involving" and "evidencing" -- significantly restrict the Act's application? We conclude that the broader [****8] reading of the Act is the correct one, and we reverse a State Supreme Court judgment to the contrary.
In August 1987, Steven Gwin, a respondent who owned a house in Birmingham, Alabama, bought a lifetime "Termite Protection Plan" (Plan) from the local office of Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, a franchise of Terminix International Company. In the Plan, Allied-Bruce promised "to protect" Gwin's house "against the attack of subterranean termites," to reinspect periodically, to provide any "further treatment found necessary," and to repair, up to $ 100,000, damage caused by new termite infestations. App. 69. Terminix [***761] International "guaranteed the fulfillment of the terms" of the Plan. Ibid. The Plan's contract document provided in writing that
"any controversy or claim . . . arising out of or relating to the interpretation, performance or breach of any provision of this agreement shall be settled exclusively by arbitration." Id., at 70 (emphasis added).
In the spring of 1991, Mr. and Mrs. Gwin, wishing to sell their house to Mr. and Mrs. Dobson, had Allied-Bruce reinspect the house. They obtained a clean bill of health. But no sooner [****9] had they sold the house and transferred the Plan to Mr. and Mrs. Dobson than the Dobsons found the house swarming with termites. Allied-Bruce attempted to treat [*269] and repair the house, but the Dobsons found Allied-Bruce's efforts inadequate. They therefore sued the Gwins, and (along with the Gwins, who cross-claimed) also sued Allied-Bruce and Terminix in Alabama state court. Allied-Bruce and Terminix, pointing to the Plan's arbitration clause and § 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, immediately asked the court for a stay, to allow arbitration to proceed. The court denied the stay. Allied-Bruce and Terminix appealed.
The Supreme Court of Alabama upheld the denial of the stay on the basis of a state statute, Ala. Code § 8-1-41(3) (1993), making written, predispute arbitration agreements invalid and "unenforceable." 628 So. 2d 354, 355 (1993). To reach this conclusion, the court had to find that the Federal Arbitration Act, which pre-empts conflicting state law, did not apply to the termite contract. It made just that finding. The court considered the federal Act inapplicable because the connection between the termite contract and interstate commerce was too [****10] slight. In the court's view, the Act applies to a contract only if "'at the time [the parties entered into the contract] and accepted the arbitration clause, they contemplated substantial interstate activity.'" Ibid. (emphasis in original) (quoting Metro Industrial Painting Corp. v. Terminal Constr. Co., 287 F.2d 382, 387 (CA2) (Lumbard, C. J., concurring), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 817, 7 L. Ed. 2d 24, 82 S. Ct. 31 (1961)). Despite some interstate activities (e. g., Allied-Bruce, like Terminix, is a multistate firm and shipped treatment and repair material from out of state), the court found that the parties "contemplated" a transaction that was primarily local and not "substantially" interstate.
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513 U.S. 265 *; 115 S. Ct. 834 **; 130 L. Ed. 2d 753 ***; 1995 U.S. LEXIS 689 ****; 63 U.S.L.W. 4079; 95 Cal. Daily Op. Service 412; 95 Daily Journal DAR 749; 8 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 513
ALLIED-BRUCE TERMINIX COMPANIES, INC., AND TERMINIX INTERNATIONAL COMPANY, PETITIONERS v. G. MICHAEL DOBSON ET AL.
Prior History: [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.
Disposition: 628 So. 2d 354, reversed and remanded.
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