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Supreme Court Watch

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nitro-Lift Technologies, LLC v. Howard, No. 11-1377 (Nov. 26, 2012).
By Nina Kimball

Invoking the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its long-standing position that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) trumps contrary state law.  This principle is so well established that the Court did not need to hear oral argument to decide it.  The only thing unusual about this case is the fact that the case concerned a non-compete agreement – a dispute that rarely reaches the high court. 

The case arose after two Nitro-Lift employees went to work for a competitor. Nitro-Lift served them with a demand for arbitration under the arbitration provision of their employment agreements requiring all disputes to be settled by arbitration.  The employees filed suit in state court seeking a declaratory judgment declaring the non-compete agreements void under Oklahoma law.  The court dismissed the lawsuit, requiring the dispute be submitted to arbitration.  On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court first found that the dispute of the underlying employment agreement was subject to judicial review as purely a matter of state law for state-court determination.  It reversed, holding the non-compete agreements void under Oklahoma law.   

The Court granted certiorari and vacated the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in a per curiam decision.  The Court reiterated the rule under the Supremacy Clause that the federal statute (the FAA) trumps the state statute disfavoring non-competition agreements.  Applying the FAA, the Court held that because the dispute concerned the validity the contract itself, not the arbitration provision, it was for the arbitrator to decide, not a court:  “when parties commit to arbitrate contractual disputes, it is a mainstay of the [FAA’s] substantive law that attacks on the validity of the contract, as distinct from attacks on the validity of the arbitration clause itself, are to be resolved by the arbitrator in the first instance, not by a federal or state court."  

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  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee
    This committee hosts speakers on a wide variety of issues relating to arbitration, mediation and other dispute resolution processes. It strives to offer programs that are of value to individuals who serve as mediators and arbitrators, as well as advocates representing clients in dispute resolution processes, both domestic and international.

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    Catherine E. Shanks

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    William McClare Dunham

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    David B. Mack

    O'Connor, Carnathan, and Mack LLC

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    Shapiro Haber & Urmy LLP

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    Elizabeth A. Ryan

    Bailey and Glasser LLP

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    Matthew G. Lindenbaum

    Goodwin Procter LLP

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    Rhian M.J. Cull

    Hinckley Allen

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    Kenney & Sams, P.C.

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    Seth Schofield

    Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General

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    Peter F. Durning

    Mackie Shea O'Brien, PC

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    Collora LLP

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    Holland & Knight LLP

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    Ropes & Gray LLP

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    Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

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    Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers LLP

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    Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero

    Nixon Peabody LLP

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    Ruberto, Israel & Weiner, P.C.

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  • Litigation Public Service Committee
    Each year in recognition of Pro Bono Month, this committee, along with the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School holds a pro bono opportunities fair for attorneys and law students. The committee also focuses on pro bono trainings and brown bag programming.

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    Daniel M. Routh

    Ropes & Gray LLP

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  • Massachusetts Practice and Procedure Committee
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    Kristin Casavant

    Jones Day

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    Victoria Fuller

    Rose, Chinitz & Rose

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    Debra A. Squires-Lee

    Sherin and Lodgen LLP

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    Christopher R. Conroy

    Peabody & Arnold LLP

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    Sarah G. Kim

    Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General

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    Richard Rosensweig

    Goulston & Storrs PC

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  • Steering Committee
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  • Tort Committee
    This committee addresses all matters relating to injury and damage to persons and property.

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    Michael Robert Brown

    Peabody & Arnold LLP

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    Eric Asquith

    Todd & Weld LLP

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