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Becker Autoradio U.S.A. Inc. v. GMBH

decided: July 17, 1978.

BECKER AUTORADIO U.S.A., INC.
v.
BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GMBH AND MAX EGON BECKER AND BECKER ELECTRONICS, INC. AND LOTHAR AMENDA AND ROLAND BECKER AND MERCEDES-BENZ OF NORTH AMERICA, INC. BECKER AUTORADIOWERK GMBH, BECKER ELECTRONICS, INC., MAX EGON BECKER AND ROLAND BECKER, APPELLANTS IN NO. 77-2566. MERCEDES-BENZ OF NORTH AMERICA, INC., APPELLANTS IN NO. 77-2567



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 77-384)

Before Adams, Weis and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Garth

Opinion OF THE COURT

This appeal concerns the arbitrability of a dispute between defendant Becker Autoradiowerk GmbH ("BAW"), a West German manufacturer of automobile radios and accessories, and plaintiff Becker Autoradio U.S.A., Inc. ("Becker U.S.A."), a Pennsylvania corporation and BAW's exclusive American distributor. The district court denied BAW's motion to stay judicial proceedings and compel arbitration. We reverse.

I

On July 1, 1974, BAW entered into a written, two-year Exclusive Distribution Agreement (the "1974 Agreement") with Becker U.S.A.*fn1 This contract, written in German and subscribed to in Ittersbach, West Germany, granted Becker U.S.A. the exclusive right to sell Becker automobile radios and accessories (art. 1). The 1974 Agreement provided for termination on June 30, 1976 (art. 11(1)). The contract also provided in article 11(5) that:

In the event that the parties to the agreement should wish to extend the collaboration beyond June 30, 1976, this shall be subject to negotiations not later than 6 months prior to the expiration of the agreement.

Becker U.S.A. and BAW engaged in extensive negotiations concerning renewal of the 1974 Agreement, but were unable to agree on terms, and the contract apparently expired on June 30, 1976.

On February 1, 1977, Becker U.S.A. commenced this diversity action against BAW, Becker Electronics, Inc. (a Delaware subsidiary of BAW), Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker (representatives of BAW), Lothar Amanda (Executive Vice President of Becker Electronics), and Mercedes Benz of North America, Inc. (a customer of BAW). Count II of the amended complaint (the only count directly relevant to this appeal) alleged that BAW, through its representatives Max Egon Becker and Roland Becker, orally promised that BAW would renew the 1974 Agreement "on the same terms as the existing (I. e., the 1974) Agreement" for a five year term, provided that plaintiff fulfill certain conditions, Viz (1) continue to promote satisfactorily the sales of BAW radios; (2) open a branch office in Chicago; (3) establish at its expense Becker radio exhibits during 1975 and thereafter; and (4) perform without compensation certain administrative functions for Becker Electronics' avionics division in Paramus, New Jersey. Becker U.S.A. further alleged that, relying on these assurances, it performed these tasks, but that its distribution rights were not renewed.*fn2

All the defendants moved, under the federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 3 and 206, to stay Becker U.S.A.'s action in the district court and to compel arbitration. BAW relied on article 13(2) of the 1974 Agreement, which provided:

The Arbitration Court domiciled in Karlsruhe (Federal Republic of Germany) shall have sole jurisdiction with regard to all disputes arising out of and about this agreement. The Arbitration Court shall determine its procedures according to the Rules of Procedure of the International Chamber of Commerce, Paris. The arbitral award shall have the effect, with respect to the parties, of a legally valid court judgment.*fn3

Article 13(2) also gave BAW (but not Becker U.S.A.) the option of suing in court for breach instead of submitting the dispute to arbitration. Under this provision if BAW elected to sue in court, it was required to do so in a court in the United States and subject to American law. Additionally, article 13(2) contains an express covenant by Becker U.S.A. not to "bring suit against BAW, based on any alleged claim whatsoever under this agreement before any court other than the arbitration court in Karlsruhe."

The other defendants have contended that if a stay pending arbitration were granted as to BAW on Count II, the proceedings on Counts I and III should be stayed as well. On appeal Becker U.S.A. "does not take issue with the request of all defendants that should the action against BAW be stayed pending arbitration, the entire action be stayed." Appellee's Brief at 16 n.5.

In support of their motion, the defendants argued before the district court that the dispute was one "arising out of and about" the 1974 Agreement and was therefore governed by the arbitration clause, and that consequently they were entitled to a stay by reason of § 9 and § 206 of the Arbitration Act.*fn4 The district court disagreed. In an opinion and order dated October 5, 1977, the district court denied the motion for a stay,*fn5 ruling that BAW's alleged obligation to renew the distribution agreement arose not from the 1974 Agreement, but rather from a separate and distinct oral agreement.*fn6 The court held that disputes ...


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