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COA panel divided on trial court involvement with subpoena

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split today on whether an Indiana trial court had the authority to order a company to comply with a subpoena issued by arbitrators in New York.

Monsanto Co. and Monsanto Technology entered into corn and soybean license agreements with Pioneer Hi-Bred International and its parent company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. Based on those agreements, when Monsanto alleged DuPont had engaged in a sublicensing scheme involving third parties in the U.S., the dispute was to be resolved by arbitration in New York City. One of those third parties was Beck’s Superior Hybrids in Indiana.

The arbitration panel issued a subpoena duces tecum to Beck’s, ordering the company to appear at a preliminary hearing in Indiana before one of the panel members and to produce business records relating to the arbitration claim. Beck’s refused, believing the Federal Arbitration Act required Monsanto to seek enforcement of its nonparty subpoena in the Southern District of New York, based on Section 7 of the act. Monsanto then filed a petition to assist in Hamilton Superior Court pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 28(E); the trial court ordered Beck’s to comply with the subpoena.

The majority concluded that Section 7 of the act preempts Trial Rule 28(E), and that in order to enforce the subpoena against a nonparty, Monsanto had to file its petition to compel “in the United States district court for the district” where the arbitration panel, or a majority of its members, is sitting, based on the language in Section 7. That would be the Southern District of New York, since Monsanto and DuPont agreed to arbitrate in New York City.

Judges Edward Najam and Paul Mathias also held that Monsanto’s lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction to enforce its subpoena doesn’t justify ignoring the plain text of Section 7 regarding that the petition to compel must be filed in the U.S. District Court for the district where the arbitrators are. The majority also relied on caselaw that has ruled if the party attempting to invoke Section 7 lacks federal jurisdiction to do so, then the arbitration panel’s nonparty subpoena may not be enforced by the “United States district court,” wrote Judge Najam for the majority.

The majority also held in Beck's Superior Hybrids, Inc. v. Monsanto Company, et al., No. 29A05-1008-MI-489, that Congress wrote Section 7 to require the enforcement of an arbitration panel’s nonparty subpoena to be brought in the federal forum.

“Indeed, the only reason why Monsanto petitioned an Indiana trial court in the first place is because Monsanto cannot avail itself of relief from a federal court,” wrote Judge Najam. “Both Monsanto and DuPont are Delaware corporations—and therefore Monsanto lacks federal diversity jurisdiction—and the dispute between them does not arise under the laws of the United States.”

Judge John Baker dissented because he believed as in this case, where there is no federal jurisdiction, Congress didn’t intend to “tie the hands of arbitrators and the States in this fashion.” He wrote if there was ongoing litigation in a Minnesota state court, an Indiana trial court could step in pursuant to Trial Rule 28(E), but the result reached by the majority means an Indiana court couldn’t offer the same help to a sister arbitration panel, notwithstanding the fact that there is no federal court jurisdiction.

“Indeed, this interpretation of Section 7 means, essentially, that only the largest corporations, which engage in business in all fifty states, are without recourse. Whereas an entity that does not have a presence in all fifty states would be able to achieve diversity jurisdiction, and the arbitrators in such a scenario would be able to enforce nonparty subpoenas in the federal district courts, a large entity such as Monsanto has no such option. Congress could not have intended to treat large and small corporations so disparately,” he wrote.

The majority remanded with instructions that the trial court dismiss Monsanto’s petition.
 

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