Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Chris Lazarini discussed a case involving a Plaintiff's suit against a broker-dealer involving his deceased mother's IRA account. Although Plaintiff was a non-signatory to the IRA account agreement, the court enforced the agreement's arbitration clause and compelled Plaintiff to arbitrate his claims.
Chris provided the analysis for Securities Litigation Commentator (SLC). The full text of the analysis is below and used with permission from the publication. If you would like to receive additional content from the SLC, please visit the SLC website to sign up for the newsletter.
Aikens vs. Johnson & Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., No. 16-729 (M.D. La., 7/28/17)
*A non-signatory to a contract containing a valid pre-dispute arbitration clause may be compelled to arbitrate if his claims arise as a third-party beneficiary to the contract.
**A court may stay litigation and allow arbitration even where some parties are not subject to arbitration.
In 1993, pro se Plaintiff's mother opened an IRA account and named Plaintiff as one of eight beneficiaries. Merrill's IRA Agreement contained a standard arbitration clause compelling arbitration of "all controversies" arising between Plaintiff and Merrill involving "any transaction or the construction, performance, or breach of this or any other agreement between us[.]" By 2001, Plaintiff's mother had withdrawn her IRA funds and the account was closed. She passed away in early 2006. Sometime later, Plaintiff sued Merrill and Johnson (the registered representative of record), alleging fraud and theft of his inheritance.
Both Merrill and Johnson moved to dismiss, with Merrill also asking, in the alternative, for a stay pending arbitration. Plaintiff opposed, claiming no knowledge of the arbitration agreement. Characterizing Plaintiff's opposition as an improper legal challenge and citing his claimed third-party beneficiary status, the Court holds Plaintiff to the arbitration provision of the IRA Agreement and stays the case pending arbitration. Rather than weigh in on whether the IRA Agreement applies to the claims against Johnson, however, it denies the latter's motion to dismiss without prejudice, stating that he may re-urge dismissal at the conclusion of the arbitration.